Blind and partially sighted readers can now access thousands of audiobooks through the Royal Institute of Blind People's (RNIB) partnership with Amazon's AI assistant Alexa.
Members of the charity's Talking Books library will be able to access their titles by asking Alexa. Users can search by book title, author and key word. RNIB will continue to provide Talking Books in the traditional USB and CD format, and customers can still access RNIB advice and support services.
David Clarke, director of services at RNIB, said: “We are extremely pleased to announce that Talking Books customers can now access the 34,000 books in the RNIB Library by asking Alexa. RNIB’s Talking Books library is 86 years old yet continues to adapt to the changing landscape of how our library users want to read their books. There are some great advantages to accessing your Talking Books this way. If you start a book but don’t like it, you can immediately choose another one rather than waiting for your next book to arrive in the post."
“Voice activated technology is bringing us closer to a world where blind and partially sighted people can consume books on a level playing field with sighted people," he added.
Liam O’Carroll, who is blind and a member of the charity's library, tested the Alexa Talking Books function for RNIB. He said: “It’s been fun to use, it’s nice and simple to set up. One of my favourite authors is James Herbert and I was able to easily search for books by him. My seven-year-old son also benefitted from the Alexa skill. He loves books by David Walliams and enjoyed using the skill to listen to them.”
Dennis Stansbury, Alexa UK country manager, said: “We love hearing feedback about how customers use Alexa throughout their day. We are delighted that customers can now access thousands of Talking Books by simply asking Alexa, alongside setting reminders, listening to music and creating shopping lists.”
The Talking Books service has been described as a "lifeline" during the pandemic, with 1.3 million sent out in the last year, according to the organisation. The original service launched in 1935, to help soldiers who had been blinded in the First World War and were struggling to learn braille. The first ever Talking Book created was HarperCollins’ The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie.