Thursday, September 18, 2003

Top ratings for a different kind of radio program

Laura Pulfer

A woman who is blind works in our building. She walks briskly, shoulders back, holding onto her guide dog's harness. Purposeful. She's always beautifully dressed and coiffed. I wonder how she does it. Then again, she looks as if she can do anything.

"Well, you can't drive, and you can't read," Sharon Linde of Radio Reading Services (RRS) says bluntly. I'll give her the driving part. But what about Braille?

She hands me a card with the Braille alphabet. Those little bumps are mighty hard to sort out. Plus, I'm trying to imagine how a whole newspaper would feel. Impossibly cumbersome. And outdated by the time it was transcribed. There are plenty of Braille editions of the Bible. But what about the latest on the Freedom Center, the Bengals, trashy novels, textbooks, grocery ads, news magazines, bills?

Angie Heiman helped start a personal reader program 12 years ago. Sometimes, Angie says, you read sale ads, then take them shopping. Sometimes you listen to complaints and worries. She calls it the "reverberations of their struggles." She helped one old woman record memoirs for her family. "We became very good friends," Angie says.

Sharon, who is in charge of volunteers, can be reached directly at 487-4217, in case you would like to treat yourself to a wonderful experience. RRS has an increasing number of helpers from area high schools and universities. "The kids have been great," Sharon says. "Dependable." Some visit nursing homes for group readings. Others might work with children, many of whom are preemie survivors with impaired vision.

Like the clients - volunteers are all ages. Many volunteers never see the people they serve. They sit behind microphones in studios at Cincinnati Association for the Blind on Gilbert Street. The 24-hour RRS broadcast includes selections from the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Cincinnati Post, Catholic Telegraph, the Wall Street Journal, Reader's Digest, Smithsonian Magazine, the American Israelite.

Broadcast on an auxiliary signal from WGUC-FM, it's available on special receivers provided free to those who qualify. Requests for these can be made at 487-4245.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the first live broadcast, which began in cramped, unused rooms at the Masonic Temple downtown. The original RRS folks nailed carpet scraps to the walls to mute the sound and cobbled together castoff equipment. They took in money from Bingo. Now they depend on foundations and donations, and the soundboards are state of the art. But the most essential asset has not changed - the people who sign up for "a wonderful experience."

Did I mention the number to call is 487-4217?

Clients who want something that isn't on the regular broadcast schedule or who don't have a personal reader can use a touchtone phone to make special requests. Maybe something from a thesaurus or the Yellow Pages, a restaurant menu, a stock quote, a recipe.

And it seems to me that this service connecting people to their daily world - with the rich assortment of church bulletins, crossword puzzles, appliance manuals, news, notes from friends and Barbara Cartland novels - might be one reason some people who have lost the ability to use their eyes still look to the rest of us as if they can do anything.

E-mail or phone 768-8393.

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