Friday, May 12, 2006

Seeing the world through the voice of another.

It should have been easy.

And for two years, it was.

Franklin McGuire spoke clearly into the microphone, reading stories from local newspapers and magazines as a volunteer for Central Kentucky Radio Eye, a radio station for people he can't see - and listeners who can't see him.

But occasionally, he would make a mistake during his live reading segments and mispronounce a word or two. Sometimes, the words he read didn't make sense to him.

"I discovered that I was making mistakes," McGuire said.

He was diagnosed with macular degeneration three years ago - a condition that eliminates the ability to centrally focus on an object.

"I decided it was time to quit," he said.

The gradual loss of vision pained McGuire.

"I'm a retired minister," he said. "Reading was my life."

The simple acts he used to perform on a near-unconscious level became subtle reminders of his limited vision. Squeezing toothpaste onto his toothbrush, parting his hair just right and recognizing friends and family became arduous tasks. To see an object clearly, McGuire must look to the side of it.

His vision will continue to worsen.

"There are strange things you never think about when you're in this predicament," he said.

Such as the concept that he's now on the receiving end of a service he once helped provide.

Like many of Radio Eye's more than 2,000 listeners, most of whom are visually impaired, the 83-year-old typically schedules his mornings around the broadcasts.

"We are the only radio reading service in Central Kentucky," said volunteer executive director Margaret Chase.

McGuire listens to The New York Times at 7:30 a.m. and the Herald-Leader at 8 a.m., then has breakfast a half-hour later. He turns the station back on one hour later, listening off and on throughout the rest of the day. Sometimes, he tunes in to hear book segments at night.

"Life would be a lot less pleasant without it," he said.


Charles Sidney can usually be found listening to Radio Eye on Sunday afternoons when he comes home from Pilgrim Baptist Church.

"Sometimes, I have it and the police scanner on at the same time, and listen to both," Sidney said with a laugh. "I enjoy listening to it."

Sidney can't remember what day he lost his sight, only that it was roughly two and a half years ago.

He had cereal for breakfast, brushed his teeth, got dressed, and headed down the steps of his small Lexington home on Greenwood Avenue.Stepping along the narrow, broken sidewalk, he eased into his Lincoln Town Car. He turned the key and shifted into drive, but something was off.

He couldn't see.

He'd only gotten partially in the road, so he backed into his driveway and got out. He felt his way along his chain-link fence, crossed the yard, carefully walked back up the steps and made his way into the house.

Sidney, now 61, never drove again.

"One thing, my most important thing, is not driving," Sidney said. "I missed that the most - being independent and going where I wanted to go."

Sidney still pays his car insurance and keeps the tank full. With the help of a driver, he runs errands for himself and his friends.

After losing his vision entirely, everything he does is based on feel. After he brushes his teeth, he wipes down the entire sink to ensure it's clean.

Sidney said he wasn't taken completely by surprise at the loss of his vision; both his father and sister were blind. Both are dead now; his father died in 1960, his sister in 1998.

His only brother, Anthony Mundy, 48, lives with him now, along with a friend, John Haidy. Although Sidney can get around on his own, Mundy and Haidy assist him in tasks throughout the day, such as preparing his meals and driving him to church or helping him run errands for his friends.

"I like to help a man when he's in trouble," he said.

In September 1986, Sidney underwent surgery to remove his cataracts, which clouded the normally clear lenses in his eyes. Typically, the lenses are removed and replaced with artificial ones. Sidney had cataract-removal surgery again in 1998, but would ultimately still lose his eyesight.

"After (the doctors) told me, I just went along with it, because there wasn't anything I could do about it," Sidney said.

Now, he has just enough vision to tell the difference between night and day.

Newspapers - once a standard part of Sidney's day - kept landing on his doorstep, and now, Sidney didn't know what to do with them.

"(The newspapers) were piling up and I wasn't reading them," Sidney said. "It was a waste of time."

When Sidney told the carrier he didn't want the subscription anymore, the carrier asked if he had anybody to read to him.

"I don't want to put that burden on anybody," Sidney told the carrier.

And, partly thanks to Radio Eye, Sidney doesn't have to feel like a burden. He can listen to the newspaper and take in its current-events content whenever he wants.

"Ain't no shame in my game," Sidney said. "I can do anything; the only thing wrong with me is I just can't see."


Instead of playing with audio controls on a soundboard, McGuire now flicks just one switch.Instead of grabbing a microphone and scanning the day's headlines, he patiently sits and listens to someone else do the same thing.

But that doesn't bother McGuire.

"It was just a fact that I had to deal with," he said. "I knew it was irreversible. I can deal with things pretty well."

McGuire loves listening to the station and said it keeps him informed of many topics he wouldn't know about without reading the newspaper himself. But he doesn't rely on others to perform tasks that, for the most part, he can still do on his own.

McGuire sold his car when he moved to Richmond Place, an assisted living complex in Lexington. He often walks to his destinations, which include the Kroger in the nearby Man O' War shopping center.

"I don't mind it," McGuire said. "I can still see the cars."

Grocery shopping usually takes him longer than most customers, since he depends on items being in the same location as they were during his last visit. He reads labels with a magnifying glass that he carries in his pocket. But if he struggles, store employees are always willing to help, he said.

At home, McGuire uses more high-tech equipment than a magnifying glass. The Blue Grass Council of the Blind donated a magnifying device that allows McGuire to read text and see images on a monitor.

"I've been doing my taxes," McGuire said while clearing off the machine, which takes up most of his desk. "I can put the sports section under here and read it."

But reading tires McGuire quickly - he can usually get in about half an hour before the strain on his eyes is too much, preventing him from continuing.

That's when Radio Eye takes over.

"My wife could read to me, but you can't get it word-for-word on a daily basis," McGuire said.

And on a daily basis, people like McGuire and Sidney depend on the voices of Radio Eye to bring the outside world to life. "If we went off the air, it would not be available to these people," Chase said of the 16-year-old service.

"It would be quite devastating for people who have come to depend on us."

Ebay fanatic.

I've recently discovered ebay. Well, I knew it was there, I've bought stuff from it before, and sold some Ben Folds tickets online, but now I'm addicted.

I'm currently selling about 5 items on ebay. A guitar, some rock n' roll shirts, and some foot pedals for effects.

This blog was random, I'm sure.