Friday, July 20 , 2018, 1:32 pm | Fair 75º


Program an Important Voice for Community

Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic helps students with challenges learn while they listen.



Imagine being an intelligent young third-grader and realizing that no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t read?

That’s what happened to Kristen Reed more than 20 years ago.

“I sat in my classroom and I knew I was supposed to be able to follow along,” she said. “But I couldn’t. I knew I was supposed to pick up on all this information, but I wasn’t.”

Luckily, Reed, who was born with cerebral palsy, had a supportive family and parents, both local educators, who kept motivating her. In sixth grade, the visual impairment specialist at Foothill School introduced her to Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic.

“It changed my life,” said Reed.

With the help of a yellow plastic recording device, Reed was able to listen to her lessons, recorded onto a tape by readers reading directly from her textbooks. It was still an uphill climb for her but she was able to graduate from Westmont College and earn a Master’s degree from Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena.

Things have come full circle for her and Reed is now director of RFB&D’s Educational Outreach Program. Her job is to talk to educators, parents, teachers, physicians — anyone who would be in a position to identify someone who can use the resources the organization has.

"We’re not stupid,” she said. "Many of us are very very bright. We just process differently."

Despite all the work she’s had to do, Reed considers herself a lucky one. Many local youngsters may never get out of the isolation of a learning disability or a visual impairment, or anything that makes it impossible to read a printed page.

“We live in a print-dominated society. Everything we do is print-based. Even with the Web, unless you’re a person that has a computer with auditory input, everything is print-based,” she said.


Without the ability to keep up in the classroom, otherwise bright kids could become discouraged when it comes to schoolwork. They could be mislabeled or stigmatized for falling behind and withdraw from school and society altogether. They could miss out on their futures.

“They could join gangs,” Reed said. “If you’re different and you can’t be content and excel in your own thing, you’ll go where you can find acceptance.”

Emerging evidence shows that one in six people could be dyslexic, a term given to a wide range of conditions that make it difficult to decipher the printed page. It could be a scary statistic, but for RFB&D it’s another call to action, a call they responded to when they hired Reed just six months ago. The mission? To reach out to as many people as possible.

According to recent RFB&D statistics, in Santa Barbara, Kern and San Louis Obispo counties about 9,000 people could benefit from the service — but only 650 are. And those are the just the ones who have been diagnosed. There’s no knowing how many other people are out there and unaware that they or a loved one could use RFB&D’s services.

A blocky gray building at 5638 Hollister Ave., at the east end of Old Town Goleta, is where the action takes place. On the second floor, people are in various stages of production: marking up textbooks, reading, recording.


“Oh, I’m just a mom with time to spare,” Melanie Bergeson said as she marked what looked to be a fairly complicated math book.

Thanks to volunteers like Bergeson, even the most complicated of texts eventually wind up in the library. From there one copy of the textbooks that is chosen for reading is given to the reader, while a second one, with identical codes and scripts in the margins, is given to the monitor, who does the recording.

“We focus mostly on textbooks because our goal is to get people through the school year, but a textbook could be Harry Potter, for children’s literature,” said Ethan Saxton, who does some of the recording that goes on in the handful of tiny booths at the RFB&D. His job is to make the readers sound good. Apparently, everyone makes mistakes.

"I’ve had Nobel prize-winners mess up their texts," he said.

Sometimes RFB&D gets copies of books in advance from publishers, who are now legally required to provide access to their books to the disabled population. Sometimes it’s a matter of staying one step ahead of the students.

After the digital recording is made it becomes part of a national library that can be accessed by RFB&D members at the click of a mouse, or sent out in CD form. According to Reed, the organization will soon be making mp3 versions of the books so they’ll be even more portable, discreet and convenient.

The writer gives recording a shot, by reading a poem from Maya Angelou {mp3}maya1{/mp3}

“We believe disabled students should have the same access as their print-enabled peers to these books ... they should have an opportunity to be successful too, why not?” asked Tim Owens, RFB&D executive director.

A former National Public Radio correspondent and show host who’s had the dream job of traveling around the world for his jazz show, Owens came back to his old stomping grounds to head up this branch of RFB&D, one of 21 such places in the nation.

Like many nonprofits in the area, RFB&D’s heart is much bigger than its wallet. Despite the projected gap in revenue versus the cost of the Educational Outreach program, the organization has decided to forge ahead with the program, with the help of the Orfalea Fund and Weingart Foundation. The program will, however, raise the organization’s annual budget to somewhere in the $700,000 zone.

“We’re dipping into our reserves, and we don’t like to do that,” said Owens.

But there is a way the community can help. From April 28 to May 3 the organization will hold its annual Record-A-Thon, an opportunity for people to flex their podcast or public radio muscles and record a chapter or two for a good cause. And they’ll be doing it alongside people like retiring SBCC President John Romo and his wife, Mary, who uses the services, too; homegrown legend Barnaby Conrad, who will be reading from his book Matador; and author Ernestine De Soto reading from her book The Sugar Bear Story.  Stephen J. Cannell, writer and producer of several hit TV shows, is rumored to be one of the readers as well.

Volunteers from service groups like the Lions and Rotary clubs, as well as local dignitaries, also will be recording, reading from the most practical of how-to manuals to the most esoteric of philosophical inquiries.

You’d think with all the notables rubbing elbows, the organization’s offices would be one of the hottest spots in town, but for Owens, this is only the beginning.

"We’re one of the best-kept secrets in town," he said.

Click here for more information on Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic and its upcoming Record-A-Thon.

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