"When I finish a book I applaud," said Donna Neal of Missouri. "No one's in the room, but I applaud." Neal's enthusiastic appreciation is not just for the book itself, but also for the opportunity to read it: Neal is blind.
For blind and physically disabled readers, getting a hold of the latest bestseller isn't as simple as pulling a book off the nearest bookstore shelf. Books have to be made accessible.
At the forefront of providing such materials as braille and audiobooks to readers like Neal is the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), part of the Library of Congress.
"Our primary goal is to ensure that our patrons have the reading materials that they need to increase their quality of life. This is what we're all about," said Karen Keninger, NLS director -- the first blind person to hold that position.
Having provided audio and braille reading materials free of charge to people of all ages for more than 80 years, NLS recently introduced a digital talking-book system, which includes an audiobook player and cartridges. The system offers high-quality sound, easy navigation between book chapters and a sleep button.
Unlike cassettes, which require multiple units for a lengthy book, each cartridge will hold a complete book. People with access to the Internet can download audiobooks and magazines using the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD), the NLS online delivery system.
NLS patrons have eagerly embraced the new technology.
"I think it's a service that entertains you, it educates you and it delights you," Neal said. "It will change everything you ever thought about a book in print."
The NLS collection includes a wide variety of bestsellers, classics, biographies, romance novels and books of other genres, as well as magazines and newspapers, to delight even the most selective of readers. This free library service is available to residents of the United States and its territories and American citizens living abroad whose low vision, blindness or physical handicap makes reading regular print difficult. Those interested in learning more should call 888-NLS-READ or visit www.loc.gov/nls.