Audiobook Service Helps Blind Vets Recover Independence

In December 1967, a young soldier lay in a hospital bed after sustaining severe eye injuries from a land mine in Vietnam. Tom Miller, now executive director of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) in Washington, D.C., was blind, and his mind raced over all of the things he’d never be able to enjoy again. “I’ve spent the past 44-plus years erasing that list, or finding new things I can do.”

Miller says he owes many thanks to the talking-book program of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), part of the Library of Congress.

“The program is a godsend,” he says.

Veterans—and any U.S. resident or citizen living abroad—are eligible to become NLS readers if they are blind, have low vision or have an illness or disability that prevents them from handling a book or printed material.

According to a 2011 report by the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research, 16 percent of the wounded soldiers evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan battle zones have suffered eye injuries—the highest rate of eye injuries since the Civil War. In response—and in support—NLS works with BVA rehabilitation staff, military hospitals and rehabilitation centers to offer digital talking-book players to eligible members of the military. The digital players are designed for easy use by those who can no longer read or handle printed materials. NLS director Karen Keninger says the hospital program is the most effective way to guarantee that blinded and disabled veterans who need access to books will have it.

Audiobooks and players are delivered to NLS readers by mail at no charge through more than 100 cooperating state and local libraries. NLS readers have access to bestsellers, biographies, self-help books, magazines and more.  Plus, those with access to the Internet can download audiobooks and magazines using the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD), the NLS online delivery system.

NLS’s convenient system allows Miller to devour 60 to 75 titles a month. Miller recalls how much he enjoyed the first NLS talking book he read: “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote. In rehab, he ran back and forth to his room between classes to finish the book.

People who lose their sight may think their life is over, but it’s not, Miller says. The talking books and magazines that NLS provides are one way blind and visually impaired individuals can stay engaged with the world. “You have access to so many different titles, and you’re only a phone call away from cooperative libraries,” he says. “It reopens an aspect of your life you thought was lost forever.”