Local authority cutbacks to the Royal National Institute for the Blind’s Talking Books service are leaving blind and visually impaired book lovers without proper access to the world of reading, the RNIB has said.
The service offers users a choice of 19,000 titles and an accessible player for blind readers to use. But RNIB National Library Service manager Pat Beech said 2,000 subscriptions had already been axed this year and predicted up to 2,500 more could go, adding up to 17% of the 26,000 subscriptions paid for by local authorities.
"We also know that many authorities have waiting lists, but as their funding is unlikely to increase these people may never get the talking books service," she said.
A Talking Book subscription costs £82 per year, subsidised by the RNIB by £39 in each case.
Stoke-on-Trent council has cancelled its Talking Books service while Suffolk has capped the number of readers using it, by requiring them to have read at least 20 books in the past year for their subscription to continue.
Bromley and Westminster are both withdrawing from the RNIB scheme, with a further 10 authorities believed to be considering cutting the service.
A spokesperson for Stoke-on-Trent council said the decision had been made due to "financial pressures" but that the council was now offering its own free talking book scheme.
A Westminster spokesperson said it was offering a new e-audiobook service run by W F Howes "which gives our readers access to a catalogue of over 600 titles for adults with a further five new titles added each month".
Bromley council said it was redirecting resources to the audiobooks within its own libraries, and using the Calibre free national service, which offers a catalogue of 8,000 titles.
Suffolk council said a review of its Talking Books service had been "overdue", adding: "Whilst Suffolk libraries may not retain in stock the
range of audiobooks available from RNIB, anyone can go into a library and [they] are also now widely available for loan and the Suffolk At Home Library service will bring audio and large print books to the home of people unable to get to their library."