The right to read

In Sweden, the state is responsible for the production of audio books as well as for the central lending facility for these books. The Swedish Agency for Accessible Media (MTM) is a government agency that supplies books for people with reading impairments which includes talking books, Braille books, e-textbooks, tactile picture books and sign language literature.Audio book. Photo: The Preiser Project/Flickr CC BY

“Our mission stipulates that we provide access to literature and community information to everyone on the basis of individual need, regardless of reading ability or disability,” says Anne Stigell, who serves as senior advisor at MTM.

MTM provides the accessible books while public libraries, school libraries and university libraries lend them to people with reading impairments.

“As of January this year we are responsible for Easy-to-Read (in Swedish: Lättläst), which includes easyto- read literature published by LL-förlaget and the easy-to-read newspaper 8 Sidor (8 Pages).

Anne Stigell explains that another of MTM’s tasks is to improve access to daily newspaper content for people with impairments that render it impossible for them to access a printed newspaper, by facilitating the publication of talking newspapers.

“Another of our functions is to supply special media for college and university students with a disability that gives them a reading impairment, to enable them access to their required reading.” This is one of the agency’s special responsibilities.

To borrow talking books is a right

A person who has difficulty reading printed text has a reading impairment. Six per cent of the population of Sweden is estimated to have a reading impairment. Visual impairment and dyslexia are the most common causes, but the impairment can also have a physical or neurological cause or be the result of an injury. Everyone with a reading impairment, whether permanent or temporary, is entitled to borrow or purchase talking books. The right to borrow talking books is regulated in the Copyright Act.

“We get a lot of feedback from our users about how easy it has been to borrow and read talking books since we developed and launched the e-book lending service (Swedish: Egen nedladdning), which enables users to download talking books from our library, This is an example of technology creating conditions for inclusion instead of exclusion.”

At the website, one can search for and borrow accessible books. is the digital library and a hub for the central lending facility.

Central lending facility

MTM, with its 105 employees, functions as a knowledge hub about media for people with reading impairments. Its pur pose is to ensure that everyone in the country in need of accessible information can access literature and daily newspapers.

MTM produces and distributes Braille books and talking books and is the central lending facility for accessible media for Swedish libraries.

“Regarding talking newspapers, just recently MTM and the newspaper companies jointly implemented a huge technological shift, and newspapers are now distributed over the Internet directly to subscribers. Subscribers can now access the whole newspaper rather than just a selected part and can browse through and jump between articles to find what they want to read.”

Research of accessible media

A large part of MTM’s work involves research on and the technological development of accessible media.

“MTM is at the forefront of the digital development of accessible literature. The DAISY format, a format to produce, distribute and consume digital books, will soon be 20 years old. We have launched a project in collaboration with a few publishers around the production of talking books in the EPUB3 format, which is a format used by many publishers.”

The technical standard DAISY (Digital Accessible Information SYstem) is designed to be an audio substitute for print material. The free, open e-book standard EPUB (Electronic PUBlication) is designed for reflowable content, which means that the reader can adapt the text for the display device of choice.

Read what, when and how you want to

“With the app Legimus you can read the books on a smartphone or a tablet. You don’t need clumsy devices and you don’t have to be tethered to your computer – you can read your books while on the go. With 110,000 audio books available 24/7, we have finally made significant progress on the journey toward a full realisation of our democratic right to read what we want, when we want and how we want,” says Anne Stigell.

Editor-in-chief National Library of Sweden
Examples of functional disabilities that result in a person’s needing adaptive measures in order to read a published work:
  • Visual impairment
  • Physical impairment
  • Mental impairment
  • Reading and writing problems
  • Hearing impairment (for hearing training)
  • Temporary reading disability
  • Cognitive functional disabilities (e.g., traumatic brain injuries, aphasia, autism, ADHD/DAMP, dementia conditions, whiplash injuries and mental functional impairment)
Anne Stigell. Photo: Lena Boqvist/MTM In addition to lending, selling and producing accessible media, MTM provides information about reading impairment and research and development in the field. It also offers:
  • Software for reading talking books on computers and apps for smartphones and tablets
  • Courses, conferences and study days for various target groups
  • Transcription of texts into Braille for individual readers of Braille
  • Information on talking books, Braille and reading impairment
  • Subscriptions to various talking newspapers and Braille periodicals.