Supporting Students with Dyslexia: Free Resources from the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled

This post was written by Mark Layman of the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled at the Library of Congress.

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month—an ideal time for a reminder that the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS), part of the Library of Congress, provides services not only to people with low or no vision, but also to people with reading disabilities.

Image of young girl wearing headphones while also reading a book

Some NLS patrons with reading disabilities find it beneficial to listen to an NLS audiobook while following along with printed materials. Photo provided by the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled

Congress created what is now NLS in 1931 out of particular concern for veterans who were blinded during World War I. Our authorizing legislation has been amended several times since then, extending the service beyond adults who are blind to include children and later to people with physical and reading disabilities.

In the past, only a medical professional could certify the eligibility of applicants with reading disabilities. But last year, librarians, reading specialists, educators, and school psychologists were added to the list of certifying authorities. That’s made it much easier for people with dyslexia and other reading disabilities to enroll in NLS.

NLS serves readers in big cities, small towns, and rural communities from coast to coast through a nationwide network of 94 cooperating libraries. Books and magazines in audio and braille, in English and many other languages, can be instantly downloaded to a personal smart device from BARD—the Braille and Audio Reading Download service—or sent and returned through the mail, postage-free. (Audiobooks and magazines sent through the mail come on specially formatted digital cartridges that can be played on easy-to-use equipment provided by NLS.) And here’s the best part: it’s all free.

Like any library, we have books for every age and interest—from children’s stories, histories and biographies to science fiction and fantasy tales, bestsellers and reading-list favorites like “Romeo and Juliet,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Magazines, too, including titles for young readers such as Jack and Jill, National Geographic Kids, and Sports Illustrated Kids. At last count, some 150,000 books and magazines were available on BARD alone!

Recently we heard from a parent in Washington state whose son was diagnosed with dyslexia in elementary school.

He felt a lot of shame at not being able to read some of the books his fellow students were reading,” she told us. Soon after his diagnosis, though, she learned about NLS. Working with the youth librarian at our network library in Seattle, she got her son signed up. He got a free NLS digital player and began receiving audiobooks in the mail: “Minecraft stories, Percy Jackson and more,” she said. “I noticed he spent less time watching TV and playing video games. He enjoyed listening in bed. He’s moved on to BARD downloads now and listens to books on an iPad. This service has really helped him learn to love reading, and I am so appreciative.”

Want to learn more about NLS or introduce a student or parent to us? Start at www.loc.gov/nls/thatallmayread/information-for-professionals/, where you will find more information on eligibility and enrollment and a downloadable flyer with a brief description of the service. At the bottom of the web page—and here—there’s a “Find Your Library” link that will point you toward the NLS network library that serves your state or community. They will be glad to answer your questions, provide resources for your school and help eligible students enroll.

We also invite you to visit our main website, www.loc.gov/nls, to find more resources on disabilities for students, parents and educators. And join more than 40,000 others who follow us on Facebook!

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