If you or someone you know has a vision impairment, dyslexia or other disability that limits the ability to take in information by reading the printed word, you would normally turn to the mass media outlets for news of the day. Radio, television, cable TV, and podcasts are available to provide information by sound. Even audio books are available through private and public means. But what happens when you realize that all the things you can hear are filtered, censored … and some are even fake?
Not to mention the inability to pick up on local news, current flyers, pamphlets, and the variety of emergency items that are not produced for entertainment purposes but are the information we all need to make informed decisions and opinions? Plus, the “time limiting news cycle” that replays hot topics for the additional commercial ratings that improve when viewers/listeners can just pop in for the highlights.
You keep seeking new sources to learn what you missed when the newspaper is inaccessible, not to mention losing the opportunity to participate in your community — things like supermarket specials, restaurant reviews, local amusements and community festivals are items that tend not to make it to the national airwaves.
There is a better option here for those who are unable to read, a reliable service for Grandma and Pa or people who have difficulty holding reading material for any length of time: the Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service. More than 100 volunteers read daily major papers and local newspapers, and dedicate time to the national periodicals, to provide a reliable, well-rounded opportunity for the listeners to gather information from all sources and make up their own minds, based on the availability of the many news and information sources and not just the constant streaming of biased rhetoric. NFRRS has a variety of magazines, and books curated from the New York Times Best Seller List.
Studies have shown that radio reading listeners are more engaged in the community, as well as more open-minded and more creative. Radio reading programs not only inform and share news, they also entertain. Their familiarity brings listeners a sense of companionship, as if the reader was next to them and reading just to them. There are an estimated 20,000 people in Western New York who are blind or have low vision and another 40,000 who have a physical or cognitive print disability.
This service has been available for folks in Western New York for 35 years, but you needed to have a special radio that could capture the subcarrier signal transmitted (currently being broadcast by our friends at Buffalo Toronto Public Media through WNED 94.5 FM). However, that has also been a limitation, as these radios could cost as much as $125 a piece and special fundraising activities had to be conducted to get them to the people who needed them, limiting the number of folks that could drop in and read whenever and wherever they wanted to. That is, until now.
NFRRS is now streaming its live feed online and making popular programs available through podcasts, so thousands more have instant access through almost any internet-connected device, including desktops, laptops, tablets, smart phones, and smart speakers. The programming is spreading to increase the availability of local news and information. Recently, it has initiated broadcasting to new Americans in their native languages to assist in the assimilation of our new citizens into America’s culture. The radio reading service is reaching both to the north to increase the news opportunity to our Canadian neighbors, and to the east, filling the void left by the defunct Rochester radio reading service.
Many of us don’t think about the importance of local news and information. We have always taken it for granted because it has always been there. But I can share with you, as a person who had lost the ability to gather current news/views and stay on top of what was happening in my kids’ school and community, that void is overwhelming! To be taken out of society just because you are unable to use your eyes to collect news and information is very devastating.
Our family members who have lost their sight and our neighbors who are unable to read print do not have to throw in the towel on the remaining part of our society. This simple, consistent, reliable and daily reading of their local newspapers, national magazines and books can keep them up with critically important news, and help them follow events in their community and stay abreast of their favorite sports teams. They learn more about current and future elected leaders and are better informed when they vote.
So, let’s spread the word on Western New York’s best kept secret and assist your family member, neighbor and / or friend with the ability to remain living in their home, working in our community, and engaging in this great society as full and equal partners .
Douglas J. Usiak is the chief executive officer of the Western New York Independent Living Inc. family of agencies. Independent Living empowers individuals with disabilities to gain the information and resources needed to improve their quality of life and participate in society on an equal basis. For more information about its services and programs, call 716-284-4131, extension 200.