The National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS), Library of Congress, offers a free program for individuals of all ages who have a disability that prevents them from reading regular print. We use human voice actors to record popular books found in public libraries or bookstores. We also offer a wide selection of recorded magazines.
These recordings, called talking books, may either be downloaded or sent to the reader in the mail for free. If a reader prefers to receive books in the mail, they will arrive on a cartridge that can be played on a player—which NLS also provides free of charge—designed for people with disabilities.
We do not offer classroom materials such as textbooks. However, we list a few sources of that material in the “Other Academic Resources” section below.
NLS also provides books and magazines in braille and has the world’s largest collection of music instruction and appreciation materials in audio and braille.
Eligibility of Persons with Reading Disabilities
Only persons whose reading disabilities are physically based are eligible for the NLS talking-book program. Applicants must be certified by competent authority (described below) as unable to read regular printed material as a result of physical limitations. An individual whose reading disability does not have a physical origin is not eligible.
Applications from individuals with a reading disability must establish the following facts:
- the reading disability is of sufficient severity to prevent reading regular printed material in a normal manner
- the cause of the disability is physically based; that is, it is an organic dysfunction
- the person certifying the application is medically able to judge whether the disability has a physical or organic basis
The following groups of individuals are not automatically eligible: those who have learning disabilities, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, chronic-fatigue syndrome, autism, functional illiteracy, or developmental disabilities, unless accompanied by a specific visual or physical disability.
Applicants with a reading disability must have their application signed by a doctor of medicine or osteopathy to certify that the reading disability has a physical basis.
Read detailed information about the legal requirements of our program.
Note that the certification requirements are different for applicants whose disability—such as blindness, paralysis, loss of arms or hands, extreme weakness, or palsy—is readily apparent. Read more information on general eligibility.
A standard application form and additional information about this free library service may be obtained from any NLS cooperating library. The completed application, signed by a doctor of medicine or doctor of osteopathy in the case of a reading disability, must be submitted to the cooperating library serving the applicant’s locality.
You may also call NLS at 1-888-NLS-READ (1-888-657-7323) to locate the cooperating library serving your locality.
Other Academic Resources
In addition to NLS, there are other services that provide material to people with print disabilities. Below is information on several of them:
512 Means St. NW, Ste. 250
Atlanta, Georgia 30318
(404) 894-7565 fax
The AccessText Network is a partnership between publishers of educational materials and educational institutions. Publishers offer materials in accessible formats through the network for students with disabilities. The materials are shared through the student’s college or university. A student with a qualifying disability can request a book in accessible format from the disability services coordinator in their educational institution. That coordinator has login credentials to the AccessText Network and is able to download the item in a format that the student can read.
Bookshare provides digital books free to all U.S. students with qualifying disabilities. Books are available for download in audio and braille formats.
The HathiTrust is a partnership of more than a dozen member research libraries that scan their collections to make them available over the Internet. Full texts of materials in the public domain are available. The HathiTrust recently partnered with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) to make their collection accessible to people with print disabilities.
Learning Ally is a private, nonprofit organization that lends recorded textbooks and other educational materials to people who cannot read regular print because of visual, perceptual, or other physical disabilities. A registration fee and an annual membership fee are required.
For more information
If you have any questions about the eligibility of those with reading or learning disabilities, would like an application, or would like more information, you may contact us using the information below:
National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled
Library of Congress
Washington, DC 20542
(202) 707-0712 (fax)
Updated October 2019