How Blind or Low Vision Booklovers Can Fully Concentrate While Reading an Audiobook

Empish yawning

by Empish Thomas

June is Audiobook Appreciation Month, and I wanted to share my experience with learning to love audio books as a blind person.

When I lost my vision over 20 years ago, one of the things I missed most was the ability to read printed books. I was a voracious reader and serious booklover. Since childhood, books were my friend and source of joy and pleasure. The ability to pick up a book and learn something new or travel to anyplace imaginable was a great thrill to me. But when I went blind all of that shifted. I had to start reading books with my ears instead of my eyes.

Trying to Make the Transition to Audio from Print

The transition was not easy at first. I would quickly get distracted, rewinding sections of the book. My mind would wander all over the place, leaving me frustrated. Sometimes I would even get a headache. But because I loved the written word, I was determined to persevere and read again. I knew I needed to train my brain for audio input.

I made efforts to read braille but found it slow and cumbersome. I shared my braille journey  in a previous post here on APH VisionAware. After some attempts, I just chalked up my braille skills to being at a rudimentary level. I learned the basic alphabet and numbers, and this was enough to read signs and label household items.

Since braille books were a no-go, audiobooks seemed to be the best format. I just needed to figure out how to stay focused to really enjoy what I was reading. That took time. Eventually, things began to improve, and today I absolutely love audiobooks. Commercial books are my favorite.

Ten Tips on To Help You Concentrate on Listening to Audio Books

If you are struggling to read an audiobook and are getting easily distracted, I want to share ways you can fully concentrate. So, like me, you can appreciate what you are reading.

1. When you first start reading by audio, set aside time. Don’t try to read while doing other things, like cooking, cleaning, or other household chores. Turn off notifications on your phone and let family/friends know not to disturb you. Reading an audiobook is a new experience, and you will need to focus on one thing at a time. As your concentration skills get stronger, you can add mindless activities  to your reading time.

2. Select books and/or authors you love and enjoy. Why try to read a boring and uninteresting book? Do you love a murder mystery? What about romance? Into self-help? Whatever your favorite genre is, grab it in an audiobook format and get to reading! As you read more audiobooks, branch out into other genres or more difficult topics.

3. Rediscover a past read. Rather than taking a walk on the wild side, why not listen to an audiobook you have already read? This will help you get used to listening to a book, and you are much more likely to have a good first experience.

4. Read for yourself and your own personal enjoyment. This will ease distractions. Don’t force yourself to keep reading a book just because it has been highly recommended. Read to learn or enjoy, not to please others or to fit into the crowd.

5. Also, my personal favorite: Don’t feel guilty for giving up on a particular audiobook. No matter how much time you spent in selecting a book, if it’s not working, it’s okay to drop it and pick something else. Even as a seasoned audiobook reader, I do this all the time. Some books just don’t resonate, and there are plenty of others waiting on my book list. You are not obligated to finish every book you start. After all, not every book is meant to be liked by every reader.

6. Take short breaks. I usually don’t read my audiobooks for long spans of time, generally no more than two hours. But, when I do, taking a breather helps me to better focus. This is true for any activity requiring attention. Pause the audiobook to get a drink or a snack or to take your pets outside. Just five minutes can be enough to help you to stay on track with your book.

7.  Don’t read an audiobook if you are already mentally distracted or tired. It is best to deal first with the stuff you are worried, troubled, or nervous about.  Then plug in your book. You will enjoy the book better if you stop and handle any mental or emotional distress first.

Also, I know that when I am physically tired or sleepy, my attention to an audiobook waxes and wanes. When I start rewinding the book, I know it is time to stop and just rest or sleep. I can come back later when I am refreshed and recharged.

8. Concentration on an audiobook can improve with a preferred format. I love commercial audio because of its dramatization. It reminds me of listening to an audio-described movie or live theatre. It is like I am right there in the scene. Also, many audiobooks are read by the author, which adds more variation and emphasis to the content.

Bookshare’s books have traditionally been offered through text to speech, but they have recently added human-voiced books to their collection. The National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) books are mostly read by professional narrators  but more and more are available in commercial audio. Audiobooks are also available in podcasts. This kind of format provides the books in small chunks for quick and easy absorption. Sometimes you can be distracted by the audiobook format, so play around to see which one works best for you.

9. Join a book club  to help you stay focused. When I am reading a book for a monthly book discussion, I pay a lot more attention. I want to keep track of the story so I can share and take part in the dialogue. During the  conversation, I remember scenes and sections in a way I don’t when reading alone.

10. Don’t beat yourself up if you are rewinding/ jumping forward and back while listening to an audiobook. Your tendency may be to feel bad because you are distracted. But be gentle with yourself. The best of us get distracted. Even with the most interesting books, it’s inevitable from time to time. Your mind will wander and you may find you’ve missed the last little portion of the book. Distractions are a part of life in general. Just be aware. Remember reading is supposed to be fun!

Try the approaches I’ve listed above. Don’t give up on audiobooks. They’ve enriched my life and can  also for you too.

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