The author is community outreach coordinator at MindsEye: The Virtual Newsstand, a member of the International Association of Audio Information Services. IAAIS commentaries are featured regularly at radioworld.com.
Digital Revolution. Internet Age. The Technological Explosion. Do these phrases seem ominous, or exciting? As members of the traditional media, we may be tempted to panic. Instead, we should consider our strengths. How do we deliver those strengths to an evolving world?
As an audio information service for people with vision loss and blindness, MindsEye has certain strengths: We provide information, like local news and grocery advertisements,that listeners cannot get elsewhere. We are a free service with a majority of our listeners falling below the poverty line. And, most critically, we are a human voice in an increasingly robotic world.
Playing to these strengths has always been our goal. When we were founded in 1973, one of our original names was “Radio Information Service.” Our delivery method was in the name: traditional radio airwaves. Our updated tagline, “The Virtual Newsstand” showcases our new direction — the same crucial, timely information, now available in many different ways.
Information in diverse formats is fundamental to MindsEye’s ability to stay relevant in the new technological climate. To date, MindsEye listeners can access content across 28 different platforms. This includes traditional radio, as well as Internet, smartphone apps, a call-in telephone service, Smart TVs and more.
Digital technologies make content available almost instantaneously. Individuals are accustomed to skimming, skipping, recording, bookmarking — and more — to access the material they want, when they want. This speed poses new challenges.
Recently, MindsEye received a grant from the state of Illinois to investigate Digital Accessible Information SYstem (DAISY) format, and bring these files to listeners on the Internet. DAISY files make programming available more readily and with greater ease. Rather than listen to an entire segment hoping to hear a certain topic, listeners can skip through chapter-like sections and select the portion of interest.
DAISY is currently used by the National Library Service of the Library of Congress to format audio books for people with visual impairmentsand blindness. Though still an emerging technology, DAISY is projected to be the industry standard. This year, MindsEye is proud to announce to a national and international audience the first-ever periodical formatted in DAISY with human voice.
For an audio information service, DAISY formatting is revolutionary. Because no other such service has yet implemented the technology, it poses its own set of challenges. Still, the reward is enormous: streamlined content accessible worldwide and the opportunity to mentor other organizations as they make the transition.
Furthermore, DAISY formatting illustrates an important principle of the new technological climate: the new technologies can make the old technologies even stronger. The formatting preserves all the things that make MindsEye unique, while making it available faster and easier than ever.
The fundamentals have not changed: People still want information, and they want the information to be relatable. At MindsEye, we continually consider how the new technology can enhance our mission. Sometimes it augments traditional methods, as in the case of our new platforms; at other times, it revolutionizes them, like with the DAISY format.
The “Internet Age” is truly the “Information Age” — the age of an explosion in information and entertainment. As longtime providers of those two, we should consider our place in an evolving world not as an inevitable loss, but in terms of adaptation and improvement. Through new technologies, we can use old strengths to reach new audiences.
Amelia Christ received her bachelor’s degree in English from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., and has been involved with MindsEye in several capacities: reading, playing Beepball, studying as an intern and now as a staff member.