Sight impairment no reason to avoid book club

Having poor eyesight doesn’t mean you can’t be part of a book group, according to a Far North reader Jean Dowson.

Jean coordinates a Book Discussion Scheme book group that has been going for 22 years and has seen one long-term member, Jenny MacMurdie, transition to using audio books as a way to maintain her involvement.

“Jenny didn’t want to leave the group, because it’s a friendship group as much as anything else!” says Jean.

“She’s been an avid member of our book group for I can’t remember how long, so this has meant she could participate so much more.”

Each time a book parcel arrived from the BDS office, Jean let Jenny know what title the group was reading next. Jenny would then contact the Blind Foundation and receive an audio version to listen to, which would allow her to be familiar with the book by the next meeting of the group and join in discussions about it.

“I would highlight the books that she could get from the Blind Foundation and we put those titles as priorities on our group’s booklist,” explains Jean.

Her all-female book group has drawn its members from rural locations on the outskirts of Whangarei. They are all affiliated with the University of the Third Age and travel up to forty minutes to get together for their once-a-month, Thursday afternoon book discussions. Those who no longer drive, car-pool with the ‘younger’ retirees.

“We’re all widely scattered but people make the effort. We have a very, very tight friendship,” says Jean.

To help book groups identify titles that BDS and the Blind Foundation have in common, the catalogues of both organisations have been cross-referenced. About 40% of BDS titles are available as audio books, many of which are the Scheme’s more popular and recent titles.

These titles are identified in the printed version of the BDS Catalogue with an ear symbol. Groups can search the online catalogue, in the Books section of the BDS website, using the category ‘Blind Foundation book’.

An arrangement between the two organisations means Blind Foundation members do not pay a membership fee to be part of a BDS book group. 

“I think it’s wonderful you are now doing this,” says Jean. “We’re really, really impressed by your service.”

Unfortunately for Jean, Jenny has recently relocated to Auckland to be closer to family members. She hopes to connect with a new BDS book group there.

Convenor Jean Dowson (wearing a birthday rosette, not an electionering one!)


Members at a recent meeting:



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The Book Discussion 
Scheme is a member of the Federation of Workers Educational Associations in Aotearoa New Zealand
BDS is a member of the Federation of Workers Educational Associations