As a person with many blind friends, Richard Rieman learned that parents of blind children couldn’t always clearly convey the rich illustrations in picture books. As an audiobook narrator himself, he also was keenly aware of audiobooks’ inaccessibility to blind children.
Rieman founded the nonprofit, Imagination Videobooks, to bridge these gaps and support blind and deaf children. His team of narrators and interpreters—many of whom are visually or hearing-impaired themselves—combine digital picture books with audio descriptions of the illustrations, as well as captions, and American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation. “Today, everything can be read in a robotic voice on a device, but we are trying to give children a performance, and teach them to love literature even at three, four, and five years old,” Rieman explains.
The Lakewood-based nonprofit has adapted more than 100 picture books, including Winnie the Pooh, and other self- and independently-published books that grant permission to distribute accessible versions. “We like to select stories that normalize the fact that every child is different, and that’s OK,” Rieman says.
Families can access the books for free through the Described and Captioned Media Program, Spotify and other podcast platforms, or by subscription on Vimeo. “The idea is that (the books) are for all children,” Rieman says. “And we are opening up a whole new genre.”