Saturday, December 06, 2008

New program to help the visually impaired and people affected by Dyslexia

To pick up a book and read is an activity that many of us take for granted.But for the approximate two million who are blind or suffer from dyslexia, it's a privilege that is not easily available nor accessible.

For the past 60 years, the RFB&D (Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic) has been providing an audio textbook library to the visually-impaired, and members from the Brush, Fort Morgan and Sterling Lions Clubs recently learned more of the program from Ed Sardella, former KUSA 9News anchor turned volunteer/spokesperson for the program.

Now a media trainer and journalism instructor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Sardella spoke to the clubs recently on the program that began in 1948 on the top floor of the New York Public Library.

Founded in 1948 by Anne T. Macdonald, RFB&D began as a program for blinded World War 2 veterans, but has expanded to include members of all ages who cannot effectively read standard print because of a visual impairment, learning or other physical disability.

''RFB&D's digitally recorded audio textbooks on CD and downloadable audio textbooks help students challenged by the printed page," literature explains.

To date, RFB&D's audiobook library contains nearly 38,000 digital titles in every subject area and grade level, and serves 185,000 plus members through the "Learning Through Listening Program".
In its collection are textbooks in core and elective subject areas from every major K-12 publisher including Language Arts, Social Studies, Mathematics, Science and foreign languages of French, Spanish, German and Latin.

Additionally, the audiobook library contains fiction, nonfiction, special interest books, biographies, thematic collections, test preparation, Accelerated Reader, high interest/low vocabulary, nonfiction and resources, popular fiction and award winning books, hobbies, recreation, personal growth, and technology.

Sardella, who began as a volunteer reader and now travels the state touting the project, explained the goal of the program is "to assist making you learn better, learn easier, feel more confident and become more dependent on yourself."

Recordings were originally produced using synthesized voices, he explained, but it was soon realized that those using the program preferred the sound of human voices.

Those utilizing the program now use specialized CD players called "Smart Players" and/or software, as well as MP3 players to read, with the recording of titles exclusively performed now in a digital format for CDs.

According to information from the program's literature, a Smart Player can hold 14 books, with MP3 and two gigabyte Ipods containing four average-sized textbooks.

''The Learning through Listening program is bringing measurable results to classrooms across the nation," the internet site explained with more than 185,000 people nationwide listening to more than 502,000 audiobooks in 2007.

Of those, approximately 17,000 Colorado residents currently are served by RFB&D.

From those participating in RFB&D, two monetary awards programs have been made possible. Each year, the Marion Huber Learning Through Listening Awards program rewards six high school seniors with learning disabilities in recognition of extraordinary leadership, scholarship, enterprise and service to others.

Offered since 1991, a selection committee presents $6,000 to the top three students, with $2,000 awarded to three named as Special Honors.

Since 1959, the Mary P. Oenslager Scholastic Achievement Award, has recognized college seniors and the blind or visually impaired in recognition of extraordinary leadership, scholarship, enterprise and service. Again chosen by a selection committee, three individuals receive $6,000. Three others are designated as Special Honors and receive $3,000, with three honors winners presented with $1,000 each.

Because it is a private, non-profit organization, RFB&D relies on donations, federal and state funding, product sales and membership fees to support its mission -- one that is provided strictly by a volunteer force, Sardella stated, adding there are 425 volunteers in the Denver studio who work as pairs in three hour shifts, four days a week.

As a whole, there are more than 7,000 volunteers in 29 recording studios across the United States, who record more than 5,000 new books each year, representing 400,000 hours of donated time.
Recording and reading is not the only way to serve as a volunteer, the speaker stated, explaining the organization accepts cash donations, is in need of people to help identify clients, as well as provide information to the school. Another way to help, he added, is to adopt a student deemed in need of the program and referred by a professional.

Members of RFB&D include libraries, schools and universities serving students with print disabilities.

As a member, benefits include free web-based teaching training, research summaries and classroom support materials online, 24/7 online access that allows the member to order books, equipment and accessories, along with personal support through one of the many nationwide locations.

Currently, two types of memberships -- student individual and personal individual -- are available, however, institutional memberships offer three levels of sponsorship.

Although national headquarters is housed in Princeton, New Jersey, a satellite office is located in Colorado Springs, with the possibility of another office to open in Fort Collins.

Currently, the local national location, Rocky Mountain Unit, is in Denver.

For more information, contact 303-757-0787 or go to the RFB&D website at website

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