An Open Letter to Book Lovers:

Accessible Books Can Help You Keep Reading Despite a Disability

Dean sits at the far end of a wooden table smiling and listening to a digital audio book with his guide dog at his feet.

Dean Denniston uses a proprietary digital audio book player to read 100 books a year borrowed from the Perkins Library. Books are delivered free to patrons' homes.

April 11, 2016

Dear Readers and Book Lovers:

This is National Library Week, which has got me thinking about reading. I love to read. I read more than 100 books a year. Because I am blind, I read with my ears. Whether you read with your eyes, ears, or read braille with your fingers, reading opens pathways to knowledge, adventure, information, relaxation and human connection.

Even if you can’t see regular print, turn a page or hold a book in your hands in the usual way because of a disability, don’t stop reading!

You can use free “talking” or audio books and with Newsline you can “read” hundreds of national and local newspapers and magazines on a touch-tone phone, online or with an iOS app, 24/7. It’s all at the Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library at Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown or The Worcester Talking Book Library, part of the Library of Congress’ National Library Service with added support from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. What a gift.

The value of these services in my own life is immeasurable. I lost my vision decades ago as a graduate student. Without “talking books,” I would have had to leave school. Resources such as the Perkins Library not only helped me complete my degree – which led to a long and productive career in public service – but I read just for pleasure, too. That has continued into every day of my retirement.

If you love reading but cannot read regular print, you have thousands of large print, audio and braille books and magazines – even audio-described movies and videos! – at your beck and call, delivered to your home for free.

The Libraries serve people of all ages with vision loss, injuries or other conditions that prevent them from reading print. You don’t have to be blind to use the Library.

I encourage all who love reading because the Library, which now serves 25,000 patrons, estimates that more than 100,000* people who qualify for these mind-expanding services may not even know they exist.  National Library Week is the perfect time to find out more. (For starters, visit www.perkinslibrary.org.)

I’m also writing to thank the legislature for funding these vital services, and I hope they will continue to do so. A little additional funding would maintain current services and would also provide the means to publicize the free programs to potentially eligible borrowers in Massachusetts who don’t know about them yet.

To book lovers, I say “Just because you can’t see, doesn’t mean you can’t read. Get in touch with the Perkins Library.” To our state legislators, a simple request: Give the libraries a modest boost in the FY2017 budget to help book lovers who are print disabled do what they need and love to do: Read!

Dean

Dean Denniston, who is retired and lives in Brookline, held a number of positions in Massachusetts government during his career, including Civil Rights Director for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services. 

*2014 American Community Survey (ACS) reports 130,000 people in Massachusetts live with vision loss. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute (EDI).  www.disabilitystatistics.org