Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Updated: New, innovative reading service for the blind

Every once in a while, I come across something new that makes me slap my head and say, “Now, why hasn’t this been done before.” ReadThisToMe is definitely one of these things. This is a new and innovative web site that uses what is often considered old technology to deliver a personal reading service to blind people.

According to the email announcing the launch of it,
Read This To Me
is a free reading service for the blind, powered by volunteers and Internet collaboration. ReadThisToMe allows blind and low-vision people to have printed documents read to them over the phone.”

Ironically, the old-tech solution for the service is what makes this a great solution for getting print information. One of the best things about ReadThisToMe is that the blind or visually impaired person doesn’t even need a computer. It only requires a phone line and a fax machine. (Of course, the phone numbers for Read This To Me will also be necessary!) However, where this service is superior to current optical character recognition (OCR) software is that it will read handwritten material, or documents with complex graphics.

The service works like this:

Step 1: The blind person faxes what he needs read to the toll-free, ReadThisToMe fax number.
That number is 1-877-333-8848.
The fax must include a cover sheet containing the blind person’s name and a number where he/she can be reached.

The faxed document itself can be most anything, including handwritten letters, food labels, or even a multi-page magazine article.

Step 2: One of the volunteer readers at ReadThisToMe will then call the person and read the document.

And, users can’t argue about the price or availability. ReadThisToMe is completely free and available throughout the United States. However, the company is accepting donations and welcomes business sponsorships.

For more information, interested people can go to the service’s web site at
www.ReadThisToMe.org,
or alternatively, keeping true to their stated mission of users not being required to have a computer, interested persons can listen to a recorded message describing how to use the service. They can reach this by calling 1-877-333-8847.

Additionally, if you are sighted and want to give to the community by giving some time as one of ReadThisToMe’s volunteer readers, then check out the web site. All you need to be able to give is a few minutes a day.

Further information about the service is available on the site's FAQ page.

UPDATE 10/10/07:
Since originally posting about this project, I have exchanged correspondence with the founder of ReadThisToMe. It is a brand new service and, at this time, has not been used by anybody yet. However, he is looking forward to clients contacting the service so that the benefits can be realized.

This service offers so much potential for blind people, especially in households where a blind person lives alone or a blind couple live together. I can remember a time when I lived alone and this service would have been invaluable in going over some handwritten notes from college classes or pieces of mail. Even though my wife is sighted, I may well find need of this service in the days ahead. Regardless of my personal needs, I look forward to seeing this creative service taking off and wish them much success in the future.

3 comments:

Ed said...

I signed up as a volunteer, and also sent the info out to the blind folks I know. Most of them do not have fax machines. One suggested that he'd like to be able to upload scanned images. We shall see how well it works, but I'm happy to give volunteering a try.

Ron Graham said...

Thanks for volunteering, Ed. Without people such as yourself, this service wouldn’t ever get off the ground, no matter how innovative and great it is intended to be.

If blind people using the service want to use the service, I think they should be able to fax scanned images. Just because the service strives to make it where the user does not need a computer, doesn’t mean that they couldn’t use one. I believe that the person can use one of the available free web fax services to do this, then have ReadThisToMe call them on their landline to read them the information.

Actually, the man who has begun ReadThisToMe also hosts a web site that offers free faxing from the computer. It is called
FaxZero.com
And it is linked to on the ReadThisToMe home page.

(This is not an endorsement of this fax service over any other. I just thought I’d mention it as I found it on the ReadThisToMe site when iwas looking over it.)

I’d encourage you to share that thought about using computer-generated faxes with your circle of blind contacts. That should work just as well as a stand alone fax machine.

RG

Greg said...

great post, thanks!