Because he can’t read his news, Frank McClesky said he depends on the Southern Illinois Radio Information Service to hear about local and national issues.
McClesky, a Carbondale resident, said he has been visually impaired his entire life and after learning about the service two weeks ago, he has relied on the reading service.
SIRIS, a service of WSIU Public Radio, has provided information and news to nearly 1,000 individuals that are blind, visually impaired or have trouble reading print material in the counties surrounding the Carbondale and Mt. Vernon areas since 1984. The service includes daily readings from Gatewave Radio Reading Service in New York City, which provides recordings of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Local volunteers read 35 hours of programming that include The Mt. Vernon Register-News, the Southern Illinoisan and Marion’s Daily Republican.
“I think it’s a great service provided to the community,” McClesky said. “I wouldn’t be able to get all the news as easily without it.”
McClesky said he enjoys hearing all the local news and especially likes the local advertisements the service provides. McClesky said he has been so impressed by the service that he is trying to become a board member, which would make him the only current board member that is blind or visually impaired. He said he seeks to bring new and innovative ideas to the service based on his personal experience.
According to the 2010 National Health Interview Survey Preliminary Report, an estimated 21.5 million Americans suffer from some visual impairment or blindness.
“We are providing a service to people in southern Illinois who are blind, visually impaired or are print-disabled that helps them stay in touch with their local community,” Vickie Devenport, director of SIRIS, said.
She said she believes SIRIS is a strong asset to the community because it offers the visually impaired a way to hear more in-depth news about their local communities than they would from other sources.
SIRIS is run by 28 volunteers, including SIU students.
“I had an interest in the radio industry,” said Randall Hopper, a senior from Bartlett studying music business. “So I decided to help out to get job experience.”
Hopper said he has worked at SIRIS for three years as an operations manager where he edits recordings, broadcasts, recruits, trains new volunteers and performs on-air announcements.
“We serve around a thousand people in the community. I think that really makes a difference,” he said.
The service also hosts events like the SIRIS Classic Vinyl & Media Sale, an event to sell old vinyl records and stereo equipment. It celebrates achievements of the visually impaired as well, and it raises awareness of the issues facing people with disabilities.
Devenport said SIRIS was founded in 1984 by Rick and Valerie Parrish to help out the community. It eventually became a service provided by WSIU radio station, using a sideband channel of its radio frequency to broadcast.
SIRIS is one of 11 similar services that are part of the Illinois Radio Information Service, an association of radio services that help the blind and visually impaired statewide.
According to its website, SIRIS is funded by WSIU Public Radio, SIU, United Way of Southern Illinois, the Illinois State Library and from donations.
The service runs on a special frequency that requires a sideband receiver to listen, provided by SIRIS for free to those who qualify. Qualifiers include those in the WSIU-FM or WVSI-FM listening areas with diminished vision or a condition making it impossible to read.
According to Devenport, the service is working to make its programs available via streaming, so individuals with assisted technology can access the news over the Internet.
SIRIS is currently looking for volunteers to read news and entertainment broadcast. The organization can be contacted online at http://www.wsiu.org/siris or at (618) 453-2808 from 1-5 p.m. every weekday.