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Lifting Spirits for 50 Years
Michelle Strickland
VOLUNTEER VOICE: Kelly G. Loeb, who has been assisting Audio-Reader for 10 years, currently reads from her home. She reads People magazine weekly and has helped with specially requested publications such as How Al-Anon Works for Families & Friends of Alcoholics and See You at the Top by Zig Ziglar.
Photo by Eugene Jones
Audio-Reader offers needed resources for blind, visually impaired and print-disabled listeners

Kimberly Morrow received her master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Kansas. She is also blind since birth.

Reaching those educational milestones was made possible, Morrow says, with the help of Audio-Reader, a reading and information service for blind, visually impaired and print-disabled people based on KU’s Lawrence campus. The service celebrates its 50th year in 2021.

Morrow joined the master’s program in Germanic Languages and Literatures in the early ‘90s when there weren’t as many technological resources as there are today. Audio-Reader’s main focus was — and still is — free 24-7 on-air programming with volunteers reading newspapers and magazines. But the service also gives people free access to other information, such as educational materials.

“The staff at Audio-Reader connected me to two wonderful ladies who were volunteers there and who also spoke German,” Morrow said. “They were instrumental in helping me read all my course materials.”

Through Audio-Reader, she also connected with a volunteer who helped her wade through professors’ revisions to her dissertation while earning her doctorate in educational policy and leadership.

“They helped provide the type of discernment my eyes would have given me if I’d had sight,” Morrow said.

Since then, Audio-Reader has evolved and embraced new, better ways to deliver information. And it is weathering the COVID-19 pandemic, which has all of its volunteers reading from home.

Those volunteers and their voices are the heart of Audio-Reader. They read up-to-date news, community information, magazines and books for listeners in Kansas, Missouri and beyond. The Audio-Reader system uses online streaming, a telephone or smart device, or closed-circuit radio to distribute programming. Users with a verified medical need receive a code that provides access to the service.

In the next fiscal year, Audio-Reader will lose financial support from the university and will rely on private funding to fill the gap in its operating budget. Beth McKenzie, development director for Audio-Reader, said the pandemic has given leadership and staff a new perspective.

“It’s changed the concept of what is possible with less,” she said

Sara Carlsen reads weekly for Audio-Reader from her home in Kansas City, Mo. Most recently, she reads the obituaries from the Kansas City Star. She has also read the University Daily Kansan and the news in the Topeka Capital-Journal.
Photo by Emma Jensen

The importance of the service can’t be underestimated, McKenzie said. For many listeners, the voices they hear reading the news each day are friends — their connection to their community and to the world. For rural listeners, it might be the only way they can hear what’s in their small-town newspaper or assess political candidates during an election cycle. And the service isn’t only for blind and visually impaired listeners.

“We also have listeners who have multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s, or are on the autism spectrum,” McKenzie said. “These are listeners who can’t physically hold a newspaper, magazine or iPad. Even if you could enlarge it for their vision, they couldn’t hold the device or paper steady to see it.”

Kelly G. Loeb, a KU alumna with a master’s in social welfare, has read People magazine each week since 2013. The Kansas City, Mo., resident read in the Audio-Reader studio in Lawrence until campus shut down in March. But technology staff members devised a way for Loeb to record via her iPhone, and she accesses People through a Johnson County (Kansas) Library eMagazine subscription.

Loeb has been reading and recording from home ever since. She’s grateful for the technology that makes it possible, even though she lost an opportunity to be a listener in her own way.

“I do miss my weekly road trip to Lawrence,” Loeb said. “It was a great way to treat myself to audiobooks and podcasts.”

Morrow emphasized the pandemic has highlighted the benefit Audio-Reader has in the lives of its listeners.

“When people are in lockdown, they need a reassuring voice. They need to quell the boredom,” she said. “Audio-Reader does that for them.”


To be part of keeping Audio-Reader on the air, contact Dale Slusser at 785-832-7458 or email.

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