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Eligibility

Any resident of the United States or American citizen living abroad who is unable to read or use regular print materials as a result of temporary or permanent visual or physical limitations may receive service through NLS. This includes those who are blind or have a visual or physical disability that prevents them from reading or handling print materials. NLS serves patrons of all ages. Some schools and medical facilities are also eligible to apply for service as institutions.

Who can qualify?

NLS provides service to individuals who fall into any of the following categories:

  1. Blind persons whose visual acuity, as determined by competent authority, is 20/200 or less in the better eye with correcting lenses, or whose widest diameter of visual field subtends an angular distance no greater than 20 degrees.
  2. Persons whose visual disability, with correction and regardless of optical measurement, is certified by competent authority as preventing the reading of standard printed material
  3. Persons certified by competent authority as unable to read or unable to use standard printed material as a result of physical limitations.
  4. Persons certified by competent authority as having a reading disability resulting from organic dysfunction and of sufficient severity to prevent their reading printed material in a normal manner.
  5. Persons living as residents of the United States (including its territories, insular possessions, and the District of Columbia), American citizens living abroad, or dependents of active military personnel or diplomats.

This includes individuals who have had a qualifying disability from birth, individuals who are disabled because of medical conditions or trauma, and individuals who become disabled as they age. Individuals who have a temporary disability may qualify for service on a temporary basis. Individuals who are blind or have a physical disability and who have been honorably discharged from the armed forces of the United States receive special priority.

Who is a “competent authority”?

In cases of blindness, visual impairment, or physical limitations, “competent authority” is defined to include:

  • Doctors of medicine
  • Doctors of osteopathy
  • Ophthalmologists
  • Optometrists
  • Registered nurses
  • Therapists
  • Professional staff of hospitals, institutions, and public or private welfare agencies (e.g., social workers, case workers, counselors, rehabilitation teachers, and superintendents).

In the absence of any of these, certification may be made by professional librarians or by any person whose competence under specific circumstances is acceptable to the Library of Congress.

Competent authority for certifying eligibility as a result of a reading disability from organic dysfunction is defined as “doctors of medicine and doctors of osteopathy,” who may consult with colleagues in associated disciplines. Further information on qualifying for service as an individual with a reading disability may be found in the NLS Reference Guide: Talking Books and Reading Disabilities.

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What does it mean to apply to NLS as an institution?

Institutions may apply to hold deposit collections to provide ready access to recorded and braille books and magazines for eligible students, clients, or patients who can share equipment or who require temporary service.

A typical deposit collection contains playback equipment for talking books as well as representative titles selected for their potential interest to the clients of the institution. As a general rule, the local braille and talking book library will assign one piece of equipment for every four eligible individuals at the institution.

What types of institutions are eligible?

Typically, deposit collections are located in schools for the blind, nursing homes, hospitals, and rehabilitation centers. Public or private schools may also apply to hold deposit collections; however, the students in public or private schools must be certified as eligible on an individual basis and must be the direct and only recipients of the materials and equipment.

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