Lend Me Your Ears and I'll Read You the World

I’m worried that I won’t be able to keep doing my job with my chronic dry eyes.

When I took this job, I knew that a lot of reading would be involved, but I didn’t realize that my dry eyes were getting worse, and that I would have trouble coping.

What my job involves

The job involves working for a radio station which broadcasts articles from daily newspapers, read by volunteers. We read the newspapers live, in real time, from a professional broadcasting studio. There is no room for error; you must get things right the first time!

This service was designed to help anyone who can’t read a newspaper because of their vision problems. It also helps those who can’t hold a newspaper because of health conditions such as quadriplegia, muscular dystrophy, or Parkinson’s disease. Although there are many ways of accessing the news these days, there is something more personal about hearing the newspapers read to you, rather than listening to the news on television or radio or online.

Auditioning for the role

When I retired from teaching, I decided to apply for a position as a reader with this station, and I was asked to an audition. At this audition, I was on one side of a radio broadcasting console, with a senior person from the station on the other side. He showed me how to adjust my microphone and headphones and explained that I would be recorded. A panel of judges would later decide if my voice and reading style were appropriate.

A couple of recent newspaper articles were handed to me, plus a list of what seemed like the most often mispronounced words in the English language. Some of the words had their origins in French, so I blessed my high school language classes.

One of the articles was about the king of Thailand, who had just been married a few days prior. I wished he had left the wedding until after my audition, because his name and his wife’s name were very difficult for me to pronounce! I was quietly hoping that the correct pronunciation might also be a mystery to the chap on the other side of the console and the judging panel.

Air-conditioning blowing in my face

As I was reading, the air-conditioning was blowing straight onto my face, and my eyes were hurting. I had to ignore this, and concentrate on my tone of voice and reading speed and try to sound as professional as possible. Not to worry, I thought: if I get the job, I’ll do something about the air-conditioning.

In a couple of weeks, I was told that I had been successful, and I was asked to come in for training on the equipment and the organization’s policies and procedures. I started reading and broadcasting on a regular shift soon afterward and loved the challenge it provided.

When Covid is not about, we have two readers and one announcer. The most important and interesting articles in the paper are divided between the readers, and we may have a few minutes to glance through them. After my audition experience, I always hope no one with an unusual name has done anything newsworthy the day before!

Getting through work with dry eyes

I take a small arsenal of supplies into the studio to help me get through the session with my dry eyes. Once you’re in the studio, there’s no going out until the program is over. My supplies include eye drops, nose drops, tissues, cough lollies and paracetamol (just in case). My drinking water is in whichever container I am least likely to knock over and ruin the electrical equipment.

This is not enough, though. We are in there for a couple of hours, and the two other presenters like to have the air-conditioning quite cold (in the summer) and on a very high fan setting. I try to sneak in beforehand and turn the settings down and turn the blades away from my side of the console. Often, one of them adjusts things back to the way they were, so that’s not always a solution.

Not always easy to manage

I have explained to the others about my dry eyes, so they understand what’s happening when, between articles, I’m putting drops into my eyes. I need to be quick, though, because the drops leave my eyes a bit blurry for a while, and there’s no way I can read the small print of a newspaper unless my eyes are perfectly clear.

I also have macular degeneration, so I need bright light, but bright light is sometimes uncomfortable with chronic dry eye, so the working environment is difficult to manage.

Trying to make it easier

The organization knows about my eye issues, and I’m sure they would try to make reasonable adjustments for me if I asked, but I can’t expect them to get a new air-conditioning system. They are looking for new premises, however, and have asked for suggestions to make the working environment more accessible for people with any form of disability. This is a good opportunity for me to mention the lighting and the air-conditioning problems.

I love to think of our listeners enjoying their daily news being read to them, and I get a lot of satisfaction and challenge from this job. We’ll probably transition to reading from digital newspapers in the future, and then I’ll be able to adjust the brightness and other display options on the screen to make it easier to read with chronic dry eye.

Until then, I’ll just have to make sure I don’t leave my drops at home and try to keep out of the breeze. I want to be able to keep doing this job for quite a while to come.

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