Water damage eclipses Society for the Blind's news service

Published: Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2013 - 7:51 am

A plumbing catastrophe has destroyed computer equipment that helps thousands of blind people in the Sacramento area access daily news, TV listings, advertisements and other crucial information.

The Society for the Blind's Access News Telephone Reader program has been offline for more than a week, since a plumbing problem caused water to leak onto special computer hardware that runs the service, said spokeswoman Liz Culp.

The plumbing problem has been mostly fixed, but the organization needs at least $25,000 to replace the damaged equipment, most of which is not covered by insurance, she said.

"Imagine if you didn't have access to your newspaper or the Internet for a week," said Culp. "For those who use the program, it is their link to the community."

More than 2,000 subscribers to Access Telephone News rely on it to hear news reports as well as other information about local services and resources.

Every day, volunteers record articles from publications ranging from Smithsonian and Rolling Stone magazines to The Bee and the New York Times, as well as advertisements, restaurant reviews and theater listings, among other information. Subscribers call the agency to access the service, which is available around the clock.

"It makes such a difference to have a live voice reading the material rather than a digitized rendition," Culp said. The organization has offered the service for the past decade and it is one of few programs of its kind in the country, she said.

Diane Starin, 54, is both a subscriber to the service and an instructor who teaches daily living skills to Society for the Blind clients.

Grocery store ads and TV listings are among the most popular items that Access Telephone clients request, she said. Religious materials also are popular.

"People are really missing this service," she said.

The agency is seeking donations to get the program running again. For more information, call (916)452-8271 or go to societyfortheblind.org. The agency is located at 1238 S St., Sacramento, 95811.

Call The Bee's Cynthia Hubert, (916) 321-1082. Follow her on Twitter @cynthia_hubert.

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