When I first learned about TumbleBooks and their online audio narrated picture books, one of the first questions I had was “where was this when I was a kid?” I have a print disability that makes it near impossible for me to read books in traditional formats, and I remember wondering why so many books seemed to be printed with blurry fonts, not realizing that my low vision was playing a role in why I had trouble reading. TumbleBooks is a free library of picture books that include a mix of new titles and classic picture books, and today I will be sharing my tips for how to access TumbleBooks audio narrated picture books with print disabilities, with a special focus on low vision.
TumbleBooks is available for free through several public schools and public libraries, and does not require users to create an account to access the service. However, users may need to sign in through their school website or public library in order to get access to the unique TumbleBooks link for their school/library.
TumbleBooks is available as an Android app, iOS app, or through the web browser with no downloads required.
There are a few different types of content available on TumbleBooks, and the majority of TumbleBooks are targeted at elementary school aged readers. Readers who are comfortable with selecting items from a list, play/pausing a video, and scrolling through a list of options can use TumbleBooks independently.
Types of content available on TumbleBooks include:
TumbleBooks are unabridged versions of popular children’s books, and content played in the video player has additional sound effects, music, and human narration.
These types of books are played in a pop-up video player, which has eight different buttons, which are listed in order from left to right and top to bottom:
Text is displayed on the screen and is highlighted as it is read out loud for read-alongs. Buttons on the screen include:
Graphic novels have very few options compared to other content.
Playlists automatically play a selection of books on the video player for a set amount of time, and are designed to automatically play. Each title in the playlist is also available individually in TumbleBooks. Buttons for the playlist view include:
The font sizes in the video player are large and highlighted as they are read out loud, but cannot be adjusted or changed. For users that want to display text at a larger size, I recommend using a tool like the Google Chromecast to cast the web application to a larger screen.
For read alongs and eBooks, there are multiple options for customizing text, including:
Graphic novels also do not support having fonts customized or changed, but can be mirrored to a larger screen with Google Chromecast.
The TumbleBooks website can be navigated with a screen magnification tool, and I prefer to use the Lens or Docked views to navigate the player controls or magnify the covers of books. Screen magnification is also a great option for reading graphic novels, which do not support other accessibility options. Pinch-to-zoom and browser zoom is also supported.
I am sensitive to strobe and flashing lights, and out of the 150+ titles I tested with TumbleBooks, none of them had strobe or flashing lights that were faster than a car blinker. Parents and teachers may want to check individual titles if photosensitivity is a concern.
I tested TumbleBooks with the NVDA screen reader on the web application, as well as VoiceOver and TalkBack on the iOS and Android applications.
For the web browser, TumbleBooks can be navigated with a keyboard, with users having the option to search for books or browse individual categories. Titles are read out loud, but the play button is erroneously labeled as “previous” – it is button 2 of 3 in the lower menu. Text in eBooks and read alongs is recognized by the screen reader, but text in graphic novels are not.
For the mobile applications, there was no alt text for books and it was impossible to know which book was being selected unless the book details were opened, and it was also difficult to use the player. However, I was able to use VoiceOver and TalkBack within the web browser application, so I would recommend using the web browser on a mobile device instead of using the mobile application.
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated September 2023; original post published June 2018.
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