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The Metropolitan Washington Ear

What is it?

Established in 1974, The Metropolitan Washington Ear, Inc., is a nonprofit organization providing reading and information services for blind, visually impaired, and physically disabled people who cannot effectively read print, see plays, watch television programs and films, or view museum exhibits. Ear’s free services strive to substitute hearing for seeing, improving the lives of people with limited or no vision by enabling members of their families, their communities and the working world.

Who listens?

Though many Ear listeners and callers are young, as the population ages there are more and more people with visual limitations restricting their ability to use ordinary print or TV, films, museums, exhibits, etc that fully sighted people take for granted.

Ear listeners are a true cross-section of our population: homemakers, workers, students, retired persons, individuals in nursing homes and institutions, recovering patient in hospitals who can’t hold newspapers or books…in short, anyone with difficulty reading or seeing.  But there are thousands more in Virginia, D.C., and Maryland who would use the Ear services if only they knew about them.

Who is eligible?

The Washington Ear’s services are available to anyone certified as unable effectively to read ordinary print because of visual or physical limitation.

Who provides the money?

The Washington Ear’s operating budget comes in part from local political jurisdictions and two states in partial payment for services rendered. The remainder (funds for the special receivers, equipment, etc.) must be raised from private sources.

What can you do?

If you know someone who could use any of our services, please ask them to call the Washington Ear at(301) 681-6636 or go to our website:

If you are visually or physically impaired, call or go to our website to learn how you can benefit from these FREE services.

Volunteer to read or assist in many other ways.

Make financial contributions-any size.

Dial-in Newspaper and Magazine Reading -  Free, 24 Hours a Day, Every Day

This services enables visually and physically disabled individuals to “read” (hear) the morning paper (and yesterday’s paper), plus selected other publications, any time of day or night, seven days a week. Using only their own touch-tone telephones, they can access the available publications whenever they choose to do so.

How does Dial-in actually work?

With their touch-tone telephones, caller can choose dozens of categories, go from article to article, skip and scan, jump forward and backward, and browse much as sighted people do. They control the speed and volume of volunteer reader’s record voices. Many use convenient speakerphones and call waiting, Individual ID number allow access only to eligible caller: there is free telephone access throughout Maryland, DC, and Virginia. The toll-free lines are provided by the State of Maryland and Virginia.

Radio Reading and Web Cast - Free, 24 Hours a Day, Every Day

Washington Ear’s pre-tuned radio receivers are loaned without charge. Heard across the Washington metropolitan area, Fredrick, and Hagerstown through the donated use of a subcarrier channel of WETA-FM. EAR volunteers read selections from more than 200 current publications-national and local newspapers, magazines, and best-selling books. Included is special interest information covering consumer concerns, general and grocery shopping, home management, sport, music, the arts, business, world affairs, health, and aging the broadcast is also on our web site and is archived for four weeks.

Audio Description

The late Dr. Margaret Pfanstiehl, Washington Ear’s Founder, and her late husband Cody developed the art and technique of Audio Description in 1981. They have trained many describers here and abroad in the art of “talking pictorially” to make theater, television, films, museums and exhibits accessible to people with little or no vision.

For Live Theater

During pause in the dialog via a small ear piece in one ear, low-vision or blind patrons hear a trained volunteer describe the stage action-body language, costumes, scenery, lighting, color-as if a friend were seated next to them, and without bothering other nearby. After purchasing a theatre ticket, audio description is a free service for selected performances in the Washington area, including those at Arena Stage, the national, Hexagon, Ford’s Shakespeare Lansburgh and Sidney Harman Hall, Round House, Olney, and others. Call The EAR for more information.

For Television

In 1990 the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded an Emmy to Ear founder “Leadership and persistence in the development and implementation of television for the visually impaired”. Some audio-described programs are available on broadcast TV and cable: Call or visit our web site for details. More and more libraries stock described videos.

For Films, Videos, Exhibits

The Ear has produced audio description to make documentaries, museums, IMAX films, and indoor and outdoor exhibits accessible to people who are visually impaired. We have also trained audio describers for these venues.

Concert Programs

National Symphony and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra program notes are available in advance of performance on out telephone dial-in service.

Tactile, Large Print Atlases

In 1985, the Washington Ear produced the first-ever Braille/raised-line/large print atlas of an entire state, Maryland, accompanied by historical, demographic and geographic data on 3 voice-indexed audio cassettes. The Washington Ear also produced a Greater Washington Area raised-line and large-print atlas containing 14 maps and 250 entries.

Look-up Service

From 7 pm to 9 pm, volunteers look up items from the yellow pages and Washington Post classifieds, as well as stock quotes and sports statistics.