IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Blind since she was a teenager, Joyce Davis still gets to enjoy a daily newspaper.
Davis, 67, of Vinton, listens each day to the Iowa Radio Reading Information Service, in which volunteers read aloud from nine Iowa newspapers and other publications including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sports Illustrated and Reader's Digest.
"When you can get the local paper, it's nice," Davis told the Cedar Rapids Gazette. "I just like the general things happening in the town. That is what is more interesting to me."
The Iowa Radio Reading Information Service, or IRIS, is a free service in which more than 300 Iowa volunteers read print information to more than 3,000 print-disabled listeners in Iowa. Listeners tune in through special radios provided by IRIS, over Iowa Public Television antennas or through podcasts or smart speakers, Executive Director Maryfrances Evans said.
Volunteers across the state read each morning from Iowa newspapers including The Gazette, Des Moines Register, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, (Fort Dodge) Messenger, Sioux City Journal, (Mason City) Globe Gazette, (Dubuque) Telegraph Herald, Ames Tribune and the Daily Nonpareil, based in Council Bluffs.
Mary McCarthy, 66, of Coralville, and Gale Kolbet, 76, of Iowa City, alternated reading local stories from The Gazette Dec. 17 at a studio in the Iowa Public Radio office in Iowa City.
They start with the weather, followed by local news, opinion, obituaries, high school sports, Dear Abby, community stories and business.
When a story jumped from one page to another, McCarthy and Kolbet flipped with only the slightest pause, like a good pianist. There was also a tiny hesitation before a tricky name -- T.J. Juskiewicz, the former director of the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.
These human touches are one of the things listeners like about IRIS, as opposed to apps that use text-to-voice technology with computerized voices.
"It's just neighbors reading to neighbors," Evans said.
IRIS is a nonprofit organization with an annual budget of $175,000, Evans said. About $30,000 of that comes from the state, but the rest is in grants, she said. Listeners do not pay for the service, which ranges in cost from about $30 to $335, depending on what type of device is needed for the listener to get reception.