Rosie MacLeod meets the volunteers who make local news accessible to blind people
A talking newspaper, recording the week’s news in audio format, is nothing new.
Talking news services took off in the 1970s, the decade in which Waltham Forest’s own edition was launched under the name ‘Soundwave’. The service is the creation of childhood friends John Davies and Alan Powell, two alumni of Joseph Clarke School, a school for partially-sighted pupils in Highams Park.
The former Greater London Council provided the funding for Soundwave’s first studio, but the upkeep of it proved costly and the group relied heavily upon voluntary donations. Having sold that original premises and found an alternative base, the organisation became solvent, and Saturdays spent fundraising outside supermarkets are now a thing of the past.
Soundwave provides an alternative to written news on a weekly basis, 52 weeks of the year. A team of volunteers record themselves reciting the stories published by Waltham Forest Guardian in a neutral voice and without passing comment. Starting this month, they will also be reading selected articles from Waltham Forest Echo.
It all happens during a single sitting every Friday and the result is a 60-minute vocal recording of local news that takes as long to complete. The hour-long file is copied to memory sticks – an upgrade from cassette tapes as of only a few years ago – and mailed out to registered users along with a ‘return to sender’ facility.
The service is free and readers without computer access can additionally be loaned a boom box on which to play the recordings. Anyone in the area with a visual impairment or literacy problems can apply to be added to the mailing list, and this can be done through social services.
The talking newspaper aims to steer as far away from party politics as possible and instead focuses on local news and community information. Since an apolitical status depletes the number of news stories available to fill an hour, the talking newspaper includes some stories from Saga magazine, the other publication for which it has copyright clearance.
And it doesn’t stop there. By working with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and the Society of Chief Librarians, Waltham Forest Council’s libraries service has also taken steps to provide specially-adapted literature to visually impaired readers. Members can now sign up for the free Talking Book Service that delivers audiobooks to users’ houses and a number of large print books are also available on request.
Making a request requires that library members produce a doctor’s note confirming them as partially sighted. Special days of ‘making noise in the library’ are also planned when users will be shown how to download just one of the many e-books specially stocked for the visually impaired.
If you know or care for somebody who would benefit from these reading services, or would like to volunteer as a reader, contact Soundwave, the Waltham Forest Talking Newspaper:
Call 07811 245 695