Access to Textbooks and Reading Material

About Sarah Blake LaRose

Sarah Blake LaRose is a freelance writer and a professor of Biblical Hebrew at Anderson University School of Theology in Anderson, Indiana. She is one of three blind academic scholars who received the Jacob Bolotin Award from the National Federation of the Blind in 2016 in recognition of innovative work in the field of access to biblical language texts and tools for people who are blind.

In seminary, it is not uncommon for a person to read 500 pages or more each week for required course assignments. When figuring in research materials, a person may need to access over 10,000 pages in a semester. In a doctorate program, these figures will be higher.

Needless to say, people cannot afford to get behind. Following are a few strategies that have worked for people with print disabilities who have needed access to theological materials.

Scanning

By far, the quickest and most reliable means of accessing text is to scan it. Legally, if a person buys the book, they can scan it for personal use. Offices that provide scanning services generally require proof of purchase before scanning materials.

Book Repositories

Several repositories provide electronic copies of books which have been previously scanned and are available to people with print disabillities who meet membership criteria. These repositories can be very helpful but do have some limitations. They do not always provide good access to Biblical language texts.

Optasia Ministry: provides electronic materials directly on CD to readers with visual impairments. My only complaint regarding the materials from Optasia is that much of it does not include page numbering. It is an excellent resource for accessing text; but it does not allow for proper citation. I have registered this complaint with them and it is possible that newer material may be formatted differently. Some of the material on these CDs is also in digital braille format.

Bookshare: the oldest such site, with thousands of texts in numerous categories. Bookshare partners directly with many publishers and also accepts user submissions from books published by companies who have not partnered directly with them. One advantage of membership in Bookshare is the ability to access texts in a broad range of categories. For those who need to work in other disciplines in addition to Christianity, Bookshare is a boone. Bookshare texts also include page numbering, and most are of extremely high quality.

Questia provides good access to a variety of scholarly resources from a variety of disciplines. The interface is friendly, though ancient language resources are not always accessible. Questia requires a paid membership.

Bartimaeus Alliance of the Blind is, hands down, the best place to obtain original language grammars. Most of the resources are for Greek; but a modest collection of Hebrew has been donated by Ray McAllister as well. J. Weingreen’s Practical Hebrew Grammar for Classical Hebrew is also available.

I am available to transcribe ancient language grammars and other reference material. For a quote, please contact me.

Software Options

Bible study software provides access to some texts, though it has some usability limitations. The usability limitations apply to all software packages.

Digital and Audio Texts

Less popular for academic study are digital and audio recordings from other sources.

Amazon’s Kindle has some accessible features, in particular via its IPhone app. It does, however, have limitations which make it less desirable than options discussed above for academic study.

Learning Ally, formerly Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic has a sizable collection of theology and biblical studies titles, though they are sometimes out of date. If you cannot find a book anywhere else, this may be a place worth looking.

Taking advantage of the array of options available, scholars who are blind are able to perform a great amount of research independently. The most important element of success is awareness of the resources that are available.

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