Julie Martin sees well beyond her vision loss.
One of the things she missed about her former life — when she had her eyesight — was reading all of the local news and events in her community.
She wanted know what was going on in her community and, since moving to Pictou County 11 years ago, has always turned to The Advocate to be kept informed.
Now legally blind from a degenerative eye disease, the Trenton woman felt like she was not getting her regular “fix” of her community newspaper when her vision worsened.
So she set about changing that and approached Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library with an idea. The library made it happen and coming soon, The Advocate and PARL will be making history.
People with vision impairments will be able to log into the PARL website and hear the news from The Advocate read to them by volunteers.
Martin said, “I want to keep in touch with what’s going on in the community. It’s hard to ask for help and this is an independent choice.
“The library is the main hub in any community, as far as I see. It’s the only organization that does anything to assist people with disabilities period — whether it be autism, Alzheimers … the stuff the library has done for people with visual impairment is just overwhelming.”
Trecia Schell, community services librarian for PARL said, “We work with local community groups or service providers to assist with those service delivery areas. With access to materials for print impaired persons, we subscribe to two national services — CELA (the Centre for Equitable Library Access) and NNELS (National Network for Equitable Library Service).” The library registers print-impaired patrons directly with those services, facilitates with the paperwork required and assists people in accessing the services.
“All you need is a regular library card and you can get a book; however, you need that book — whether it’s print, large print or audio.”
“And more importantly,” Martin added, “is that the library provides the adaptive equipment we need to listen to the books that we get from these services.” PARL has 30 Daisy Players and five Victor Reader Stream systems for patron use — all purchased through gifts, donations and grants.
“We have the two different formats for folks who aren’t as tech savvy,” Schell noted.
“And it’s not just for people with low vision,” Martin said. “It’s also for people who never learned to read or who have dyslexia or memory impairment.”
The idea for newspaper on audio is an extension to providing access to printed materials.
Martin had the desire to continue to receive all of the local news in The Advocate, and identified the need to PARL. The library took it from there.
“This really started for me with my brother and his wife in England. They volunteer to read their local daily newspaper … I phoned the local library to see if they had volunteers who read the newspaper to people. They didn’t, but former library worker Holly MacLean used to call me every Wednesday and read The Advocate to me,” Martin praised.
MacLean went back to school and other volunteers took up the charge, but eventually it dwindled. Martin said, “I wanted to be able to read the newspaper every week, to get it in audio.”
She noted, “There are so many people who are isolated. What other contact do they have with the community? This is another human voice in your day. This just adds another layer of it being an inclusive, accessible community which is what I think we’re all aiming for. Just because you lose your sight doesn’t mean you lose your vision.”
Martin laughed, “It was purely for selfish reasons! But there are so many people who are really excited about this project.”
Matt Kenny, PARL’s emerging technologies assistant, is equally excited about the project. He said as far as he knows, The Advocate is the only newspaper in the province to engage in this audio version for those with vision impairments.
The project has been a number of months in the making. Kenny said, “It took an incredible amount of time to find the right recording equipment and editing software.” Schell added, “Then it was just a matter of getting approval of the costs within the current budget.”
Now the project is ready to go and PARL is looking to widen the call for volunteers who are great at reading aloud to read the newspaper for recording. Contact Matt Kenny at 902-755-6031 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s a perfect opportunity for anyone who wants to pursue a career in broadcasting, or public speaking, the three said, or anyone who has time on their hands.
“I cannot say enough positive about the library staff,” Martin praises. “There’s a quote by Mark Twain that goes: Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see. And the kindness in this library is palpable.”