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In 1958 a young South African Railways clerk visited a sick friend in hospital. Able to do little else but lie motionless in his ward bed, the sick friend stirred in Jannie Venter an idea that would become the seed of Tape Aids for the Blind.

From this sudden flash of inspiration - to read onto tape a book for his immobile friend - the idea was conceived, to make recordings together with a group of tape recorder enthusiasts and to play them to patients confined to hospital beds for long periods.

Within days Jannie called on a blind lecturer, Professor Ken Mcintyre, later to become the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Head of the Department of Political History at the University of Natal, to talk about the possibilities of using tape recorders to provide 'reading' material for blind and visually handicapped people, or for those who, because of other disabilities or injuries, could not read the printed word.

Tape Aids was thus born

This embryo project was launched with very limited resources - but with a treasure chest of enthusiasm. A dream had come true - and what a nightmare it was! The early recordings in Jannie Venter's minute flat were continuously interrupted by traffic, domestic and urban noises, forcing the passionate - albeit amateur 'technicians' - to move to borrowed offices overlooking the Cenotaph in the centre of Durban.

Most of the hostile noises were thus eliminated - but reading had to be suspended every 15 minutes for the striking of the Post Office clock!

In 1959 Round Table No. 2 of Durban made a grant of £1 000. With this windfall, the infant organisation was able to rent a small suite of offices in Payne's Buildings in West Street. Three soundproof booths, each no larger than a telephone box, were constructed and reading commenced in a more sophisticated way. However, reading was still interrupted every quarter of an hour to give readers a 'breather' - as, while the booths were not entirely soundproof, they were almost entirely air-proof!

Tape Aids reached adolescence in 1962 with the rebuilding and air-conditioning of the studios and the organisation enjoyed the 'luxury' of uninterrupted reading in reasonable comfort. A comprehensive re-organisation ensured recordings of an acceptable technical standard, with speedier and more economical production and distribution.

A staff of six, who shared all odd jobs, from errands to despatch, and a handful of volunteers, continued to provide the free service to print-handicapped people throughout South Africa. From that time on, the organisation's growth - already remarkable - became substantial.

Tape Aids for the Blind