By Phyllis Hanlon | August 08, 2011

killeaue-lighthouse-kauai-hawaiTwenty years ago, those with vision impairments had difficulty accessing print material; today, services like non-profit Audio Journal, Inc. are maintaining an important lifeline through specialized programming delivered by caring volunteers. 

Robin Sitten had long been drawn to volunteer work, particularly with individuals who have vision problems. In 1996, she embarked on a volunteer path that has taken her around the world, in a manner of speaking.

Sitten first offered her services to Reading for the Blind & Dyslexic, now known as Learning Ally. “I started recording textbooks,” she says. “For the service you read all sorts of books from preschool up to law and medical school textbooks.”

amalfi-coast-in-italyEnamored with the work, Sitten began attending workshops to enhance her skills. During one of these sessions for “describers,” the term given to those who provide visual access for the blind, she met Vince Lombardi, director of Audio Journal and expressed her desire to do some radio reading. Coincidentally, Audio Journal’s Armchair Traveler program had just lost its host and was looking for a replacement.

Although she had no professional broadcast experience, Sitten stepped into the position and found the learning process fairly easy. “The equipment in the studio is sophisticated, but not complicated,” she explains. “Vince mixed the first show so I would only have to concentrate on one thing.”

When Sitten assumed the host chair, she changed the format from a chat to a reading hour with occasional in-person interviews.  “At the time, I was living in Waltham and it was too difficult to coordinate other people to come in to the Worcester studio. I asked if I could do more of a destination show,” she reports.

The material for Armchair Traveler comes from a variety of sources. “I look at the local library mostly, particularly at the travel magazines and journals like National Geographic, Smithsonian, Sunset, Vanity Fair, publications in the Condé Nast family and special interest publications, such as Asia Today, Ebony/Essence, Ms. and others. Travel memoirs and personal narratives are also a good find,” she points out.

During the hour-long program, which airs at 11AM on the first and third Saturdays of the month, Sitten offers educational insight into a location and explores its festivals, foods and customs. “I also try to find music related to the destination, so the listeners are not just hearing my voice,” she adds.  

Armchair Traveler has visited numerous destinations around the world from the Amalfi Coast in Italy, Capri, Hawaii to closer-to-home destinations such as Arizona, Baltimore and the Hoover Dam.

redrocksinsedonaarizonaLast year, Sitten brought listeners on a virtual tour of the national park system that included Yellowstone Park and Lexington Green as well as some urban, desert and fishing areas. She reports that she devoted another year to global travel, touching upon destinations in Asia, Africa and North America. “We have also done a ‘Then and Now’ theme where we presented Havana in the thirties, forties, fifties and sixties.”

Although the program typically consists of reading, Sitten does occasionally conduct in-studio interviews. “Karen Ross, a personal friend of mine, had been in the Peace Corps. When she first got out, she came on the show and talked about Paraguay,” she states. Most recently, Sitten conducted a remote phone interview with two individuals in New York. “We couldn’t do this live, but recorded it and saved it,” Sitten notes.

The quality and popularity of Armchair Traveler has garnered industry acclaim. The International Association of Audio Information Services bestowed top honors on Audio Journal’s Armchair Traveler in 2007, 2008 and 2010.

Sitten’s passion for her volunteer work is abundantly clear. “Audio Journal is primarily informational and local. We can’t stress that enough. We read local news, town newspapers, local sports and circulars. There are a lot of accessible news and entertainment options for our audience, but very few that address their local concerns,” she emphasizes.

“Much of our programming is also directly related to vision-related topics, of course, and this is unique to our focus. Our children’s programming is likely the only material of its kind that our audience under eighteen is exposed to. We have even done some Spanish language programming.”

audiojournalstudioAudio Journal, Inc. began broadcasting in 1987 from an unused closet at the Worcester Public Library. At that time five volunteers brought programming to approximately three hundred listeners in the Central Massachusetts area via a special receiver.

Currently, the service boasts more than 150 volunteers, has its own office space and reaches an undetermined audience size since programming can now also be accessed by cable television and the Internet. Audio Journal is a free service and broadcasts twenty-four hours/seven days a week.

In addition to delivering specialty programming to those affected with vision problems, Audio Journal also strives to increase employment opportunities for legally blind individuals through training and associated services.

Original article at: http://www.onenewengland.com/article.php?id=366 on August 8, 2011 by ONE New England

 

 

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