Ebooks -Reading for Free

picture of an ebook reader lying on a table

Book: picture by inconvergent on Flickr

What’s not to like about an ebook?

They’re easily portable: available for download 24/7 and for those who have a print disability, they offer a range of access options that can revolutionise their reading experience. There’s also the added bonus that some ebooks are even available for free.

Even on a big commercial company website such as Amazon, you can find thousands of ebooks that are available at no cost. There’s a list of their top 100 free ebooks  on the Amazon Kindle ebook page (right hand side)  and by using Jungle Search, a search engine designed for searching at Amazon, you can access an even wider choice.

There are also a range of other places where downloading or accessing an ebook comes with a £0.00 price tag.

Many local libraries now offer an ebook loan service. Either find your local library and contact them directly, or check the listing of 48 UK libraries offering the service, compiled by Paul Stainthope. You can also try the ReadEasy online digital library, and for kids, the ebook online Children’s International Digital Library . Whilst, for those who find print difficult to access, there are flexible format digital book options available at the Seeingear library.

Project Gutenberg – the first producer of free ebooks, has a library thousands of classic books, whilst Bartleby.com, offers one of the largest and oldest free full-text collections of verse on the web. MobileRead Wiki also offers dozens of free Harvard classic, as well as a comprehensive listing of where to find free ebook downloads or sites where you can read them online.

Over on the WikiBooks site there’s an extensive collection of open content textbooks , whilst on Wiki Junior you can find a library of non-fiction books for children from birth to age 12.

Looking for something educational? Then Open Educational Resources (OER) hosts thousands of resources for teachers, Bookboon offers textbooks for older students (as well as travel guides), whilst you can even find some free Oxford reading Tree ebooks at Oxford Owl .

There are numerous sites out there that offer access to free ebooks, even for specific genres of reading eg. Science fiction and fantasy (Baen) or particular areas of interest (FanFiction). So, it’s definitely never been easier to become interested in reading.

Text to Speech Quiz

Picture of 2 question marks

Questions: photo by valeriebb on Flickr

I’ve learnt something new on each of the ITR12 members’ ‘Text to Speech’ quizzes I’ve managed to try.

They’ve covered a lot, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed I’ve managed to include some new stuff.

Good luck ( less than 5/10 means extra homework and a resit…)

take the : Talking Text Quiz

Links below, to the other ITR12 course participants Text to Speech quizzes I’ve tried:

H-blog

Learning Spaces

JoWalker

Dyslexiata

Information Junkie

WordTalk and AMIS for VI users

An additional method of accessing text is always going to be useful if you’re visually impaired. So having access to free technology that can read the text in your Word document to you, or allow you to not only listen to a book but also navigate through it with ease and precision and add locatable bookmarks, can only be a positive situation.

WordTalk

Wordtalk as it looks in the Word environmentFirstly there’s WordTalk: a free, downloadable plug-in, for use with Microsoft Word.

What’s good

The software locates itself directly within the Word toolbar, and can be easily used to read aloud any text you’ve either typed, or imported, into a Microsoft Office Word document.

Want to listen to your document later, or on a portable device? Just save the converted text to speech as an audio file. Need a dictionary or thesaurus?  You’ve access to WordTalk’s talking versions. Find the toolbar a little small?  Don’t worry, there are some easily memorable keyboard shortcuts.

The fact that WordTalk’s designed to be used within the Word environment, also means the user can still benefit from working with the document’s familiar assistive features and options eg. setting preferred text sizes and line spacing, using the navigation pane, practiced keyboard shortcuts etc.

What could be better

However, there are some parts of the software that work less well for a visually impaired user.

wordtalk narrator highlighting

Text size Wordtalk dictionary

The content of a text can often be more easily understood by synchronizing the visual/audio experience. Yet, crucially, the WordTalk visual experience can be difficult. Trying to follow the small word narrator highlight box, as it jumps along with the audio location in the text, can be visually stressful, and the highlight often obscures, rather than gives definition, to the word being read.

Unfortunately there’s no option for a more ‘easy on the eye’ sentence by sentence narrator highlight box instead, and whilst you are allowed to choose a visually preferred background highlight colour, it’s not possible to do so with the crucial foreground word highlighting.

Use of the handy speaking dictionary/thesaurus would also be improved, if the text size of the words could be enlarged. It would also be appreciated if WordTalk was available for Windows for Mac.

Overall

However, despite these limitations, WordTalk is still a handy assistive learning tool. It’s free, it’s simple to use, and it enables a helpful and convenient audio access strategy.

AMIS

Then there’s AMIS – again a free software that allows you to open full text, full audio DAISY digital talking books (DTB), on your computer.

Features of AMIS

What’s good

DTB’s are specifically designed for use by people with a ‘print disability’, so as might be expected with software designed to work with these, there are a number of really useful accessibility features.

Toolbar too small? Then use the screenreader function or keyboard controls. Want to navigate easily through that complex textbook? No problem – you can easily do so phrase by phrase or section by section. AMIS even allows you to search for specific words and place bookmarks for any text you want to easily relocate.

And what about the listening experience? The normal narrator speed can be halved or doubled without suffering distortion, and when pairing text and audio access, the narrator highlight box is synchronized to follow sentence by sentence, making for a visually relaxing reading experience.

To further optimise the latter you can enlarge the text; choose both a preferred narration highlight colour and a text colour eg. white text with a black highlight etc; or even opt to subdue the distraction of the surrounding text by ‘greying it out’ with an overlay of grey or pink.

Save as DAISY add in

Save as DAISY add-in for Microsoft Word

Additionally, by using the DAISY for Microsoft Word add-in to convert your documents to DAISY format, you can even use AMIS to improve your access to your own work.

What could be better 

So what’s not to like? Similarly to WordTalk, it would be useful if AMIS was available for Mac users. Apart from that, well considering all that AMIS offers, it’s a minor quibble really, and may have more to do with the DAISY format than the AMIS software: AMIS is an environment for completed DAISY content ie, you cannot use it to work on one of your own documents that you may wish to edit.

Overall

There’s every reason to download the free AMIS software, for when combined with a digital talking book/magazine/document, it allows a VI user to move around a text in a way previously only available to sighted users.

More info about using WordTalk and AMIS?

Try these Youtube videos:

WordTalk-A Quick Overview 

Using AMIS to read DAISY files – Load2Learn Tutorials