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SUNDAY BRUNCH | Culture Watch

Words Leap Off the Page

April 26, 1998|AARON DAVIS

Millions of people begin their daily rituals armed with a newspaper in one hand and a cup of java in the other. But this has not been the case for those who are visually impaired, an estimated 9 million Americans.

This is changing with the development of Newsline for the Blind, a "talking newspaper" that allows sight-impaired subscribers to use a telephone to access articles from many papers, including the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, USA Today and, most recently, the Los Angeles Times. Other efforts to help the blind have included radio services and Braille newspapers, but the backers hope this service will enable many blind professionals, parents and students to keep up with their sighted colleagues about the day's affairs.

Each morning, computers at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore make contact with computers at newspapers and other news sources, convert the information into computer-generated synthetic speech and transmit the data to local service centers, which blind people can call on a touch-tone phone. The subscriber needs a security code and identity code number to access the system.

Newsline is a free 24-hour service that is currently available in 37 locations in the United States and Canada. There is an initial start-up cost for a local service center--currently $30,000, and $5,000 to add a newspaper setup. The L.A. service center is sponsored by the Los Angeles Public Library, and the Times Mirror Foundation has given a $75,000 grant to Newsline to help others start-up service centers elsewhere.

One local user, Dwight C. Baum of San Marino, says, "It's a godsend for me. This keeps me up to date with everything."

To subscribe, contact Donovan Cooper at (818) 563-2338.

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