I said it before, and I will say it again, I really enjoy gadgets. What is even better, is when a gadget fills a need. Isn’t it great when you purchase something and you use it just about every day? That’s so cool, it feels like you really got your money’s worth.
The Victor Reader Stream has to be my purchase of the year. (Full disclosure – I don’t purchase that many things. I am frugal not cheap!)
The Victor Reader Stream, let’s call her Vicky for short, is a device by HumanWare which allows print impaired people to read audio books in multiple formats. Not only that, but it has a few other extras.
An analogy for the sighted, imagine something like a device that allows you to purchase songs from multiple vendors like Apple, Microsoft , and any other music vendor that sells protected music. Right now, when you purchase music from Apple you can only play those tracks on a supported device like the IPod Classic, Nano etc. The Microsoft Zune similarly plays songs purchased from Microsoft store.
A similar situation exists for the various reading options available for the blind. Here is a brief explanation of some of the options.
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (Talk about legacy names. However, a truly valuable service! )
The NLS provides free books known as “Talking Books” to those who are legally blind and or otherwise print impaired (Dyslexic, Quadriplegic and others who cannot use print books for various reasons). These books have gone from being produced on vinyl to cassette and now digital. Thousands of books on all subjects are available. They even offer some major magazines.
When a person signs up with the service and is approved, they are issued a 4 track cassette player. These special tape players allow you to play the 4 sided cassette tapes. (For those of you saying how the heck can there be a four side cassette, I’ll let you follow the link for explanation.) Not only are these cassette players bulky and therefore not considered to be portable by today’s standards, but I am told they are funny looking too.
Let’s ay you want to purchase off-the-shelf audio books on CD. Well that is an additional device.
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Another option, and a very cool one is known as Daisy books. These books allow for both recorded and synthesized speech. For most people unfamiliar with synthetic speech, the thought alone of reading a full book using this is annoying. For those of us who use synthesizers on a daily basis to access computers, it is something that we get used to. My preference for reading books is audio narration, but I can do fine with the right synthesizer.
Oh, yes and there are multiple Daisy formats.
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Another option for books is audible .com. These books work on specific players or you can burn to CD using a certain software package (that I hear has questionable accessibility at best).
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There are also audio books available from the public library system, that play on specific media players.
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Add to the list an mp3 player for playing downloaded music. Now if you are lucky, one of the above devices will also fill this role.
Well, my Vicky, she works for just about all of the above.
A small device (4.6 x 2.6 x 0.85 inches), that is really portable, easy to work and has so many features that I missed from physical books. This machine fits comfortably in my pocket and allows me to bring it everywhere I go. You never know when a opportunity to read will present itself. (If you know what I mean.)
Take a magazine, NLS provides several magazines like Sound & Vision (No jokes about only needing to read half the magazine please!). Using a cassette, I would read the table of contents and want to quickly jump to page 55. This page may be somewhere in the middle on side 3. If I wanted to navigate to the article I would have to fast forward through half the magazine. Vicky gets me the article just by a few quick pushes of a button. Sweet!
Now there’s the NLS books that are available for download. I can search their website for titles, which will grow once out of the pilot phase, and then transfer the files to Vicky. Vicky allows me to bookmark, make notes via her build in voice recorder and she will even shut off when I fall asleep if I tell her too. So Sweet!
Remember I said Vicky has synthetic speech, she can even read text files. So, if I have to refer to notes while away from my computer or note taker, Vicky is there.
I am not much of a television watcher. I enjoy listening to various podcasts. Yep, Vicky shows me love here too. I can download several podcasts and to my 4 GB SD card where I store the various books. Vicky plays them either through her built in speakers or headphones.
This technology provides me with the best reading experience I have had ever since losing my sight. I know there are many in the blind community who believe these devices are deterring many from reading Braille. I truly want to become more proficient in Braille for my own purposes, but I don’t think I want to take 5 boxes of Braille into that place, well you know what I mean.
I’ll just take my sweet Vicky, thank you.