VOICE Instructor Jay Rufo and student
For those who are visually impaired, the access that the Talking Information Center (TIC) Network provides to the written word is invaluable. TIC is a statewide radio reading service that, in contract with the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB), broadcasts newspapers, magazines and books as well as additional information 24 hours a day to over 20,000 listeners. Thanks to stimulus funding, this program is becoming even more of a resource for those in this community.

Recovery Act Impact: Massachusetts Commission for the Blind

  • Independent Living - Older/Blind: $510,194

  • State Independent Living Services: $42,958

  • Vocational Rehabilitation Services: $1 million

  • Total: $1.6 million

MCB received $1 million in stimulus funding for vocation rehabilitation services and it is using its collaboration with TIC to launch Vocational Opportunities in Communication Education (VOICE), a job training program in which students receive hands-on training in MCB's radio studios.

VOICE studio at MCB
"This offers individuals who are blind a skillset for job training and job readiness," said Janet LeBreck, commissioner of the MCB.

According to LeBreck, the unemployment rate in the blind community is at 70 percent. "We are really trying to create programs that will be sustainable and change attitudes," she said. "Employers don't have an awareness about what it is blind people can do. This program is helping to change that."

Joseph Weisse, Information Services Director for MCB, noted that the MCB deliberately developed VOICE to mirror a typical job situation, requiring applicants to submit a resume, have an interview, demonstrate their computer skills and

MCB VOICE participants
come to work six hours a day, four days a week. "The skills for a regular job situation apply here," he said. This program is also the first of its kind in the US. LaBreck said she is getting calls from other states interested in replicating MCB's efforts.

"This is absolutely a ground breaking program," said Ron Bersani, Executive Director of the TIC. "There is nothing like this anywhere in the country."

In addition to the program, MCB was able to use stimulus funds to build a new studio - and renovate its old ones -- with custom built technology modified for use by visually impaired people. The new studios and the VOICE participants has

MCB Commissioner Janet LaBreck and Jeffrey Simon
enabled TIC to expand its program, with additional reporting, on-the-street interviews and in-studio events. "We are used to having services provided for our benefit but this is also a way to give back," said LaBreck. "We think of a radio reading service as a service for blind people, not by blind people. It's a new way of thinking."

Katherine Crocker, who is in the first group of VOICE participants, said she was able to cover an event on location with New England Eye Mobile, a mobile clinic, and interview someone in Canada about GPS technology. "I've always wanted to be involved in a radio studio," said Crocker, who graduated from Bridgewater State College in 2009 and couldn't find a job. "This is my dream job.

In the studio, Jay Rufo, VOICE's instructor, said the trainees interviewed a blind martial arts instructor, a blind weather forecaster and Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. JudyAnn Bigby. "Not only do the participants enjoy this but it is a confidence builder," he said. "It is amazing. People who couldn't get their feet in the door are now finishing a 60 minute program, editing it and producing it."