Book Content, Living with a disability, reflection

What it’s like being Blind and Bookish

If you know me, you know that I love to read. In fact, you could almost say it’s an addiction. If you don’t know me, then now you know that. I’ve loved reading for as long as I can remember. It started with books on tape and progressed to braille books, then on to books on disc as well as braille, and eventually, to eBooks when Apple forced the Apple iBooks app onto our phones in the release of iOS 8. The weekend after the release, I got sick and was forced to spend a few days in bed. With nothing better to do, I opened the app and started reading the free books they had on offer. Regrettably, the first eBook I read was the first book in the House of Night series by P. C. Cast. Hopefully, I can be forgiven for that. With that weekend spent in bed came the chance to read books in genres and with tropes I’d never even looked at. Hello vampires, werewolves, enemies to lovers and siblings’ best friend tropes. I read a lot of first in a series books because they were free, and sadly I haven’t gone back to finish the series I started. I read so many books once I had that app in my hot little hands that it would take too long to list them all. We’ll say it’s close to 1000 books. The app was great! It was voiceover accessible, I could read the books without any problems, unlike Overdrive or Borrow box.

My username on Twitter, Tiktok and Instagram is Blind and Bookish. So, I wanted to list the things I love about being Blind and Bookish, and the things I dislike.

First, the things I love.

  1. Meeting book friends. I love picking up a book and meeting a ton of people without leaving my home and often, the comfort of my bed. Page one is like a meet and greet. With each turn of the following pages, I get to know the characters that lie within, how they think, how they react. It’s like the author has crafted a friend, just for me and the others that read the books. I know, it sounds weird and yes, I should get out more, but as someone who has a lot of insecurities around meeting people, and a ton of self-esteem issues that I am working on, bookish friends work for me. I’ve been an active content creator within the #Booktok community on Tiktok, and I’d like to think that I’ve made some friends there too.
  2. Being able to paint my own pictures. When you’re as blind as I am, you miss a lot. Like, so much that it would take me an entire post to list all that I miss out on seeing. Don’t come at me just yet, hear me out. When you have vision, you get to see things like the way the sun filters through the trees in a shaded path or what have you. There’s the beauty in seeing water, rapidly rushing down a waterfall. You get to see so much, and when authors write, they paint beautiful pictures that I can imagine in my mind. As I read the scenes, they have so lovingly put effort into setting out through description, I can hear the sounds and maybe, if the author is that good at describing something, smell, taste or feel it.
  3. I get to travel all over this world, and other worlds, without going anywhere. This one is really cool, because from one book to the next, you never know where you’re going to end up. That’s amazing because you get to experience somewhere new through the story told by the author of the book you’re reading. That’s really cool to me. It’s even cooler when the book you’re reading is set in an alternate universe, or in a different time period. I love seeing how much authors put into building the world in which their books are set in.
  4. I can take books with me, wherever I go. This one is a double-edged sword, but I’ll explain the other side of the sword later on in the post. Thanks to technology, I can carry thousands of books in my pocket. I can read them using kindle or Apple Books, I can play them in audible, my options are limitless. Even if I have to go somewhere without good cell service, I can save the books to read offline. Braille, and even books on disc or tape don’t allow me that luxury. Braille books are heavy bricks, and if I were still restricted to braille I probably wouldn’t read as much as I do. Perhaps I might, on the other hand, but I’d have a lot more back and shoulder troubles than I already do. Sure, there are braille displays and refreshable braille, but the idea of carrying multiple technical devices that all link together just so I can read sounds like too much work. That’s why I just let my phones built-in accessibility software do the reading for me.

Now, for the dislikes.

Sadly, there are a lot more dislikes than there are likes, and it may seem like these are just complaints, but I want to put them here anyway.

  1. I can’t appreciate the gorgeous cover art. As I scroll on Tiktok, so many posts I see are people gushing over how pretty a book cover is, how brightly coloured it may be, and the amazing quality of the cover. This is something that I miss out on. Plus, there’s all the hunks on the spicy books I read. Unfortunately, there’s no way for me to feel a book cover on my phone screen, and even when I read braille books, we didn’t really have graphic covers, so this is something that I will sadly, continue to miss out on.
  2. I can’t carry books! Here’s that double-edged sword I mentioned. I said earlier that it’s great that I can carry books in my pocket, but for once I’d love to whip a book out of my huge crossbody bag, open it up, breathe in that beautiful book smell and feel the pages turning beneath my fingers. I feel like this is a big part of reading, and it’s something I miss out on experiencing when my phones screenreader or a professional narrator is reading me a book. Plus, being able to lend books to friends. I could do that if my handbag was full of books. Braille books simply wouldn’t fit in my handbag, so this is something that I’ll have to daydream about. The closest I’ve come to experiencing the feeling of holding a book in my hands is when I read on my iPad, but even that’s not the same.
  3. I can’t enjoy the beautiful book smell. Last year, I walked into a bookstore to buy my mum a birthday present. I stood in the doorway, blocking entry for someone else as I took in a long, deep breath to soak up the book smell. It’s a beautiful scent and if I could bottle and wear it I would. eBooks and audio books don’t give you book smell, which is sad.
  4. Most book merch is visual. Alright, maybe I’m looking in the wrong places, but most book merch I’ve found is visual. It’s either stickers, or bookmarks, or coffee mugs with no texture at all, and the tote bags too. Perhaps this is something that I will have to look into making a reality for myself and the many other blind people out there who enjoy reading, but for the moment, most merch is inaccessible to us. It would be cool to feel a raised print of a book cover on a t-shirt, or maybe a mug. Braille bookmarks? Hell yeah!
  5. I never get any book mail. Well, I never get mail anyway, thanks to Email letters and the like, but ever since doing the booktok thing, I’ve wanted book mail. This all ties in with what I’ve said previously, about braille books being too big, not being able to read print and the fact that most book merch is too visual for me to enjoy properly. I would love to receive book mail though, even if I can’t enjoy it. Being able to share what I’ve received with others would be amazing too, because bonding over books is beautiful. Hey, I should make that a t-shirt or something.
  6. I can’t properly engage with bookish content on social media. When we post content on social media, it’s an automatic thing to just apply filters, type in some hashtags and hit the post button. This means, that people like me can’t often see what books are being displayed in a post because the creator has not taken the time to apply alt text. Alt text not only helps people with disabilities, but it also helps your content, especially on blogs, thanks to search engine optimization. I could write a whole post on alt text, and I may just do that, but back to the book stuff. By not adding alt text to your photos or verbalising the titles within your bookish videos, people like me don’t get to discover what you’re reading or recommending, and what you’ve written if you’re an author. It doesn’t take long to add alt text, it helps you and it includes those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to engage with your content had you not used it.

There we have it.

I’ve covered a lot in this post, and yes, some of it may just be complaints. Books are my home, booktok is my community and I feel blessed to be able to read as many books as I have in all my years of existing. I’m curious, do any other blind bookworms relate to anything I’ve said here? Did I miss anything? Is there accessible merch/bottled book smell I’m missing out on? Leave me a comment below if you like what you’ve read.
Thanks for reading,
Lunar🐺

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