by Joe Bollig
LAWRENCE — Not all barriers faced by people with disabilities can be overcome with a handicapped entrance or a new piece of equipment.
Take, for example, the situation of a person who is blind, visually impaired or otherwise unable to read print. An issue of The Leaven delivered every week to their mailbox might just as well be blank.
Susan Tabor, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Lawrence knows this well. Tabor, blind all her life, is among the thousands of people who are unable to read The Leaven because it is only offered in visual mediums — on paper or the website.
That will be changing soon.
In a happy coincidence, at the start of Catholic Press Month in February, The Leaven will join about 45 other publications offered through the Audio-Reader Network. Listeners will be able to access the archdiocesan newspaper through the telephone or over the internet on websites of The Leaven or the special-needs ministry of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
Audio-Reader Network is a service of the University of Kansas. Its studios are in the Kansas Public Radio building on the university campus in Lawrence. Its mission is “to foster independence by providing access to information and the arts for people who have difficulty reading standard print due to vision loss, physical or learning disability, mobility challenges and age.”
The 400 volunteer readers of Audio- Reader Network make it possible for up to 10,000 blind, visually impaired or print-disabled persons across Kansas and western Missouri to have access to print material.
There had been brief and unsuccessful attempts to make The Leaven available to the blind and print-impaired over the years, but these were unsuccessful for various reasons.
That all changed when Tom Racunas became lead consultant for the archdiocesan special-needs ministry last October.
Racunas formerly worked in the special-needs ministry for the Diocese of Wichita. That diocese had long provided access to its diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Advance, through cassette tapes. This awkward and limited system was succeeded by a computerized program offered through a telephone reader service.
“When I got here, I realized that no similar type of service existed for The Leaven,” said Racunas. “The goal of my ministry is to ensure that — regardless of type, severity, age or onset of disability — everyone is included in the life of the church.
“Certainly, that includes The Leaven, which is the vehicle for informing parishioners of what is going on in the archdiocese, gives them access to all sorts of information, in particular, faith formation.”
Through a contact in Wichita, Racunas was able to talk with Tabor, who coincidentally was born and raised in Wichita. Additionally, she is an administrative assistant for the Audio-Reader Network.
Tabor arranged a meeting with Racunas and the Audio-Reader staff. Next, Racunas met with Leaven managing editor Anita McSorley and production manager Todd Habiger.
Between them all, they found a way to bring The Leaven to Audio-Reader Network.
“The Leaven will be available through our system called ‘The Lions Telephone Reader,’ funded through the Lions Clubs in the state of Kansas,” said Lori Kesinger, Audio-Reader Network outreach coordinator and listener liaison.
“It is a dial-in phone-based newspaper system. The listener will call a local number and, using the touch pad on their phone, access The Leaven in its entirety read by volunteers.”
Additionally, The Leaven offered through Audio-Reader Network will be available through the websites of The Leaven and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, the latter being accessible by going to “Ministries” and then “Special Needs.” At either site, there will be a button for listening to The Leaven.
Audio-Reader Network listeners call different numbers depending on where they live. There are numbers for the Kansas City area, Lawrence, Topeka and the rest of Kansas (see sidebar). There is also a demonstration code for those who want to listen before making the decision to apply.
“The readers will read everything printed, from beginning to end,” said Kesinger. “When the user is listening on the telephone system, they can use the ‘2’ button on their touch-tone phone to advance through the articles. They can use the ‘4’ key to advance within the story. Or they can push ‘3’ and go backwards.”
The telephone reader is the more versatile, whereas the audio file offered on the websites requires one to listen all the way through. The Leaven offered through Audio-Reader will be available each week on Fridays, mirroring the print production cycle.
Although anyone may listen to The Leaven being read over the websites, use of the telephone reader service requires listeners to register.
Registration may be done through the Audio-Reader website at: www.reader.ku.edu/application-service. A person may also go to the website to request a print version of “Application for Service.” Persons may also request an “Application for Service” by calling (800) 772-8898.