I.A.A.I.S. - The International Association of Audio Information Services

“Supporting Print Accessibility Through Audio Technology”

Margaret Pfanstiehl of the
Metropolitan Washington Ear
Receives IAAIS C. Stanley Potter Award

June 7, 2003

Presented by Bill Pasco of Sun Sounds of Arizona,  representing IAAIS


The C. Stanley Potter Award is the highest award bestowed by IAAIS. It is not presented lightly. It is not necessarily awarded at all. This award is presented to recognize and honor outstanding contributions to the Audio Information industry by an individual, group or organization.

C. Stanley Potter is generally viewed as the father of radio reading and one of the pioneers in the field of information access for disabled people. C. Stanley Potter was the first president of IAAIS, and the first recipient of the award which bears his name.

Margaret Pfanstiehl has been on the cutting edge of the information access movement almost as long as the movement has existed.

Margaret is the founder and president of the Metropolitan Washington Ear which was one of the early organizations to launch a radio reading service in the 1970s. Margaret, who is blind, has always had an acute awareness of what could and should be done to make information access, in its various guises, a normal part of everyday life for the print-disabled community.

The Washington Ear pioneered many of the innovations in radio reading which are now taken for granted among radio reading stations in general. The Ear was the first reading service to go beyond pure reading to a passive audience to introduce the concept of what we now might call “continuing Education” using the radio station as the instructor, and providing companion Braille documents to go along with the class room learning.

The Ear was one of the first reading organizations to recognize that reading services have an obligation to be activist organizations promoting the independence of print-disabled people through information access.

Margaret was one of the founding members of the organization we now call IAAIS. At the time it was called ARRS or Association of Radio Reading Services. It was during a Washington D.C. conference hosted by the Ear and Margaret, that the organization came into being in 1977. She was an early board member and officer for the Association helping to create much of the Associations philosophy and infrastructure which were built on to bring us to the organization we have today.

Margaret’s work and vision didn’t stop with pioneering radio reading however. In the mid 1980s when the concept of dial-up reading services was first introduced, she was one of the first and most outspoken advocates of the concept. She launched one of the first dial-in systems in the country. At the time IAAIS was hesitant to embrace this new “threatening” technology. Margaret recognized both its potential, and the fact that it was not a threat, but an enhancement and improvement on existing reading systems. She was willing to defy the IAAIS hierarchy, and organized a group of dial-in services. This strong action was instrumental in IAAIS adopting dial-in service as a viable means to provide information access. This activity proved to be the crack in the dike which allowed IAAIS to begin to view information access as the end and radio reading as only one tool of providing it. This lead to the embracing of many different technologies which could provide various forms of information access.

Again, not being content to sit on her laurels, Margaret herself pioneered another one of these variations in the field of information access. She introduced the idea of Audio Description.

At first, it had nothing to do with television. But rather, she began organizing and training people to provide description in the live theater. The idea rapidly jumped from that fairly limited application of description to television, museum and movie description. Margaret’s methods were adopted by many other organizations across the country not the least of which was WGBH the primary proponent and producer of descriptive video.

Margaret has remained active, and tirelessly worked for ever increasing access to video. Though the recent court ruling against the FCC can be viewed as a set back, she was instrumental in getting the FCC to mandate video description. Though Margaret has at times been inside and directly involved in the IAAIS, she has also often had to be outside and sometimes at odds with the establishment of IAAIS because her activism demanded it. For this reason, she has been overlooked as a candidate for the Potter award for far too long. There are not many who have worked so long and so hard, and been so effective in expanding the horizons of information access. From radio reading, to dial-in service, to descriptive theater and descriptive video, she has been at the vanguard, leading the way in the fight to provide information access and a more independent life for print-disabled people everywhere.

For all of these reasons, it is my great honor and pleasure, to present the 2003 C. Stanley Potter Achievement Award on behalf of IAAIS to Margaret Pfanstiehl.


© June 4, 2003