Future Reflections Winter/Spring 1997, Vol. 16 No. 1
Lifetime learning, including detailed awareness of current events, is part of what makes a good citizen, a successful employee or employer, and a valuable participant in community life. Without ready access to information, none of us can reach his or her full potential. Until 1995 the nation's blind people did not have the promise of ready access to a fundamental source of such information--the daily newspaper. But now the National Federation of the Blind has created Newsline, a new system for transmitting the information in newspapers and other sources to blind persons at the same time it is available to sighted readers.
* How Does Newsline Work?
The NFB has designed this revolutionary system to receive digital transmissions from newspapers on the morning of publication, convert this information into computer-generated synthetic speech, and transmit the information to a Local Service Center (LSC) which blind persons can call on touch tone phones.
* What Does Newsline Do?
The national Newsline network now provides USA TODAY, the Chicago Tribune, and the New York Times. Other nationally known newspapers may soon join. Local Service Centers (LSCs) can distribute area newspapers through the same service. In addition to carrying the news, Local Service Centers can also use one or more special channels to distribute announcements of specific interest to the blind.
Newsline is at last making it possible for blind individuals to gain access to the information in newspapers at the same time as their sighted colleagues, friends, and family. Blind professionals, for example, can converse on relevant topics, no longer being under-informed about information critical to their profession or left out at social functions when the latest editorial is discussed. Beyond this, a wealth of other information, primarily found in newspapers, is now also available to the blind on an equal footing, making possible their participation in the life of the community on the basis of equality.
* How Easy is Newsline to Use?
Very easy. The user simply dials the Newsline number and their personal security code number from any touch tone phone in the service area. Once "logged" onto Newsline, the user is given a menu of choices from which to select which paper they wish to read, what section of the paper they want, and so forth. The user makes menu selections by pressing the appropriate keys on the touch tone telephone. The user may also browse through the newspaper by pressing specific keys to move forward, backward, find words or phrases, pause, slow down or speed up the speaking rate, and even change the speaking voice (the user has the choice of 9 different voices).
The reading is done by synthesized speech, DECtalk. It does not have the uneven quality of the voices and reading skills of a group of volunteers but is absolutely uniform and dependable. After a short period of strangeness it becomes completely unnoticeable. One is aware of reading the newspaper and not of the voice, which is essentially what happens to the sighted reader: the sighted reader is not constantly aware of the print and the sheet of paper but only of the text.
* What Does Newsline Cost?
Newsline is a free service to individual subscribers. The cost of providing the service, paid from local sources, includes (1) one-time initial establishment costs, and (2) ongoing operational costs. The exact cost within each of these categories will vary depending upon the size of the population to be served and differences in local telephone rates.
One-time costs include an LSC's initial establishment fee, an additional charge whenever a local newspaper is added to the service, and the cost of installing the desired number of telephone lines. The ongoing operational costs of an LSC include a network service fee, charged at a flat rate per month; a small additional charge to cover the cost of including any local newspaper; and the regular monthly charges for local telephone service, which may vary somewhat throughout the country.
It is important to note that maintenance of service for the LSC is fully covered by the network service fee. This means that the center can continue to operate without additional establishment or ongoing expense.
* How Can I Get a Newsline Local Service Center Established in My Area?
New LSCs must be funded. Members of the National Federation of the Blind are working to establish new centers as quickly as possible. To do this, it is necessary to obtain funding commitments from interested organizations, agencies, and other sources. If you have information or ideas about possible funding sources that you would like to share with the National Federation of the Blind, please contact Newsline at 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; or call (410) 659-9314.