Improving Accessibility with Audio Content

Literature is a deeply important part of our collective culture. After all, our stories shape and reflect the world around us — and yet, traditional reading can be exclusionary. Anxiety about reading, as well as reading disorders, can make the school experience much harder for some students. These days, psychologists and literacy specialists advocate for a listening option. Audiobooks have opened up a world of accessibility for those who don’t benefit from traditional reading. Everyone deserves the opportunity to enjoy reading, in whatever medium works best for them.

Dyslexia and other Reading Disorders

Many types of people benefit from the accessibility of audio content. As many as 43.5 million Americans live with Dyslexia, the most well-known reading disorder. Those who experience it struggle with spelling, mixing similar-looking letters up, seeing letters in a jumble, and seeing words backwards or out of order. Some even report nausea and headaches. Ultimately, this renders reading a deeply unpleasant experience. These struggles can make school difficult, and grades can suffer. Dyslexia does not affect a person’s intelligence at all, and yet it can disturb their academic life in a detrimental way. Having the option to use audiobooks, podcasts, and aural versions of articles and textbooks allows people with dyslexia to engage with their studies — or even read for pleasure!

Including Underserved Communities

Even people who do not struggle with reading disorders can be left behind by the traditional ways of interacting with literature. Children who have a harder time learning to read often feel anxiety and shame about it that makes them avoid books whenever possible. Low income communities don’t tend to have access to the academic resources that help children get past these roadblocks, negatively impacting less privileged children — and eventually adults. For these communities, audio content can be used as an affordable tool, alongside physical books, to help students develop their reading skills.

Helping the Visually Impaired

The visually impaired community also benefits from audio content. For the blind and the visually impaired, braille books have often been the way of providing access to literature. However, braille books have their drawbacks. As we move into the future, they have had a harder time adapting into more convenient, virtual mediums (like the kindle, e-books, etc.) They are also expensive, and only assist those who are physically able to read them. Those with injuries or disabilities that prevent them from reading with their fingers are not able to use them effectively. And, in order to gain anything from braille books, the elderly who lose their sight late in life have to learn a brand new way of reading, which can be a strain. Audiobooks, however, can be used by everyone in the visually impaired community who can hear. No one needs to learn a new system, those with disabilities can participate, and the blind and visually impaired get to enjoy literature with ease.

Improving Educational Experiences with Audio

When it comes to education, all of the aforementioned groups can be greatly helped by having the option of audio content. In fact, it can be an asset for all students! The Western Downs Libraries make a point to conduct research about audiobooks in order to better understand how they can help in an educational setting. According to them, 27% of students K-12 are auditory learners. This means they take in new information most effectively when listening. They go on to note that combining print and audio increases recall by 40%, making audio content a valuable tool across the board. After all, textbooks of every subject are beginning to become available in audio format!

Students Benefit from Listening

For English as a Second Language students, audiobooks can help them hone their listening skills and practice real life conversations. When learning a new language, listening is vitally important in improving pronunciation and fluency. In literature classes, audiobooks make the class materials accessible to every type of student without judgment, leveling the playing field. They help listeners focus less on decoding the text and more on story, content, and emotional response. Listening to stories also helps students build their working memory — a cognitive system with a limited capacity that can hold information temporarily. And according to Western Downs Libraries, access to audiobooks improves reading scores.

Audio as an Affordable Option

One of the best things about audio content, as a tool for learning or as a device for personal enjoyment, is how affordable and easy to find it is. Audiobooks are more easy to find than ever, in the form of digital or physical copies available for purchase. Schools can subscribe to online educational libraries and access any audio materials they might need for a manageable fee. But they can be found for free, as well! Mainstream libraries offer audiobooks on tape or CD. Through library apps, such as Libby or Hoopla, one can borrow digital versions of them. Podcasts cover every subject under the sun, and the majority of them are free and easy to find on multiple different platforms. The Poise app brings blogs and other online content into the audio world with professional voice overs. With a little looking, one can find any audio content one needs.

Improving the Literary Experience

The abundance of audio content benefits all of us. In school settings, it improves scores and the student experience. It makes texts accessible to every kind of person, including those with reading disabilities, visual impairments, or economic disadvantages. And for so many of us, books and other forms of literature can feel out of reach, for one reason or another. Audiobooks and other audio content will continue to advance, and it will be exciting to see the positive effects, both on education and on the literary experience in general.