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Embracing Inclusive Reading: Audiobooks as a Valid Form of Literature

A Black Woman laying on a black leather couch with a red sweater, dark blue jeans coffed at the ankles. She is listening to an audiobook on her phone. She has cute backs and a red lip.

I am not saying anything new or controversial here. I am stating a belief of mine regarding reading and audiobooks as a form of reading. I come from a family of visually impaired individuals. I've grown up seeing how people adapt methods or processes to live in a world that is not necessarily made for them or with them in mind.

Therefore, I've always founded it crass when people turn up their noses or regard listening to books or reading a book from digital mediums as something lesser than reading or look at it as if it doesn't count if the person didn't use their eyes and or didn't read a physical book. This is an ableist mindset that discounts other people's conditions (to no fault to them), which prevents them from following the normative form of reading.

Because of this, I don't distinguish whether I read something in audiobook format, kindle or E-book, or physical copy because I read it. I devoured and digested the story, learned something from it, and was utterly entertained. On the same token, I don't differentiate other people's reading experiences or degrade their chosen method. But let me tell you why I don't distinguish:

  • Access to the Story: Like physical books, audiobooks provide individuals access to the same content and narrative structure as traditional books. The story, characters, and themes remain intact, allowing listeners to engage with the author's intended message and experience the plot developments.

  • Language Comprehension: like physical books, audiobooks enhance language comprehension skills. It helps listeners develop vocabulary, syntax, and sentence structures. By following along with the narrator's voice, listeners still engage in the act of interpreting written language. In addition to language comprehension, as someone for whom English is their second language, listening to a book has helped me pronounce words I hadn't heard before, as well as people's names.

  • Imaginative Experience: While reading a physical book allows readers to visualize the story in their own minds, audiobooks provide a unique sensory experience. The skilled narrators bring characters to life through voice modulation, tone, and inflection, immersing listeners in the story's world.

  • Retention of Information: Listening to an audiobook requires concentration and focus, like reading a book. Audiobook listeners still need to remember characters, plot points, and details. Research suggests that audio learning can be as effective as visual learning for information retention.

  • Multitasking: While audiobooks were done to make reading accessible to visually impaired folks, they also offer the flexibility to engage in other activities simultaneously, such as exercising, driving, or doing chores. This multitasking capability allows individuals to use their time efficiently while immersing themselves in literature. When my eyes need rest, to self-soothe, or when I have a long drive ahead, I start an audiobook. In long road trips, audiobooks have helped me to bond with my husband and child during these long road trips—it's the ultimate buddy read.

  • Accessibility: Of course, the reason why audiobooks were created in the first place was to provide an inclusive reading experience for people with visual impairments, learning disabilities, or physical limitations that may make reading traditional books challenging. They offer an opportunity for these individuals to enjoy literature and access the vast world of storytelling.

Ultimately, the core purpose of reading is to engage with the author's content, ideas, and emotions. Audiobooks provide an alternative medium through which individuals can achieve this engagement, making them a valid and valuable form of "reading."

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