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by Carol Evans []  

This article is based on materials presented at the national conference of the Council for Exceptional Children, Division on Visual Impairments, Salt Lake City, April 1997.

Carol Evans (former itinerant teacher of the visually impaired) Doctoral Student in School Psychology, University of Utah School Psychologist, Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind 

Recorded books have been used for many years by individuals with visual impairment as an efficient way to read quantities of material when braille was not available, or when reading skills were not well developed for a variety of reasons. It was often considered a poor substitute for "real reading. "In recent years, the use of recorded books has expanded to additional populations: those with reading disabilities, as well as those with traumatic brain injury, (loosely defined to include survivors of strokes). Clear evidence of this expansion is found in the recent change of the organizational name of "Recording for the Blind" to "Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. "

Over the years my colleagues and I have had a number of students with varying degrees of visual impairment who have concomitant learning disabilities. Their reading deficits could not be explained by vision loss alone. Some of them have been survivors of traumatic brain injury: auto-bicycle accident, pickup truck rollover, falls from trees or flagpoles.

One of my students with Traumatic Brain Injury recovered all of his academic abilities. He reads braille so well that he can read through a band-aid! But because of severely reduced processing speed, his braille reading speed is very slow, despite many kinds of interventions intended to increase it.

Teachers of students with reading disabilities, and those with behavior disorders with underlying learning disabilities have inquired about the usefulness of recorded books for their students. I have worked in consultation with these teachers, and with Deborah Burt, an adult professional with severe multiple learning disabilities involving both visual perception and auditory processing deficits who devised her own method which she calls the "Book-Cassette Book" method.

AudioAssisted Reading is a method of using recorded books along with the corresponding book in regular print, large print, video-magnified print, or braille. This method allows the reader to use all available avenues of sensory input simultaneously to acquire and process information. It has some distinct advantages over using either print or braille alone, or using recorded books alone:

  1. Simultaneous use helps those with attention problems screen out competing stimuli. Some people who use recordings alone are distracted by visual stimuli in the environment. Some who use print or braille alone are distracted by extraneous sound. Use of headphones can boost attention.
  2. If print or braille decoding is slow and labored, it consumes all the energy needed for comprehension. By the time one gets to the end of the sentence, one may have forgotten what the beginning was about. Paragraph comprehension may require repeated re-reading. The pace and inflection of recorded narration provides efficient decoding and comprehension.
  3. When reading textbooks, references to visual materials (illustrations, charts, graphs, maps, etc. ) are made by the narrator. If the reader is following along in the print book, he or she is able to get much valuable information from examination of the illustrations. When the verbal description ends, the reader is cued by the narrator to "return to text. "

    Individuals who do not need to listen to the description of the visual materials may fast-forward through these sections, although a number of people with perceptual problems may benefit from them.
  4. Young children who are having difficulty learning the relationship between sounds and symbols, but who nevertheless enjoy listening to stories, can be encouraged to discover these relationships by using recorded storybooks (available in packages along with the corresponding print books at any public library). Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic is producing many early reading series materials for this purpose.
  5. Intermediate grade children who have reading deficits and are served by resource for attempted remediation may compensate and be included in regular classroom environments for literature reading by use of recorded novels available from the State Library for the Blind and Physically (Challenged, Handicapped, etc. , depending on the particular state). The State Libraries are divisions of the Library of Congress, and virtually all of classical and modern literature, including the latest best-sellers, is available free to qualifying individuals from this resource.
  6. Compensatory use of recorded books has sometimes resulted in remedial effects when all other efforts at remediation have failed.

One mother told me that her son was four years below grade level in reading when he started using tapes along with books. After two years of using this method, and no other attempts at remediation, he was retested and found to be only two years below grade level, a net gain of four years in two! By the time he graduated from high school he was able to read on grade level. I know of no empirical research that validates these effects. Nevertheless, Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic has received many letters attesting to similar personal experiences.

Why do we call this method "AudioAssisted Reading?" 

To communicate the idea that it IS reading.

A high school student was rapidly losing his vision to diabetes. He also had peripheral tactile neuropathy, and was having a difficult time learning braille. His English teacher assigned a novel, and he commented that he could get it on tape. Her response was that they were there to develop his reading skills, not his listening skills. She had the same problem about giving him credit for watching a movie. In both instances I asked if he evidenced comprehension: could he answer questions, could he retell the story, could he describe the essential elements of the plot and characters? Despite the fact that all the answers were yes, she never quite got it. Now, when I call the method "AudioAssisted Reading," no one questions its legitimacy.


For many individuals the first step is a visit to the public library. Check out their collections of commercially recorded books (playable on ordinary tape players). Select one that seems interesting to you (or your student), along with the corresponding print book. Try it at home, following along in print. Since ordinary tape players do not have variable speed, this may be difficult. If tracking along in print is not possible (either because of the speed, or because of severe visual tracking or decoding problems) there is still a way.

Obtain an application form from your State Library. Fill it out and obtain the signature of a qualified certifying authority, as defined on the application. This may be a teacher of the visually impaired, for those who are visually impaired, or an occupational or physical therapist for those with motor problems that prevent handling a book or turning pages. For those with reading disabilities who do not have medical proof of motor problems or brain injury, the certifying authority will be required to be a medical doctor.

Mail in the application. You will soon receive a tape player on free, permanent loan, and catalogues of books according to the information on your application. Your tape player has four tracks and variable speed control. The tape that comes with the machine contains instructions for its use. You may call the State Library toll free to order your tapes, which are sent to you (and returned to the Library) postage free.

You may also order books that are not listed in the catalogue (which is obsolete as soon as it is printed; they are constantly recording new books) by calling the State Library and requesting it. The librarian will search the computer data base to see if it has been added to their collection, or if it is available from one of the multi-state libraries.

The variable speed control will allow you to adjust the player speed to match your ability to track. You may need to listen at a slower-than-normal speed. Some visually impaired students have gradually trained themselves to listen at very high rates of speed. I have actual video footage of several of these students reading at their own natural rate, and then reading along with the tape at much higher speeds.

When you are ready to progress to textbooks, contact Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) on their toll free number: 1-800-221-4792. They will send an application form, which also needs the signature of a qualifying authority. Their requirements are a little more liberal, however, and if you are a patron of a State Library, they will accept a mailing label as proof of qualification.

RFB&D is constantly involved in recording new textbooks. Their narrators have been auditioned for voice quality and fluency of reading, and trained to use a consistent format. Reading is monitored for accuracy. Their studio recordings are of the highest quality. Request their booklets for students, parents and professionals, entitled "Learning Through Listening. "They contain valuable information on listening, study and note-taking.


When using recreational books on tape from the State Library system, one needs merely to start at the beginning and read through to the end. If the adapted tape player is used, students learn how to adjust speed, tone, etc. , and how to use the track selector switch before they get into the complexity of textbooks. Use the tape and book (regular, large or magnified print) together. Adjust the speed of the tape to the student's speed in tracking the print or braille.

Some students will track print more accurately with a card to screen out the print above or below the target line. Make cards from black or dark color construction paper or poster board to eliminate the glare from white cards.

To screen out all print other than the line being read, make a typoscope, a card with a rectangular opening just larger than a line of print.

Stop at logical intervals to check comprehension by having the student re-tell the content of the section in his or her own words, or by asking comprehension questions.

Eventually the student will learn to track accurately, and may wish to speed up the tape. If the student handles the controls he or she can learn how they respond. Students often read with one hand on the speed control, responding to easy material by speeding up, and to more difficult material by slowing down.

Some students are overwhelmed by the complex process for finding assigned passages in textbooks, which are often assigned out of order. The following task analysis breaks down the process into small steps.



  1. Open the package. Remove the content cards (one for each cassette).
  2. Find the card referring to the desired chapter (page number). 
  3. Select correct cassette. 
  4. Refer to card: say "cassette ____, track ____. 
  5. Press STOP-EJECT. If track 1 or 2, press TRACK 1-2. If track 1, insert cassette label side up. If track 2, insert cassette label side down. If track 3 or 4, press TRACK 3-4. If track 3, insert cassette label side up. If track 4, insert cassette label side down.
  6. Close cover. Push PLAY. 
  7. Note number of first page of track from card (also stated by narrator at beginning of track). 
  8. Subtract first page number from target page number. The result is the number of beeps to be counted to find the page. 
  9. Push FAST FORWARD. 
  10. Count the beeps. Push STOP. Push PLAY. 
  11. Alternate PLAY with REWIND briefly to find the voiced page number. 


  1. Listen. Track along in print or braille (skim). 
  2. Adjust variable speed to your tracking speed. 
  3. Stay with the narrator. 
  4. Mark place in text when visual materials are described and look at the picture, map, graph, chart, etc. 
  5. When narrator says "return to text," return to place marked. Continue listening and tracking. 
  6. When unfamiliar words are not clear from the context: Push STOP. Use FRANKLIN LANGUAGE MASTER, or ask for dictionary help. 
  7. Note taking: Push STOP. Take notes. Continue listening.


(for students with severe process learning difficulties, and for those who are resistant to instruction by the task analysis method)

Backward chaining is the process of reversing the direction of instruction in a complex series of tasks, so that the end-result activity (called the terminal behavior in psychological jargon) is taught first. In the case of using recorded textbooks, it would mean that the teacher does all the steps in the task analysis FOR the student, in his/her presence, verbalizing all the steps while modeling the behaviors.

The last step in the task analysis involves listening, so that becomes the first step in backward chaining. The teacher follows all of the preceding steps of the task analysis, thoroughly verbalizing while guiding the student to look at the content cards:

"We are looking for chapter 2, which begins on page 45. The content cards say that chapter 2 is on cassette 1, track 3. That is on the front side of the tape so we insert the tape with the label side up, and switch to track 3/4. Let's see, the card says the track starts on page 39, and the chapter begins on page 45; 45 take away 39 is 6, so we press FAST FORWARD and count 6 beeps and we should be there. "

After counting the beeps to 6, stop the machine, rewind for just a moment, and listen. This way, with virtually no effort or frustration on his part, the student gets an immediate payoff: information. The student listens, and under your guidance, stops to take notes and/or answer questions.

Next time, figure out the number of beeps from the beginning of the track, and let the student operate the machine while you help count. Always provide the reinforcement of the listening experience at the end of the page-finding process.

The following time, the teacher follows all the procedures up to the point where the cassette is inserted. Have the student insert the tape, operate the track selection switch, and find the page.

Gradually expose the student to independent experience with the content cards, guiding him to read the page ranges to find the card referring to the target chapter/page. The target ("terminal") behavior will eventually look like this: Given the specially adapted tape player, the recorded book, content cards, and the assigned chapter number and page number, the student will:

  • Find the correct content card. 
  • Identify the correct cassette and track numbers. 
  • Select the correct tape from the box. 
  • Determine the number of beeps to count to target page.
  • Correctly count the beeps and reach the target page.

Eventually, the student will comfortable with the entire procedure and gain independence in the use of recorded textbooks.