Though I have always resisted the clarion call of the “Minnesota First in the Nation” chauvinists, I have long been inordinately proud of fact that the North Star State was, in truth, the home of the original Radio Talking Books program. This powerful force for inclusion and access is renowned for having brought information and ideas to visually and physically challenged Minnesotans for forty-one years! If you haven’t checked the robust programming of RTB of late, take a minute, then tell a friend. Users need a password to listen to the programs but you can get a good idea of the possibilities, including an ever-growing list of newspapers, on the website at www.mnssb.org/rtb.
For the latest, greatest, you’ll also want to check the annual conference of the International Association of Audio Information Services (http://www.iaais.org) which is meeting in the Twin Cities June 6-8, 2013. Conference planners note that “this particular conference is happening in the state where radio information services began in 1969, with the Minnesota Radio Reading Service. That set a radio signal that carried newspapers, magazines, and a few books for people with blindness and reading disabilities. That has segued into services around the world that fit many different formats and forms of delivery, some still using the analog radio signal, but others on cable, SCA cable television, touch-tone telephone, and the internet.”
Today, programs that grew from the seed planted four decades ago cover read-aloud books, local news, PSA’s, ads, obits, events, magazines, advocacy information and more. One essential resource on the IAAIS site is a list of Radio Reading Service websites internationally and in the U.S – there are well over fifty programs offering a wide range of services and technologies. Not to play favorites, but to name just one, I was intrigued with the radio book group broadcast on Audio Journal, a service designed for the people of mid-Massachusetts but accessible online beyond those boundaries (http://www.audiojournal.net/) I know that every one of the state services would offer a unique and irresistible glimpse of the possibilities planners will be discussing at the conference.
The urgency of attention to intellectual access is underscored today by the rapidly growing cohort of visually impaired elderly and, equally, by the injuries suffered by returning veterans. Today over 21.5 million adults age 18 or older are blind or vision impaired. There are many others who have barriers to independent reading such as a stroke, spinal cord injury or other physical impairment that is not strictly visual.
Promoters of the IAAIS conference advise that these national gatherings “have a very broad scope of educational presentations, from technology and government regulations, to volunteer management and fund-raising.” As always, the real work – and benefit – of a global conference such is this is the chance for committed people who share a mission to join forces, share ideas, interests, energy and a sense of connectedness.
The IAAIS conference is at the Sheraton Midtown Hotel. Lots more information, including a full events list, on the organization’s website, call 1-866=837-4196, email at email@example.com or write to the association at their home base , Box 847, Lawrence, KS