Blind World Magazine

Virginia Voice allows the visually impaired to hear top stories.

December 23, 2005., Virginia USA.

When 80-year-old Glenda McCabe's husband was alive, he often read the newspaper to her. Catching up on the daily headlines was a loving ritual that McCabe, who is visually impaired, both enjoyed and found useful.

Fortunately, that ritual didn't end with her husband's death. McCabe continues to hear a friendly voice reading the news to her through Virginia Voice.

Virginia Voice is a nonprofit organization that gives those with visual impairments and other "print disabilities" access to more than 130 publications each week. From Virginia Voice's studio on Richmond's northside, volunteers are recorded reading everything from the daily newspaper and grocery store advertisements to Soap Digest and Newsweek. The recordings are then broadcast to Virginia Voice's listeners using a special radio. Listeners can also access programming through the organization's Web site at or through Comcast's FM cable service.

"For many of them, [Virginia Voice] is their primary means of connection with the community and world around them," said Nick Morgan, executive director. "They often have said to us that they have TV and radio, but there is no substitute for the printed page. The printed page is more detailed. What we provide is what they can't get elsewhere: the reading of the printed page."

McCabe often tunes into Virginia Voice in the mornings while doing household chores. As she's wiping down counters or doing the dishes, Virginia Voice broadcasts news stories, editorials, obituaries and even the comics from the Richmond Times-Dispatch. It takes two volunteer readers nearly two hours to read the publication each day.

She also enjoys other programming. "It makes you feel like you're not just blind, but like you know what's going on in the world," said McCabe.

About 85 percent of Virginia Voice's listeners are visually impaired. The remainder suffers from other conditions such as Parkinson's or paralysis that prevent them from either being able to read or handle newspapers and magazines.

"In Central Virginia, throughout the 40 mile radius of Richmond, we serve approximately 1,400 folks," explained Morgan. Of those, 175 live in Chesterfield County.

The service is completely free to anyone with a print disability. "We do not charge them, and there are no strings attached, but we do encourage contributions," explained Morgan. "However, the radio is issued to them on loan; these radios cost us about $90 apiece."

Anyone who is print disabled qualifies for the service by filling out a brief application. New listeners are then assigned an easy-to-use radio. "It is fixed tuned," said Morgan. "It cannot get off the frequency. All they have to do is turn the radio on."

Listeners can receive a weekly schedule of programming in large print, or they can learn about upcoming programming simply by listening to Virginia Voice. Schedules are also available on cassette tape and in Braille.

Virginia Voice's 160 readers are all volunteers, and every potential volunteer goes through an application and audition process to ensure they are strong readers with an appropriate vocabulary. "Reading aloud is a challenge for some of the publications, and we have to try to match folks up in terms of their interests and their abilities," explained Morgan. "We're looking for friendly voices. Our listeners love it when our readers sound like a friend coming into their living room and reading to them."

While Virginia Voice has been around since 1978, "I think we are one of Central Virginia's best kept secrets," said Morgan. "We're a small organization that provides a very important service, but many of the folks who could benefit from this, don't even know this exists. What we really hope is that more folks who can use our service will get in touch with us."

For more information on how to sign up for Virginia Voice or to volunteer, call (804) 266-2477.

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