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Magazines 2021 May - Jun When spoken words give life

When spoken words give life

20 May 2021 By Peter Friberg

Christian-themed audio books for people with blindness or a "print disability"

Comforting words can be a “sanity saver” for people who face the hardships of blindness. Karen Rae uses those words to describe her introduction to audiobooks during a period of temporary blindness. They gave her spiritual hope and something else to think about during her illness when she was alone.

When her sight improved she became a volunteer editor with Talking Book Library (TBL), a Toronto-based charity that produces Christian-themed audio books for people with blindness or a print disability. She wanted to help people in the situation she had been in.

The effects of such audiobooks on Alex Horton, blind since birth, were even more significant. Before he started receiving audiobooks from TBL, he had bitterness towards God and was angry at the world. The books boosted his faith and helped him get into the study of God’s Word. He has since found acceptance and hope in his life.

Canada includes about 1.5 million blind or partially sighted persons, with 5.5 million more having an eye disease such as cataracts that could cause loss of sight, according to the CNIB. TBL has attempted to respond to this need ever since it began in 1986 as a special project by Christian Blind Mission (now Hope and Healing International).

In 2014 TBL became an independent charitable organization ( and is the only one in Canada dedicated to producing and promoting Christian audio materials, both fiction and nonfiction, in an accessible format.

All along it has been sustained by faithful volunteers who select, narrate and produce professional quality audio books at the English studio in Richmond Hill and the Chinese one in Markham, Ont. A few have been retired professional newscasters, but most have no special audio background – they simply love to read, want to share their passion with those who cannot and have excellent voices.

Darlene Manley, a retired teacher and a volunteer narrator for nearly 20 years, has recorded more than 100 books. She believes serving people unable to physically read for themselves is as much a gift to her as it is to them.

Tim Huff, author, outreach worker and TBL volunteer narrator, says that “reaching others with voices that stir hearts and the imagination is a high calling. The work is done with excellence and is on par with the notion that we are going to cherish people. People who are perhaps isolated in one way or another, or marginalized, are going to have something that does not sound second-rate, but done in a heightened way that invites great dignity and great honour to them as listeners.”

The high-quality production is the result of a team of volunteer narrators, editors and technical people led by production manager Helios He, who also started in a volunteer technical support position before coming on staff.

When Kathy Wolsey of Toronto lost her sight, she said she was crushed. She could not imagine her life without books. But now she says much of the stimulation she enjoyed from reading with her eyes has been replaced by listening to TBL audio books.

Lately, because of the pandemic restrictions, the narration booths are silent, although a few projects continue with off-site editing. TBL is anxious to resume full operations as soon as it is safe.

In the meantime, the users of this service continue to increase in number, as shown by the checkout rates of TBL titles across Canada provided by the Centre for Equitable Library Access – the distribution arm of CNIB which allows print-disabled readers to get audiobooks through public library systems.

Peter Friberg is the board director of TBL. Photo of Darlene Manley courtesy TBL.