Learning Ally Blog: Access and Achievement

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Now more than ever, people with learning and visual disabilities are flourishing in the classroom, launching productive careers and becoming assets in their communities. This blog spotlights remarkable individuals who demonstrate that having a visual or print disability is no barrier to educational success.


20/20 Vision in the Morning; Legally Blind in the Afternoon
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Nineteen-year old Shannah Linker can’t focus her eyes to read for longer than five minutes. After that, she can’t even get her eyes to look at the page, and experiences severe migraine headaches from trying to focus. Yet she is flourishing as a freshman at UCLA, and was also accepted to Cornell University and UC Berkeley. With help from RFB&D, Shannah is reading books for her “History of Modern Thought” course like Machiavelli’s The Prince, Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality and Locke’s Second Treatise of Government. How does Shannah cope? To begin to understand her journey, roll back to third grade. Shannah remembers being given homework that included filling in the different shapes of a picture of a train with different colors. “I saw lines, but no shapes,” she recalls. After hours of trying, her mom, Toni Poper, had to take Shannah’s hand and help her trace the shapes so she could see them, in order to finish her homework. (Mother and daughter are pictured below.) Toni Poper and her daughter Shannah Linker, an RFB&D member flourishing at UCLA Further frustrations came that year when the exceedingly bright Shannah scored low on her written social studies test, but aced the oral exam. When Toni found the written test in Shannah’s backpack, she noted that the pattern of her answers were nonsensical, or even written into strange places on the page. Staffers at Shannah’s elementary school were convinced that reactions toward her classwork, such as staring off into space and refusal to complete assignments, were symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). But Toni, like many mothers, listened to her gut instinct and took Shannah to an ophthalmologist. After many tests, Shannah was finally diagnosed with a vision disability called “accommodative and convergence insufficiency.” Having RFB&D helped me to get into the colleges I applied to.To explain this condition, Shannah uses the metaphor of doing pull-ups: “Eventually your arms get tired and you can’t do it anymore.” Toni explains that Shannah’s eyes tire more quickly while she’s doing something close up and involved, such as reading. “In the morning, Shannah could take an eye test and have 20/20 vision; but by early afternoon, she could take the test again and be legally blind,” she says. Toni battled the school district, which continued to believe that Shannah had a behavioral disorder. She eventually withdrew Shannah and started private home schooling, where they could properly address her eye problems. Several years later, Shannah wanted to try public school again, so she enrolled in high school. But she found the books denser, and the type smaller. She went back to home schooling until her mother found RFB&D through an Internet search. “Their library had almost all of Shannah’s current textbooks available in audio form. I realized RFB&D could really help Shannah’s situation, so I signed her up.” “This way I can read and listen to my textbooks at the same time," Shannah explains. "I’m able to tell when my eyes are fatiguing, and know if I am skipping lines or paragraphs in the book. Having RFB&D has helped me achieve – everything – to get into the colleges I applied to! And I’m very, very thankful to all of the volunteers. I graduated high school with a 4.65 GPA, and I’m now double majoring in physics and philosophy, at UCLA.” Shannah was recently awarded the Winslow Coyne Reitnouer Scholastic Achievement Award from RFB&D-Southern California, to add to the many awards she received upon graduating high school. Watch Shannah’s acceptance speech. And what about those books in her “History of Modern Thought” course? Shannah is listening to them all on RFB&D CDs.


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