Free Resource Overview:
One of my goals in building this site is to share with others the things I’ve learned over the past year or so. What I’ve found is that there are lots of great resources and benefits available to those of us in the low vision community, but that we need to dig and find each resource and benefit ourselves. This post is my attempt to share some of the excellent resources available to me as a visually disabled person living in the United States. If you live outside the U.S. and have information on similar services for your country, please drop me a line, and I’ll add those non-U.S. services to this post).
On my continuing journey into vision loss, I’ve learned that there are a number of free benefits that come with my disability. I’ve learned about these freebies one by one, and have found that each of the items listed here makes my life much more enjoyable and easier.
The National Library Service for Blind and Print Disabled
The National Library Service for Blind and Print Disabled provides reading materials at no cost to individuals whose temporary or permanent low vision, blindness, physical disability, or other disability makes it difficult to read regular print. Services are administered through a network of cooperating libraries across the United States. NLS readers may receive materials in two ways: Via download to a personal device through the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) app/website or through the United States Postal Service. In either case, there is no charge. The service is available to all U.S. residents and citizens living abroad.
To learn more about this free library service and receive information on enrollment, please submit the form below. To find your local library or to speak with a librarian, call 1-888-NLS-READ (1-888-657-7323) and follow the prompts or visit the NLS website.
Lawrence’s Notes on the NLS:
The NLS is like a free Audible for the visually disabled. It features a massive library of audiobooks, audio magazines as well as music books and scores. You can listen via a physical player, via iOS or Android App, via their web-based player, or via the Mantis and Chameleon reader. You can create wish lists to track books and magazines you want to read next.
A few things to note about the NLS collection, although it is massive, it can take some time for a new title to appear there, so if you are looking for a newly released audiobook, it might take months for it to appear – when I want access to a new audiobook, I often just purchase it. The audio magazine’s selection is limited, and it can take a few weeks to appear, so weekly magazines are usually a few weeks old before they are available. Despite these few limitations, the service is a fantastic one. Signing up should be fast in simple, although it requires signed documentation from a Doctor or vision therapist.
NFB-NEWSLINE is a free audio news service for anyone who is blind, low-vision, deafblind, or otherwise print-disabled that offers access to more than 500 publications, emergency weather alerts, job listings, and more.
Lawrence’s Notes on the NFB-NEWSLINE:
I only recently became aware of this terrific service, which provides daily updated versions of hundreds of newspapers and magazines from all over the U.S. Unlike the NLS which provides audio versions of books and magazines, NFB-NEWSLINE topically scans the papers and magazines and provides users with text versions (along with a navigable table of contents/index), which can be read via your favorite voiceover technology. It’s available via iOS, Android, and the web, as well as via a touchtone phone system that will machine-read articles to you over your phone. Signing up is quick and easy, and if you have already been approved by the NLS for their service, you can use your NLS access to be qualified for NFB-NEWSLINE. I also found their phone support to be top-notch.
AlthoughNFB-NEWSLINE is an amazing (and free) service that fills the gaps in what the NLS offers, their smartphone and web apps are not nearly as mature as the NLS apps, and I found there is a bit of a learning curve to use. I would recommend having a friend/support resource to help you get up and running.
National Park Service Access Pass
The Access Pass is a free lifetime pass for the U.S. Park Service available for: US citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities. Applicants must provide documentation of permanent disability and residency or citizenship.
How to Get The Pass:
- In-person: Find a location to purchase this pass at a federal recreation site.
- Online: Order this free pass from the USGS Store.
- Mail: Get an Access Pass using an application form that can be exchanged through mail. The cost of obtaining an Access Pass through the mail is $10 for processing the application (the pass is free)
Lawrence’s Notes on theNational Parks Access Pass:
I only learned about this free lifetime Access Pass because I was looking into purchasing a paid Annual Parks Pass, and when looking at how to order, I read about the Access Pass. With a current annual cost of $89, the free Access Pass will save thousands of dollars over a lifetime. The pass provides access for the holder (along with those riding in the car with the holder) to all U.S National Parks and Federal Recreational Areas.
My personal experience in getting the pass was very easy – My wife and I drove to the entrance of our nearby Gulf Islands National Seashore, and armed with a note from my Retina Doctor and an application, the man at the entrance shack waved off the need for any paperwork, and simply handed me a pass. I think that express access to getting a pass probably had more to do with the long line of cars behind ours, rather than the normal protocol.
Boarding The Plane First!
This is not a free service per see, but rather a tip on how to make your life easier when traveling. When you hear the boarding announcement for your plane, they always start the boarding process by allowing those who need extra time to board first, well that’s you and I! Boarding a plane can generally be stressful, but even more so when you have a visual impairment. Forget trying to read row numbers or seat numbers.
One of the effects of Stargardt’s, the disease I am affected by, is that I struggle with picking up on movement in my periphery, so being in crowded public spaces is very difficult for me. Having the extra time that comes with boarding the plane first makes plane travel that much easier.
When booking your ticket, you are given the option of registering for your flight as someone with a visual disability. Checking that box can make it possible for you to get assistance moving through the airport (via one of those fast-moving passenger carts).
Lastly, I highly recommend that alone with a visible disability use a cane to make moving through the airport easier and safer. I will soon be writing an article on why I started using an ID cane, but the skinny is that moving through an airport when holding an ID cane is much easier than without one. Because I cannot detect fast movement in my periphery, I cannot see how people react to me when they see my ID cane, but my wife tells me that people quickly move out of the way and give me lots of space when they see my white cane.
Know of Other Free Reouces?
This list is not conclusive, it’s just a list of items I’ve personally discovered during my recent vision loss journey. If you are aware of any other resources that are free for those with a visual disability, please drop me a line