Success Story: Benny Meier

Meier holds up one of the digital cartridges that contains the audio book from the library

Oklahomans who can’t use standard print enjoy free audio books from State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

For people who love to read, a disability that blocks access to books is a life-changing event – and not in a good way.

“Reading for myself was the thing I missed the most after I lost my vision,” Benny Meier said.

Always an avid reader, Meier now gets audio versions of his books and magazines free of charge from the Oklahoma Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (OLBPH) in Oklahoma City.

“The library for me has been a godsend – a tremendous blessing to a person who is blind or visually impaired,” Meier said. “We can keep up with what’s going on in the world through books and magazines just like people who can see them.”

OLBPH circulates reading materials, along with special playback equipment, to more than 4,000 Oklahomans who have difficulty using standard print due to blindness, visual impairments, reading disabilities or physical limitations. The materials are delivered at no charge by postage-free mail.

Library programs in Oklahoma are administered by Visual Services, a division of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). The special library services are affiliated with the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, which is part of the Library of Congress.

“We have 60,000 book titles, roughly equivalent to a medium-sized public library,” Library for the Blind Director Paul Adams said. “Our audio books are prepared in a special format that can’t be played on standard players, so that only those unable to use standard print get free audio books.

OLBPH’s local recording studio produces audio books and local magazines by Oklahoma authors and those with an Oklahoma connection and a free Internet radio service called Oklahoma Talking Information Service (OTIS) with access to programming 24 hours per day.

More About Benny Meier

Originally from Shattuck, Meier wanted to be a big league baseball player like his childhood idol, Mickey Mantle. The eye disease retinitis pigmentosa damaged Meier’s retina causing gradual vision loss that led him to DRS’ Visual Services employment program.

Meier’s first Visual Services counselor Jerry Dunlap, later the first DRS state agency director, got him set up with the Library for the Blind in 1966. At that time, Meier endured cracks and pops on phonograph records and later listened to as many as 10 cassettes for each book.

Benny and his wife Angela, a visitor to the U.S. from Mexico, married in 1968 and supported their family with increasing responsibilities at several jobs. He retired from the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Oklahoma City in 1997 after a 31-year career as an x-ray film processor.

Meier’s wife Angela retired the year before after 25 years as a library technician for the Library for the Blind. She often brought home books by Meier’s favorite authors, including Louis Lamour, Tom Clancy, Iris Johansen, David Valduchi and John Sanford.

How Library Services Work

Every other month, the National Library Services sends patrons a recorded list of book titles in 60 categories. Meier gives his list to Angela, who completes and forwards the order to a librarian assigned to assist each patron.

Meier, who follows sports news – especially baseball -- in five or six newspapers each day, phones in toll free to the National Federation of the Blind Newsline, a free, national newspaper reading service hosted by OLBPH in Oklahoma.

Patrons may also search, request and reserve reading materials online or download thousands of titles from the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) on the OLBPH website at http://www.library.state.ok.us

The national Library of Congress is transitioning their National Library Service for Blind and Physically Handicapped program from audio cassette to a new digital audio format capable of greatly improved audio quality and storage capacity.

The audio cartridges are portable memory storage devices designed to resemble cassettes. That shape is familiar to most patrons and easy to handle. One unique feature is a hole in the center big enough for a finger to conveniently dip in to remove cartridges from the players.

Most Oklahoma patrons still have both the cassette and digital audio players, ensuring that they have access to books prepared in both formats.

“One digital cartridge can hold dozens of hours of reading material where you would need multiple cassettes to get that same information,” Meier said, “The digital format is just more convenient, easier to handle and the audio quality is very good – no static, no popping, no distortion. It’s very clear.”

The Library of Congress expects to have all book titles translated to digital formats so that cassettes can be phased out completely by 2015.

“I encourage people to try the library’s program and see if you like it,” Meier said, “ You don’t have to stay seated. You can take your player with you wherever you go.”

To get more information or to apply for services, contact the Oklahoma Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped toll free at 800-523-0288. Those who have hearing disabilities may call on the TTY/TDD line at 405-521-4672. Application forms are available on the Library’s website at http://www.library.state.ok.us or email may be sent to Library@drs.state.ok.us.

Release Date: 2012