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First Internet Web Radio Launched For Blind Users

A new internet radio set has been developed for blind and visually impaired listeners, allowing people to listen online to audio books, podcasts, talking newspapers and audio catalogues, as well as internet radio stations from around the world.

Manufactured by the charity British Wireless for the Blind Fund ( ), the ‘Sonata’ radio – claimed to be the first of its kind – was launched earlier this month, and allows users to listen to any streamable, unlicensed internet audio feed.

Designed to be as simple as possible to use, the Sonata is controlled entirely with five buttons. When connected to broadband internet, the radio contacts a server in Holland to allow readers to choose from a current list of available radio stations and podcasts.

Although built primarily for blind and visually impaired users and available to such users on free permanent loan, the Sonata is also suitable for other users, said Fiona Fountain, head of fundraising and information for the BWBF. “It’s so simple to use that anybody who has limited mobility – for example, older people with poor manual dexterity – or people who may not use computers can use it”, she said.

Fountain said the radio has other potential applications, as it has the potential to broadcast messages to other Sonata users such as news of other radio services. “The BWBF could record its own message to tell people about a new service on Sonata,” said Fountain. “This means we can do it live, without having to write a letter, get it Brailled, or use large print or CD format, and then post it out, as we’ve had to do in past.”

The concept for the Sonata originates from Holland, where churches used the system to enable the home-bound to listen in to their local church service. The company responsible for developing the product, Solutions Radio, realised it had wider applications and approached the BWBF to develop it for the UK market. For those not qualifying for a loan, the Sonata costs £299 with a further one-off activation charge of £52.


  1. Delilah | November 27th, 2009 | 5:35 pm

    I read this article with great interest, but cannot find anything on the entire that these devices are on loan free to blind people, It states that if you are registered blind or visually impaired you do not have to pay VAT. Otherwise the cost is £343.85 plus further annual charges of £25 each November.
    The about us page states that the sets are not cheap to ptoduce and they offer them to those that can afford them.

    Their website does not work in my preferred browser either. The accesibility pages only give instructions for IE and firefox, neither of which I like. This is disappointing from a blind charity.

  2. Tristan Parker | December 4th, 2009 | 5:53 pm

    Hi Delilah.

    Tristan from E-Access Bulletin here. Thanks for your comment.

    We contacted the BWBF to check the situation on loans of the Sonata for blind and visually impaired people.

    Here is their response:

    “Unfortunately the website hasn’t been updated to reflect the fact that it is now available on free permanent loan but it definitely is and if your reader is in receipt of a means-tested benefit and doesn’t have a set from us already then she might be eligible for one. I will chase on getting the website up to date.

    “As for the technical comments, this is disappointing to hear and a group is looking at the website at the moment so I will pass this on and hopefully it’s an issue that will be addressed sooner rather than later.”

    I hope this helps. If you want to pass on your contact details to us we’ll happily forward them to the relevant people at the BWBF so that they can contact you directly.

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