Future Reflections Convention 1999, Vol. 18 No. 4


is for Blind Kids, Too

by Peggy Chong

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"Information is power" is a phrase we hear a lot in the media these days. Now NEWSLINE® is making this phrase come true for the blind. NEWSLINE® for the Blind has expanded this past year to large and small communities in the United States and Canada, and the number of Local Service Centers is growing rapidly. Currently there are 65 NEWSLINE® Service Centers.

With a local or an 800-number and a touch-tone phone, blind children and teen-agers, along with blind adults in many communities, can now access national and local newspapers. This system uses synthetic speech, (speech to which kids are already accustomed to from listening to their Braille ‘n Speak and talking computers) that can be speeded up, slowed down, or changed to different voices to please the reader.

Why would a blind child
need to read the newspaper?

In government classes in junior and senior high schools across the country, our young people are encouraged to take an active part in their communities. But to do this, one needs to know what is going on out there. In previous years, blind students had to find someone to read the paper to them. In many cases, the blind student never got the opportunity to browse through the paper to know everything that is available in it. Unless the student is older and has had experience using readers, they don’t know how to tell a reader to "scan" to find something interesting.

Sighted students have newspapers lying around the house on a regular basis that they can read on Sunday with the rest of the family. Many young people pick up the paper and read items of interest (after the TV schedules) during commercials and at the breakfast table. Given the opportunity, the good reading habits of parents will rub off on children (although sometimes parents have to wait a few years to have this theory confirmed).

In geography or social studies classes, our youth learn about other countries. Many times, the newspaper stories about current events abroad will help boost interest in the assignments. Science classes study weather patterns that can be tracked in the paper. Articles about pollution, preservatives, and archeological digs provide up-to-date information for assignments. Many newspapers dedicate a whole section on a given day to discuss the fast-paced, ever-changing world of technology that is so important in computer classes, the home, and future employment.

We are entering the time for another presidential election. This is a wonderful time for teachers to excite young people about our political process. English and journalism classes use election activities and processes to demonstrate the power of words and the press. Business classes use the newspaper to track business activities, business trends, personnel, and public corporate images. Our children need to be actively informed participants. They need to make decisions on what is important to read, interpret the information, and explore the possibilities that adulthood will offer them. They will be able to make informed choices and mistakes on their own.

There are also social reasons for blind teens to use NEWSLINE®. Teens look for new movie listings on Friday, where the movies are playing, and at what times. Entertainment news is so important for morning locker talk. The Sports section is just as popular with the girls as it is with the boys. And don’t forget the horoscopes. This is the type of socially necessary information that helps our blind youth become socially included, rather than put on the social sidelines during those all-important high school years.

How to sign up.

It is so easy to take advantage of this free service that is very likely already in your community. Call your local representative of the National Federation of the Blind, or write or call for an application to: NEWSLINE®, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore MD 21230; phone (410) 659-9314. Return your child’s completed application to the same address and within a couple of weeks, your child will receive an ID number, a security code, and the local NEWSLINE® telephone number.

Tell your child’s teachers that your son or daughter has the ability to read the local and national newspapers. Make sure that your child’s vision teacher also knows that this service is available and that your child is already signed up.

Then encourage your children to find out information themselves. Put them in charge of planning the family outings. Have them check community calendars in the local paper, find out about new movies in town, or about local sporting events. If their school band trip was written up in the paper, encourage them to find it and read about it themselves. Learning how to search for information and finding new resources is an important skill. It is also important to learn at a young age that blindness does not mean that he/she needs to rely on others for gaining access to information. Being proactive or assertive is a skill that many times our blind children do not learn as well as our sighted children. NEWSLINE® is one tool that can help to change that.

Television and radio have sensationalized school violence recently in a way that has frightened youth and parents alike. Rumors fly very fast around junior and senior high schools, and this adds to the hysteria. Helping your child read responsible accounts of such events and then talking about them together can help put things in perspective for a worried child. Information is power!

Newsline® display at the ‘99 convention.