There are no shortage of concerns for those with visual impairments, so one could be forgiven for glossing over the little things.
When merely getting around is a significant obstacle, things like picking up the afternoon paper may not seem so important. But those things are important, said Douglas Wright, president of Recorded Recreational Reading for the Blind, also known as Sun City Talking News.
“Every year we have a get-together for all the people who use our service,” he said. “And every year someone will say something to me like, ‘Ten years ago I lost my sight and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I thought about committing suicide. You saved my life.’ I have heard that many times from many people.”
Wright, Wyla Hohn, the office administrator, and about 18 volunteers have dedicated much of their free time to one thing: They read the news, record it and send out tapes every week. The service, which has been around four decades, is designed to allow those with visual or physical impairments to follow the news in and around Sun City. The process takes a couple of days, with much of the recording done Wednesday and the editing and duplicating of recordings happens Thursday morning.
“We try to finish by Thursday morning so people will get their news every Friday,” he said.
The recordings contain a mix of hard news and feature stories, Wright said, on a special cassette tape that has two tracks on each side of the ribbon. The free service is open to anyone.
“We will send out a tape player free of charge, and the mailing is all free,” Wright said. “We send out the cassettes in a package with a card that has the person’s name and address on one side and our address on the other. So when they are done they just flip the card and drop it back in the mail.”
When the cassettes come back, Hohn takes charge.
“I call this my postman job,” she said. “When the tapes come in, I erase them and rewind them, and then I mark them because we can only reuse them a certain number of times. I also type out all the cards.”
Hohn also coordinates the volunteers and has been learning to do some of the recordings herself. While the work can be difficult, Hohn said it is immensely satisfying.
“I’ve been with the group 10 years,” she said. “It’s been so great.”
Al and Janet Werner, both 93, have been using the service for about five years. Werner was a doctor of physical education and recently a professor at the University at Albany, N.Y. His eyesight has deteriorated to the point where he can no longer read comfortably.
“He can see, but he can’t see to read,” Janet Werner said. “He can read the headlines, but that’s it.”
Janet Werner said the service has been important to her husband. Whether it be nonfiction books from the library’s Talking Books or the big stories from the Sun Cities area, Janet said her husband loves it all.
“Sometimes, if it’s something of interest, I’ll listen, too,” she said.
In short, Werner said she and her husband would not want to live without the service.
“It allows him to keep up to date,” she said. “He loves it, and we’re so glad to have it.”
Wright said he believes in the importance of the service and is hopeful more people will sign up.
“Right now, we have about 65 people who use the service, and we know there are many more people who could use it,” he said. “They just don’t know we are here.”
The service is not just for the blind.
“The only restriction is you have to provide certification from a physician that you have a visual or physical impairment,” he said. “Whatever is keeping you from reading the newspaper, we are here for you.”
The organization has clients in the Sun Cities and some in Peoria and Glendale, Wright said. They even have a few out of state.
“If people want to continue to get the news from Sun City while they are away for the summer, we’ll do that, too,” he said.
The point of it all, he said, is the importance of what probably seems like a pretty small thing.
“The other day my wife was at the dentist. Another man who was waiting heard her name called and recognized it from the recordings. He thanked her for what we do and told her, ‘I live for Friday.’ People, they just want to be able to get the news.”
For information, call 623-933-0985.
Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or firstname.lastname@example.org.