nne T. Macdonald was a member of the New York Public Library’s Women’s Auxiliary in 1948 when the letters started to arrive — letters from soldiers who had lost their sight in combat during World War II. Their stories were all the same. The soldiers had returned home, many anxious to move forward with their lives. The newly-passed GI Bill of Rights provided that opportunity, guaranteeing a college education to all veterans of the war and those who would follow them.
But for these blinded veterans, other obstacles prevented them from resuming their lives, including the inaccessibility of college textbooks. Could the Women’s Auxiliary do something to help?
Macdonald then mobilized the women of the Auxiliary. Few veterans knew how to read braille, and live readers were difficult to come by, so the Women’s Auxiliary moved on to a more creative solution. Keeping in mind Macdonald’s conviction that “education is a right, not a privilege,” Recording for the Blind® — as we were then known — was born.
They transformed the attic of the New York Public Library into a studio, and began recording textbooks for the servicemen, using what was then state-of-the-art technology: six-inch vinyl SoundScriber phonograph discs that played only 12 minutes of material per side.
Demand was so great that by 1951, our organization had incorporated as the nation’s only nonprofit to record textbooks. The following year, Anne Macdonald traveled across the country to establish recording studios in seven additional cities. Today, in addition to our National Headquarters, we have several recording studios across the United States.
By 1970, we found ourselves serving an increasing number of people who had learning disabilities. In recognition of this growing member population, we changed our name in 1995 to Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, to serve all people with “print disabilities” — those who can’t effectively read standard print because of a disability.
Today, we serve 237,298 members worldwide, circulating 533,938 titles in 2008. Even more remarkable, more than 70 percent of our membership — which includes students in kindergarten through graduate school, as well as working professionals — are recognized with learning disabilities.
Our recording technologies have changed with the times. SoundScriber discs were long ago replaced with the high-fidelity, four-track cassettes. In September 2002, RFB&D’s AudioPlus® digitally recorded textbooks on CD were released. As of July 1, 2007, RFB&D has transitioned to an all-digital library collection in our CV Starr Learning Through Listening® Library. In August 2008, RFB&D introduced AudioAccessSM. With AudioAccess, it’s now possible to download RFB&D audio textbooks directly to your computer. Visit our home page to see how many books are currently in our digital collection.
RFB&D now has a volunteer force of more than 7,700 volunteers who added 6,914 titles to our library in 2008. RFB&D has also undertaken an innovative Educational Outreach initiative — bringing our services directly into the schools to train teachers and students how to most effectively use our recorded textbooks. As our member population and our technology continues to evolve, our commitment to all of our members remains strong. We continue to be guided by Anne T. Macdonald’s simple declaration that
“Education is a right, not a privilege.”
An education is your right to embrace. Providing equal access to the printed word for our members — that is our profound privilege.