Grateful for Talking Books

A book is a device to ignite the imagination.

–Alan Bennett

I am always amazed when I download a book on my BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Downloads) Mobile app and can immediately start listening. I browse the expansive BARD library, search for specific book titles or authors, add books to my “Wish List,” and begin reading in minutes. It is like magic, this wonderful bit of technology at my fingertips and I am so grateful to have access to reading material in this format.

 

Recently, I read that The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) played an instrumental role in the development of the National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), true to their mission to advocate for education and access to information for the visually impaired. This piqued my interest and I discovered a fascinating history of the NLS and the Talking Book Program. It can be found on the AFB website ( http://www.afb.org/info/75-years-of-afb-and-talking-books/2) and in the book “The Unseen Minority: A Social History of Blindness in the United States” by Frances A. Koestler (available through the NLS and AFB).

 

AFB and Helen Keller lobbied in the early days when Congress was asked to help provide funds for the production and circulation of braille books for the blind. The Library of Congress was tasked with this important work by the Pratt-Smoot Act passed in March 1931. Thus began decades of research, development, and partnerships which brought the wonders of books to blind people in America. As Helen Keller said when she testified to the House of Representatives,

 

“ …Books are the eyes of the blind. They reveal to us the glories of the light-filled world, they keep us   in touch with what people are thinking and doing, they help us to forget our limitations. With our hands plunged into an interesting book, we feel independent and happy.”

 

This legislation enabled Braille books to be systematically printed and loaned through regional libraries, funded by the government. As the numbers of blind adults grew as a result of war, there was increased need to produce and circulate more reading material efficiently. This coincided with new technologies being developed to record spoken word. AFB partnered with engineers, commercial recording studios, the Library of Congress, Helen Keller, and American Printing House (APH) to bring to fruition the Tallking Book Program in 1934. Through determined effort, recorded books and play back machines were made available through regional libraries to the visually impaired community all over the United States, on free loan. AFB began recording Talking Books for the Library of Congress and among the first were the Four Gospels and the Psalms, the Declaration of Independence, and some works of Shakespeare.

 

AFB continued to participate in the mission of bringing literature, magazines and other reading materials to the blind even as new technologies evolved. In 1936, Talking Books were made on Vinylite LP records played on phonographs built by blind workers in one of Roosevelt’s Work Progress Administration (WPA) workshops run by AFB. By the 1950’s, alternative formats were being developed to record books on cassette tapes and reel-to-reel. Talking Books on cassette tapes with the accompanying machines, were the preferred format distributed by the 1980’s. Then in the 1990’s, digital technologies drove the AFB and the Library of Congress to launch a test program to introduce digitally recorded books and digital players. The conversion to a digital Talking Book system began in 2007. From there, we have BARD Mobile today; books downloadable on digital players and i-devices instantly at our fingertips. Isn’t it grand, to be able to enjoy a book with clear digital technology, easy navigation, and available on-demand? It always causes me to pause to consider what an amazing time we live in and to give thanks to all the tireless efforts of those who went before us, advocating for this access to printed word. Thank you AFB and Helen Keller! And now , I must get back to my Talking Book-“State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett.

The old cassette player and newer digital player for Talking Books

The old cassette player and newer digital player for Talking Books

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Walking With Sophie

I no longer take this for granted…the ability to walk out my door, unafraid and confident, into the bright and blinding sun to go for a walk in my neighborhood. It is still summer and temperatures will be in the 90’s today, so I try to go early. I don my sunglasses and hat and call to Sophie.

“Let’s go for our walk girl,” I coo. She stretches and eagerly comes forward.

“Get dressed,” I say with the harness out and she slips her head in gracefully.

With one fluid motion, clipping the leash and harness, we are off. We have been a bit off schedule with a recent vacation and extra hot days of late. We both need this walk today to maintain our girlish figures. We have several routes to choose from and will walk two-three miles in all. As we leave the driveway, Sophie demonstrates a strong preference for the route that will take us directly to the ball field where she likes to romp. Not today girl, we need to get in a couple of miles. I coax her in the opposite direction and she obediently but ploddingly complies. I think she is feeling a bit lazy today and I can certainly relate.

“Hup up girl!” I sing to her.

And then I feel it…the spring in her step. Her head is up and she is moving jauntily now. That’s my girl! I have pocketed a couple of treats in case she needs additional motivation today. Sophie knows our routes and she anticipates my commands. We are doing country travel at first. She takes me around several parked cars and trash cans, gliding along. The sun is so painful that I close my eyes as she expertly guides me. She slows when our first turn comes up and angles her body slightly toward the turn.

“Good girl, Sophie! Right!” I praise her as I sweep my arm sideways.

We cross the road and enter the wooded path. Immediately, we both appreciate the shade of the leafy trees and take note of the bird sounds. Sophie’s ears and nose twitch and she is alert. We are walking at a good exercise pace now, stretching out our stride. Suddenly, she stops abruptly and I wonder why. There is debris on the path; fallen tree branches after a storm which I discover with my feet. Ahhh, that’s my girl.

“Good girl, Sophie-that’s it! Good job!” I exclaim and rub her ears.

She saved me from tripping and kissing the asphalt, which I have done many times in the past before I had Sophie. And she earns herself a piece of kibble just because I appreciate her skills. Off we go again. Along the way, we encounter the neighbor’s squawking tropical bird, a barking dog or two, and people on bicycles who whiz past me before I even realize they are there. Sophie takes it all in but remains focused, only needing an occasional reminder to “leave it.” We move as one.

The walking path leaves the woods and we are at a crosswalk, in full sun again. It feels good but the day is definitely heating up. Sophie stands at the crossing, waiting my command. I survey the street; look, listen, and look again.

“Sophie, forward,” I say and we step out into the road and then “find the curb” when we are midway.

There is no fear and no hesitation any more on my part…I am enjoying our morning walk, able to attend to my surroundings and walk with my head up. Because I am not anxious and I can depend on Sophie to do her job, it is a pleasant daily excursion. We cross another road expertly and pick up the path again. Sophie picks up her pace as she knows we are nearing the ball field at the end of our route. A golf cart appears out of nowhere and Sophie angles me to the side of the path, just out of the way of this passing vehicle. She always sees them and hears them coming before I do and is ready to make way. We top the hill and the recreation complex appears. Sophie is excited. Yes girl, we will go play for a while.

“Sophie, right,” I motion and say. She quickly turns on a dime.

We enter the ball field, close all the gates and I release Sophie from her harness. It is like a giant playpen for her and her favorite place. She takes off in a fit of zig-zags, circles and figure eights which I call her “zoomies.” When she tuckers out, she leisurely wanders the field, taking in its intoxicating scents. She could sniff all day-one of her greatest pleasures as a golden retriever. I walk the fence line, listen for the jingle of her collar and keep in touch with her.

“Sophie, touch!” I call to her.

She runs to me and puts her wet nose in the palm of my hand, never very far away. Sometimes, we lie in the sun on the grass together, enjoying the freedom, the exercise, the ease of our relationship and the beauty of the day. It is no small thing to be able to enjoy a walk by yourself with your guide dog. I am blessed and I am grateful for Sophie.

 

Enough

This post is a response to a writing challenge from The Daily Post. The instruction was to write a story of exactly fifty words. It is called “a fifty.” I began to think of memories and scenes in my head that would lend themselves to this economy of words, a succinct picture in words. As I am new at the art of blogging, I am at times stifled and worried that I do not have “enough”  of interest to write, or “enough” talent and creativity. But that is not so…

This story is a true story. We met a beggar boy, no older than 5 years, on the streets of Lima Peru where we took our children on a family vacation. We called it a “vacation with a purpose.”  As a family, we worked in an orphanage, each of us with our own job to carry out. My children ate and played with the orphans at Kids Alive. They saw first-hand the effects of poverty on a child. These discarded children had nothing but lice, scabies and whatever bits of trash they could hoard before arriving at Kids Alive. And yet…they were full of life, joy and gratitude since they had been rescued from the trash heaps and brought to the orphanage. There they were given 2 outfits of clothing, a school uniform and supplies, 3 meals a day, medical care, a bed and a roof over their heads. To them, it was pure luxury and they were living in paradise! Enough is clearly a matter of perspective and experience.

The purpose of this trip was to teach our children to be grateful for what they have and to realize how much of the world does not know the excess in which we live as Americans. We wanted them to learn the joy of sharing what they have with others. It was important to us that they learn to treat all people with dignity and respect, since we are all the same. And we wanted them to value the right things in life: family, friendships, generosity, hard work,  service to others, and gratitude. I dare say the lessons were learned and my children were forever changed by this two-week trip to one of the poorest countries in the world.

“Enough is as good as  a feast”~Mary Poppins

 

 

And now for my first “fifty”:

 

The ragged street urchin sang, playing his broken ukulele. He held out his grubby hand. I gave him an apple and thanked him for his performance. His eyes lit up in gratitude for it was enough to satisfy him until the next wave of hunger pangs. How much is enough?