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GaRRS Helps the Visually Impaired Enjoy the Written Word

By S. Mathur

Clive Cussler, Suzanne Collins of Mockingjay fame, comedian Aziz Ansari and Barbara Delinsky: that's just part of the morning line up for book readings this December at the Georgia Radio Reading Service, Inc. (GaRRS). No wonder that William Ryan, a reader with the Service, feels that "A visually impaired person whose sole source of information is GaRRS would probably be among the best read and best informed people you would know."

He adds: "You'll be astounded by the many papers, magazines, and books of all types we read every month. This month, for example, we're broadcasting the full, unexpurgated text of seventeen books, ranging in interest and kind from a biography of Alice Roosevelt (TR's daughter) to self-help and various popular novels, and that's just a fraction of our total programming."

GaRRS was founded in 1980 by Jim Cashin, who lost his vision later in life and was frustrated by the lack of reading and listening material. Brent Bass, Director of GaRRS, says that Cashin "began efforts to form the reading service a few years prior to 1980 (securing funding, equipment, broadcast space, volunteers, staff, etc.). Initially GaRRS broadcast to only the metro Atlanta area and the broadcast studios were in the basement of Peachtree Christian Church in midtown Atlanta but eventually a partnership deal was forged that allowed GaRRS to broadcast its signal over the radio transmitters of Georgia Public Broadcasting."

Thanks to Cashin and the staff and volunteers he inspired, GaRRS has grown to become one of the largest media reading services in the country. It covers the the entire state of Georgia and has an estimated audience of 16,000 listeners. While GaRRS receives funding from the State of Georgia and the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, there is always need of additional financial and volunteer support.

Bass feels that lack of outreach has been a stumbling block in terms of mobilizing community support: "The community in general supports GaRRS when they know about us. Unfortunately one of the biggest challenges is getting the word out about GaRRS. We need to spread the word about GaRRS, what we do and who we serve across the state.

Often it isn't just the end user (listener) that needs to learn about GaRRS; it really is the much larger cloud of influencers around the individual who needs our service that we need to reach (friends, family, church, healthcare providers, caretakers, etc.) who can then tell the end user and help them sign up for GaRRS. It is almost a universal reaction when we are out in the community (say for the Decatur Book Festival) that people will say, "wow, I wish I knew about you when my grandmother was alive, she would have loved your service" (or something similar). So the support is there IF people know about us."

With new staff being hired, GaRRS should be able to do more, Bass feels. As well as financial support and just getting the word out, people who want to help can volunteer as readers.

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