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Archive for Friday, April 12, 1996

S VISUALLY IMPAIRED

April 12, 1996

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Audio-Reader has been a Lawrence fixture for 25 years and reaches more than 6,000 listeners.

Christopher Bulgren

Catherine Ekstron will spend most of the afternoon reading the TV Guide, but she may not even watch television this week.

As Audio-Reader Network outreach coordinator, Ekstron, along with several volunteers, will read information onto databases and over the airwaves. Audio-Reader provides a free 24-hour-a-day radio reading service. This service allows visually impaired people across the state, and beyond, to listen to TV Guide, books, magazines, newspapers, interviews and other special programs.

Listeners can receive the Audio-Reader signal on the subcarrier of an FM radio station or through a local cable carrier. Audio-Reader loans listeners a special receiver that picks up the signal. The listeners also receive a program guide in large print, Braille or cassette.

The program provides several other services besides the standard radio readings.

Steve Kincaid, assistant director and chief engineer, and the Audio-Reader staff are working on new offerings.

``We are able to tape materials and send them to people who request them, and I'm working on a program that will allow a computerized voice to read the material,'' Kincaid said.

The Audio-Reader program also provides a telephone reader program that allows people to call in and choose the information they need. A Lawrence couple, who asked to remain anonymous, access the telephone reader daily.

``We can put it on the speaker phone and read the newspaper over breakfast,'' the husband said.

The telephone reader service also allows the listeners to "flip forward" in the article or move on to the next article. This gives the user more freedom.

``The strong point is that you don't have to be listening at a particular time to access information,'' the husband said. ``It allows us to read the paper in the same way a sighted person would.''

Audio-Reader's regional broadcasts cover Kansas, western Missouri and limited areas of Oklahoma, Colorado and Arkansas. The signal is also picked up by 11 subcarriers nationwide in cities such as Pittsburgh, Orlando, Fla., and Houston.

Kansas University's program is the second-oldest audio-reader program in the country. It has 300 volunteers that read to an audience of more than 6,000 listeners.

Lawrence philanthropist Petey Cerf started researching the project in the mid-1960s. After Cerf donated the original transmitter to KANU, Audio-Reader began broadcasting from the Sudler House on the Kansas University campus in 1971.

In 1986, Audio-Reader was able to move its studios to the Baehr Audio-Reader Center. The renovated residence and former fraternity house stands just a few hundred feet behind the original Sudler House and provides more than double the space.

It costs about $350,000 to maintain the Audio-Reader annually. The program receives about 60 percent of its funding from the state and relies on private funding for the remainder.

Volunteer readers for the program range from students and retirees to homemakers and doctors. Brett Godsey, Audio-Reader announcer, enjoys the five hours a week he puts in reading.

``We get a lot of positive correspondence from listeners,'' Godsey said.

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