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Catherine Vatterott volunteers at MindsEye Radio as a reader of Catholic news from sources such as the St. Louis Review. MindsEye Radio translates vision to audio as a virtual newsstand, connecting people with vision loss to the news and entertainment.
Catherine Vatterott volunteers at MindsEye Radio as a reader of Catholic news from sources such as the St. Louis Review. MindsEye Radio translates vision to audio as a virtual newsstand, connecting people with vision loss to the news and entertainment.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Individuals with blindness, low vision have access to written publications via MindsEye

Volunteers read the St. Louis Review, hundreds of other publications for people with blindness, low vision

Catherine Vatterott pulled a purple bin from a tall shelf and thumbed through the newspapers and booklets inside. Pulling out the latest copy of the St. Louis Review, she began marking some of the stories she planned to read that week to listeners of MindsEye.

A volunteer for more than six years, Vatterott enjoys reading the Review and other Catholic publications, including the Belleville Messenger, Our Sunday Visitor and Magnificat, once a week to listeners of MindsEye, a nonprofit organization that makes the news accessible to people who are visually impaired or cannot read the printed word.

MindsEye Radio provides radios like this free of charge to people with visual impairments. Their office is on the campus of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Ill.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston

Vatterott, a member of Holy Trinity Parish in St. Ann, is involved as a lector at several parishes in the North County area. She was approached by a religious sister, who recommended that she take her talent for reading God’s Word and share that as a volunteer reading for people who have difficulty with vision.

“I’ve always wanted to read for the blind, but I didn’t know where to go or how to do it,” Vatterott said. After a short audition, she began reading the daily news. She now reads selections from Catholic publications for a segment called Catholic Today, which airs at 7 a.m. on Saturdays. Vatterott said stories involving the pope or the saints always get top priority.

“I am a true believer in do unto others as they would do unto you,” she said. “So when I go blind — I have pre-glaucoma already — I want somebody to read to me.” By offering listeners the news of the Catholic faith, “how else would they know? You want to keep them involved in the world.”

Located on the campus of The National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Ill., MindsEye originated in 1973 as a program of WMRY, called “Talking Book,” to provide readings from newspapers and magazines to people who are blind, have low vision or otherwise cannot access the printed word. The program was formed through a partnership between the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who sponsor the shrine, Lions Clubs and several other organizations.

Father Boniface Wittenbrink, OMI, was tapped as the program’s founder. He had experience as a teacher, missionary and administrator, but had no knowledge of radio or working with people who are blind. The program eventually became a model for other radio reading services across the country.

“I don’t know anything about blind people except they can’t see,” said Father Wittenbrink, who died in 2017 at the age of 102. “And I sure don’t know anything about radio except how to turn one on and change the batteries. But if you think I can help, I’ll do it.”

He joined with several others to found The International Association of Audio Information Services, and was involved in other reading service organizations. In 1974, Radio Information Service, predecessor to MindsEye, received the National Radio Award, which honors leaders in the radio industry.

Today, MindsEye, an independent nonprofit, produces 135 hours of programming each week, with about 200 volunteers reading a variety of publications, from grocery and department store ads to books, sports and music magazines, daily newspapers and other religious publications. Programming is accessible through closed-circut radio (SCA), with about about 1,100 radio receivers currently in circulation, according to broadcast director Tom Williams. The service also has expanded to an online presence, making programming accessible through devices including Amazon, Apple and Android devices, Roku player and Windows PC.

“Part of my job is to ensure that when that technology is becoming available for just about everybody, how do we stay relevant in that technology?” Williams said.

MindsEye recently developed an Alexa “skill,” a voice-driven command that allows access to programming via Amazon devices. The hope is to eventually send Amazon Echo devices to listeners instead of radios. “But I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of radios,” he added. “I sincerely believe that there’s always going to be someone out there that doesn’t want a cell phone, doesn’t have a computer, doesn’t want to pay for wifi. Those people are the ones that we have to keep in mind. We need to make sure we’re taking care of them, because there’s not a whole lot of other ways to get the information except for traditional means.”

Williams said he also would like to develop an app that includes a live stream of programming and pre-recorded podcasts of all of the shows. A survey is conducted annually among listeners to determine future programming.

“We try to do the biggest needs first,” Williams said. “The grocery store ads are very much at the heart of our listeners. The majority of listeners on the radio end are 65 and older, they’ve lost their vision later in life, and a lot of folks live on fixed incomes. So knowing when toilet paper is on sale is invaluable.”

>> How to listen

MindsEye has more than two dozen ways to access its programming. For more information, including how to receive an SCA radio receiver, call (618) 394-6444, email [email protected] or visit mindseyeradio.org.

MindsEye also offers access to some of its programming via phone service. Call (618) 394-6444 to get started. Standard rates apply.

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