“I turn on the radio and listen to news from all over the world!”
– Jan Stanko, MARRS listener and Board member
“There’s always another way.” That’s been Jan Stanko’s motto her entire life, even before she began to lose her eyesight to a congenital progressive eye disease more than 45 years ago.
At that time, she was a young bride and had just moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Tennessee with her husband Wayne. Her deteriorating eyesight threatened to leave her isolated because it meant she couldn’t drive. Equally devastating, it meant she couldn’t read and keep up with the news and current events as she always had.
A friend introduced her to Talking Books, available through the state library system. “It changed my life,” Jan says, recalling that the books were originally on 33-1/3 size records and would arrive at her house in a cardboard box. She got a weekly delivery of Newsweek magazine to keep her connected to the news, along with books. “I read more books in one year than I had all my life,” Stanko says.
As technology evolved, the large carton of 33-1/3 records became an envelope of three or four eight-inch ones. Stanko said the access to weekly magazines meant that, despite her failing eyesight, she could still stay in touch with the news of the day, and hold her own in conversations with others about current events. “That was fantastic!” Jan says.
After a year in Tennessee, the couple moved to Asheville, and Jan again connected with the state library to keep the Talking Books and news coming her way. She also made some important connections through a low vision support group that met at a downtown church. All these years later, that group is still going strong, having grown from 12 members at Jan’s first meeting to more than 10 times that now.
Among the members was Bob Brummond, who had started not only that group but also Regional Access Information Services (RAIS), the precursor to MARRS. When Bob told her about how she could get a special radio receiver to listen in, Jan was thrilled. “Give me that receiver,” she said. This helped her connect with her new city and keep up with all the news, and she often plays it in the background while she takes care of household chores.
Stanko’s motto also served her well when she, Bob and Judy Davis (a former MARRS Board member) persuaded a local theatre to acquire descriptive audio equipment, to accommodate those with low vision. She said Judy was a particularly strong advocate for having people with low vision be a part of decision-making about services, because they are the ones who know what will be most beneficial.
Jan embraces that same activism, both in her volunteer role as a member of the MARRS Board of Directors, and also throughout the community. When she meets others who are visually impaired she always makes sure they know about MARRS and provides information on how they can get a receiver.
And besides being on the Board, Stanko is an avid listener, often the first to call to report technical issues and make sure the service remains available.
“I have my ears, my nose, my fingers and my toes. Those are my other eyes.”
She knows how important these services are to those whose vision issues might otherwise isolate them. “I’m a people person,” Jan says, noting that she also has equipment that allows her to scan letters from her family and have them read to her by her computer – just one more way she is determined to stay connected to her community and the world around her.
“I have my ears, my nose, my fingers and my toes,” Jan says. “Those are my other eyes.”
Thanks to former MARRS board member Karen Vernon for writing this article.