The Blind Now Can Read Daily Newspapers Via Phone

Blind people in 28 states, Washington, D.C. and Toronto, Canada can now instantly access local and national newspapers via a unique telephone service created by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the largest organization of blind and visually impaired persons in the United States.

Newsline® for the Blind, established and sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind, delivers daily editions of The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, and more than 20 other newspapers to the blind and visually impaired.

The new service is timely — available as early as 6:30 a.m. every morning. The service is free to individuals who are blind or visually impaired.

“Such early and easy access to daily newspapers has never before been available to the blind,” says Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind. “This puts the blind on a more equal footing with sighted people.”

Currently, 69 cities in the United States, as well as Toronto, Canada have a Newsline® site.

This completely electronic system converts digital print supplied by the participating newspapers into high-quality computer speech in a matter of minutes, using DecTalk, a software program developed by the NFB.

The callers can select the stories they want to read 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They can also skip over stories they do not want to read in the same way sighted people skim newspapers.

“Users like the fact that the reading is uniform and dependable,” says Mr. Maurer. “Individual callers can adjust the speed at which an article is read. Tone of voice can also be changed.”

Attempts to have a daily Braille newspaper have failed, largely because only 12 percent of blind people read Braille and the cost of producing and delivering a Braille newspaper are enormous. For example, “a daily edition of The New York Times would weigh more than sixty pounds in Braille,” says Maurer.

Newsline® for the Blind avoids many problems of the earlier technology because it is computerized from start to finish. Dependency on volunteers is eliminated. Broadcast facilities aren’t required. The “black box” for the system is compact and can easily fit on a desk and doesn’t require any daily maintenance. It can be accessed day or night.

A typical start up costs $30,000 for a twenty-four line system, but smaller systems with fewer access lines are available. It costs an additional $5,000 to start up a local newspaper. The service costs $12,000 annually for each city and an additional $2,000 per year for a daily read of the local newspaper.

The service is paid for by various local affiliates of The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), local businesses, and state and local agencies for the blind. In Baltimore, the service is paid for by a group of volunteers called “Friends of NEWSLINE® for the Blind” which includes the representatives of the NFB Baltimore chapter and local businesses. In Minneapolis, it is paid for by the NFB chapter. In Baton Rouge, it is paid for by a state agency and contributions.

Each local service system has special channel for items of particular interest to the Blind — bus schedules announcements of meetings, school closings, and community events.

“The National Federation of the Blind wants to make this service nation-wide,” Mr. Maurer says. “The rate at which we can undertake this movement depends on sufficient funds and volunteers.”

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Contact: Marc Maurer (410) 659-9314

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