NFB-Newsline — Phone Delivery

Circa 2005

A woman in slippers and a bathrobe enters her kitchen, prepared to enjoy the daily newspaper over breakfast. She pours herself a cup of coffee, sits down at her kitchen table and, ready to peruse the headlines, picks up the phone.

NFB-NEWSLINE, a free service developed and operated by the National Federation of the Blind, provides print news over the telephone for news consumers who have disabilities that make reading or holding a newspaper difficult. By dialing a local number, consumers can access more than 150 newspapers and magazines. Users of the service include people with a range of disabilities such as visual impairments, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and dyslexia. The eligibility requirements to use NFB-NEWSLINE are the same as those for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped: documentation by a competent authority (such as a physician, optometrist, registered nurse, therapist, case worker, counselor, rehabilitation teacher, superintendent or professional librarian) of a visual problem or physical limitation, or documentation by a medical or osteopathic doctor of an organically based reading disability that prevents the reading of standard printed materials.

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“I’ve been listening to headlines and stories not only from our local papers, but from The Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the LA Times, USA Today, and the list goes on.” – Carol Nadeau

Patrick Leahy, special assistant for legislative affairs to the U.S. secretary of commerce, depends on daily newspapers. By the time he walks through his office door, he needs to be prepared to deal with all news and events that affect his department. As a consumer who is blind, Leahy began to subscribe to NFB-NEWSLINE in college but didn’t become a committed user until his job demanded it. Now, the daily paper is an intrinsic part of Leahy’s political career and personal life. “I look back with some regret that I didn’t begin reading the newspaper sooner,” he says.

When Jesse Hartle worked as an intern in Congressman Jack Kingston’s office, he was the primary contact for the Georgia constituency. Hartle, who is blind, needed access to the Georgia newspapers to stay up-to-date with happenings back in the district. He explains, “I’m from Louisiana, and I had to do a lot of research about what was going on in Georgia. The ability to use NFBNEWSLINE opened that up to me.”

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NFB-NEWSLINE provides not only national papers and magazines via telephone, but also large local newspapers from 43 states, Washington DC and Canada. Subscribers can get the news the same time newspapers hit the stands, or they can reference the paper from the day before or the previous Sunday edition. NFBNEWSLINE users have complete control over what they choose to read and when and where they choose to read it. The service is especially well-suited to professionals like Leahy and Hartle, who have high expectations to meet and little time to meet them. The goal of NFBNEWSLINE is to make newspapers just as accessible to people with disabilities as they are to people who can read the printed versions.

Each subscriber receives an identification number and a security code, which are necessary to access the service each day. Once inside the main phone system, readers use the keypad to select newspapers to peruse, specific topics to read about, or key words to search for. Readers can navigate forward or backward by a paragraph, a sentence or a word; they can slow down or speed up the voice on the other end of the line or choose a different voice entirely.

“I think I’ve changed my favorites three times already,” laughs Carol Nadeau, a subscriber of the service, “and I’ve been listening to headlines and stories not only from our local papers, but from The Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the LA Times, USA Today, and the list goes on. I can call from home early in the morning to find out the hot issues for the day—or how the Red Sox did the night before when I was too tired to stay up and watch the game. I’ve even called NEWSLINE from my cell phone while riding on a bus!”

Hartle tells how better access to information made all the difference for him. “In college you need the ability to quickly find an article in a newspaper,” he remembers. “NFB-NEWSLINE cut down my study time immensely.” Now, as he advocates for accessibility rights for his peers who are blind and have other disabilities, Hartle believes access to newspapers is vital to his efforts. “There are things in the newspaper I want to take a chance at, and I need to take advantage of the opportunities presented to me.”

Both Hartle and Leahy know staying informed is more than just a good habit—it’s a vital part of their professional careers. Despite considerable advances made in accessible services and civil rights, more than 70 percent of Americans who are blind remain unemployed. The National Federation of the Blind believes that as NFBNEWSLINE becomes available to more people, it will play a key role in helping people who are blind and people with other disabilities secure jobs and pursue their chosen careers. “For me, the bottom line is the job,” says Leahy. “There’s so much potential to get many more people employed. I could count on one hand the number of people I’ve known on Capitol Hill who have low vision or are blind. Members of Congress want to [be able to hire people who have vision impairments], and NEWSLINE can help make that happen.”

Leahy doesn’t restrict his use of NFB-NEWSLINE to work-related topics; he also uses it to read about his favorite baseball team, the Washington Nationals. Likewise, Hartle, who despite his Louisiana origins follows southern California basketball, football and baseball, credits NFB-NEWSLINE with helping him expand his interests. He notes, “If you’re from a smaller town, you can scan one of those national newspapers. You never know what you’re going to find in there, but you at least have access to the information.” Leahy agrees, with one qualification: “If only you could get NEWSLINE to read the baseball box scores!”

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People interested in the free NFB-NEWSLINE service can register over the telephone by calling the National Federation of the Blind or their state’s Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Online enrollment is also available at the NFB website.

by Kimberly McCord

National Federation of the Blind


National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

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