How can I help my parent continue to enjoy books after her vision loss?

2 answers | Last updated: Feb 08, 2011
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother was always an avid reader, so losing much of her vision has affected her lifestyle. What's more, she refuses to listen to audio books. How can I convince her to give them a try?

Expert Answers

Lylas Mogk, M.D. is an ophthalmologist and director of the Henry Ford Visual Rehabilitation and Research Center in Grosse Pointe and Livonia, Michigan, and the author of Macular Degeneration: The Complete Guide to Saving and Maximizing Your Sight.

Many devices, from stand magnifiers to closed-circuit TV screen reading machines, enable even individuals with severe visual impairment to read, so a sudden switch from reading to exclusively listening isn't necessary for most people.

The best way to identify appropriate devices is to have a low-vision evaluation and rehabilitation training, if available in your community. For locating services in your area and other resources, see the American Academy of Ophthalmology patient handout, SmartSight: Making the Most of Remaining Vision .

If your mother can use such devices to read her mail, bills, and maybe even large-print books, she may then be willing to supplement her "reading" by listening to longer books on tape.

Typically, tape players are small and have low-contrast buttons, which makes them difficult for people with visual impairments to use. The Library of Congress, however, provides an excellent books-on-tape service that includes a free tape player, on permanent loan, that's very easy to use. You can sign up for it through the National Library Service .

You might offer to listen to an audio book with your mother for the first chapter or two, until she's comfortable with the process and the technology.

And if she's still reluctant to use a recorder, think about giving her a tape or CD that she'll surely want to hear -- like her distant grandchild's vocal performance -- to introduce her to the joys of listening!

Community Answers

Kathleen kappel answered...

Hello. I have come across some outdated information in the answer to this question that may be misleading to consumers using it.

Dr. Lylas Mogk, the expert quoted, is correct in describing the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped as a service providing free audio books and audio book players by mail to qualified readers with visual or physical disabilities. In her answer, she refers to cassette tapes and tape players.

However, the National Library Service is phasing out the audiocassette format in favor of digital audio books and digital book players. These players offer far better sound quality, are much easier to use, and offer features such as bookmarking in the advanced model.

As the Director of the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, which is part of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, I oversee this and other services to 10,000 Western Pennsylvanians in 36 counties. Our library is part of the Library of Congress, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped -- a network of 128 libraries across the country providing this service nationwide and to U.S. citizens living abroad.

Our reader feedback on the new digital format has been overwhelmingly positive -- users love it! I am sure that consumers researching vision problems on your website would appreciate knowing about digital audio books and the many other services -- large print books, braille books and magazines, reference services, etc. -- offered by network libraries across the United States and its territories.

For more information about the service in the Western half of Pennsylvania, please call toll-free 800-242-0586, email us at, or visit For services elsewhere in the country, visit the National Library Service website at

Kathleen Kappel Director, Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh