World of information opens up to visually impaired


All seven Flemish newspapers are now offered in audio format for the visually impaired

Muntpunt library will offer audio newspaper free of charge

With a little help from Flemish newspaper distributors, press database Gopress and the government of Flanders, the non-profit Kamelego has begun offering all Flanders’ daily newspapers in audio format – a first.

Until now, only De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad were available as the Audiokrant (audio newspaper). Now, De Morgen, De Tijd, Gazet van Antwerpen, Het Belang van Limburg and Het Laatste Nieuws have also joined the initiative.

Kamelego president Jan Engelen is pleased with the growing list of partner publications. “This has been a long and cherished dream of our organisation and our readers,” he says. Originally founded in 1990 as the non-profit Braillekrant, the organisation began printing selected news articles from De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad in braille two years later.

Costly and time-consuming to produce, these braille publications have today been replaced by high-tech software that assembles press data from different sources and makes the entire content of a newspaper available in audio format overnight.

“We thank Pyxima, Sensotec and Gopress for guiding us through this technical evolution,” says Engelen. “This, along with support from the Flemish ministry of culture, has helped make our dream a reality.”

At the launch event at Muntpunt in Brussels earlier this week, Flemish culture minister Joke Schauvliege said that an audio newspaper is not just a dream but a fundamental right. “In Flanders, we believe that every individual has the same right to information, to develop critical opinions and to engage in societal conversations,” she said. “Now, with all Flemish newspapers joining Kamelego’s efforts, the door to this world of information has been opened to the visually impaired.”

Newspapers on the move

There are more than 100,000 visually impaired people (blind, partially blind or dyslexic) in Flanders. Michel Claeson, who is completely blind and was on hand at the launch of the paper, finds audio newspapers an important development. “Before, we had no access to the written news,” he says. “Now we can listen to entire newspapers.” 

We hope to add Flemish weeklies within the year

- Joke Schauvliege

While many devices support Kamelego’s Audiokrant software, Claeson’s personal favourite is the Plextalk, a pocket-sized device with a wi-fi streaming connection. “It is the easiest to use. Its voice-activated buttons help me navigate articles, and news content can also be sorted according to my preferences.”

Most importantly, Plextalk can be used on the move. Claeson can now listen to his newspaper like any other commuter on the morning train to work. “Especially when compared to surrounding countries where no such services are available, I think we can say that the Flemish government is making major strides for the visually impaired,” he says.

These strides are set to continue in 2014. “We hope to add Flemish weeklies within the year,” Schauvliege says. Smartphone and tablet applications will also eventually be released.

A yearly subscription to the Audiokrant with all seven Flemish papers costs €240 and is delivered every morning through a CD-ROM, email or via the organisation’s website. Those not ready or able to purchase a subscription can head to Muntpunt, which is offering the audio newspaper free of charge – the first public institution to do so.