Learning Ally (formerly Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic) is an essential source of audio textbooks for persons with print disabilities, notably students with visual and cognitive impairments.
The Princeton, NJ-based nonprofit has over 75,000 titles that members ($99 per year) can download and play on their desktop computer, DAISY book reader -- such as the Victor Reader Stream -- or iOS device.
Learning Ally Audio is a free mobile app that enables users to download and play books on their iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch -- products that are becoming increasingly popular among blind and visually impaired users.
Downloading Learning Ally Audio App & Books to an iOS Device
You can download Learning Ally Audio from the App Store to your iOS device. You'll need an Apple ID and must login to your Learning Ally account to download books.
The app plays all DAISY 2.02 formatted books. It does not play WMA files or other DAISY books encrypted for copyright protection, such as digital Talking Books from the National Library Service (NLS) for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
You can download Learning Ally books directly to your device or from a Mac or PC via iTunes.
For direct downloads, login to your account and use the catalog to search for and add titles to your online bookshelf.
To transfer titles via iTunes (version 9.2 is required), connect your iOS device to your computer, launch iTunes, and select your device.
Click the "Apps" tab and then "Learning Ally" in the "File Sharing" section. Drag and drop the DAISY zip file into the "Learning Ally Audio Documents" square.
The book automatically transfers to your device. Note: The app only accepts books contained within a single DAISY zip file.
Using Learning Ally Audio
Learning Ally set me up with access to its app -- a quick download to my iPod touch -- and put three sample audiobooks on my shelf to try it out.
I tapped the icon on my Home screen and was listening to a book in seconds. The app has an intuitive layout and is easy to navigate.
The Bookshelf page has two tabs: Listen and Download. To play a book, tap its title on the download list. A voice prompt and ping punctuate the download's start and finish, after which a message box confirms the book's availability under the Listen tab.
To access the book's contents, click the Listen tab and the title. You can select the first item or flick the screen up to access any part of the book.
When you press a selection, e.g. "Chapter 1," the app jumps to that part and begins reading. Numbers of succeeding pages are displayed under the heading. Your current page is highlighted in yellow. Touch any number to jump immediately to that page. Note: There is also a Page navigation button in the Table of Contents you can use to access any page.
The app automatically returns you to where you left off the next time you open it.
Intuitive Controls Make Learning Ally Audio Easy to Use
Learning Ally Audio displays seven buttons at the bottom of the screen:
- Zoom:Visually impaired readers can adjust font size (from 100% to 300%) or highlighting (4 text and background color options) by clicking the "Aa" icon
- Reading Speed: Click the runner icon to access a screen to adjust reading speed and pitch, or press the "Standard Value" button to reset to default
- Back: Press the left pointing arrow to move to the previous page
- Play: Press to play or stop playing the book
- Forward: Press the right pointing arrow to move to the next page
- Level Navigation: Press the four-way arrow icon to access a screen with arrows that enable quick navigation to any level or section of the book
- Bookmark: Press the bookmark icon to mark a page; retrieve it using the "Bookmark" navigation button in the Table of Contents.
Pros, Cons, & Bottom Line
- Makes an invaluable educational resource accessible and portable on game-changing mobile devices
- Intuitive interface makes it easy to load, open, and navigate books
- Compatibility with Apple's VoiceOver screen reader and
- Remembers personal settings and where you left off reading.
- I wish I could order books within the app, rather than having to exit to access Learning Ally's online catalog
- Volunteers (several per book) provide adequate, though inconsistent narration compared with other audio resources.
Integration with its own website would make it more efficient, but Learning Ally Audio's ability to avail readers of its life-changing library makes it an essential app for any student with a print disability.