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Published: Thursday, 5/20/2004

Toledo: Center uses airwaves to aid vision-challenged

BY ELIZABETH A. SHACK
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Volunteer Ethel Bradford reads the newspaper to listeners of the Sight Center Audio Network. Volunteer Ethel Bradford reads the newspaper to listeners of the Sight Center Audio Network.
MORRISON / BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

Ethel Bradford reads the Thursday comics out loud, laughing at the jokes as she describes each panel.

"The funnies are funny today," she says.

The only other person in the room is Bonnie Edinger, but beyond the glass window of the radio studio, a small room in the Sight Center of Northwest Ohio's downtown Toledo building, thousands of people could be listening.

Ms. Bradford and Ms. Edinger are two of the Sight Center Audio Network's 113 volunteers.

Seven days a week, the center's volunteers read local and national newspapers and magazines to help people with vision problems keep up with news, television listings, events, and sales.

"They put so much more light into your days," listener Ursula Turnow said.

About 5,200 people in the 16 counties the network serves are listening at any moment, director Gary Hoffman said.

One of nine radio reading services in the state, it turns 15 this year.

"It's a huge source of information," said Gil Lutz, who has been listening to local newspapers, the Wall Street Journal, and magazines like Dog Fancy and Cat Fancy since the service began.

At 11 a.m. Ms. Bradford and Ms. Edinger take off the large black headphones and leave the

studio, their two-hour shift over. No one goes in after them; the Wall Street Journal was recorded earlier.

"It's very rewarding," said Ms. Bradford, who has been reading since 1997.

Volunteers have 20 minutes to prepare before they go on the air. Ms. Edinger scans the newspaper before she comes in to get an idea of what to read.

"The longer that I've done this, it becomes more automatic," she said.

Volunteers audition by reading a list of 100 names, words, and places, and several newspaper articles, cold.

The service's schedule includes a wide variety of newspapers and magazines.

"It amazes me how many choices the service gives," Mrs. Turnow said.

Every Monday, Janet Garey reads the Monroe Evening News, the Defiance Crescent News, the Findlay Courier, and the Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune from 4 to 6 p.m.

Mrs. Garey always starts with the obituaries, reading the basic information so people can call in for the complete obituary.

With four papers to read in two hours, the volunteers have to watch the time limit.

"We can't take forever on one paper," Mrs. Garey said.

Ms. Edinger has been reading for five years, since seeing the service in a magazine while waiting for her mother to get out of surgery. "I can fulfill a lifelong fantasy of mine," she said, by sitting in front of the microphone pretending to be Barbara Walters.

The radio network, funded by the Ohio Educational Telecommunications Network, the United Way, and donations, can be heard with a special receiver or over the SAP channel of a stereo television.

The Sight Center loans the receivers, which cost $100 each, to the listeners for free.

"I've actually turned a lot of my sighted friends onto it," Mr. Lutz said. "They can tune in and listen while they're doing something else."

Mr. Hoffman said, "What we do could be really boring, but for the people who are unable to get print information any other way, it becomes a vital part of their life."

A recent issue of the Sight Center's newsletter had a letter from a listener's daughter, who said it gave her mother a window to the world.

"That just makes it all worth it," Ms. Edinger said.

Contact Elizabeth A. Shack at:

eshack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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