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NLS: That All May Read

Patron Survey (2003)

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4.0 Data Analysis

The following chapter is presented in two parts:

Part I. Patrons’ Background Characteristics and Technology Use

This section sets the stage for the rest of the report. Below, we describe subscribers’

These factors provide a context for understanding subscribers’ experiences with their current playback machines, as well as their preferences and needs regarding the forthcoming digital equipment.

I-A. Demographic characteristics (Tables 4-1 and 4-2)

In two respects--educational attainment and type of community--NLS patrons are a varied group. Their highest grade or degree runs the gamut from 11 or fewer years of formal education to graduate school. Patrons are only slightly less likely to be living in a rural community or small town than in a suburb or city.

In other respects, however, NLS patrons are more demographically homogeneous. Overwhelmingly, respondents are non-Hispanic Whites whose native language is English. Most are unemployed and have a modest household income of $39,000 or less for 2002. This demographic profile characterizes all age groups. As we explain below, however, it especially characterizes retirement-age subscribers; the young and middle-aged adults are somewhat more diverse.

As one would expect, for example, nearly all retirement-age respondents are unemployed (98%). The modest incomes typical of the sample as a whole are especially concentrated among the oldest subscribers. Ninety percent who are 85 or older had a household income of $39,000 or below, and more than half reported an income of less than $20,000 (59% compared to from 35 to 41% of younger respondents).

Although a clear majority of young adults also have a modest income and are unemployed, a substantial minority work full- or part-time. The youngest patrons are the most likely to have a job (38% compared to 16% of respondents between the ages of 40 and 64), and they are the only age group that is predominantly male. Working-age subscribers—especially the youngest—also are somewhat more racially and ethnically diverse than retirement-age subscribers are. Between 83% and 92% of subscribers ages 40 or older are white, for instance, compared to only 71% of patrons who are 18 to 39 years old. In each successively younger age group, Hispanics and members of racial minority groups (except American Indians) are more numerous.

Table 4-1. Socio-Economic Resources by Age Group
  Age at last birthday
  18 to 39
40 to 64
65 to 84 %
85 or more %
Total %
11 yrs or less 10.3 14.3 14.2 15.7 14.0
HS grad or GED 41.2 23.3 33.9 38.3 33.5
1 to 3 yrs college 26.5 35.3 24.4 24.3 27.4
4-yr college grad 13.2 14.3 17.3 8.7 13.8
Grad school 8.8 12.8 10.2 13.0 11.3
Employment status
Unemployed 62.3 84.1 96.9 98.0 89.1
Works part-time 17.4 2.8  1.3 1.3 4.1
Works full-time 20.3 13.1  0.7 0.7 6.8
HH income before taxes for 2002 **
Less than $20,000 34.6 41.1 40.2 59.3 44.3
$20,000 to $39,000 38.5 26.8 35.5 30.8 32.6
$40,000 to $59,000 11.5 16.1 15.9 5.5 12.8
$60,000 to $79,000 3.8 13.4 5.6 2.2 6.5
$80,000 plus 11.5 2.7 2.8 2.2 3.9

Note 1 for table 4-1: Based on weighted data.

Note 2 for table 4-2: Missing cases are: Education (4); Employment status (6); Household income (85, 52 of whom said they did not know their household income, and 32 of whom refused to answer).

Note for Employment Status and for HH Income: P equal to or less than .01 based on Kendall’s tau-b.

Table 4-2. Other Demographic Characteristics by Age Group
  Age at last birthday
  18 to 39,
In Percent
40 to 64
In Percent
65 to 84
In Percent
85 or older
In Percent
In Percent
Gender; note 5 Male 68.1 40.4 35.7 23.2 38.7
Female 31.9 59.6 64.3 76.8 61.3
Race; note 5
White 70.6 82.8 89.7 92.0 85.7
Black 13.2 10.2 3.2 3.5 6.5
Amer. Indian --- 2.3 2.4 2.7 2.1
Asian 1.5 .8 .8 --- .7
Other note 14.7 3.9 4.0 1.8 5.1
Hispanic descent; note 5
No 88.4 94.7 95.3 100.0 95.3
Yes 11.6 5.3 4.7 --- 4.7
English as native language
First language 95.7 95.5 92.9 93.0 94.0
Learned later 4.3 4.5 7.1 7.0 6.0
Type of community; note 4
Rural or farming 8.7 20.3 18.3 12.5 15.8
Small town 26.1 18.8 31.0 38.4 29.1
Suburb 26.1 24.1 21.4 19.6 22.4
City 39.1 36.8 29.4 29.5 32.7

Note 1 for table 4-2: based on weighted data.

Note 2 for table 4-2; Missing cases: Race (11, six of whom refused to answer); Hispanic descent (3); English as native language (3); Type of community (7).

Note 3 for table 4-2: Although Hispanics can be of any race, 15 patrons gave their race as Hispanic. Most of the remaining “other” respondents are of mixed race, usually American Indian and White (4).

Note 4 for table 4-2: For the category, Type of community, p equal to or less than .05

Note 5 for table 4-2: For the categories, Gender, Race and Hispanic descent, p equal to or less than .01, based on Kendall’s tau-b.

I-B. Disability and health (Table 4-3)

The great majority of subscribers (74%) are blind or visually impaired. Slightly more than half of all subscribers (54%) reported serious difficulty seeing, and 20% are totally blind or have light perception only. Adult onset, usually at age 40 or later, is the rule. The most common experience is serious vision loss that accompanies old age; 40% of all blind or visually impaired patrons, and most patrons who are of retirement age, did not have serious difficulty seeing until they were 65 or older.

Although a few retirement-age patrons have been visually impaired for most of their lives, childhood onset is the rule in the youngest age group. More than half of blind or visually impaired respondents who are 18 to 39 years old first experienced serious vision loss at age five or before. Most of the rest developed vision problems before turning 20.

Physical problems that interfere with reading are relatively rare, both in general (13% of all respondents) and in each age group (9% to 16%). Only 3% of all subscribers, moreover, are physically impaired only; most physically impaired subscribers also have a learning disability or (much more often) are blind or visually impaired (77%, not shown).

Learning problems that interfere with reading are even rarer than physical problems (10%). Having a learning disability is strongly age-related. One-third of the youngest patrons reported a learning disability compared to just 2% to 10% of patrons in the three older groups.

Both demographically and with respect to disability, the youngest patrons are a somewhat anomalous group. They are the only age group in which males predominate. As we have seen, patrons who are 18 to 39 years old are more likely to be employed and to belong to a racial or ethnic minority group than older patrons are, and their experience with disability is different. More of the youngest patrons have a learning disability, and most with a visual or physical impairment developed it before they were old enough to start first grade. This pattern presents a sharp contrast to the experience of older respondents, especially in the retirement-age groups, most of whom did not have difficulty reading until relatively late in life.

A sharp contrast between the young adults and everyone else also applies to the state of subscribers’ general health. Many more young adults than older adults reported being in excellent or very good health (69% compared to from 22% to 39%). Their good health (and the opportunity to acquire adaptive skills at an early age) might help to explain why the 18 to 39 year-olds are more likely to be employed than patrons in what are normally the peak working years of 40 to 64.

The fact that many subscribers over 40 cannot claim excellent or very good health is not necessarily to say they are frail. Few people in any age group reported poor health. Nor can one assume that precarious health becomes more common in each successively older group. The oldest subscribers report being in better health than do subscribers in their later working years or early old age. More of the oldest subscribers characterized their general health as excellent or very good (39% compared to 22% to 32%), and fewer reported that their health was only fair or poor (33% compared to 41% to 45%). Although these findings might seem anomalous, they probably are not. People who reach late old age are, by definition, survivors; they have avoided, delayed, or controlled the chronic health problems that might have taken their lives at a younger age. Many of the subscribers who are 40 to 84 and in precarious health, quite likely, will not live to the age of 85.

Table 4-3. Disability and Health Characteristics by Age Group
  Age at last birthday
18 to 39
in Percent
40 to 64
in Percent
65 to 84
in Percent
85 or older
in Percent
in Percent
Type of impairment
Totally blind or light percep. only 24.2 25.2 17.3 15.5 19.8
Serious difficulty seeing 42.4 50.4 57.5 59.1 53.9
Total visual impairment 66.6 75.6 75.8 74.6 73.7
Physical 14.5 16.4 12.5 8.7 12.8
Learning 34.8 9.8 3.9 1.8 9.6
Unknown --- --- 8.2 14.9 3.7
Age at onset: Serious difficulty seeing Birth to 5 yrs 56.9 16.8 7.4 3.7 15.7
6 to 19 29.3 16.0 7.4 1.9 11.2
20 to 39 13.8 22.4 5.7 .9 9.7
40 to 64 --- 44.8 25.4 12.1 23.2
65 or over --- --- 53.6 81.3 40.2
Age at onset--Physical prob. affecting
Birth to 5 yrs 80.0 --- 7.1 --- 17.1
6 to 19 10.0 9.1 --- --- 4.9
20 to 39 10.0 31.8 --- --- 12.4
40 to 64 --- 54.5 14.3 11.1 24.5
65 or over --- 4.5 78.6 88.9 41.2
State of general health
Excellent 35.3 5.2 6.3 10.4 11.5
Very good 33.8 26.9 15.7 28.7 24.5
Good 23.5 26.9 32.3 27.8 28.5
Fair 4.4 24.6 33.9 20.9 23.8
Poor 2.9 16.4 11.8 12.2 11.7

note 2 for table 4-3: Based on weighted data.

Note 2 for table 4-3: Because some patrons have multiple disabilities, totals for type of impairment can exceed 100%.

Note 3 for table 4-3: Missing cases: Visual impairment (13, most of whom responded “don’t know” to the question about any serious difficulty seeing); physical impairment (1); learning problem (3); age at onset of serious difficulty seeing (35; 27 didn’t know, and 6 refused to answer); age at onset of physical problems affecting reading (3); general health (3).

Note 4 for table 4-3:  Data on age at onset are limited to patrons who reported an impairment.

Note 5 for table 4-3: For all catergories, except Type of of impairment, p equal to or less than .01.

I-C. Technology Use (Tables 4-4 and 4-4-b)

Nearly all subscribers use at least one high-tech device that is commonplace in the broader American population. Most, for instance, use a remote control and dial the telephone themselves. A clear majority insert batteries into household devices and operate a CD player, although sometimes with difficulty. Among respondents who operate a CD player, 18% have trouble handling the CDs (not shown in the table). Between one-fourth and one-third of subscribers make purchases with a debit card and use a bank card at an ATM machine.

Table 4-4. Technology Use by Age, Education, and Income
  Relationship (Somers’ d note 5 ) of technology use (all respondents) to:
  Percent of all Rs (N=447) Percent blind or visually impaired (N=320) Age
Computer Use Any computer use 34.1 31.6 -.37 note 2 .11 note 2 .21 note 2
... at home 29.7 26.6      
... elsewhere 18.7 16.2      
At home on R’s behalf 12.7 13.1      
Internet Use Any internet use 29.2 25.6 -.34 note 2 .12 note 2 .23 note b
... at home 26.9 23.8      
Home dial-up connection 14.7 13.4       
Home high-speed connection 11.4 9.4      
Synthetic Speech: Awareness
Has heard of synthetic speech 46.0 46.6 -.29 note 2 .16 note 2 .21 note 2
Has actually used synthetic speech 32.0 33.1      
Synthetic Speech: Frequency of Use
Often 45.3 51.9      
Occasionally or rarely 54.7 48.1      
Uses magnifier 60.5 60.9 .12 note 2 .04 -.03
Adaptive High Tech Devices
Uses 1 or more 38.0 40.0 -.22 note 2 .10 note 2 .19 note 2
Scanner 17.2 16.6      
CCTV 15.4 15.6      
Screen reader 15.0 18.1      
Screen Magnification Software 11.0 12.2      
Braille device 8.1 10.6      
Other High Tech Devices
Uses one or more 93.6 92.2 -.04 note 3 .04 note 3 .05 note 3
Uses remote control 85.5 83.4      
Dials phone oneself 84.1 81.4      
Inserts batteries 70.4 67.5      
Operates CD player 57.0 56.1      
Swipes debit card 34.4 32.8      
Uses ATM machine 25.2 24.8      

Note 1 for table 4-4: Based on weighted data.

Note 2 for table 4-4: p equal to or less than .01

Note 3 for table 4-4: p equal to or less than .05

Note 4 for table 4-4: Missing cases: Education (4), income (85), technology use characteristics (1 to 6, usually “don’t know”).

Note 5 for table 4-4:  Somers’ d measures the strength and direction of relationships between two ordinal variables, i.e., whose categories are both mutually exclusive and ordered (as in good, better, best).  This report employs a directional Somers’ d that specifies which variable is independent (in this table, e.g., age) and which is dependent (technology use). Somers’ d ranges from 0, indicating no relationship, to " 1, indicating a perfect relationship. As a rule of thumb, " .25 is the minimum value for moderately strong relationships. Negative values signify inverse relationships, when the values of one variable increase as the values of the other variable decrease. In positive relationships, the values of both variables increase (or both decrease) in tandem.

The use of high-tech adaptive devices, computers, and the internet is less widespread but still significant. The majority of subscribers use a magnifier [footnote], and nearly 40% use more sophisticated adaptive devices. Very few respondents use a braille device. Use of scanners, CCTVs, screen readers, and screen magnification software ranges from 11% to only 17% of all respondents.

Almost half of subscribers have heard of synthetic speech, but only about one-third have actually used it. As one would expect, the principal users of synthetic speech are blind or visually impaired (76% of users, not shown). Some people who are not blind or visually impaired (at least not as defined in this study), however, also use it (24%, not shown). This fact, and the predominance of blind or visually impaired people in the sample, helps to explain why the use of synthetic speech is no more common among blind or visually impaired subscribers than it is among subscribers in general (33% and 32% respectively, Table 4-4). 

Subscribers vary in how much they rely on synthetic speech. People who listen to synthetic speech, and blind or visually impaired subscribers in particular, are almost evenly divided between those who listen to it often and those who listen only occasionally or rarely (Table 4-4).

Table 4-4-a. Willingness to listen to publications in synthetic speech
  Number Willing Number possibly willing note 2 Total number Percent willing among those aware of synthetic speech
Percent willing among all Rs
(N=447) Note 3
Articles from newspapers or magazines 133 10 143 69.4 32.0
Newsletters 127 13 140 68.0 31.3
Books of non-fiction 88 17 105 51.0 23.5
Books of fiction 84 17 101 49.0 22.6

Note 1 for table 4-4a: Based on weighted data.

Note 2 for table 4-4a: Includes maybe, it depends, and don’t know.

Note 3 for table 4-4a: Only subscribers who had heard of synthetic speech were asked about their willingness to listen to publications in this format. We show willingness as a percentage of the entire sample to describe the current market for synthetic speech.

The potential market for synthetic speech publications is relatively small but non-trivial (Table 4-4-a). This market, moreover, is larger for some types of publications than for others. More subscribers are willing to listen to short documents like articles and newsletters in synthetic speech than are willing to listen to books. Willingness to listen to all types of publications in synthetic speech, however, is likely to increase as awareness of the technology grows and as the quality of the speech improves. Among subscribers who have heard of synthetic speech, approximately two-thirds are willing to listen to articles and newsletters, and half are willing to listen to books.

Another development that might increase interest in synthetic speech is more widespread computer use. Only one-third of subscribers use a computer, most often at home. Most that use a computer also use the internet. Almost as many home internet users have a high-speed connection as have the slower dial-up service.[footnote]

The reasons subscribers volunteered for not using a computer (not shown) point to three major barriers: (1) low income, (2) inaccessibility to people with disabilities, and (3) generational issues. Although only 8% of non-users said that computers are too expensive, 29% reported having no access to a computer; presumably lower prices (or more disposable income) would enable many of these people to buy a computer. Consistent with this argument, computer use is statistically a function of income; as household income increases, so does computer use (d=.21, p equal to or less than .01; Table 4-4). High-income subscribers are almost three times more likely than low-income subscribers to use a computer (62% of subscribers with a household income of $60,000 or more vs. 22% of those whose household income is less than $20,000, not shown). A relatively high income also appears to promote internet use, awareness of synthetic speech, and the use of high-tech adaptive devices [footnote]

Another common reason for not using a computer is inaccessibility to people with disabilities (30% of non-users).  Inaccessibility probably also underlies many of the health problems (e.g., arthritis) that 14% of non-users gave as a reason for not using a computer.

Generational barriers are implicit in many of the reasons subscribers gave for not using a computer. These reasons include not knowing how to use a computer (29% of non-users), feeling too old (17%), the belief that computers are too complicated (13%) or too much trouble (8%), lack of interest (15%) or need (6%), and fear of computers or technology more generally (3%).

Table 4-4-b.  Use of Selected Technologies by Age Group
  Age category at last birthday
  18 to 39
in Percent
40 to 64
in Percent
65 to 84
in Percent
85 or over
in Percent
Any computer use  76.8 56.0 18.6 8.7
Internet use
Any Internet Use 69.6 47.0 17.1 4.3
Home dial-up connection 36.2 22.2 9.5 1.8
Home high-speed connection 30.4 17.6 5.7 1.8
Synthetic Speech Has heard of synthetic speech 71.0 66.4 39.5 20.0
If yes, listens to it often 49.0 34.1 25.5 0
If yes, listens to it occasionally or rarely 32.7 45.5 33.4 34.8
If yes, listens to it occasionally or rarely 18.4 20.5 41.2 65.2
Hi-tech Adaptive Devices
Uses 1 ormore 63.8 50.0 28.7 23.5
Scanner 42.6 26.1 7.9 6.1
CCTV 17.4 17.2 14.8 13.3
Screen reader 36.4 22.6 7.9 5.2
Screen magnification software 14.5 17.9 9.3 4.4
Braille device 26.1 11.2 3.9 0
Other hi-tech devices
Uses 1 or more 95.7 97.0 93.8 88.7
Remote control 92.6 88.1 88.4 74.8
Dials phone oneself 91.3 91.8 81.2 76.3
Inserts batteries 87.0 76.1 67.4 59.1
Operates CD player 85.3 73.1 50.4 33.3
Swipes debit card 56.5 46.6 27.9 18.3
Uses ATM machine 56.5 35.1 16.4 8.8

Note 1 for table 4-4b: Based on weighted data.

Note 2 for table 4-4b: Missing cases for technology use (1 to 6, usually don’t know).

Together, these reasons suggest a lack of exposure, or only a brief and unsatisfactory exposure, to computers and what computers can do.

Generational issues might be an even greater hindrance to computer use than economic barriers are. Age (which in the present context indicates generation, not age per se) influences computer and internet use more strongly than household income does (Table 4-4). The relationship between age and technology use emerges even more starkly when one compares the four age groups (Table 4-4-b). Three-fourths of young adults use a computer and the internet, as do approximately half of subscribers in the 40 to 64 age group (which includes most of the Baby Boom generation and people born during World War II). After age 64—that is, among people born before the start of the Second World War—computer use and internet use both drop sharply. This general pattern also applies to having heard of synthetic speech and to the use of all high-tech adaptive devices except for CCTVs (scanners, screen readers, braille devices and, to a lesser extent, screen magnification software). To varying degrees, much higher use among younger subscribers than among older ones also applies to mainstream high-tech devices. In the oldest age group, there are only three such devices that more than half of subscribers use: a remote control, the telephone (i.e., dialing), and batteries (i.e., inserting) (59% to 76%, Table 4-4-b).  

Part II: Subscribers’ Experiences with the Talking Book Service and Playback Machine

Part II covers two broad aspects of subscribers’ experiences with the Talking Book service and playback machine. The first section describes utilization of the Talking Book service. Topics include ordering, sources of playback equipment and reading materials, listening habits, returning tapes, and canceling the service. The second section concerns playback machine operation. Topics include usefulness of features, using the cassettes and machine controls, and what subscribers would change about the playback machine.

II-A. Utilization of the Talking Book Service (Tables 4-5 to 4-8)

Nearly all respondents have ordered at least one book or magazine since the beginning of the year (Table 4-5). Most, in addition, have ordered one or more books specifically.

Reflecting the typically late onset of serious vision loss, subscribers have been using the service for an average (median) of only five years. That is, the sample is evenly divided between people who have subscribed for five years or less and people who have subscribed for five years or more. Length of utilization, however, varies widely, from less than one year (4%) to 59 years (<1%, not shown). Twenty-nine percent have used the service for two years or less, but 12% have done so for 20 years or longer (not shown). Nearly half of subscribers are heavy orderers who have received more than twenty books since the beginning of the year.

Patterns of ordering are similar across age groups, with two exceptions. The first exception involves the oldest subscribers, who have received the most books since the beginning of 2003. Almost two-thirds of respondents in the 85+ age group have received more than twenty books; no more than half of younger respondents have done so (Table 4-5). The second exception to the similarity in receipt of materials across age groups applies to the youngest subscribers. Although respondents between the age of 18 and 39 tend to have used the service for somewhat longer than others have (an average of seven years vs. five years), they are less likely to have received books since the beginning of 2003 (64% vs. 82% to 88% of people in the older age groups).

The extent to which these age-specific receipt patterns apply to the broader subscriber population, however, is unclear. The relationship between having received books in 2003 and age is statistically significant, but the other relationships shown in Table 4-5 are not.

Table 4-5. Patterns of Ordering from the Talking Book Library (TBL) by Age
  Age category at last birthday
  18 to 39(
40 to 64
65 to 84
85 or over
Median number of years has used service 7.00 5.00 4.50 5.00 5.00
  Percent respondents
Received one or more books or magazines from TBL since Jan., 2003 77.3 94.7 94.7 94.7 92.0
Received one or more books from TBL since Jan., 2003 Note 3 64.2 87.9 82.5 87.7 82.4
Received 20 or more books 27.5 48.9 45.7 63.7 48.1

Note 1 for table 4-5: Based on weighted data.

Note 2 for table 4-5: Missing cases: # years used service (11); received books or magazines from TBL (3); received any books from TBL (9); number of books received from TBL (7). Almost all missing cases represent don’t know responses.

Note 3 for table 4-5: p equal to or less than .01 (Somers’ d).

Sources of playback equipment and reading material

Across age groups, NLS is the dominant source of playback equipment. Almost all of the subscribers (97%) have an NLS machine. Nevertheless, a substantial minority have availed themselves of alternatives; one-third obtained a playback machine from another source, usually in addition to the equipment they received from NLS.

The NLS machine appears to be the one that subscribers prefer to use. Among those who obtained equipment from another source, a clear majority, 76%, use the NLS machine more often than their other machine. Although a majority of respondents in all age groups primarily use their NLS equipment, usage patterns vary by age. More of the older subscribers (ages 65 and over) than younger subscribers favor the NLS equipment, while more younger subscribers than older subscribers favor their other machine. 

Patterns of obtaining books from alternative sources are very similar to the patterns of using non-NLS playback equipment. Although most subscribers receive books from their Talking Book library exclusively, slightly more than one-third, especially subscribers under age 65, obtain books from other sources. More often than not, the source is another organization (28% of all respondents); far fewer listen to a radio reading service, scan books into a computer, or use a dial-in newspaper service.

Consistent with many respondents’ limited economic resources, the single most common organizational source of books (apart from NLS) is a public library (13% of all respondents, not shown). Approximately half that many have bought commercial audio books at a store or have ordered from Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. Only six people have obtained books from a website (e.g., Bookshare.org or Audible.com).

Table 4-6. Sources of Playback Equipment and Reading Material by Age
  Age category at last birthday
  18 to 39
in Percent
40 to 64
in Percent
65 to 84
in Percent
85 or over
in Percent
in Percent
Source of playback machine TBL only 64.6 62.0 65.3 74.1 66.7
Other source only 1.5 5.4 1.7 1.8 2.6
TBL and other 33.8 32.6 33.1 24.1 30.8
Which player uses most often * TBL machine 56.5 65.3 87.0 82.8 75.6
Another machine 34.8 22.4 6.5 17.2 17.3
Both equally often 8.7 12.2 6.5 0 7.1
Receives books from sources other than TBL Note 3 No; TBL only 53.6 54.5 65.1 64.3 60.6
Yes 46.4 45.5 34.9 35.7 39.4
Other sources of information Organization other than TBL 25.4 30.6 25.0 29.6 27.6
Radio Reading Service 10.3 14.2 10.9 7.1 10.7
Scans books into computer Note 4 19.1 7.5 5.4 0.9 6.9
Dial-in newspaper service Note 4 7.2 9.8 4.7 1.8 5.6

Note 1 for table 4-6: Based on weighted data.

Note 2 for table 4-6: Missing cases: Source of playback machine (22, most of which are don’t know); which player uses most often (301 respondents who have only one player); books from sources other than TBL (3), Radio Reading Service (4); dial-in newspaper service (3).

Note 3 for table 4-6: p equal to or less than .05;

Note 4 for table 4-6: p equal to or less than .01. 

Note 5 for table 4-6: Relationships of age to source of playback machine and to which machine respondents use most often are based on chi-square. The other relationships are based on Somers’ d.

Listening habits

Subscribers tend to be heavy readers (Table 4-7). Two-thirds listen to books or magazines every day or almost every day. Few listen sporadically, less than once a week, and most of these light readers listen at least once a month (not shown).

Whether by choice or necessity, subscribers also tend to be stationary readers. When listening at home, the majority always have their playback machine set up in the same place. Similarly, the majority rarely or never listen to books or magazines when they are away from home. Nevertheless, a substantial minority of subscribers are more mobile. Almost one-third move their machine from one location to another within the home, and more than that listen to books or magazines when away from home at least on occasion. Some subscribers’ need for mobility no doubt explains why approximately half report using their player on battery power at least sometimes.

Frequency of listening and mobility are both age-related. Intermittent readers are concentrated among the youngest subscribers. The most mobile readers are under the age of 65. Subscribers in the two younger groups are more likely than retirement-age subscribers to move their player from one place to another when listening at home, and they also are more likely to listen when away from home. Consistent with their greater mobility, more younger subscribers than older subscribers often use their player on battery power.

Table 4-7. Subscribers' Listening Habits by Age
  Age category at last birthday
  18 to 39
in Percent
40 to 64
in Percent
65 to 84
in Percent
85 or over
in Percent
in Percent
How often listen to books or magazines in a typical week Note 3  Every day 17.4 42.9 34.9 50.4 38.0
Almost every day 29.0 30.1 31.0 26.1 29.2
At least one day a week 29.0 19.5 24.8 17.4 22.3
Less than one day a week 24.6 7.5 9.3 6.1 10.4
Player always in same place at home or move it Note 3 Always in same place 52.9 61.9 73.6 80.7 69.4
Move it 47.1 38.1 26.4 19.3 30.6
How often use player on battery power Note 3 Often 43.9 41.8 27.1 25.5 32.8
Sometimes 12.1 23.1 24.0 19.1 20.8
Rarely 15.2 9.0 10.9 13.6 11.7
Never 28.8 26.1 38.0 41.8 34.6
How often listen to books & magazines away from home Note 3 Often 13.0 13.4 3.1 9.6 8.8
Sometimes 13.0 22.4 11.6 5.2 12.8
Rarely 24.6 19.4 23.3 11.3 19.5
Never 49.3 44.8 62.0 73.9 58.9

Note 1 for table 4-7: Based on weighted data.

Note 2 for table 4-7: Missing cases: How often listens (1); player always in same place (2).

Note 3 for table 4-7: p egual to or less than .01 (Somers’ d)

Returning tapes

For most subscribers, returning tapes to their Talking Book Library is not a problem. Three-fourths said doing so is very easy, and for most of the rest it is somewhat easy (Table 4-8). Subscribers apparently experience more difficulty, however, than these findings suggest. Although more than half usually return the tapes themselves, 42% either return the tapes with help or someone returns the tapes for them.

As it turns out, returning the tapes is usually very easy for subscribers who do it themselves (85%, not shown). It is also very easy, however, for many who return tapes with help or have someone do it for them (61%, not shown). Some subscribers who say returning tapes is very easy, then, might find it so because they have help.

Return problems do not primarily involve the mechanics of re-packaging the tapes. When we asked subscribers who reported difficulty what made returning tapes hard, very few mentioned things like putting tapes into their containers, closing and latching the containers, figuring out which way the address card goes, actually turning the address card over, or putting the tapes into the mailbox (n = 2 – 8). More often, the problem is logistics: subscribers can’t get to a mailbox (n = 24). Quite likely, this problem is more widespread and helps to explain why many people, including some who say returning tapes is easy, need help.

Consistent with this argument, blind or visually impaired subscribers are less likely than other subscribers to say that returning tapes is very easy, as Table 4-8 shows. Subscribers who live in a rural or farming community, small town, or suburb are less likely than city-dwellers to return tapes themselves. These relationships are not very strong, but they are statistically significant, and they make sense. Blind or visually impaired people will have a logistical problem, for instance, if they do not live within walking distance of a mailbox and cannot drive. People who live in a city are likely to have one or more mailboxes close at hand, but those who live elsewhere might not. 

Canceling the service

Very few subscribers (8%, not shown) have ever considered canceling their Talking Book service. Those who have are spread across all four age groups.

Subscribers’ reasons for considering cancellation reflect their own needs and life circumstances more than dissatisfaction with the Talking Book program. The four most common reasons are that the subscriber hadn’t been using the service, no longer needs the service, is too busy, and various other considerations having to do with the individual’s specific circumstances. A few subscribers said they were not well enough to use the service. Altogether, respondent-based considerations make up almost two-thirds of the reasons subscribers provided for considering cancellation. The only other reasons that more than one or two people offered were that others "might need the service more than I" (n=7) and that the playback machine is difficult to use (n=6).

Table 4-8. Tape Return Characteristics by Visual Impairment and Type of Community
  Visual impairment
in Percent
Serious difficulty seeing
in Percent
Blind or No useful vision
in Percent
in Percent
How easy or difficult to return tapes Note 3
Very easy 83.0 72.9 72.6 75.5  
Somewhat easy 12.5 16.6 11.9 14.6  
Somewhat or very difficult  4.5 10.5 15.5 9.9  
  Type of community
  Rural or farming
in Percent
Small town
in Percent
in Percent
in Percent
in Percent
How usually returns tapes * Myself 55.1 53.1 54.5 67.1 58.3
With help 23.2 23.4 20.2 15.4 20.0
Someone returns tapes for me 23.7 23.4 25.3 17.5 21.6

Note 1 for table 4-8: Based on weighted data.

Note 2 for table 4-8: Missing cases: Visual impairment (13); how easy or difficult to return tapes (9, don’t know); how returns tapes (2, don’t know); type of community (7).

Note 3 for table 4-8: p equal to or less than .05.

II-B. Operating the Playback Machine

For most subscribers, the Talking Book playback machine is very easy to use (76%, not shown), and it is somewhat easy to use for most of the rest (17%, not shown).[Footnote] And for most subscribers, learning how to use the device was uneventful; 88% reported having had no problems.

Usefulness of features

Some of the player’s features no doubt contribute to ease of use (Table 4-9). Approximately two-thirds of subscribers said that the raised symbols on some keys are very or somewhat useful, and half can read the player’s large print labels. Reading the large print labels on the cassettes or containers, in addition, is the most common way of telling one cassette from another (41%, not shown); 10% of subscribers rely on the cassette’s braille label (not shown).[Footnote]

Another useful visual aid is strong contrast between light and dark, which almost three out of four subscribers find at least somewhat useful. Most people who find strong contrast useful prefer a dark object on a light background. Some, however, either prefer a light object on a dark background or find both types of contrast equally useful.

More than half of subscribers are familiar with some tapes’ tone indexing feature. People who know about this feature tend to use it; three-fourths of these subscribers have used tones to find parts of a book or magazine.

These findings underline the complexity of designing a playback machine for people with varied needs. There is no one feature that everyone finds useful. Even among subscribers who value a given feature, degree of usefulness varies. Similarly, subscribers vary in the type of contrast that is most useful to them. If NLS can employ only one type of contrast, some subscribers’ needs for contrast inevitably will remain unmet. 

Table 4-9. Usefulness of Features
  in Percent
Usefulness of raised symbols on keys Very useful 39.8
Somewhat useful 19.2
Not very useful, not useful at all, or don’t know 40.9
Can read the player’s large print labels Yes or somewhat 49.7
No or don’t know 50.3
Familiar with tone indexing Yes 56.8
No or don’t know 43.2
Ever used tones to find parts of a book or magazine (among those familiar with tone indexing) Yes 72.8
No or don’t know 27.1
Has extension levers installed Yes 10.3
No, presses buttons 89.7
Usefulness of strong contrast between light and dark Very useful 50.8
Somewhat useful 19.9
Not useful or don’t know 29.3
Type of contrast most useful (among those who find contrast useful) Dark object on light 61.4
Light object on dark 24.0
Both equally useful or don’t know 14.6

Note for table 4-9: Based on weighted data.

Using the cassettes and machine controls

The amount of difficulty subscribers have in using the cassettes and machine controls reflects on both the machine’s user-friendliness and subscribers’ physical and cognitive capabilities. So does subscribers’ need for help or self-sufficiency in various aspects of operating the equipment. For the most part, subscribers’ reports reflect well on the Talking Book playback machine and their own competencies.

Day-to-day, the vast majority of subscribers are self-sufficient; 90% usually operate the machine to play tapes by themselves (Table 4-10). When they have a problem with the machine, subscribers are far more likely to fix the problem themselves than to get help from others.

A more nuanced picture emerges, however, when we consider subscribers’ experiences learning how to use the machine. Although most subscribers said they had had no problems learning, as we reported previously, only half learned entirely on their own (Table 4-10). Why half of subscribers needed help is unclear. The available data cannot tell us whether the problem lies in the instructions that came with the machine, features or controls that could have been more self-explanatory than they were, a general learning style that relies heavily on help-seeking (i.e., whether one needs help on objective grounds or not), or some subscribers’ cognitive limitations.

Whatever the reason, understanding certain aspects of machine operation is less likely to be a trouble-free experience than handling the tapes or manipulating the controls (Table 4-11). Between 76% and 85% of subscribers reported having no trouble finding the right control, figuring out what each control does, and understanding how to use the side selector switch. Even more subscribers, however, have had no trouble pushing the buttons hard enough, moving the sliders, inserting and removing the tape from the tape compartment, and turning the tape over (91% - 96%).  Although there is little evidence that subscribers have trouble physically manipulating the controls or the tapes themselves, a few do have problems with the containers the tapes come in. Between 13% and 14% have some difficulty opening the latches and removing the tape from its container. 

Table 4-10. Use of Help and Self-Sufficiency in Machine Operation
  Percent of subscribers
Learning to use the player Received help
Learned myself
Solving problems learning to use the player Someone solved for me
Someone helped me solve
Solved myself
No problems
How usually operates the machine to play tapes Someone operates it for me
Someone helps me operate it
Operate it by myself
How fixes problems with the playback machine Someone fixes for me
Someone helps me
Fix myself
Never a problem

Note 1 for table 4-10: Based on weighted data.

Table 4-11. Difficulty Handing the Cassettes and Using the Controls
  Percent of subscribers
Difficulty handling the cassettes Not at all difficult Somewhat difficult Very difficult Unable to do at all
Inserting & removing tape from compartment 92.3 6.7 0.5 0.5
Turning the tape over 93.4 5.2 0.8 0.5
Opening latches of tape's container 85.5 12.3 1.2 0.9
Removing tape from its open container 87.3 10.4 1.4 0.9
Difficulty using the controls Never Rarely Sometimes Often
How often has trouble figuring out what each control does 78.0 6.4 11.2 4.3
  No trouble Some trouble A lot of trouble Unable to do at all
Any trouble finding the correct control 84.7 13.6 1.1 0.7
Any trouble pushing buttons hard enough 90.6 8.2 1.0 0.2
Any trouble moving sliders to position you want 96.0 3.5 0.4 0
  Very well Partly Not at all  
How well understand how to use side selector switch 76.0 15.0 9.0  

Note 1 on table 4-11: Based on weighted data.

Note 2 on table 4-11: Missing cases: All percentage bases exclude the 23 respondents who have someone operate the playback machine for them. The question about understanding how to use the side selector switch has an additional 31 missing cases; 13 people said the question did not apply and 18 answered don’t know. The question about trouble moving sliders excludes an additional 63 people who said they do not have sliders or don’t know if they do. Each of the remaining variables has between one and six missing cases.

What subscribers would change about the playback machine

We have two types of information about improvements to the playback machine that subscribers would value most. The first type is qualitative data, based on a question that subscribers answered in their own words: “If there were just one thing you could change about your cassette player, what would that be?” Open-ended questions like this one elicit top-of-mind concerns. The second type of data measures the importance that subscribers attach to eleven specific characteristics. These ratings identify improvements with the broadest appeal.

Nearly half of subscribers apparently have no top-of-mind concerns; 45% (not shown) either don’t know what they would change or would change nothing. Among subscribers who offered suggestions, making the machine smaller or lighter is, by far, the highest priority. Eighty-eight people want a smaller or lighter machine, which is the only concern that more than sixteen people volunteered (Table 4-12). When we asked subscribers how important each of eleven possible improvements are to them, the resulting ratings underscore the importance of size and weight (Table 4-13). We need an intro to Table 4-13 here.  What do you mean by “ratings data”?  Explain how 4-13 differs from 4-12.)These two characteristics received the third- and fourth-largest number of “very important” ratings.

Table 4-12. Top-of-Mind Concerns about the Current Playback Machine
Top-of-mind concerns Number of subscribers
Size or weight 88
Longer battery life 16
Auto-reverse or no need to turn tape over 16
Side selector switch problems 13
Easier to push or use buttons 10
Better sound quality 9
Speed control: vary speed without change in pitch 8
Accept CD or DVD 7
Improve tone control or better tones 6
Add ear phones 5
Ability to record 5
Improve voices 5
Improve volume control, other volume issues 5
Better instructions for machine use 5
Compatibility of tapes or ability to play NLS tapes on other machines 4
Add bookmark capability or make finding chapters easier 4
Fast forward: add, improve, or make faster 3
Add sleep mode or auto shut-off when tape is over 3
Better on-off switch 2

Note 1 on table 4-12: Based on verbatim responses to Q. 40, about the one thing subscribers would change

Table 4-13. Improvements That Are Most Important to Talking Book Subscribers
  Percent of Subscribers
Improvements (in descending order of “very important” responses) Not at all important or don’t know Somewhat important Very important
Ability to find one’s place after having fallen asleep 26.6 17.2 55.9
Better sound quality than now at normal speed 19.0 25.3 55.7
Having a lightweight machine 30.0 17.2 53.0
Having small playback machine 31.8 19.7 48.5
Ability to bookmark the place you want to return to 30.9 20.6 48.5
Not having to turn tape over or use a  side selector switch 30.4 21.2 48.3
Getting books quickly 34.0 21.7 44.3
Ability to change the reading speed without changing the pitch 32.4 24.6 43.0
Ability to move around easily from one part of book to another 34.4 23.0 42.5
Setting to skip automatically over parts of a book 44.7 22.8 32.4
Ability to have words spelled 49.0 19.5 31.8

Note 1 for table 4-13: Based on weighted data.

There are two other characteristics, however, that even (slightly) more subscribers consider very important—the ability to find one’s place after having fallen asleep and better sound quality than now at normal speed. Slightly more than half of subscribers consider these characteristics to be very important. Improved sound quality, however, has the broadest appeal in this sense: it is the characteristic subscribers are least likely to consider unimportant (19% compared to 27% - 49% for the other characteristics).

Most of the remaining characteristics we asked about are very important to more than 40% of subscribers. They include the ability to bookmark the place one wants to return to, not having to turn the tape over or use a side selector switch, getting books quickly, the ability to change the reading speed without changing the pitch, and the ability to move around easily from one part of the book to another.

The characteristics that the fewest subscribers consider very important are a setting to skip automatically over parts of a book and the ability to have words spelled (both 32%). It might be premature to conclude, however, that these two features are unimportant. Their appeal, admittedly somewhat limited now, seems likely to grow. Both features have significantly more appeal to younger subscribers than to older ones (Table 4-14). The starkest contrast is between the youngest and oldest respondents.

Table 4-14. Importance of a Skip Setting and Spelling Ability by Age
  Age at last birthday
 Importance of . . . 18 to 39
in Percent
40 to 64
in Percent
65 to 84
in Percent
85 or over
in Percent
Having a setting to skip automatically over parts of a book Note 2 Very important 53.6 29.6 34.2 19.6
Ability to have words
spelled Note 2
Very important 43.5 38.0 31.6 18.8

Note 1 for table 4-14: Based on weighted data.

Note 2 for table 4-14: p equal to or less than .01.

Step backwards to 3. Methodology Step forward to 5. Discussion ---

[Footnote - Magnifiers]
One might have expected use of magnifiers to be more common among blind and visually impaired people than it is and less common than shown among subscribers in general. One explanation is that many people with “over-forty eyes” no doubt use a magnifier despite the fact that their vision problems aren’t serious enough to qualify as visual impairment as defined in this study. In addition, 77% of visually impaired subscribers who have some useful vision do use a magnifier. Why the remaining 23% do not is unclear. Possibilities include vision loss that magnification might not help (e.g., pathologies that affect mainly peripheral vision, very severe vision loss that stops just short of total blindness), a perceived or real inability to afford a magnifier strong enough to be helpful, and adaptive strategies that do not involve sight at all (including discontinuing activities that one previously performed). 

Interestingly enough, 16% of subscribers who described themselves as totally blind use a magnifier. Some of these respondents might simply define blindness or lack of useful vision more broadly than blindness professionals do.

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[Footnote - Internet]
Use of computers, access to the internet, and high-speed internet connections are most common among subscribers who live in a suburb or city. For example, 40% of suburbanites and city-dwellers use a computer compared to 26% of subscribers who live in a rural community or small town (not shown). Among internet users, high-speed connections are more than twice as common among suburbanites and city-dwellers (54% compared to 20% of subscribers living in a rural community or small town, not shown). These findings should be interpreted cautiously, however. The relationships might be spurious, that is, attributable to other factors, such as age or income, that tend to be associated both with technology use and type of community. 

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[Footnote - Income]
The relationships between income and technology use cannot be explained away by education, which tends to go hand-in-hand with income level. That is, it is higher-income subscribers’ ability to afford technology, and not just an education-based receptiveness to technology, that accounts for the relationships between income and use of high-tech devices. As Table 4-4 shows, income is more strongly associated than education is with computer use, internet use, having heard of synthetic speech, and the use of high-tech adaptive devices.

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[Footnote - Ease of use]
Whether or not ease of use is age-related is unclear. Somewhat fewer retirement-age subscribers said their playback machine is very easy to use than subscribers in the two younger age groups (70% and 74% compared to 81% and 83%). This relationship, however, only approaches statistical significance (p = .06). There is no relationship between age and having had problems learning how to use the machine.

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[Footnote - Indentifying cassettes]
Other strategies for telling one cassette from another include listening to the tape (28%), someone tells me (23.5%), and keeping tapes in the boxes they came in (11.3%).

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Step backwards to 3. Methodology Step forward to 5. Discussion ---

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Posted on 2006-05-30