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Volunteers lend voices for book record-a-thon

April 15, 2010 7:38:22 PM PDT
Understanding a complicated textbook is challenging enough for most people, but what if you have a learning disability or can't see at all?

There are people right here in the Bay Area making it possible for other people with disabilities to benefit from the world's best textbooks and literature, and now there is an interesting way you can help too.

Cancer took Greg Fowler's eyesight when he was just 1 year old, yet he grew up to graduate from Stanford University and become a software engineer in Silicon Valley.

Fowler says this program helped make it all possible. Voice recordings of high-level textbooks, literature and manuals, taught him how to build a website.

The recordings he says provide him instant access to a world of knowledge that was previously locked away in the printed word.

Fowler says he was happy to be "...able to read independently and study independently, it really did mean a lot to me to have that kind of freedom and that kind of flexibility and that kind of access."

Recording For the Blind and Dyslexic in Palo Alto is where it all happens. Every day, volunteers sit in sound booths and read math problems and books -- one by one, word for word -- everything from an advanced algebra textbook to the works of William Faulkner.

The books are downloaded for free all over the country. They are geared not only for the blind, but for students with dyslexia, who learn better by listening.

"I find that it is very rewarding," says reader Jane Seaman.

Seaman was inspired to record books after she played the role of Helen Keller's mother at a local theater.

"We had several blind children in the cast," says Seaman. "It gave us so much additional insight into the challenges, we can always imagine what the challenges might be."

"Someone presumably, hopefully, benefits from it," says reader Wilma Hoffmann.

Hoffmann is a former math teacher with a rare ability to put diagrams into words.

"And you think, if this person can't see, what do I need to tell them about this graph?" asked Hoffmann.

Greg has been reading by listening ever since high school when the recorded library was still small. It's now expanded to more than 60,000 books, but the need has grown too.

"Across the country, including California, there are about 20 percent of students with learning disabilities. The more books we can record the more we can serve," says director Trish Bubenik.

Bubenik says these recordings are unique because they use real human voices, not synthetic sound.

Now the centerwants your voice too. Next week, it's holding a "record-a-thon" where you can go in and voice a book -- one that might make a difference to somebody somewhere.

"We had a student come in and say, 'For 10 years, I went to sleep with your voices in my ear and I thank you,'" says Bubenik.

IF YOU WANT TO HELP:
The Record-a-thon will be held April 19 through April 21, from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. each day.
To sign up, call: (650) 493-3717


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