Eye Health

Updated 13 February 2015

Reading when you can't see

Whether born blind, or in the process of losing your sight in middle age, you need not go without the joys of reading.


Whether born blind, or in the process of losing your sight in middle age, you need not go without the joys of reading.


Apart from Braille, a number of alternatives are emerging, allowing access to anything from newspapers and novels, to academic journals.

The traditional way
The development of Braille in 1824, by the Frenchman Louis Braille, was something of a Gutenberg moment in the emancipation of blind people. And, for many blind people, Braille remains the default mode of reading.

It is best to learn Braille when you are as young as possible, but, if you lost your sight later in life, it may nevertheless still be worthwhile. Learning Braille is not as difficult as it may seem.

The main problem with Braille is the relatively limited variety of texts available in the medium. Producing a Braille text is both slow and expensive. And, with a limited demand for Braille books, specialised titles are often overseen.

The audio option
A second option is the use of audio formats, and we are not talking about that mediocre shelf of audio books at your local bookstore.

Both the South African Library for the Blind (Blindlib) and Tape Aids for the Blind have huge libraries of books read on audiocassette. And, if they cannot find a book for you, they have agreements with overseas libraries that should be able to get it for you.

Though audio cassettes is still the most widely used format in South Africa, the South African Library for the Blind has already started the switch to distributing audio books on CDs. This new technology is similar to that used in the US and UK where books are being distributed on CDs in compressed formats. This means, that a single CD may contain the full text of a large work such as Crime and Punishment. Special players or computers are however required to play these disks.

The availability of books in audio formats is very impressive, even though it may take a while to get hold of the book you are looking for. Fortunately, the latest releases are increasingly available as downloadable audio books which you can listen to on your computer or using an mp3 player. The market leading company Audible ( and offers a very impressive selection.

Let your computer do the reading
Advances in so-called text-to-speech software means that just about any text you see on a computer screen can now be turned into audible speech. (And do note that computers no longer speak in the metallic drawl heard in old science fiction films.)

The development of text-to-speech software in conjunction with the explosive growth of the internet has changed things for blind people almost as much as the development of Braille itself.

The entire World Wide Web has been opened to blind people – giving them access to all the information other people can access over the net. And, for people who cannot read normal newspapers or magazines, the difference is huge.

Furthermore, most newly released books are also released as e-books. These can also be read using text-to-speech software, thus making books available to blind people as they are released. In addition, many books that are no longer under copyright are available for free on the internet through initiatives such as Project Gutenberg. – (Marcus Low, Health24)

Useful resources:

South African Library for the Blind (Provides both audio and Braille reading material)
Tel: 046 622 7226

Tape aids for the blind (They provide a wide range of material on audio cassette.)
Tel: 031 309 4800

South African National Council for the Blind (Their website is highly informative and helpful.)
Tel: 012 452 3811

Project Gutenberg (They provide a large variety of electronic texts free of charge.)


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert


Megan Goodman qualified as an optometrist from the University of Johannesburg. She has recently completed a Masters degree in Clinical Epidemiology at Stellenbosch University. She has a keen interest in ocular pathology and evidence based medicine as well as contact lenses.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules