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Reading is a lifeline for blind people according to new research

New research by Loughborough University has revealed that reading plays a vital role in the lives of blind and partially sighted people.

The study found that reading helped the visually impaired to overcome daily challenges, boosted mental well-being, enabled them to develop learning and skills and provided opportunities for social contact through reading groups.

Commissioned by leading sight loss charity the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to mark Read for RNIB Day, the research was conducted by Loughborough’s LISU research and information centre and The Reading Agency – a charity working to inspire more people to read more.

Focussing on the impact of reading for pleasure on the lives of blind and partially sighted adults, the study found that 82 per cent of the people questioned said that reading for pleasure was ‘very important’ in their lives, whilst 95 per cent read for pleasure more than once a week, with over half (55 per cent) reading more than ten hours per week. These figures appear to be considerably higher than the general population.

Linked to its impact on quality of life and well-being, the new research also reveals that reading plays a significant role in helping blind and partially sighted adults cope with life’s pressures, including significant moments such as bereavement; engaging them in meaningful activity that passes the time, occupies the mind, and represents a stimulating alternative to activities that are no longer easy or possible to undertake.

The recommendations of the report centre around ensuring that authors, publishers, RNIB, public libraries and local authorities all work and collaborate wherever possible to ensure that appropriate materials are available in a variety of formats including, for example, text-to-speech enabling on e-books. The research also indicates the importance of accessible presentation of reading material to enable selection without sighted assistance and the value of library reading group provision as a significant social, well- being and learning experience for blind readers.

Alongside this the research recognises the importance of library services continuing to build on the valuable framework provided by Six Steps to library services for blind and partially sighted people, in particular, building the needs of blind and partially sighted readers into the organisation of reading events and promotions.

Lesley-Anne Alexander CBE, chief executive of RNIB, says: “So many of the people who come to us are at breaking point, struggling to adjust to living without sight. And often it’s our reading services such as Talking Books, giant print books or telephone book groups that people undergoing this traumatic and life changing transformation describe as a lifeline. We hope that this research will explain the importance of our services and get involved in Read for RNIB Day on 19 October.”

Claire Creaser, Director of LISU at Loughborough University added: “Reading is something that most of us take for granted. Blind and partially sighted people have to make an extra effort to obtain books in formats they can access, and although this research was based on a relatively small sample, the results clearly show how much reading means to them. Making books more accessible, in a variety of formats and from a range of sources, can only bring benefits to all.”

Debbie Hicks, Director of Research for The Reading Agency said: “This research shows that the value of reading is intensified for people who are blind and partially sighted – for many it is a life line that helps define who they are and their relationship with the world around them. We must all work together to ensure that participation in what is after all a very cost effective activity is available to as many blind and partially sighted people as possible.”

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