Braille Monitor                                                March 2013

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Reading, Reading, Actually Reading the News

by Nijat Worley

From the Editor: Nijat Worley is a recent college graduate who now works at the National Center for the Blind as the manager of marketing and outreach for sponsored technology. He was born in Azerbaijan, and his appreciation for a free press and the importance of journalism is instructive for those of us who take them for granted or malign them when they make us uncomfortable. Here is what Nijat has to say, not only about the virtues of a free press, but also about the service that helps him enjoy it:

Nijat with his morning coffee and NFB-NEWSLINE on his iPhoneI have always been somewhat different from my peers. I don’t like loud parties; I don’t like to go to bars to drink; and I avoid getting into dangerous and rash situations such as slacklining (walking on a rope similar to tightrope walking, except that there is less tension on the line, so the rope bounces and makes the task more difficult), skiing, snowboarding, or any other dangerous sport for that matter. This may be unusual to hear from a guy in his early twenties, but I am disappointed to say that these are some of the activities that people my age enjoy the most. I wish more of my peers would spend a Sunday afternoon like me, reading the news and becoming informed about the political and environmental happenings in the world.

Before you make comments about ivory towers, please let me explain. I have always been a bit different from my peers. While most of the kids my age sat in the other room and played video games, I would sit with the adults as they drank coffee and discussed politics, international relations, and the rules of war and peace. I don’t know why, but I have always enjoyed philosophy, politics, history, and social studies. These interested me the most, and they still sustain me in my free time, which is why I love reading news and current events. This is why NFB-NEWSLINE® has come to play such a big role in my life.

I have been an NFB-NEWSLINE subscriber for over ten years now, and I use it religiously every day to read my favorite publications because I enjoy knowing about politics and events taking place all over the world. Did you know that there was an attempted coup by the military in Eritrea yesterday? How many of you even know where Eritrea is? No, it is not a de facto independent region on the eastern tip of Canada. Well, you get my point. NFB-NEWSLINE makes it very easy for me to have up-to-the-minute access every day without even thinking about it. Unlike my older colleagues who once complained that the lack of access to quality news was a significant problem in their lives, I simply take it for granted that I should be able to wake up in the morning and listen to the New York Times while I am exercising, eating breakfast, or riding the bus to work.

Some might say, “You don’t have to use NFB-NEWSLINE to get news and information. There are many other methods for accessing them through television, radio, the Internet, and thousands of applications and programs on mobile devices. NFB-NEWSLINE is not the only way for a blind person to receive news in the twenty-first century.” These people are right, but none of those other methods of accessing news reports provide me with as many choices and as much flexibility as NFB-NEWSLINE. This versatile service gives me one place to go to access content from over three hundred publications, all guaranteed to be readable from my home phone, on my iPhone connected to a Braille display, or using my home or laptop computer with the screen reader of my choice.

Half an hour of broadcast news on television provides the listener with only half a page of newsworthy information, because in the thirty minutes devoted to a news broadcast, two or three commercial breaks interrupt the news segments. Don’t even get me started on the opinions and commentary of the reporters and news anchors that get slipped in between the news reports! I find it impossible to make sense of the important issues and the relevant material I should know to really comprehend them given the sensational celebrity gossip and thirty-second sound bites that precede every segment of a news report.

Anyway, before I rant about the deficit of professional journalism in the media culture of the twenty-first century, let’s return to the importance of reading printed news from highly regarded publications such as the New York Times. I value excellence in journalism and the painstaking process that journalists go through to bring us valuable news reports from the center of the action. Whether it is from the midst of the violent protests in Tahrir Square in Egypt, the frontlines of the war in Afghanistan, the boiling political inquiries of the White House press room, or the center of the Occupy Wall Street Movement in New York’s Financial District, real live journalists put themselves in danger every day to bring us information from every corner of the world about the events that matter the most. This is why I owe it to them to honor their work by taking the time to read what they have gathered and synthesized.

One of the tenets of democracy that we hold dear in this country is a free press, which is more than the Eritreans can say. The purpose of a free press is to provide unrestricted reporting of the issues that concern us as citizens and allow us to have a public discourse on those issues and come to some consensus. I cannot tell you how thrilling and emotionally moving it is for me to read public responses to an editorial on an important political issue such as gun control in the Sunday edition of the New York Times. I believe that I fulfill an important duty as an active citizen when I closely read and analyze well-written news reports by intelligent professionals trained in providing accurate reports right from the heart of the action.

Perhaps the most subtle and yet the most important benefit of reading newspapers and magazines on NFB-NEWSLINE for me is the ease with which I am able to navigate through thousands of different articles from hundreds of different publications right from my telephone or my iPhone. I would not find the experience nearly as enjoyable if I had to read the same material while tied to my desk by a desktop computer or was limited to reading on a laptop while sitting in a chair. Instead I read what I want to read while eating breakfast at the table or while lying in bed with the earpiece of my phone pressed against my pillow. Sometimes the way one reads and the environment in which he reads can make all the difference in whether the experience is arduous or pleasurable.

NFB-NEWSLINE gives me the freedom to choose from hundreds of publications and to move effortlessly among their sections. It gives me important information on images and the captions for those images; it allows me to read every detail of an article from the funny spelling of a word to the playful placement of a punctuation mark for emphasis; nothing escapes me when I am reading newspapers on NFB-NEWSLINE. Therein lies the true value of NFB-NEWSLINE. It allows me, a blind person, fully and independently to access enormous amounts of information at the simple touch of a few buttons on a home phone or a few taps on a touchscreen at my leisure. I don’t have to be in a specific location; I don’t have to read the news according to somebody else’s time; I can easily and fully independently read all my favorite print publications from the comfort of my armchair, the waiting room of my doctor’s office, or the noisy cabin of a Boeing 747 cruising at an altitude of 35,000 feet.

Thanks to the work of the National Federation of the Blind and the work we do in this organization to improve the lives of the blind in America, I am able to participate actively in the public discourse in this country. The NFB has promoted the rights of the blind in America for seven decades now, and bringing access to printed media is just one small part of that effort that has drastically changed the lives of blind people like me. Can I live without NFB-NEWSLINE? Of course I could, but my life would not be as enriched and as fulfilling without this excellent service bringing me so much information every day. NFB-NEWSLINE allows me to gain knowledge and have intelligent conversations with the people that I interact with on a daily basis. That is why I am so thankful for it and cherish it.

Oh, and just so you know, Eritrea is a small country about the size of Pennsylvania in eastern Africa bordering the Red Sea, between Djibouti and Sudan. It has a population of six million and no political freedoms whatsoever: hence the lack of a free press. So the next time you want to talk about international affairs or have an intellectual political discussion, feel free to call on me. Thanks to NFB-NEWSLINE, I can be certain that I will be ready to go toe to toe with you. Just do me a favor; don’t try to entice me to go water skiing or mountain climbing. I’d rather spend my Sunday afternoon reading editorials and writing responses. Although I have to say that going skydiving does sound like fun.

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