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A guide to eBooks for blind and partially sighted readers

If you've never used an eBook before it may sound daunting, but you don't need to be an expert to use one.

An eBook is simply an electronic version of a book, with the benefit that you have more control over how you read it. You can always choose the size of the text in the book, and often its shape, colour, and contrast - you can often even choose to read it with electronic speech or on a Braille device.  New books are published as eBooks at the same time as standard print, which means you can get books at the same time and price as sighted readers. eBooks are available on various devices, the RNIB Shop carries many electronic reading devices for blind and partially sighted people.

How do I read an eBook?

To read an eBook you must use either:

  • An eBook reader. This is a device that is designed especially for reading eBooks. Kindle, Kobo and Nook are types of eBook readers. They cost from £30 upwards.
  • An eBook app. This is a programme that runs on a computer, tablet or smartphone. The makers of eBook readers mentioned above also make eBook apps, while other apps include iBooks, Play Books and Adobe Digital Editions. All are free.

As well as letting you read an eBook, readers and apps have additional facilities such as allowing you to look up words in a dictionary, search for words or phrases, highlight or annotate text, and link to social media sites.

There are thousands of eBook readers and apps available, but we've concentrated on the most popular mainstream ones which can read "protected" books - those that use "Digital Rights Management" (DRM) software.

Limitations of eBook readers and apps

eBook readers or apps are usually linked to an online bookstore, and for many, you are limited to getting books from that bookstore. In other words, using a particular eBook reader or app ties you into the ecosystem of that provider.  If you switch to a different reader or app, you may lose access to the library of books you have acquired.

All eBook readers and apps will allow you to add books to it, browse and sort the books on it, and choose one to read. But the accessibility options such as large text or text-to-speech may only be available once you have opened a book to read it.

The cheaper and more basic eBook readers have fewest accessibility options. The more advanced readers and apps often require a touch screen device with few or no tactile controls. Colour screens may have a lot of glare, especially in sunlight.

Which eBook reader or app is best for me?

The way you choose to read eBooks will depend on what, how and where you want to read, and what suits you in terms of your sight loss, dexterity and lifestyle.

All eBook readers and apps let you enlarge the text of a book. Some let you listen to the book as text-to-speech, and a few allow you to read with a Braille display. Not all eBook readers have the same accessibility options, so make sure the one you buy lets you read the way you want to!

The links on this page will give you an overview of the features available on the main readers available in the UK. Don't forget that many high-street book, electrical and department stores sell eBook readers, so ask a member of staff for a demonstration. eBook apps are almost always free, so you can download one and try it out to see if it suits you.

An increasing number of public libraries are offering eBooks and can advise on what reader or app you will need in order to access them.

Where can I get eBooks from?

Once you've got an eBook reader or eBook app you can go online to get some eBooks. You can do this with the eBook reader or app, or with another device that connects to the Internet, like a computer or smartphone.

All eBook readers and apps work in a similar way: connect to the relevant bookstore, browse and buy (or get for free - many classic books don't cost a penny), wait a few seconds for the book to download, and start reading!

There are also libraries of free books online, like Project Gutenberg, and an increasing number of libraries allow you to borrow eBooks for a limited period.

Help with technology

If you're a bit green when it comes to technology, don't fret. Our technology section has some useful beginner's guides and a glossary of terms to get you started.

We also have a Technology for Life team who can help you understand your gadgets.

Where can I find out more?

You can go online and search on the name of an eBook reader or app and you'll be inundated with information!  Shops that sell eBook readers should be able to answer all your questions about their devices. Or if you have a specific question, you can email [email protected]

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