Accessible radio listening and broadcasting in 2020

Date posted: 6th March 2020

Radio stations have informed and entertained listeners for over a century, with many blind and partially sighted people forging successful careers in broadcasting. Yet in an age dominated by digital platforms and declining availability of analogue equipment, modern radio can prove challenging to a blind and partially sighted audience.

For World Radio Day, we look at some accessible solutions for both consuming and making radio programmes.

Accessible radio listening

Most radios on sale in the UK are now equipped to receive stations available through the DAB (digital audio broadcasting) standard. DAB radios remove the need for listeners to remember frequencies and wavebands, as station names can be displayed, together with useful show information such as the song currently playing or show synopsis. Unfortunately, there are no text-to-speech enabled DAB radios currently on the market but most radios do come with pre-set buttons to enable convenient access to favourite stations. The Roberts Opus DAB radio, reviewed by London Vision, has been designed with partially sighted people in mind and is supplied by the British Wireless for the Blind Fund.

Many radio stations are now available online and can be accessed through smart speakers, smartphone apps, and dedicated players. Once set up, most smart speakers can provide access to popular radio stations through simple commands such as “Play Radio 2”. TuneInooTunes Radio and BBC Sounds are just some examples of popular smartphone apps for accessing online radio. There are also some specialist players such as the HumanWare Victor Reader Trek and In Your Pocket, which offer access to online radio stations.

Check out these resources to find out more about accessible radios:

Accessible broadcasting

The broadcasting process is more accessible than ever before. Accessible broadcasting software enables blind and partially sighted people to effectively present, produce and monitor live radio programmes independently. RNIB Connect Radio is a professional broadcast station based in the UK which is staffed entirely by blind and partially sighted presenters.

Indeed, blind and partially sighted people have been pioneering innovation in online radio for decades. Perhaps the best example of a successful community-driven online station is ACB Radio, a project of the American Council of the Blind which operates several concurrent content streams serving a global audience of blind and partially sighted people. The station is managed by a global team of blind and partially sighted volunteers and has been on air since 1999.

There are now many more examples of established online community radio projects being run by blind and partially sighted volunteers, including Mushroom FM, the station where I host a weekly show. Volunteering with an online radio station can also provide many more opportunities for contributing in areas other than programme presentation and production, such as marketing, audience engagement or technical operations. To find out more about what online broadcasting involves, check out this informative AbilityNet article: “The radio industry and accessibility”.

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