Jane Carlson, Director of Tri-States Audio Information Services (AIS), said she keeps a Helen Keller quote in her office: "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much."
And much has been accomplished through the years by the staff members, volunteers, and Western Illinois University students who have helped grow AIS, which is a regional reading service for the blind and other people with visual impairments.
AIS will celebrate its 40th anniversary on Tuesday, March 13. It broadcasts from Western’s campus and operates on subcarrier channels in conjunction with Tri States Public Radio.
“Tri-States Audio Information Services is an umbrella term for the services that we provide, which are the Radio Information Service, the Web Streaming Service, and the Personal Reader Service where we will custom-record any material that isn’t available in an audio format,” said Director Jane Carlson.
Carlson said planning for the service began in 1976 when Helen Wear, the first blind graduate of WIU, returned to Macomb after retiring from her teaching career at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired in Jacksonville. Wear knew Radio Information Services were springing up around the country and she began pushing WIU to add one. She was aided in her efforts by WIUM Station Manager E.C. “Tug” Haddock and Dr. Robert Milkman, Director of WIU’s Office of Instructional Technology.
“They wrote some grants and after a couple years of planning, the first broadcast was on March 13, 1978,” said Carlson.
“The core mission has not changed. In 1978 and now, our mission is to foster equal access to information for individuals with disabilities.”
Programs are broadcast on closed circuit radios and are streamed through the Tri-States Audio Information Services website. Closed circuit radios can be obtained free of charge from AIS by filling out an online application. They are also distributed at events such as senior fairs.
Carlson said the service has relied on volunteers since Day 1. Those volunteers along with students and staff members now produce around 100 hours of content every week, focusing on information from the region’s newspapers.
“That’s our bread and butter,” said Carlson.
She said AIS originally broadcast to all or parts of seven counties in west central Illinois. Now it covers all or parts of 20 counties in west central Illinois, southeastern Iowa, and northeastern Missouri.