Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of working in a profession dedicated to helping people is seeing the results of one’s work. In February, this space featured the story of Brian Meersma, a client of the Assistive Technology Center at Advancing Opportunities. Because of his dyslexia, school work was always a challenge for Brian. However, thanks to his own self-advocacy and the advocacy of his parents, when he was in 8th grade, Brian was able to learn about assistive technology that would help him; he tells his story in this video:
Not only did he succeed in high school and graduate, he has started his studies at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Although he has not yet decided on a major, he believes his coursework will give him the tools for a career in helping people with disabilities (probably in the area of assistive technology), finance, or human resources. This once self-described “terrible student” made the Dean’s List his first semester. And on April 18, he will be honored with one of six Marion Huber Learning Ally National Achievement Awards. Formerly known as the Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic, Learning Ally “offers the world’s largest collection of human-narrated audio textbooks and literature, as well as solutions, support and community for parents, teachers, and students.”
Brian has extended his self-advocacy to advocating for others with similar learning disabilities. In 2011, Brian started his own blog in 2011 to get the word out and help other students and their parents. That same year, he became the first student advisor on Bookshare’s National Advisory Board. Bookshare is a vast online library with accessible e-books that can be downloaded; in addition, other print material not in the library, such as a local paper, can be scanned and read back. The following summer, Brian started a reading group for children with learning disabilities. Through Decoding Dyslexia, parent advocacy group, he helped lobby the New Jersey State Legislature to pass three dyslexia-related bills to student screening and teacher training.
In addition to Learning Ally and Bookshare, Brian has found the following resources helpful:
- Kurzweil 3000, educational software with optical- and speech-recognition capabilities.
- Voice Dream Reader [http://www.voicedream.com/], is an Apple-based text-to-speech app.
- The world-famous Khan Academy that provides hundreds of free online courses and tutorials.
- Prizmo is scanning software with optical character recognition, for Mac
- Quizlet, an app for iOS and Android that creates virtual flashcards to help all students learn content vocabulary. The software company was started by a 15-year-old student in 2005 and is free to all.
- Inspiration Maps, an iPad –based tool that enables students to create visual organizers to aid in creating and understanding academic material.
- The Livescribe Sky WiFi Smartpen, a device that enables students to scan written or print text to a reading device.
Assistive technology has helped Brian help himself. Now, he is helping others like himself.