The Ohio Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled circulates more than 20,000 books a month to blind and low-vision readers — and during the pandemic, insatiable readers are reading more than ever.
“People want their books,” says manager Will Reed, “and they rely on them for a lifeline.”
The OLBPD offers the free borrowing of braille books and magazines, as well as audiobooks and other reading materials, to readers with temporary or permanent blindness, low vision and other physical disabilities that prevent them from reading or holding print books.
Although it’s housed with the Cleveland Public Library’s Memorial-Nottingham branch, the OLBPD serves about 15,000 readers across the state of Ohio. Eligible patrons must have their disability certified by a medical professional in order to apply for registration with OLBPD. Then, Reed and his staff work with patrons to determine what type of materials best suit their accessibility needs and interests.
“You tell us what you like, and we can get the books out to you,” Reed says, “or if you’re an independent reader, you tell us what you like, and we’ll send it — or you can do some combination.”
Patrons can download audiobooks online or request physical copies of braille books and Playaway pre-loaded digital audiobooks, which OLBPD staff ship by mail. The office fields about 20,000 calls a year from patrons who have questions about the technology or just want help finding a good book.
One of those patrons is Marilyn Allison, 83, a downtown resident and avid reader who became legally blind in 1986 from a progressive genetic eye disease. She mostly downloads audiobooks using the Bard Mobile app — and as a retired rehabilitation counselor, she volunteers with the library, helping new patrons use adaptive technology so they can rediscover a love of reading.
“It’s such a worthwhile service, especially when people are first losing their vision,” she says. “They’re feeling down and thinking they can’t read a book or magazine anymore, and I tell them, ‘Ah, but you can! You’re just going to do it a little differently now.’ ”
Patrons can normally request up to 50 physical books at once, but during the pandemic, Reed has bent the rules to make up for increased need and delayed shipping times.
“Voracious readers are going through a lot of reading materials during the pandemic,” he says, “and if we have to increase your allotment of books so you have enough to read, we’re OK with that for now.”
Allison, who has listened to more autobiographies and romance novels than ever during the pandemic, says the OLBPD offers a vital service.
“One of the biggest things in your life is when your vision goes,” she says. “Having these books is such a godsend.”