When I first lost my vision several years ago, I received a package in the mail containing a radio that looked like it came from the ’80s. I plugged it in and turned it on to find that it only tuned in to one station. (I know, doesn’t this sound like some thriller movie where I start communicating with ghosts or aliens through this radio sent randomly to me?) But instead of an inaudible “booooOOOooo,” I heard a man and a woman talking about their kitchen endeavors on a show called “Cooking in the Dark.” It turned out the radio was sent from Taping for the Blind, a non-profit organization in Houston that broadcasts radio shows for blind people. Their shows are found on a specific frequency that could only be heard with their special equipment, hence the odd little radio.

In addition to other blind interest shows like “Blind Like Me” and “Blind Handyman,” there are broadcasts of popular periodicals (e.g. The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, People, The Houston Chronicle) and useful things like the weekly grocery ads or the TV Guide. And for those into radio entertainment, there are comedy shows and book hours among others. Even Playboy is read late at night two days a week–I guess they wait till the kids are asleep. (Side note: I actually tuned into this once to see how they would deal with the photos, and the reader actually describes the photos in a very matter-of-fact tone of voice which made me crack up.)

I perused the Taping for the Blind website recently and discovered they’ve begun moving their radio shows online and also into an audio archive. The former lets you wean yourself off the clunky radio, and the latter is equivalent to TiVo but for their radio readings and so is nice when I miss a program. (After all, who sits around and waits to hear The Atlantic at 1 AM on Tuesdays?)

Something else I discovered on their website is their audio description program for live theater. During select plays’ or musicals’ runnings at one of Houston’s renowned theaters, there will be a select show date and time where blind audience members can receive an audio feed via headset. A volunteer attends the show and describes into the audio feed the costumes, sets, and stage directions so the visually impaired viewer will not be utterly lost. When I found out Wicked was in town and there would be a Taping for the Blind volunteer at the July 15th show, I bought tickets right away–I had wanted to “see” this musical for years. And after John helped me figure out how to work the headset (I had gone 30 minutes into the show before realizing my headset wasn’t completely turned on–I was about to complain that the volunteer was lazy and not doing his job), I was able to enjoy the musical and understand the storyline.

The most recent cool thing I discovered about Taping for the Blind is their custom recording service. In the past, when I could not find a book anywhere on audio, I ended up buying the printed version and scanning it page by page with Kurzweil. It took hours to scan one book, but believe it or not, this option beat sending in the book to the publisher and waiting months before receiving an audio version. (Grad school doesn’t allow this luxury of time.) But now with this custom recording service, I can send (or better yet, drop off) the books and get mp3 recordings of the text in as short as one week. They place priority on materials needed for school and will send files as soon as they’re produced so I can start reading as soon as possible.

Apparently, all of the programs described above have been around for years, and Taping for the Blind was conceived in 1967, so I am late to the game. But frankly, I would have never known about this resource had they not initiated the contact by sending me that funny little radio. So in blogging about them, I hope to bring just a little more exposure to such a helpful organization for the sight-impaired. To learn more about them or donate or volunteer, visit their website. Thanks, TftB, for turning sight into sound.

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