KU Audio-Reader

Kansas / May 1, 2012 / by The Team

Picture your morning routine: You wake up, and relax with a cup of coffee and get ready to read the paper. Now, imagine you’re visually impaired or blind. How do you get your local news or review coupons? The mission of the innovative project, KU Audio-Reader, is to preserve that routine and enable others that are vital for an independent and active life. 

Janet Campbell, Director of Audio-Reader, explains that the service is there “to provide reading for those who cannot read the printed word.” It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and provides material that is both read live and pre-recorded over an FM transmission.

It went live on October 11th, 1971 after a local Lawrence woman who had been reading to a friend in a nursing home was inspired to find a way to bring that reading to more people. Using a new transmitter bought by the University of Kansas, Audio-Reader partnered with Kansas Public Radio and has been running ever since, transmitting across Kansas and even expanding into some parts of Missouri. 

Audio-Reader broadcasts readings of newspapers, books, magazines - in essence, anything that is printed. The schedule is a busy one with the station opening at 6am. Volunteers visit the radio station and go into one of six studios sitting ready for them to being their reading. There are broadcasts 24 hours a day.

The day begins with the reading of the local papers at 8am. USA Today is then read at noon - the best time because there are “approximately 20 other reading services across the United Stated that depend on that broadcast.”

In total, Audio-Reader broadcasts 140 books in a year, which are read during the non-fiction, fiction and mystery hours, among others. 

The service also provides readings on-demand. Listeners are able to call in and ask to have their favorite section of the newspapers read to them. “One man calls every day for his grocery ads, one for his horoscope and for the horoscope for his late wife.”

Chikako Mochizuki used Audio-Reader to help with her reading for her PhD. She would send them the documents she needed to read and they would record them for her. As she says, “a lot of the printed materials that come out are not in the format of Braille or a format of audio. Here, what they are doing is to provide that accessibility for blind listeners.”

With a volunteer base of about 350, the service is extremely well staffed and the waiting list to become a reader is ever-growing. While not all the volunteers read each week, approximately 200 people volunteer throughout the week, and all greatly enjoy their time volunteering. 

The work means as much to the volunteers as it does to the listeners. Don Frey, a volunteer reader says that “you really can feel that you’re with the audience. [...] the listener with radio can invent and can look like whoever they want them to look like.”

Audio-Reader ensures that its listeners are able to tune in with the greatest of ease by providing them with specially tuned radios, set to only their frequency. “From that radio, they turn one dial and there we are... It’s free and we deliver it to their home and so they can listen when they choose to.”

The radio station also has a sensory garden just outside their building. Started by a staff member fifteen years ago, it began with just a small bed of tactile plants. It has now grown to include lambs-ear and chocolate mint among other plants, as well as an accessible picnic table and gazebo. 

The idea of the garden is to provide smells from the plants and sounds from wind chimes, and visitors are encouraged to touch the plants. Campbell explains that “it’s not a garden where there’s a sign that says ‘do not touch’”.

Both Audio-Reader and its garden aim to bring back independence in blind people or those with low vision and rekindle their connection to their community. “Knowing that people can stay in their homes and stay active and stay informed and stay involved, we come to realize how important that is to independence.” 

To find out more, visit their website or their Facebook page.