If North Korea is in the news, you know something bad happened.

Usually it’s a nuclear missile test, cyber attack, or military purge.

Most recently, it was the sad case of Otto Warmbier, the college student from Cincinnati who, in January of 2016, was arrested in North Korea for stealing a propaganda poster.  Sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, Warmbier died shortly after being released earlier this month.

Headlines aside, satellites and space stations are our most reliable windows into life in North Korea.  Astronauts on the International Space Station caused an International Sensation in 2014 when NASA released a photo taken as the space station flew over the Korean Peninsula.

The photo shows North Korea as almost completely black.  China and South Korea are brightly illuminated, but—save for the glimmer of Pyongyang—North Korea blends into the black ocean.  This absence of light is an exquisite metaphor for what we don’t know about life in the “hermit kingdom.”

North Korean defectors put a human face on life in this police state, but they’ve proven to be unreliable witnesses, in part because lying is a reflexive survival mechanism for North Koreans.

Escape from Camp Fourteen, by Blaine Harden (DB 76532), is the most prominent example.  Three years after publication, Shin Dong-hyuk, the young defector at the heart of the book, changed some of the details of his story.  (See

As Harden notes, because North Korea is closed to the outside world, it’s difficult to fact-check defectors’ stories, and they must be read with a skeptical eye.

Several recent memoirs written by defectors, vetted by skeptical eyes, shed slivers of light on North Korea, including IN ORDER TO LIVE: A NORTH KOREAN GIRL’S JOURNEY TO FREEDOM, by Yeonmi Park (DB 82685).

Park escaped North Korea in 2007 at the age of 13, along with her mother.  Both were sold as slave brides in China, and Yeonmi later helped traffic other North Korean women—one of many examples of what she did, quite literally, in order to live.

Park eventually finds her way to South Korea.  Along the way, she discovers that freedom can be cruel and painful.  Her salvation is books: reading helps her learn how to be a human.

Park offers a disturbing but human portrait of North Korea as “hell on earth.”  Yes, it’s not uncommon to go weeks, if not months, without electricity.  She and her family eat roasted cicadas, grasshoppers, and dragonfly heads to survive the famine of the 1990s.  When faced with a fertilizer shortage, the regime institutes a policy which is so bizarre that it’s almost amusing.  Almost.

Hatred of Americans is a pillar of education in North Korea: schoolchildren are taught to hate Americans.  The bleakness of life in North Korea is even reflected in its language: there is no word for “justice.”  And the only definition of “love” is what you feel for the Dear Leader.

While you’re enjoying those lazy hazy crazy days of summer, take a moment to give thanks that you live in the United States, where justice is more than a word, and you can love to your heart’s content.

NLS Annotation: An autobiographical recounting of life in the repressive North Korean society in which the author was raised, and her subsequent escape.  She describes her family, the culture of leader worship, her father’s imprisonment and torture, and how, even after her escape, she was sold into sexual slavery in China.  Unrated.  Commercial audiobook.  2015.

For more about Yeonmi Park and North Korea, travel to these links:

Park’s remarkable 2014 One World Summit speech:

Park’s book talk at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon:

And a ReasonTV interview:


THE ORPHAN MASTER’S SON (DB 74282), by Adam Johnson, is a fictionalized peek inside North Korea.  It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2013.

ZoomText Training July 26-27, 2017 in Dallas

VFO and the American Foundation for the Blind Center on Vision Loss in Dallas are partnering to provide a two day training on ZoomText. This training is available for both visually impaired and sighted individuals, but space is limited. Here are the details:

What: ZoomText training
Where: American Foundation for the Blind Center on Vision Loss, 11030 Ables Lane, Dallas, TX 75229
When: July 26 – 27, 2017, 9 am – 4 pm
Cost: $550

Registration is available online at this link:

Contact information for VFO:
800-444-4443 extension 3

For directions to the American Foundation for the Blind Center on Vision Loss please contact:
Neva Fairchild

Bill Gates’ 2017 Summer Reading List

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, has just announced his summer reading list for 2017. The Texas Talking Book Program has 80% of them in our collection. This year many of his selections are memoirs. Mr. Gates states that he chose books that took him outside of his own personal experiences in order to view the world from different perspectives. He hopes that these book selections will help readers to think about what it really means to connect with other people and find purpose in their lives.

For more information directly from Bill Gates himself:

The books in TBP’s collection:


Nobel Peace Prize winner and thirty-ninth President of the United States Jimmy Carter reflects on his life, both private and public. He discusses his youth in rural Georgia, his family, his military service, his decision to enter politics, and more. Carter reveals what he is proud of as well as his regrets. Bestseller. 2015
DB 83306; LB 08215


The host of TV’s The Daily Show shares his coming-of-age story as the child of a white father and black mother in South Africa. Their very union was considered a crime, and when the author was born during
apartheid, his biracial status made him an outcast. Unrated. Commercial audiobook. Bestseller. 2016.
DB 86608

Author: VANCE, J. D

Memoir of growing up in the Ohio Rust Belt in a family culture rooted in Scots-Irish Appalachia. Explores political themes affecting these community cultures through the lens of personal and familial experiences. Discusses what it took to go from nearly failing high school to graduating from Yale Law School. Some strong language. Bestseller. 2016.
DB 85796; LB 08948


Author of Sapiens (DB 81335) examines the grand projects, dreams, and nightmares facing the human race at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Discusses changing economies, the role of faith systems, and humanity’s interconnectedness with the world around itself. Translated from the original 2015 Hebrew edition. Bestseller. 2017.
DB 87653 (In Process)

Exciting New Assistive Technology Alternatives

Exciting developments in the field of Assistive Technology include lower cost or free alternatives, and the ability to use mainstream products in place of expensive devices designed specifically for people with disabilities.

Here are two examples of free or lower cost alternatives to expensive assistive technology products:

1) Microsoft has developed the Office Lens Reader, a free app that can be used in place of the KNFB Reader. The Office Lens Reader is an app that uses your mobile phone’s camera to scan printed material and then read it aloud. For now, the Office Lens Reader is only available on IOS devices. For more information about the Office Lens Reader, click on this link:

2) Braille printers can be very expensive. Samsung has developed a Touchable Ink cartridge that will allow any commercial laser printer to create Braille. Although the Touchable Ink cartridge costs more than regular ink cartridges, most laser printers cost considerably less than a Braille printer: thousands of dollars for a Braille printer versus around one hundred dollars for a laser printer. For more information about the Touchable Ink cartridge, click here:


Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer.  Filled with picnics, pool parties, and parades, it’s a time of laughter and leisure.  And yet . . .

Memorial Day is also a time for honoring and remembering those who died while serving in our country’s armed forces.  Perhaps the most compelling Memorial Day observance is held at Arlington National Cemetery.  As Robert M. Poole notes in ON HALLOWED GROUND: THE HISTORY OF ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, “few images linger in the national imagination as vividly as this hallowed ground.”

The former executive editor of National Geographic, Poole explores the history and “age-old rituals” that make Arlington National Cemetery sacred, tracing its transformation from the plantation of a young U.S. Army Colonel named Robert E. Lee to national shrine. We travel from the Civil War’s “stench of death” and the horrific trenches of “The War to End All Wars,” through the “nastiest little war” in Korea and the shock of 9/11.  Poole shows how and why “no other nation goes to the effort that the United States does to recover and pay respects to its war dead.”

Poole enlivens our walk through Arlington’s haunting landscape with rich kernels of military history.  He relates the origins of the soldier’s lullaby we know as “Taps,” unearths the evolution of “dog tags,” and reveals the role Arlington National Cemetery played in the construction of that oddball shaped, five-sided building next door.

We meet heroic citizen-soldiers like sharecropper’s son Audie Murphy, whose standard issue tombstone is too small to list all of his 28 decorations.  Pennsylvania pig farmer Alton W. Knappenberger, who was “scared the whole time I was over there,” but risked “his life above and beyond the call of duty” at Anzio.  We follow the ill-fated odyssey of Michael Blassie, the Unknown of the Vietnam War.  And we keep vigil with the sentinels who guard the soldiers, “known but to God,” who rest at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

We also revisit that bleak weekend in November 1963 when we mourned President Kennedy.  Poole describes behind-the-scenes preparations for the President’s funeral, including the frantic, last-minute quest for an “eternal flame,” and the antics of Black Jack, the riderless horse who captivated a nation and bedeviled its handler.  President Kennedy’s burial forever changed Arlington National Cemetery.

Remember the reason for the season.  Make Memorial Day more than a three-day weekend!  Pay homage to those who gave their lives while serving our country by visiting ON HALLOWED GROUND: THE HISTORY OF ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY.

Cover of On Hallowed Ground by Robert M. Poole

NLS Annotation: Describes how the former plantation of Robert E. Lee’s family, which was confiscated during the Civil War, evolved into a national cemetery for veterans. Explains day-to-day operations and ceremonies. 2009.

For more about Arlington National Cemetery and “the saddest acre in America,” read Poole’s, SECTION 60: ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY: WHERE WAR COMES HOME, DB 80705.

Meet author Richard M. Poole in this 2009 “Talk of the Nation” interview:

AI Squared ends sales of Window Eyes

The popular screen reader Window Eyes will no longer be sold in the United States and Canada, effective immediately. AI Squared will be offering JAWS 18 as a replacement for Window Eyes.

For more information about the migration process from Window Eyes to JAWS, please click here:

Note, the free Window-Eyes Offer for Users of Microsoft Office version is not part of the conversion program.

Sero App

Sero, formerly known as iBlink Radio, is an app that offers radio stations, podcasts and reading services of special interest to individuals with blindness or visual impairments. Each station offered is part of Community Radio and/or operated by persons with limited-to-no eyesight. Music offered spans various genres from classics of the 1950s to modern alternative rock. Reading services offered by the app include thousands of narrated newspapers, magazines and periodicals, including the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. The available podcasts are produced by blind or visually-impaired individuals on a variety of topics, including technology, independent living and travel.

Sero can be downloaded from the Apple App Store for iPhone and iPad, Google Play for Android devices, Amazon App Store for Kindle Fire and the Mac App Store for Apple computers.

This app is free, however without a subscription or free trial, you’ll have access to a small subset of the audio content, and none of the community features such as forums or voice chat. For unlimited access, there is an auto-renewing subscription available within the app for $5.99 per month.

To download Sero App for iOS, go to:

To download the Sero App for Android, go to:

Mention of a product or service in this blog does not constitute endorsement by this library. Our intention is to increase an awareness of programs and items that may be helpful to our patrons.

2017 NDEAM Poster Art Competition: Deadline 5/31/17

Each year the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities features an art competition for National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). The poster is distributed free to the public and businesses. The artwork must be an original composition created by a Texan with a disability.

For more information about this competition, including the entry form and submission guidelines, please click here:

The deadline for submissions is May 31, 2017. The winner will be announced on June 21, 2017. The winner will also be a special guest at the annual Lex Frieden Employment Awards ceremony in October.

There is no fee to enter this competition.

IBUG offers Android training May 31, 2017

IBUG, a Houston-based group that provides free iPhone training, is now branching out to include Android training. Raul Gallegos, an assistive technology trainer, will conduct the first conference call about Android devices and the Google operating system.

What: Android device training
When: Wednesday, May 31, 2017, at 7:30 pm Central Time
Where: conference call
Conference dial-in number: (712) 432-0111
Participant access code: 787800#
NOTE: This is NOT a toll-free call.
While on the call, please use *6 to toggle mute/unmute on your phone.

For more information, contact Raul Gallegos at 832-554-7285 or send an e-mail to

For information about IBUG, visit the web site at

Presentation about Non 24 in Dallas

Non 24 is a sleep disorder that affects some people who are totally blind. The condition can make you feel sleepy during the day and can make it difficult for you to sleep through the night. The AFB Center on Vision Loss is offering a 45 minute presentation about Non 24. The seminar is free, and lunch is included. Attendees will also have the option for a private consultation.

Here are the details:
What: Non 24 presentation
When: Tuesday, May 16, 2017 at 10:30 a.m.
Where: American Foundation for the Blind Center on Vision Loss, 11030 Ables Lane, Dallas
RSVP to: Neva Fairchild: e-mail or call 214-438-5316
Cost: free