Mass Media Not so Massive
Media is a Challenge for the Deaf and the Blind.
Have you ever heard of dactylic rhythm? Do you know how papers in Braille are printed? Would you like to watch the video-articles in sign language? Welcome to our project.

Statistics from the Russian Society of the Blind (RSB) and the Russian Society of the Deaf (RSD) show that Russia has about 300,000 people with vision issues and about 90,000 with hearing problems. However, these are not true numbers. It's known that many are embarrassed because of their peculiarities or believe that they live well without registration in these state structures. The real quantity of blind and deaf people is much bigger.

We've tried to collect the information and describe the landscape of Russian specialized media for blind and deaf people. Here are several stories from those who produce and those who deal with them.
Through the Eyes of the Blind
New technologies are not as simple as they seem
Alexander Gurtovenko went blind at the age of 4 after a severe cold. He graduated from a special school for the blind and knows how to read Braille. However, he ignores specialized mass media because he thinks that there is a lot of propaganda, so he likes learning information from the Internet.

At first sight, he has no problems accessing news from the Internet. His computer has a voice program, JAUS, which voices the article text. Gurtovenko knows the keyboard perfectly. He has special program for email and can reread (by the voice program) what he has already written. Even the buttons are speaking! Even with this technology, it's not as simple as it seems.

Firstly, JAUS can't read pop-up windows such as "Are you sure that you want to leave the page?" or "Are you a robot?" Secondly, this program works in different ways depending on the browser and the website. Thirdly, there are graphic symbols on some sites which are buttons, and the program can't read it due to the lack of the text.

For example, Gurtovenko can't write on Twitter. The button to create a tweet is just a graphic symbol.
Moreover, JAUS and another similar program NVDA are constantly updating, so every time he wants to use to it, there is some new feature that he must learn to use.

When Gurtovenko realized that the mass media are not accessible for blind people, he went to work for the private radio-station RANSiS. It was there that he had the idea to combine his work and his favorite hobby – football. He began a blog about his favorite football team, Dinamo. The blog firstly featured on amateur forums and now appears on But this website, like all the others, is not suitable for the blind.
There are several specialized media outlets in Russia including radio for the blind, newspapers and magazines for the deaf and numerous blogs made by and for disabled people. While Russian mass media had a late start, they are doing their best to continue performing their functions.

Sounds for the Sightless
"Our radio is the most available source of information for the blind."
Ivan Onishchenko
Editor in Chief for RSB Radio
We don't touch upon politics and religion. In general, we're trying to hold on to the social thematic scope. Our main principle is to select information which would be interesting to blind people in the first place. For example, information concerning descriptive devices or advocacy of art by the blind and so on.

It won't be correct if we say that it's radio made by the blind for the blind. For members of RSB, we have regular listeners including children, relatives and friends of blind people.

There are 150-200 people listening to our live broadcast and about 7,000-10,000 which visit and listen during a week. The approximate number of visits in the archives is 11 million. We have the link to our podcasts in each online application used by our target audience. The most interesting subjects for our listeners are the usage of advanced technologies, software and special devices. We also have an application for Android.

As for the programs, they can be divided into 3 categories: education, like informational stories, the educational process and educators; immediate employment like jobs and positions which are available for blind people, and people related to this area, especially masters in fields unique for blind people; and leisure, like entertainment programs, shows and so on.

We've tried to create descriptive programs and it's arguably the most difficult thing of all. A person who can make certain points, who is able to connect with the blind, is needed. Today, the most popular technology is audio description, when special narrations are being recorded and a speaker describes what is happening on the screen. A lot of movies are in produced by the Culture and Sports Rehabilitation Complex (a department of RSB). Projects like Mosfilm, Live Hearts, and Russian Military Historical Society. We launch audio tracks which are supplied by audio description.
We invite a wide variety of people. For example, people with interesting jobs which can be performed by the blind. Different people come to the studio. Sometimes we ask our guests about their families, how they met, how they spend their free time, how they raise their children and so on. There are also programs concerning law issues, shows for young people and intellectual shows.

As for work with different regions, we've made it a long way. Early on, to find information the editor had to search on the Internet by means of key words. The most complicated problem which we're trying to overcome is the absence of information about events and people from informationally isolated regions.

Now, we're in the process of creating a network of regional correspondents. Moreover, the regional departments themselves are interested in coverage of their events.

Live broadcasting gives people the possibility to call and ask questions. When we launched 6 years ago, that was uncommon. But, we understood that it really helps to get a feedback. So, it's a platform for discussion. Recently we were provided with an ability for people to call from any region for free through the 8-800 number. Also, people are able to call us by Skype and the Android application.
There is 24-hour broadcasting on the station
There are 3 persons with sight disability in the staff: the editor-in-chief, programming director and sound engineer
One of the studios is universally equipped for both sighted and blind people. Journalists and guests can work there. There are also computers with screen readers and specially automated and programmed audio boards.
Our Life: a Magazine for the Blind
The magazine Our life in Braille
The monthly magazine was first published in 1924 as The Life of the Blind and in 1969 was renamed Our Life. It covers, like radio for the blind, specialized subjects such as problems of typhlopedagogy and ophthalmology, two specific types of sight issues, new laws and information about schools for the blind, employment of people with vision problems and so on. Moreover, since 1951, when the RSB refused subsidies from the state, Our Life has been writing on human rights.

The journal experiences high engagement from the readers, who write letters to the editors. They offer themes, characters and interesting stories. So, Our Life publishes poems about the blind, blind people's stories of success and requests on the invalid pension.

Time was passing, and the editors found that there were a lot of people who were interested in Our Life and had serious vision issues, but couldn't read Braille. It was decided to produce a regular printed version of the magazine. In 1956 the goal was achieved. It was found that the amount of people who couldn't read Braille was more than half of the visually impaired. The audience of the magazine has also increased due to usual readers which interact with blind and visually impaired people.

Nowadays, Our Life has a Braille edition, a regular print copy and an online version.

The deaf love when people speak their language - sign language.
Mikhail Veselov
Editor in Chief, TWD
The newspaper "Mayak," translated as lighthouse, was founded in 1987 and consisted of 6 pages. During this Soviet period, the magazine enjoyed financial support from the government. However, when the USSR collapsed and the economy suffered, the newspaper hit hard times.
In 1997 the paper was renamed to The World of the Deaf (TWD) and loosely supported by RSD. It began to express a general trend – that Russian deaf are special. They are underlining their uniqueness and independence from the world of hearing people.
Since 2012 the magazine has been financed by the Moscow Department of Social Protection. It has its own building which includes a TV-studio.

TWD writes about deaf people and people who support and are connected to them. Creators of hearing aids, for example. Sometimes the paper even attracts celebrity attention.
The TWD covers the lives, problems and news of the deaf: how they can work, get education, spend free-time, achievements, and more.

All information is distributed between the paper and the website. Basically, they duplicate each other but the print edition contains more factual articles while the website has room for more analysis. Also there are video-interviews, reports, and a largery quantity of news articles online.
Moreover, the TWD has special video-content for illiterate deaf people – they make videos in which an anchor translates articles from the print newspaper in sign language.
The World of the Deaf also has its own YouTube channel. The number of subscribers – 9200.
Periodicity – once a month
Circulation – 1000 copies
Volume – 12 pages
Price – free
Viktor Palenniy
Editor in Chief, VES
The magazine was first published in 1924, and since 1933 in its current form. Early on it was intended for people of hearing, including officials and educators through the stories ministries adopted resolutions concerning improvement of the quality of life, education and employment of the deaf. Now, it's not that clear.

From the one hand, we protect our rights and interests, publish some things with a hope that somebody will pay attention to it, especially on the Accessibility program which addresses with interpreters, quantity of subtitles and so on. But if we publish only this information, people won't read us.
Combining subjects, we're trying to include stories about deaf people who achieved something. We also cover problems concerning education. The relationships with them are complicated nowadays. We're writing about sports and theatre for the deaf, and about deaf artists and designers.

There were a lot of people in the staff including persons of hearing. The further time went on the less staff we had. Now, only disabled people are working here; and not even hard-of-hearing, only people who are completely deaf. In this respect we set a good example for others: deaf people also can work as journalists.

Regional departments write us by email. We have good relationships with them. Deaf clubs organize meetings with interesting people, concerts, they dance and perfom songs in sign language. Sometimes we're sent topical and conceptual articles, but sometimes we have to refuse publishing. But, it's very important to demonstrate that one region is succeeding in something and it would be a good example for others.
The number of employees - 5. All of them are deaf.

Periodicity – once a month
Circulation – 2000 copies
Volume – 32 pages
Price – 40 rubles
"The website exists about 10 years.
It's difficult to define specific criteria for selecting the materials. From the one hand, we cover issues of federal importance, publishing facts which are important to everyone. From the other hand, we get the news from regional departments and the most important thing for every article is to have flare.
We're writing about cultural life, theatres, new projects and competitions, telling the deaf where they can get good education. There are guest columns also.
We're keeping an eye on content, trying to take into consideration that deaf people like communication by sign language more. We're shooting, making subtitles, uploading it to the website. If we include video into an article, it should necessarily be accompanied by subtitles. That is the rule."

Tamara Shatula
Editor in chief, RSD website
Managers of specialized Russian media
have their own view on literacy and sources of news
Mikhail Veselov
Editor in Chief of TWD newspaper for the deaf
"I believe that a deaf person must read and write literately. In a perfect world there should be bilingualism.

We are observing an imbalance: the quantity of readers is decreasing every year. The Internet and YouTube continue their development. Sooner or later, people will make the switch."
Viktor Palenniy
Editor in Chief of VES magazine for the deaf
"Children are sitting and understand nothing. If gestures are used, then there will be the development. Sign language is catalizator, not the enemy. We agree with the point that the deaf should know Russian, we're on the same wavelength here. But they think if they allow sign language, then people will be illiterate."
Maksim Isayev
Director of the video studio DeafmosTV
"It's not deaf people who are to blame that they are illiterate. I communicated with lots of deaf, they are smart, but people don't want to understand them. They explain and show everything properly by means of their own language. If teachers would explain the theme with dactylic rhythm, children would assimilate better. But teachers don't know sign language and can't explain a lot of things."

There is no sign language interpretation on free Russian TV channels. The only option for the deaf is subtitles, but not all the time:
Programs with subtitles on Russian TV in percentage terms
Though the quality of life for disabled people has been improving consistently, they still have some difficulties with reading papers and books, listening to radio and watching TV.

The situation in Russian media is a valuable learning experience
for us and other countries alike.


Yulia Shamsutdinova (idea, text, photo, design)
Ekaterina Vinokurshina (video, text, graphic, design)
Justin Lawrence (editing)

Special thanks to:

- Alexander Gurtovenko;
- the team of RSB Radio;
- the team of TWD newspaper and website for the deaf;
- director of the video studio DeafmosTV;
- the team and interpreter of VES magazine and website for the deaf;
- the employees of Our Life magazine printing office.
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