Sunday May 22, 2016

Reading by ear

(Michelle Parise)

Listen 8:07

This story first aired in May 2016.


Audio books, screen readers, and even Auto-Tune are connected to a long history of alternative reading formats, such as talking books.

Talking books are used primarily by people who are blind or visually impaired, who aren't just passively listening, but are are actively using and training their ears to read.

Traditionally we define reading as a visual activity -- but can we read using our ears?

Spark contributor Michelle Macklem explores how talking books have challenged the popular visual definition of reading and changed the culture of reading.

321 mm

Michelle Macklem

Michelle examines how labelling certain devices as assistive technologies shapes our assumptions and treatment of the people who use them.

She speaks with Mara Mills about why unconventional ways of reading have been stigmatized.

Mara is a professor at New York University and who is one of the foremost scholars doing research on the history of alternative reading formats and talking books.

Michelle also speaks to Shafeka Hashash, about using talking books to read while growing up as a blind person.


Michelle Macklem's graduate thesis project is called Adaptive. Her research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada.