Updated Talking Book Program Benefits Church Members with Disabilities
For Elder Scott Stanger and his wife, Janis, bringing the light of the gospel to those who cannot see is all in a day’s work.
The Stangers are Church-service missionaries who train members with vision loss or blindness to use the Talking Book Program. This program—which has been around since 1958—provides Church materials in audio formats to Church members who are unable to read because of disabilities like blindness or low vision.
And recent updates to the program have further enhanced the availability and convenience of these materials.
The updates involve printed magazines and manuals being converted first to digital audio files and then to the DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) format. The files are then posted online and some of them are saved on a digital cartridge that is played on specialized machines, available to those who qualify from state libraries for the blind.
Although the Talking Book Program chiefly provides audio resources to people who have visual disabilities, members with reading difficulty who are not able to obtain the specialized player can benefit from it as well by downloading the DAISY files from the Church Disability website and listening to it on their computers or iPods with special software.
It can also give those who prefer audio over printed text or who simply learn better by listening the opportunity to access these materials in an audio format.
They can now directly download the DAISY files online, or those who have the specialized player can subscribe to the digital cartridge by calling 1-800-537-5971. (For more information about receiving a talking book player, visit the Talking Book Program page on LDS.org.)
The Talking Book Program Updates
The newest changes to the Talking Book Program replace the outdated half-speed audiocassette format, which utilized a cassette player that was heavy and bulky. This was previously the only way for Church members with a visual disability to access many Church audio materials.
Subscribers who previously used half-speed audiocassettes have now transitioned to digital cartridges or download the files online. The Church is no longer producing half-speed audiocassettes, and the tapes will become unavailable at the end of 2012.
Every month subscribers receive a talking book cartridge with the contents of Church magazines in the mail. At the end of the month, subscribers return their cartridges. The following month, they receive a new cartridge with that month’s magazine on it along with the magazines from the previous months for the year. In December, members receive a cartridge with all 12 issues of the magazines that they can keep.
Unlike its predecessor, the half-speed cassette tape player, the digital player is lighter, less bulky, and more user-friendly with easier button accessibility. The talking book cartridge allows for more materials to fit on it, and users are able to navigate chapters and sections easily.
The half-speed cassette player allows users to push the forward or rewind keys until they find a specific place in the recording, but DAISY cartridges offer a function that acts like a table of contents in a book. Users can easily jump from one chapter to another. Speed, tone, and volume are also adjustable. With an advanced player, users can even bookmark sections for later reference.
Elder and Sister Stanger, who both use the machines to access materials, said it has tremendously increased the convenience and quality of listening to Church materials.
“I used to take two to three nights listening to a magazine,” said Elder Stanger. The half-speed audiocassette raises the pitch once it is sped up, making it uncomfortable to listen to. “Now I can listen to the Ensign in one night, and I can listen to it [again] the next night and reinforce it better. I feel like I understand the gospel better … because of my being able to have the machine. My other blind friends feel the same way about it.”
While the DAISY files and many of the MP3 files for Church materials are available online, the digital cartridges benefit members who have a disability and limited or no Internet access. Often these are elderly members of the Church who are unable to download audio files online.
In situations like these, family members, visiting and home teachers, stake disability specialists, and ward or branch leaders can help these individuals take the necessary steps to obtaining a digital player and ordering cartridges.
Currently the scriptures, Friend, New Era, and Ensign magazines and the 2012 curriculum—including Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, Daughters in My Kingdom, and the Book of Mormon student study guide and teacher’s manual—are available on the digital cartridge in English. However, more Church materials, including manuals for auxiliaries and other publications, are available in DAISY format for free download. Other materials will be put on cartridges as appropriate.
Promoting the Program
While many may not even know about the talking book program’s existence, many of those who have benefited from it—like Suzie Smith of the Salt Lake Granger East Stake— say they are enjoying the digital version and the improved access to Church materials it offers.
“I share with individuals on Facebook, at school, and in my ward and stake. I also have links to the department on [my daughter’s] blog,” she said.
She has taken it even one step further. Today, she serves as a Church-service missionary for Church Disability Services, where she shares her discovery with everyone she thinks will benefit. For instance, she has told her stake president about this program, who passed the information on to his daughter, helping her to better teach her Sunday School class, which includes two sisters with autism.
“I share it every chance I get,” she continued. “Why wouldn't you want to share the gift of books, gospel doctrine, and the scriptures?”