She has been reading for the blind for 50 years

Reading can be a pleasurable experience when you have the right setting. People who can see take this passive activity for granted. They don’t see anything hard or difficult about it because they have been doing it for so long. In effort to show what people have been doing for others for a long time I decided to feature what this lady has been doing for the past 50 years all on her own time. Ellen Hanna has been volunteering to read for the blind and she has been doing it for 50 years now. Her work has gone on to help thousands, if not millions, of people be able to read again and learn.

Her mother started losing her eye sight long after she had started reading for the blind and the idea of a parent not being able to see their child again made her realize the true importance of her work. Ellen’s work is something she felt helps those see again. She started in 1963 with Learning Ally, which was then called Recording for the Blind, after attending a volunteer fair at the University of Georgia where her late husband, Mark Hanna, worked as a business professor.

In the video below Ellen talks about how she got started and what she enjoys about the program.

Ellen is part of a very exclusive club of members that have earned the distinguished title of 1000 hours member club. In the 50 years that she has been there Ellen has earned well past that number and then some. During those years she has recalled the different types of technology her non-profit company has gone through in order to help people gain access to the material. In many cases, having to record the material again because of a change in format. Recording on reel-to-reel was difficult because she mentions that you had to know at what point you messed up and go back and re-record all that information again. Now she has computer software to help track any errors she makes and can also turn her words into digital text. This allows the software to also highlight the word that is being spoken to help people follow along. Many people with disabilities are able to benefit from this new way of reading.

Dyslexic people are able to follow the highlighted word to help their eye stay focused on reading correctly. Blind people are able to listen to what the book is covering, and deaf people are able to follow along with the reader in order to keep up with the pace. There are many other benefits to this new form of reading.

The content that Ellen reads for is open to anything except popular fiction. She really enjoys reading science, math, and story books for all ages. Ellen has amassed a huge wealth of knowledge reading all that material because one, it makes her sit down and read it, and two, she learns just as much as when she is reading the material out loud. The part that gets people about reading is making the time to sit down and read. A program like volunteering to record for the blind is a structured way to get people to sit down and read, only this time you are reading out loud and being recorded.

Why Read to or for the Blind/Deaf/Dyslexic
People who read all the time don’t realize the effort involved. Someone with severe dyslexia can have trouble following along with a simple sentence. I wish there were more programs available that allowed people to come and read to the blind as there once were. Many senior nursing homes have people who are blind and are looking for volunteers to come and read to them or talk with them about a movie they are watching.

The huge benefit also comes from kids who are just learning to read or need help improving their reading skills. Reading to another person requires active participation on the reader to follow along correctly otherwise risk losing the listener in the process. The listener might call attention to a fact that doesn’t make sense, which might come about when they accidentally skip a sentence, which is common for first time or troubled readers.

When you read to or for the disabled you give back something that they do not have. Blind people must learn how to read with their fingers and by listening. They must form images in their mind as to what it is they are hearing or touching for the first time. Someone with excellent dictation and enunciation have gifts that can help another person learn or pass their time in an enjoyable way.

Ellen has said that her time with Learning Ally will be one where she will stop when they tell her they don’t need her anymore. That is dedication and heart. At 84 years old it will be awhile before she stops for good.


For more about who this wonderful lady is and what she does, you can read the articles below. If you want to get involved and donate an hour or two to help someone check out the links further below. Also remember that many public libraries, Amazon, and the central texas digital library consortium has many audiobooks to listen to as well.

News Articles

She’s spent half a century reading for the blind

Volunteer Spent 50 Years recording books for the disabled

Ellen Hanna, 84, Celebrates 50 years

Get Involved

Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic

Texas Talking Book Program

Book

What Blind People Wish Sighted People Knew About Blindness

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