Spreading the news on 'Talking Book'
Rochester-area residents unable to read due to visual impairment or lack of physical ability to hold a book, magazine or newspaper can get a free talking radio.
"Radio Talking Book is a free, closed-circuit news and information service that broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week to thousands of subscribers throughout Minnesota and the nation," says a State Services for the Blind summary .
Special radios capable of picking up the radio station's frequency are provided free to individuals who qualify via the National Library Service.
Local residents who struggle to read a newspaper, for example, because of arm strength limitations caused by a stroke qualify just as easily as someone who has lost her vision.
To qualify, "they cannot read the printed page for any physical reason," said Stuart Holland, state manager for the Minnesota Radio Talking Book Network.
"There's probably more people who qualify than know about this program," said Jan Engberg, volunteer coordinator for radio readers at Charter House in Rochester. "It would be good if we could get everybody to connect up with us who would like to."
People with blindness, dyslexia, inability to hold a page or book or inability to make sense of words due to brain injury, multiple sclerosis or other conditions, all qualify, Engberg said.
"Being illiterate does not qualify a person, nor does a low IQ or not knowing how to read English," she said. "The majority of our listeners are elderly, but not all."
Engberg said volunteers provide a special service to local listeners from a room at Mayo Clinic's Charter House senior living center.
"We read the area newspapers from the local area — live," she said. The program lasts from 7 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. "We read the Post-Bulletin and we only read local news, no Associated Press." Other area newspapers also get attention, such as the Stewartville Star. Articles are typically longer in the newspapers of smaller towns, which means fewer of their articles can get read at any one air-time.
Radio Talking Book programs read Twin Cities newspapers and the New York Times, so national news is available that way.
"We fill about 40 minutes with the Post-Bulletin and about 20 minutes with the other papers," Engberg said. Volunteers read about four articles from the front section of the newspaper, focusing on front-page news; at least three from the southeast Minnesota section; all names and service details from the obituaries; and three to five sports articles.
"If we still have time, we'll go back and read the Answer Man and some of the others (letters to the editor and opinion)," Engberg said.
Engberg said she has slots open for volunteers to read local newspapers.
Volunteers get training, so they do not need previous experience. But they must pass a reading and vocabulary test to demonstrate they can read articles smoothly and clearly without stumbling over unfamiliar words.
Years ago, Engberg said, events were held so readers could meet and mingle with the volunteer readers. That hasn't happened in quite some time, but renewing the practice is being discussed. Even though she doesn't know her listeners, she still feels connected to them and, from past gatherings, knows that they recognize her first, third and fifth Tuesday-of-the-month voice.
"You feel like you have a personal relationship with some of these people," she said.
Want to see if you or someone you care about qualifies to receive the service? Call 800-652-9000 and say you'd like to get a Talking Radio. Or, call the Rochester office of the State Services for the blind at 507-285-7282.