Help My Mother Get Audiobooks
April 15, 2020 2:00 PM   Subscribe

So, my mother is elderly with severe vision loss. She has been relying on a talking books program for audiobooks, but, due to the pandemic, they are closed. She started an Audible subscription, but didn't realize that she would need a device to play them and can't easily navigate the website. Tell me if my plan is stupid. Details under the fold.

I live on the East Coast of the US and have a stable job and money. My brother lives in the same town as my mother, but lacks those things, mostly. So:

1. Figure out my mother's Audible account so I can manage it for her and mediate her purchases to make it easier.

2. Buy a cheap tablet (it looks like there are $50 Fire tablets with 8" screens, which will be OK if we can declutter it.

3. Ship it to my brother.

4. He will make sure the Audible app is on it, remove other apps or move them off the main page. He will also log in her account.

5. Deliver it to her assisted living place, probably when he drops off groceries. He can no longer go past the reception desk.

6. They will deliver the tablet to the IT person who will connect it to the wireless.

7. My mother will have something to listen to.

Is there a better way to do this? Keep in mind my mother is bright and fairly alert, but her vision is just shy of blindness and she is kind of done with technology. I need the process to be pretty seamless from her end, short of having to call me to add more books to her account.

posted by GenjiandProust to Technology (14 answers total)
Best answer: This seems a good plan.

Can you load the tablet up with podcasts or radio dramas or other non-audible content she might like while you've got the tablet?

(I would've suggested seeing if the library in your mother's town (or yours, if not) will rent audiobooks for even more audiobooks via whatever app, but it sounds like that might be too much tech effort for your mom's comfort. I'm just noting it here if someone else reading this is in a similar situation.)
posted by rmd1023 at 2:12 PM on April 15, 2020 [6 favorites]

Best answer: You might find these links useful

Do consider careful what device you want to use for the "cheap tablet", I am not familiar with the options for accessibility for vision loss, but I have looked at options for hearing loss and have found that there are huge differences in usability and accesibility options available between different OSs, etc. There's going to be a lot of steps between "connect to the wireless" and "start a specific audiobook", choose the one with the workflow that will be easiest for your mother to use.
posted by yohko at 2:16 PM on April 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

I’m pretty sure you can use voice activation to play Audible audiobooks on an Alexa device or Echo Dot. Might be simpler than trying to get a tablet simple enough for your mom (though voice recognition has its own oddities).
posted by hungrytiger at 2:46 PM on April 15, 2020 [8 favorites]

Have you considered a non-Fire Kindle? I haven't fiddled with it too much myself but I know they have accessibility features for the visually impaired, including Audible narration and text-to-speech for books that don't have an Audible version (needs a Bluetooth headset/speaker). There's some sort of gesture controls too, not sure if that would make it more or less confusing to learn how to use.

It looks like on the older models you can buy only the Audible version and play it from the Kindle, I think on the new ones you have to buy the ebook and add Audible narration. The options and compatibility and subscriptions available are kinda confusing from the purchaser's side, but once you get it set up, a singleish purpose device might be easier to use and more reliable on the user end.
posted by yeahlikethat at 3:19 PM on April 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is a solid plan. An additional resource is the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabilities, which is part of the Library of Congress. It’s not a great time for services, however they have many resources for people who want to read, who cannot use, or struggle with printed media. The information is also helpful for family working with their elders who are unaware of these additional options. Most vision loss health professionals are familiar with the needed documentation, so access is slightly more complicated than a library card application, but not tough at all. This is a stronger option post COVID 19.
posted by childofTethys at 4:13 PM on April 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

I don’t know about accessibility in the program but just mentioning that many libraries have Libby which allows you to borrow audiobooks as long as you have an active library card. I believe most (all?) kindles also have a voice to text option as well
posted by raccoon409 at 4:47 PM on April 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

As others have noted, I would carefully consider the device you pass on to her. I think that's your biggest weak point.

I have a cheap Kindle (won at a raffle) and a 'cheap' iPad (won at a totally different raffle) and they are worlds and worlds apart in terms of usability. Most concerningly, the cheap Kindle has really bad responsiveness in terms of the touch screen. Your mom might think it's her vision at fault (and feel frustrated/upset) when in fact it's the fault of the cheap screen.

What about a certified refurbished Kobo -- or even a slightly better Kindle? (not a Fire, but you should be ok if you buy an older or refurbed Paperwhite)
posted by librarylis at 5:00 PM on April 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I’m being advised by the blind Audible user I’m married to for the following suggestion:

Can you fork out for a refurb/used iPad or iPad mini?

The reason being is that Voiceover works extremely well with the Audible app interface.

You could enable Voiceover ahead of time before shipping it, rendering it accessible-on-arrival.

Declutter the home screen, shut off password unlock, and other barriers to using it, etc. Put the Audible app on the homescreen.

You could also look at iBooks, native to iOS, for Audiobook titles. It’s a very simple process for the end user to select, buy and listen to books, or you could pre-load the device with a bunch of titles in iBooks.

Then make sure that yourself and/or your brother familiarizes yourself with how Voiceover works, e.g., double-tapping to open, Voiceover speech rate in settings (my husband’s Voiceover is set to chipmunks-on-meth fast, your mom might want it much slower), three-finger swipe to scroll, etc.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:11 PM on April 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It's worth checking into how many libraries she is eligible to use. I can use both our city and county library systems. I have access to lots of books - including audiobooks - for free. Also, when we're back to going outside our local library has a weekly session to help people set up their devices.
posted by 26.2 at 5:22 PM on April 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For the library idea, if you set up Libby on the tablet and have password access to your mom's library account (or share your library account with her tablet), you can get audiobooks for her that way. She can tell you what she wants to listen to, same as with Audible. If there's a wait for the audiobook, she -- or you -- would get a notification when its ready. She would still have to see well enough to hit download and play/plause, same as with Audible, but that's about it.

Project Gutenberg/Librivox also have a list of audiobooks in the public domain which could be downloaded and kept directly on the device. Volunteer readers, so quality is a little variable compared to the professionals who do Audible -- but just another option that might be helpful.
posted by basalganglia at 5:26 PM on April 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Talking Books also has the BARD program to download all their titles. They have a cartridge that works with the player but also a free mobile app - so even if you can't get the cartridge any tablet or phone would work too. If she's already a registered user, you can probably get access for her just through the online system.
posted by veery at 7:25 AM on April 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you know what audiobooks she likes, and are able to download them in mp3 players, how about something like this? It seems like it would be perfect for someone visually impaired. Of course it requires that you buy the books rather than just rent them . . .
posted by caoimhe at 7:32 AM on April 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My legally blind, elderly friend listens to her Audible books on the Echo Dot that I got her as a gift a while ago. I have to buy the books for her, under her guidance, but she gets on very well with Alexa. She also uses it to listen to the radio, hear the news, etc.
posted by cantthinkofagoodname at 12:27 PM on April 17, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I went with my original plan, because I could do it in a day or two. The device is in my brothers hands, and he’s working on it. I signed my mother up for a library account, and I need to get her Audible password. It turns out she may also have a BARD password, if she can find it. I’ll update when it’s reached some kind of conclusion.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:10 PM on April 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

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