Reading service allows visually impaired to still enjoy their hometown newspaper
Northeast Kansans with visual impairments or reading disabilities can still enjoy The Holton Recorder newspaper through the non-profit Audio-Reader. The reading service has 350 volunteers who read and broadcast newspapers, magazines and best-selling books on the radio and Internet 24 hours a day.
Started in 1943 by philanthropist Petey Cerf, Audio-Reader is a free service based in Lawrence and connected with The University of Kansas, according to Feloniz Lovato-Winston, director of development for Audio-Reader.
“Petey got the idea while reading to someone in the hospital years ago,” Lovato-Winston said. “She thought there had to be a way to provide books and newspapers to those with disabilities.”
After researching a radio reading program in Minnesota, Cerf started a similar program in Kansas.
Using a closed-circuit radio, the Internet or a smart phone, Kansas residents with a visual or reading disability can have 90 different newspapers read to them, as well as a variety of magazines and books.
“Most of our listeners access our programs through a closed circuit radio that we provide them for free,” Lovato-Winston said. “We have a set schedule, and they can simply turn the radio on at the appointed time to hear their newspaper being read live.”
Listeners are mailed a listening guide (large print or Braille) to let them know when to turn on their radios.
“Community newspapers have a lot of really important information in them, such as obituaries and local events, which make them very popular for our listeners,” she said.
The broadcast includes all the news articles, as well as the advertisements.
“The grocery ads (in the newspaper) are very popular,” Lovato-Winston said.
Audio-Reader listeners can also request that certain publications that are not on the regular schedule be read also, and volunteers will read and record them on CD and mail them to listeners, Lovato-Winston said.
In order to participate in the free program, residents must submit a completed application and be diagnosed with a visual condition such as blindness, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy or glaucoma.
“About 50 percent of our listeners have age-related visual impairment, but we also have listeners that have dyslexia, Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis,” she said. “We hear from our listeners all the time that they are so grateful for the programs. I think the human voices reading to them also provides a sense of companionship for them. It’s only because of our volunteers that were able to do so much programming.”
William Dann, son of Petey Cerf, said he is proud of his mother’s work to help those in need.
“She was dedicated to providing the visually impaired and print disabled with free access to printed material,” Dann said. “Four decades later, Audio-Reader now has 350 volunteers who provide 24 hours of programming each day to thousands of listeners in Kansas, Missouri and beyond.”
Audio-Reader is funded through grants and annual fund-raisers. For more information about Audio-Reader, or for an application for services, call 1-800-772-8898 or visit http://reader.ku.edu/.