Book Lovers Day: Alexa has changed Fife man with sight loss' life

Billy Horsburgh, from Anstruther, uses his Alexa device to access titles from the RNIB Talking Books.Billy Horsburgh, from Anstruther, uses his Alexa device to access titles from the RNIB Talking Books.
Billy Horsburgh, from Anstruther, uses his Alexa device to access titles from the RNIB Talking Books.
A Fife man who has sight loss says his Alexa device has changed his life.

Avid audio-book reader Billy Horsburgh has hundreds of ways to celebrate Book Lovers Day today (Tuesday) now he can access his favourite title with a simple voice-command and he has almost 1000 just waiting on his call.

Billy, who has cerebal palsy and glaucoma, uses his Alexa device – Amazon’s virtual ‘assistant’ – to instantly summon up any title from the Talking Books library run by national sight loss charity RNIB.

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By speaking a command Alexa automatically searches online to access whatever’s requested – an audio-book, music track or podcast.

RNIB has worked with Amazon to develop and launch an RNIB Talking Books ‘skill’ equivalent to an app.

Users simply download this to access any of the 37,500 titles in RNIB’s audio-library and having it read to them by simply saying ‘Alexa, open RNIB Talking Books’ and then choosing a title.

Billy, 40, from Anstruther, said: “My Alexa device has benefited me gratefully, indeed changed my life.

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"I use my device for a number of things as well as finding audio-books, including playing radio stations, searching for and listening to music, quizzes and news.

"I was short-sighted until I was a teenager before losing a fair bit of sight, to later having very little sight at all.

"I tend to use my devices more for searching RNIB Talking Book titles.

"I have nearly 1000 audio-titles – anything from The Chronicles of Narnia series, The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner to many Stephen King titles.

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"I can also use my Alexa devices to turn the television on and off, change programmes and call up programmes on Netflix.”

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RNIB has long pioneered adapting emerging technology to the needs of those with sight loss.

It’s first Talking Book in 1935 was Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, recorded then on a set of large long-playing records.

RNIB has evolved the technology from analogue to digital, through tape-reels, cassettes, CDs, memory sticks, downloads and now simple voice commands to Alexa.

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James Adams, director of RNIB Scotland, said: “It could now hardly be easier to access your favourite title.

"Voice-activated technology like this helps blind and partially sighted people to enjoy reading just as much as sighted people.

“RNIB Talking Books are sent out free of charge to anyone who is blind or partially sighted.”

Funded by voluntary donations, RNIB’s Library service sends out up to 5000 books per day and lent more than 1.2 million titles last year on digital downloads, CD, USB and braille books.

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