By Suzanne Wilson
Most of the time, LAB’s program for blind and visually impaired adults meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:00 am until noon. However, we took a walk on the wild side and departed from the norm a couple of months ago on Friday, March 15. Why, you ask. Were we commemorating the assassination of Julius Caesar? Were we having a pre-St. Patrick’s Day blow-out? While both of these are certainly legitimate reasons—particularly the latter—our departure from the norm had everything to do with our special guest, Gayle Yarnell.
If Gayle’s name sounds familiar to you, it is probably because she has been involved in the field of technology and reading access for blind, visually impaired, and print impaired people on the North Shore since the late ‘80s. Gayle is herself a regular user of numerous forms of assistive technology, including but not limited to the many services offered through the Braille and Talking Book Library. She is the mother of three grown children and the grandmother of four. If they hadn’t already known it, the 15 program participants who crowded into the office that morning soon learned just what an excellent speaker and fund of knowledge Gayle is.
The story begins way back in 1978, when Gayle moved to Massachusetts to take a job at Kurzweil, a company which produced the first reading machine for the blind. The inaugural models weighed at least 50 pounds and were anything but portable; however, they paved the way for the amazing technology of today. For about eight years, Gayle worked for that company, and then moved on to do technical support and then sales at Telesensory Systems, another giant in the field. Then in 1994, she took a leap and started her own business, known as Adaptive Technology Consulting, located in Salisbury, MA.
“I got to do things the way I liked and hire the people I wanted,” she explained. “It was a great company.” For the next 14 years, the business prospered and Gayle’s name and reputation for excellence became known throughout the North Shore.
All good things must come to an end though, and Gayle chose to sell her company to Perkins in 2008. It is now known as Perkins Products. Until the summer of 2012, Gayle remained as a part of the firm to help with the transition. Then opportunity knocked once again.
These days, Gayle has become an ambassador for the Braille and Talking Book Library by virtue of a grant. Thanks to this support, she is now able to travel far and wide throughout the North Shore to spread the word about the library’s various offerings. In some ways, it “has been a struggle,” Gayle conceded. Many of the senior centers, residential facilities, councils on aging and libraries that she approaches are hesitant to hear her presentation, probably under the mistaken impression that her goal is to sell products. In spite of these obstacles, she still manages to do about three presentations a week. In particular, she has found support groups for people with Parkinson’s disease to be receptive to this information. After all, the Braille and Talking Book Library provides materials and services not only to those with vision loss, but also to people who cannot read for other reasons, including learning and physical disabilities.
“The other piece that we really have been explaining to people is that everybody knows about the talking books . . . and the players. But they don’t necessarily know that there is a huge collection of large print books that are delivered in the same way through the mail at no cost,” Gayle stated. “And they don’t always know about Newsline.” As it turned out, some of our attendees were also unaware of some of these resources, particularly Newsline.
This free service enables subscribers to listen to magazines, newspapers and television listings read by a synthesized voice, either over a land line or mobile phone. Functions within Newsline enable subscribers to save their favorite publications, search by subject and skip by section, article or paragraph. In addition, the TV listings section describes what all local and cable channels are offering by time and date, also letting the subscriber know which shows are audio described.
Anyone listening to Gayle’s presentation will tell you that she is passionate about audio description, a technology that places verbalized description within a DVD or broadcast program. As a result, someone who is blind can understand nuances of action that are not spoken. “While you’re actually watching the process of the movie, it’s really nice to have it just be you and the movie and not somebody else deciding when they think it’s something they should tell you,” Gayle explained. To illustrate, she played a short segment from “Gunsmoke,” a well-known Western television series. Even in that two or three-minute clip, the added narration enhanced listeners’ understanding of the plot of the show without compromising the dialogue. The Braille and Talking Book Library offers its patrons the ability to borrow DVD’s with descriptive video at no charge, mailed directly to their homes. Hard copies of the catalog are available from the Library upon request. Alternatively, patrons can call and speak to a staff member to find out what is available. Selections are being updated on a regular basis. In conclusion, Gayle shared information about a resource called the Blind Mice Movie Vault, available free over the Internet, that enables members to download the audio portion only of described movies and television shows to their own computers.
If you would like to speak to Gayle directly to ask a question or schedule a presentation to your group, she can be reached at 978-973-7188 or at the Braille and Talking Book Library at 617-924-3434. All of those who attended her discussion were impressed by the depth of knowledge and understanding of the full spectrum of adaptive technologies available today. Chances are, this will not be the last time Gayle is asked to grace us with her presence and valuable information.