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Success Story

Written by Lance Blas, Rehabilitation Teacher, Iowa Department for the Blind


Sandi Ryan grew up in Nevada, Iowa.  She was a very curious young girl with a passion for reading.  She also happened to be blind, so this passion was at grave risk of becoming a major frustration.  The school and public libraries only had print books, and Sandi needed Braille or recorded books.  Sandi’s mother wanted to help her daughter drink in the magic of reading and to experience everything that can be found in the world of books, so she started to investigate their options.  Fortunately, this search soon lead to the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB), home to the regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

“As a 10 year old fourth grader, it was always a big deal to travel to the big city” (Des Moines), Sandi recalls.  She made that trip one day with her mother and embarked on an adventure that would last a lifetime.  “I couldn’t believe how many books were here at this wonderful place.  I picked out a book with the help of the librarian and found a place in the middle of all the books, sat down, and started reading.  I remember thinking to myself that I want to live in a library all the rest of my life.”

Sandi signed up to receive audio books in the mail.  Talking books at this time in the early 1960’s were records.  She remembers the records being heavy and playing at 33 1/3 RPM.  “The record players themselves were bulky square machines that had wonderful sound. The biggest problem with the records was the scratches.  They would snap, crackle, pop, and often skip in the best places where you wanted to hear the words the most.”

In the beginning, Sandi would order a long playing record with the help of her reader’s advisor and it would take up to 10 days to get it.  In the late 60’s the records became smaller and were able to hold more information.  Cassette audio books began being produced in the mid 70’s.  “I thought I was in heaven.  The cassette player was so much smaller than the record player. The cassette books could be carried in one’s pocket, and with the cassette having four tracks, I could listen to one book for hours.  I would order a book and it would come in the mail in just three to four days in a smaller more manageable container.  From what I can remember, David Copperfield by Charles Dickens was on 36 records and at this time it could fit on just 10-11 cassettes. It was so much easier to store the books and carry them around.”

“In my college career, I relied on the IDB Library to produce my text books in accessible formats on cassette and in Braille.  The talented Braillists even created charts and pictures for me in a raised image that helped me to understand the material.”  Sandi considers herself to be a “visual” learner, so being able to touch tactile representations of what was being taught in the audio text was a valuable learning tool.  These services are still available to students through the library at the IDB. 

Sandi attended Iowa State University where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Dietetic and a Master’s Degree in Human Nutrition.  After college Sandi worked as a licensed dietician for the Department of Public Health.  She continued to use the IDB Library.  “When teaching people about nutrition and good health skills, I was able to get nutrition, health, and cook books from the library in formats that I could access.  This really was an important part of the way that I was able to teach and better the lives of the clients that I worked with.”

“The idea that blind people don’t read and enjoy the same books as everyone else was as wrong in the 70’s as it is now.  I have always wanted to stay up to date on current events.  My Reader’s Digest Magazine would come in the mail and it would be a month behind the issue that my sighted friends were reading.  They would ask me if I had read an article in the latest issue and I would have to say ‘No, I won’t get that article until next month.’  I felt left out.  Now I get the same current issue of the magazine when my sighted friends get it and when someone asks if I have read a story, I can confidently say ‘Yes!’ and we can discuss the story.

Technology has made access to written materials for blind people much easier and more timely.  Sandi remembers Braille books taking three years or more to become available after being published in print.  Tapes were available sooner, but she still had to wait nearly 18 months for the recorded version of a recently published book. Now, audio books are often available within six months of the release of a print book.  Sandi is a frequent visitor to the web site of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped ( where she is able to browse and download new releases. She also uses the IDB on line Library Link to order books.  She says “I have so many more choices now because of technology.  I am able to download books and now magazines on a thumb drive or cartridge using my own computer.  Several books and magazines can fit on one of these devices.”  She enjoys magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Diabetic Forecast, and Cooking Light. 

Sandi also participates in a book club that is hosted by the IDB.  Five to seven people read a selected book each month and then discuss it via a telephone conference call.  Sandi is able to download book club selections on to a cartridge so she can have a library of these books on one single device that is smaller than a deck of cards.  Pretty cool stuff!  While Sandi enjoys being able to download her own books, it is good to know that IDB library staff stands ready to provide this service upon request.

Sandi has benefited from the experts in the library.  She says “Back in the beginning I worked very closely with my reader’s advisors to find and order books.  Now I download most of my books on my own.  Reader’s advisors are still an excellent resource for me whenever I have questions. They are very helpful.  Reading and the library are as important to me today as the first day that I discovered both, but much more satisfying now because books are available in many forms and much more quickly than in the beginning.  Having books accessible to me has made an impact in my life.  From “Horton Hears a Who” to “Thunder Dogs,” these books have provided good words to live by.”

One final note, Sandi Ryan volunteers as a Braille proofreader for the IDB Library. She makes sure that all of the words are in the right place and spelled correctly before they go into the Braille collection.  So much of the work to keep the library going is done by volunteers, and they are greatly appreciated by staff and borrowers alike.