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Release: July 22, 1999

KSUI brings reading service for blind to eastern Iowa

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Eastern Iowans who are blind or physically impaired can now enjoy news and information from local and national publications from a reading service offered by University of Iowa's KSUI-FM (91.7) radio station.

The Iowa Reading Information Service for the Blind and Print Handicapped (IRIS) broadcasts timely and topical information to Iowans who are blind, visually impaired, and/or physically challenged. IRIS broadcasts programs into individual homes, retirement communities, and nursing care facilities throughout central, north-central, northwestern and now eastern Iowa.

IRIS volunteers read daily newspapers and magazines over piggybacked sub-carrier signals broadcast from KSUI. A special radio receiver, pre-tuned to the piggybacked signal of the reading service, is provided to listeners at no cost.

Tom Spaight, KSUI broadcasting services engineer, brought IRIS to KSUI and its print handicapped listeners in eastern Iowa. He established the sub-carrier signal from KSUI and fine tuned the transmissions in May and began broadcasting IRIS in June.

Included in the 24-hour programming is the daily reading of the Des Moines Register, the Fort Dodge Messenger, and other locally published magazines and community publications. These readings include breaking news stories, editorials, sports, obituaries, calendar events and even grocery store ads. This programming enables listeners to be informed and involved citizens within their communities.

IRIS also relays the readings of more than 50 newspapers and magazines received via satellite from national networks including InTouch Network of New York City and the Radio Talking Book from St. Paul, Minn. Broadcasts include special programming of critical issues of concern to blind, print handicapped and physically challenged individuals.

Sally VanderLinden, executive director of IRIS, said the service has distributed an initial allocation of 50 receivers to eastern Iowa residents, including those in Iowa City, Coralville, Wellman, Kalona, Cedar Rapids, Hiawatha, Marion, Washington, Muscatine, Maquoketa, Elkader, Baldwin, Cascade, Lowden, Hedrick and Toddville. WOI-FM in Ames and KTPR-FM in Fort Dodge serve northcentral and northwestern Iowa.

With a new $10,000 grant from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust, VanderLinden said IRIS will be able to fund future receivers in the KSUI-IRIS listening area.

IRIS recognizes that many more Iowans are in need of a unique radio reading service. According to the most recent U.S. Census, approximately 35,000 Iowans are blind and/ or physically impaired so that they cannot read ordinary print for themselves. The majority of these individuals are over the age of 55. IRIS' goal is to expand the radio reading services statewide to reach all print handicapped Iowans.

According to Dr. Mark Wilkinson, director of Low Vision Services at the UI Center for Macular Degeneration, 50 percent of persons in the U.S. 75 years of age and older have some loss of vision. Of those, 70 percent have a significant loss.

"So many people would benefit from your service. It would be a tremendous assistance," said Wilkinson.

Established in 1989, IRIS is one of 125 radio reading services for the blind and print handicapped in the United States and is a member for the National Association of Radio Reading Services. As an independent 501(c)(3) organization, IRIS is funded by grants, foundations, corporations, civic organizations, interested individuals and listeners. At IRIS, more than 100 volunteers donate the 3,000 hours annually to read.

Anyone who cannot read due to blindness, impaired vision or physical handicap can request a free receiver by calling IRIS at (515) 243-6833 (toll fee at 877-404-4747) or by writing the IRIS office at 100 East Euclid Ave., Des Moines, IA 50313.