Articles · Essay

Audiobooks return the pleasures of reading to the print and visually impaired

410yemhlgal-_sl300_Not long after I sold the rights for The Birdman’s Wife to Affirm Press, I was delighted to be offered a publishing contract from Wavesound, a new audiobook imprint dedicated to making Australian titles available in alternative formats to print. Wavesound is an imprint of Audible, the world’s largest publisher of audiobooks. All of Wavesound’s audiobooks are recorded locally in Sydney, and employ Australian actors.

While readers may be aware of audiobooks as a new form of media by which to enjoy reading, few realise that for the print-impaired, audiobooks are the only means of accessing our culturally significant local and national stories.

At the age of 10, my 12 year old daughter was diagnosed with cone-rod dystrophy, a degenerative retinal condition that affects both her central and peripheral vision. Diseases of central vision, known as macular dystrophies in children, and macular degeneration in adults, make reading particularly difficult, as the fine focus needed to engage with print is severely degraded. For some, larger print titles are the answer, but for many, with significant central vision damage like my daughter, the only way to access written texts is via an audio channel. (If she does try to read very large text, it is by scanning words with her peripheral vision. This causes headaches and dizziness, which as you can imagine, destroys all pleasure of losing oneself in the imaginary world of a book.)

Unfortunately, there is a world-wide poverty in accessing audio books for the visually impaired. Indeed, only 5% of texts make it into audio formats. For my daughter, this means that contemporary literature by Australian authors suitable for her age group is often not available. For example, she cannot always access class texts in a suitable format, and instead has them read out to her by classmates or her teacher. My daughter is and always has been an avid reader. She is currently making her way through Anne of Green Gables. She has read Harry Potter several times over and is keen to begin The Lord of the Rings, but there many  recently published titles that her friends enjoy that she simply cannot access. And this is why an imprint like Wavesound’s commitment to publishing unique Australian stories in audio formats is so important.

The audiobook of The Birdman’s Wife was published in the same week that the printed text was released. With Wavesound and other imprints, there is no lag – determined by market popularity, for instance – in accessing an audio title. For the print-impaired reader, this means that having the same diverse choices as any other reader to engage with culturally relevant local and national stories is made possible.

Another bonus to able and impaired readers is that while you can purchase your own copy of an audiobook to listen to at your leisure,  you can also access audiobooks on a downloadable format from your council library – far more convenient than popping into the physical version to borrow the printed title.

I am filled with gratitude that Wavesound has taken the step of making The Birdman’s Wife into an audiobook. Natasha Beaumont’s beautiful narration gives a very different reading experience, rich, lush and nuanced, which can be enjoyed by all readers, not just the print-able. Although my daughter is a little young to connect with The Birdman’s Wife, I look forward to the day when she tells me that she is ready to read the novel I dedicated to her.

To hear a sample of Natasha Beaumont’s gorgeous narration of The Birdman’s Wife, follow the link below (it will take you to the audible website). Enjoy!





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