Why do you read the Springfield Republican? Do you need to stay informed on important matters in your hometown? The nation? The world? Thousands of individuals in Massachusetts who are visually impaired or blind do just as you do every day, but they do so by listening to it. That’s where the Perkins Library in Watertown and The Worcester Talking Book Library come in.
We all need access to news, books and magazines in order to live, learn and work; people with visual impairments just do so in different ways using specialized formats. The Perkins and Worcester libraries provide “talking books” and other accessible technologies and materials that enable more than 25,000 Massachusetts citizens with visual impairments to access these services. However, with technology costs on the rise and the strains on the state’s budget, some of these programs may be at risk.
To compound the situation, it is estimated that there are more than 100,000 eligible borrowers in Massachusetts who are unaware of these libraries and their specialized services. The number of individuals who will require such services is increasing rapidly. In addition to serving those with reading impairments due to blindness, dyslexia or chronic illness or injury, a “silver tsunami” is on the horizon.
By the year 2020, expectations are that 70% of all legally blind residents will be age 65 or older, and the ranks of those beginning to experience visual impairment will escalate even faster. Vision loss due to macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts correlates strongly with age. This demographic trend will result in considerably more seniors requiring specialized blindness services to remain independent. They will need to find new ways to read.
Now and even more urgently in the future, it is essential that we continue to provide reading materials of all kinds in all formats, including audio, braille, large print or electronic. It is also important to take the necessary steps to preserve, promote and support these libraries – vital institutions of knowledge and information that benefit and strengthen the Commonwealth.
State funding of specialized library services is fundamental and indispensable. All of us who, for various reasons, cannot read traditional print owe a debt of thanks to our legislators on Beacon Hill who have proposed to adequately fund the libraries for 2015. By doing so, the braille and talking book services will be fully maintained. Equally as vital, full funding will enable us to raise the awareness of these specialized resources among people who are eligible to use them, but who do not yet know they exist.
We encourage Governor Patrick to adopt the proposed funding to ensure that both libraries can continue to deliver free library materials and services including braille, large print, audio books and magazines, new digital materials, children’s programming, audio described videos, reader advisory services, and equipment loans to borrowers.
Further, it will ensure continued availability of the Newsline Service through Perkins, providing telephone access for borrowers to listen to hundreds of magazines and national newspapers, including this one. Following issues in the news is essential to being an informed citizen and knowing what is happening in your local community. For many with visual impairments, Newsline is the only access they have to community information and current events.
We are thankful that our legislators understand that people with disabilities feel every cut in basic services even more profoundly, and are hopeful that the Governor will stay the course and maintain the proposed funding. This will ensure that every person in Massachusetts has access to libraries and the information resources they need to remain independent and contributing citizens.
Kim Charlson is the Director of the Perkins Library on the campus of Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Mass.