30 August 2002

Cassette lifelines for visually impaired

Ever wondered how blind and partially sighted people

keep up to date with the farming news and views?

They get it from farmers weekly like everyone else.

From an audio cassette version, to be precise,

produced by a charity. Tim Relf reports

"IF YOU lose your sight, thats all you lose – you dont lose your grip on life," says Tim McDonald, chief executive of the Talking Newspaper Association of the UK (TNAUK). "You still want information – you just have to get it in a different way."

It was for this reason that the first talking newspaper was started almost 30 years ago. It was a community charity, recording items from the local papers on audio cassettes and sending them to people who were visually impaired.

The idea soon caught on and the "domino effect" meant that by 1983 there were 250 such autonomous local initiatives. Now, there are 530. "Theres nothing like it anywhere else in the world," says Mr McDonald.

The TNAUK is the umbrella organisation for these groups which reach over 200,000 people. From its East Sussex headquarters, the charity provides 200 national newspapers and magazines on audio cassette, computer disk, email and CD-ROM.

Many of the people receiving the farmers weekly cassette have lived or worked on farms but have lost their sight – or found it deteriorate – as theyve got older, says Mr McDonald.

"The most commonly-used word in relation to the service is lifeline," he says. "There is an inevitable sense of isolation when you lose your sight.

"Current prices and new legislation, for example, are the sorts of things that those with an interest in farming need to know. Theres no way, after a lifetime in farming, youll want to give up on that.

"News is relevant to you whether you can see it or not.

"Bearing in mind the perilous times that farmings gone through, its vital that you keep abreast of whats going on."

And its not just those with sight problems who benefit – among the subscribers are those with disabilities making it difficult to read print such as arthritis and dyslexia.

Other titles on the TNAUK list are Psychic News, Cat World, Arena and FourFourTwo. "We are the WH Smith for the visually impaired," says Mr McDonald.

A selection from each title is recorded by readers who, where possible, have an interest or experience in the subject matter. Among the many readers are a lay preacher, retired captains of industry, even a composer. "An incredible mix," says Mr McDonald. "The two readers of Private Eye have become minor celebrities!"

"Personality" is whats needed for a good reading voice, he says. "We want somebody who can read with expression, but be neutral."

The hardest part is selecting which items to record, bearing in mind its got to all fit on a 90-minute tape, says Mr McDonald. "Theres no way you can get all of farmers weekly on that."

&#8226 For more information on publications, whether you are eligible to receive them and subscription rates, call 01435-866102.