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Newsline for the Blind is Coming to Minnesota

 By Tom Scanlan

Minnesota has always been a leader in helping blind people keep up with the daily news through newspapers. The first generation of newspaper access was the Radio Talking Book (RTB) run by State Services for the Blind (SSB). The RTB was the first radio reading service in the country, and provides four hours per day of newspaper reading on a set schedule.

The second generation of access was Dial-in News, also run by SSB. Minnesota was the second state to set up a dial-in newspaper. It provides a blind person access to the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press through a telephone any time he/she wants to read the paper. The main advantages of Dial-in News over RTB are the broader content and access on the reader's schedule instead of the radio's schedule. Although it contains more news than the RTB, it is limited by the time the volunteer readers can devote to it.

Now the third generation is coming. Minnesota continues its leadership in news access and is the second state to set up this generation. This new service is called Newsline for the Blind (Newsline) and is a national service operated by the National Federation of the Blind.

Newsline is similar to Dial-in News in its use of the telephone to read a newspaper stored on a computer. Like Dial-in News, the reader chooses what to read and when to read it. However, Newsline carries different newspapers and uses computer-generated speech instead of human volunteer readers.

Newsline currently carries USA Today (today's and yesterday's editions), the Chicago Tribune, and the New York Times. Every day, these newspapers send the computer text they use to print their paper editions to the Newsline headquarters at the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore. The Newsline computer then converts the newspaper text to the format used by the speech generator and sends that to the Newsline computer in our NFB of Minnesota office in Minneapolis and other Newsline centers around the country. It all happens automatically and at computer speed.

Any blind person can register to use Newsline free of charge. Each person will be given an identification and security code that can be used to access any of the Newsline service centers that are springing up around the country. This is truly a national system carrying national newspapers.

Note that Newsline does not compete with Dial-in News. The two services complement each other with different newspapers. It would be quite reasonable for a person to use both.

We expect the different systems will appeal to different age groups. Since most people are most comfortable with the technology they grew up with, they will tend to use the newspaper-access technology which is closest to that becoming common when they grew up. For instance, people born before roughly 1930 will likely be most comfortable with radio and use RTB, those born between 1930 and roughly 1970 may be more comfortable with the telephone and use Dial-in News, while those born since about 1970 are more accustomed to computer-generated speech and will tend more toward Newsline. If this proves to be true, it holds some interesting ramifications for each service.

Newsline should be operational from the NFB of Minnesota office in March. At the time, we will distribute more information and application forms.

We have two big challenges ahead of us. The first is raising the money to pay for the service and phone lines to support it. The other is getting the word out to blind people about this exciting third-generation newspaper service.

(Newsline, National Newsline for the Blind, National Newsline for the Blind Network, and Newsline Service Center are registered trademarks of the National Federation of the Blind.)

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