Sunday, January 14, 2007

The visually impaired can now listen to the newspaper on the radio

The freedom to hear local news on the radio is a privilege available to visually impaired residents of Berthoud and beyond. “The Radio Reading Service of the Rockies, Inc. (RRSR), founded in 1990, is a 501(c) 3 non-profit, volunteer-based, broadcast and audio information service for Colorado's blind, visually impaired and print handicapped residents.

RRSR's services provide access to otherwise inaccessible ink print materials.RRSR’s mission is to empower the lives of a largely invisible segment of society, to decrease their sense of isolation, to increase their independence, to promote education, and to foster their connection with their individual communities,” according to their website, resident Barbara Meneely has been a volunteer reader of The Old Berthoud Recorder on RRSR for three years. Full time, she works as a trust officer at a local Wells Fargo Bank, where she discovered RRSR and joined their board of directors in 2003.

“It is really fun to contribute to the organization and help the local community. Visually impaired people cannot read lots of print materials we take for granted. People want Berthoud news and upcoming events that they cannot hear by listening to Denver area television or radio channels,” Meneely explains.RRSR is different from standard radio broadcasts, in that they do not have call letters and are not an AM or FM radio station.

Through a special agreement with Rocky Mountain Public Broadcast System, they are able to use secondary auxiliary programming signals reserved for close caption or descriptive services in order to broadcast its signal.Meneely gives her time on the weekend to record the most prominent Old Berthoud Recorder news stories published the previous Thursday.

At 2:30 pm on Mondays, her program is broadcast. She is allotted a 30-minute program to cover the local news, but sometimes finds time to read pertinent magazine articles in addition to the newspaper stories. The RRSR studios are located in Boulder, but Meneely has opted to work from home, using a headset her husband installed to save her time driving to the Boulder studio.

After recording, she saves her broadcast to a file before exporting it to an MP3 file and finally sending it to RRSR. The program is provided at no cost to listeners, who are given a radio pre-tuned to the Secondary Audio Program (SAP) frequency. Listeners may also hear the broadcast through links available on the RRSR website.

Other listening options include telephone, obtainable through calling RRSR for access numbers, or through the local community cable station. Live streaming via the website allows listeners to hear news from other newspapers such as the Fort Collins Coloradoan, Windsor Beacon, Greeley Tribune, and Loveland and Estes Park papers, to name only a few of the 75 papers offered. Aside from newspaper articles, other programming available includes Colorado Jewish Community news, Children’s Hour, Kid’s Bookshelf, Children’s Mystery, Spanish programs, and the Oprah Magazine.

“There are a surprising number of children who are visually impaired, so there are many choices for them to listen to. Colorado also has a high percentage of illiterate residents, and many more who only speak Spanish. These groups are able to hear the local news for free, as well as those who are visually impaired.Volunteers like Meneely give 18,700 hours annually to RRSR. Volunteers also read from various magazines, newsletters, public service announcements, grocery and retail ads, and employment opportunity news.

Program topics include health/nutrition, employment, technology, science, gardening, history, cooking, HAM radio, book reviews, and music. In her position as a trust officer at the bank, Meneely has many clients who suffer from macular degeneration. “Reading the paper is often the highlight of a person’s day, and when they can’t do that, they feel disconnected. Even using a magnifying glass does not correct severe macular degeneration, so this is a wonderful alternative for people to stay connected,” she says.

“Because of her experiences in both her professional and personal life, Barbara has a soft spot in her heart for the visually impaired. She recognizes the wonderful service the RRSR provides to its listeners and strongly wishes to help expand their listener base,” according to a RRSR donation request letter, which ends with this powerful thought: “Just think, if you were visually impaired, someone else would be reading this to you right now.” David Dawson, Executive Director of the organization, started RRSR in Colorado.

“He is blind. Amazingly, the person who runs the computer services is also blind, and uses brail and a special keyboard. They do have a visual person who volunteers to help with specific tasks,” says Meneely.RRSR went on the air in October of 1991, and has been broadcasting continuously, day and night, year round. Three hundred and fifty statewide volunteers from both remote and local areas focus on providing local area newspaper and other print media information, covering the four main regions of Colorado.

They are always looking for volunteers, who are encouraged to register by filling out a form in person or online. Currently, over 120 sponsors make the programming possible. Twenty-five dollars donated to RRSR provides 30 minutes of programming; $100 provides one listener radio or two hours of programming time.For more information about the program, visit


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