Audio books for the visually impaired: cheap alternative to special MP3-player

Introduction: two projects to help the visually impaired

This is the first of two posts on projects to help the visually impaired, motivated by the desire to assist an elderly relative with macular degeneration who is not computer-literate. Anything to help her had to be simple to operate and not involve computers. A further restriction was that it should not be too expensive. (The second post can be viewed here: Cheap 48x magnifier with large screen for visually impaired.)

Project One: a cheap and easy way of accessing audio books

Background: why cassette tape-players and MP3-players are unsuitable


MP3-players for the visually impaired, such as this one, can be pricey.

Cassette tapes were excellent for the visually impaired as the players were cheap, and a tape plays from the exact place at which one has stopped it (which is, in effect, a perfect bookmark). However, audio books (‘talking books’) on tape are no longer produced commercially, they are bulky, and they are time-consuming to produce from digital formats. Furthermore, the technology to play them is increasingly hard to find.

These days, audio books are widely available in digital format. The ideal way to access digital files is through MP3-players, but most are extremely difficult for the visually impaired to use, and those that are not, such as the Victor Reader Stream, are expensive.

CDs offer an intermediate option. They are not as bulky as cassette tapes and can be burnt from digital files relatively quickly and easily. However, CD-players for the visually impaired, such as the Victor Reader Stratus 4 DAISY Player are, just like special MP3-players, very pricey.

The solution: labelling a cheap CD-player with a resume function

I thought I could adapt a cheap CD-player to make it easier for a visually impaired person to use, but one essential criterion was that it should start playing a CD from the place that it was stopped. In other words, it should have a proper resume or bookmark function, as distinct from a mere pause function.

I used Ecosia, my favourite search engine, to do some research, and found this video on YouTube:

What was particularly useful was the information below the video, and I reproduce it here so that if the video is removed it can still be accessed:

The Resume Play feature you get on many (not all) Sony Discmans (ie CD Walkmans) is very useful for playing CD audiobooks. With ‘Resume Play’, when playing a CD, when you press stop, the discman stops and turns itself off. When you press play again, it starts the CD from the point at which you stopped, the same as a cassette tape would play, and not from the beginning. Very handy.

For some reason, boogie pack and Hifi type CD players do not normally have resume play — you can put them on pause, but it is not ideal to do this for long periods

To see if a Discman has the resume feature, you can find and check the user manual for many Discmans at this url:

Select Product category — ‘CD Walkman’ then the series and model number.

Don’t have resume:
D-130, 131, 132CK, 133 — early model — great buttons.
Series D-E220 / 225 — 200′s don’t resume.

Have a Resume slide-switch:
Traditional layout with flip-up lid and CD player buttons — car kit version has a lighter socket 12v to 4.5v adapter.
D33 — 1992
D-E300, 301, 305 , 307CK (have nice layout)
Sony DE 400 / 401 / 403, 405 / 406 409, 446CK (CK = car kit)
D-E405 is a good choice — 1998 has resume + lineout

Models with Resume play as default:
More recent and current Discmans have Resume Play as default –
When you press play after having stopped, resume play is the default and you have to hold the play button down for 2 seconds to get it to start from the beginning
D-E330, 340, 350, 351, 356ck
Circle shaped — D-EJnnn series eg EJ915 and D-FJnnn series have it built in.
We assume they all have, but you can check on the Sony website above.

Other notes:
The 90′s Discmans won’t play CD-R’s that you have made yourself — later models will play CD-RW’s. This is useful for playing copies of CDs.
D-EJ915 has internal proprietary flat rechargeable NiMh batteries.

Other Makes –
There are lots of other makes of discmans — we haven’t checked for resume play.
Technics SL-XP505 (nice player) says it has resume, but it resumes from the start of the track / chapter you were on, which is not nearly as good, as you have to fast forward to the point you were at.

Having watched the video and read the text below it, I searched various online suppliers for cheap Discmans and found several advertised on eBay. I looked for their instruction manuals using the link to check if they had resume functions, and discovered that the D-E300AN would do:
Furthermore, I could get this player by express delivery for less than £25 in total.

I ordered it. It duly arrived, and it worked perfectly.

Furthermore, I discovered that, at least on the ESP (Electronic Shock Protection) setting, it resumed playing not merely within 30 seconds of the place at which it was stopped, but within a second – perfect!

The next step was to make it easier for a visually impaired person to use.

I marked the essential buttons with pieces of white paper marked with coloured pen.

I then cut out a piece of white cardboard to cover the lid, and then wrote the main function buttons on this in large coloured letters.

I also bent some paperclips and stuck these to the cardboard with sticky tape, such that if one felt along them from the letters they would guide one’s fingers to the appropriate buttons.

I then fixed the cardboard to the top with double-sided tape. (One little mistake I made was to overshoot slightly with the double-sided tape, such that the lid stuck down and did not open when the eject button was pressed, but this was easily fixed.)


The CD-player with labels and bent paperclip finger-guides. Note the electricity plugged in: with rechargeable batteries the device itself effectively becomes rechargeable!

The final device works beautifully and the user is very happy with it. I am sure that she will quickly learn where the buttons are so that we can remove the cardboard and bent-paperclip guides.

About biowrite

I am a writer specialising in non-fiction, particularly in assisting people with their biographies.
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