A Mac-based solution is helping blind and partially sighted users across the North West.

Based in Blackpool, the Blue IRIS service is dedicated to helping people access information.

The service offers visually impaired users audio streaming content, such as newspapers, magazines and its own Visual Impairment News. Effectively it's talking books that are available online. The service is 100 per cent Mac-based, but supports Windows users, too.

Blue IRIS is a non-profit making concern that is run by the Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Blind Society (BFWSB) and was funded by the digital development agency. It works in partnership with Ultralab, Rural Surround, Blackpool Council and Interface ITS.

Kevin Winkley, chief executive of the society, explains: "We secured funding originally to explore innovative ways to use the internet. We already issue talking newspapers as cassettes. We were looking for an alternative form of delivery, so we are exploring streaming content online."

The advantage Blue IRIS has above other streaming services is it's built-in ability to gather statistical information from end users.

Winkley stressed the importance of his charity to the UK, which has five million blind or partially sighted people. He observed that his local area, Blackpool, has a particular need for such supporting services, as 2.4 times the national average of blind or partially sighted people are resident there.

BFWSB also maintains the Princess Alexandra Home for the Blind Residential Care Home, a resource and rehabilitation centre, an audio book club, transcription services, a community centre and two charity shops.

Winkley explained that the wholly Mac-based project is looking for new funding to help it set up new services for mobile phones to complement its existing internet and iPod streaming services.

Meanwhile he stressed: "Our service is now available to all visually impaired people. Please come along and give it a try."