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.


Meet the 2020-2021 CSP Mentors Part 4
Two men in a booth having a conversation with the sun shining in. One man is facing the camera and the other has his back to it.

October 26, 2020 by Katie Ottaggio

Compiled by: Kristen Witucki, College Success Program Curriculum and Content Editor

The College Success Program is pleased to introduce our 27 Mentors for the 2020-2021 academic year, and what better time to do it than during Meet the Blind Month! Our Mentors represent a variety of interests, personalities, experiences, and knowledge. Read on to learn more about a few of them in Part 4 of this blog series and see if you have anything in common. You never know when or where a connection can be made!

This blog is the fourth in a 5-part series. You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

If you are a college student who is blind or low vision, and who is interested inworking with one of our Mentors, please email csp@learningally.org to begin the process!

Maureen Hayden, AKA Maureen the Marine Biologist
Education: BS in Marine Biology from the University of Rhode Island; MS in Biology from Walawala University; currently pursuing a PhD in Marine Biology from Texas A&M University

Maureen's doctorate research focuses on learning more about the impacts of plastic pollution on Texas beaches and marine life. Maureen was born with Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) and has no vision in her right eye and is legally blind in her left eye.

In her free time, Maureen enjoys playing her trombone in both symphonic band and orchestra ensembles, going SCUBA diving on the weekends, and spending time with family and friends. She is excited to share her experiences with blind students in higher education and to empower the next generation of blind persons pursuing STEM careers.

Meagan McComic
Education: BSW from the University of Texas at Austin

Meagan works as the assistant program coordinator at a transition program for 18-22 year old blind and visually impaired adults. Meagan is a mentor for both Learning Ally and the AFB Leadership Mentoring Program. In her free time, she likes to read, hike, camp, and spend time with friends and family.

Meagan likes to think of herself as a woman who just happens to be blind, rather than just a blind woman. Blindness has been part of her life since she was 16, but it's a very small part of who she is and she works hard to ensure that it doesn't stop her from accomplishing her goals in life. Meagan lives with her black lab, Rayven, and a roommate in Austin, Texas. One of her missions in life is to pass along valuable knowledge about living life in a sighted world as a happy, fulfilled member of society.

Megan Dausch
Education: BA in English, Spanish and French from Manhattanville College; MA in Language and Literacy from City College of New York

Megan is an advocate, a perpetual learner, teacher, cook and technology enthusiast who loves to read and write. She currently teaches adaptive technology. College is often a time of challenge, transition, and joyful exploration. Megan enjoy being a part of the College Success Program and supporting students through their journeys in higher education.

For Learning Ally, in addition to mentoring students, Megan co-facilitates one of the Mentor small groups.

Miso Kwak
Education: BA in Psychology, Education Studies and Disability Studies from UCLA; Ed.M in Education Policy and Management from Harvard University

Miso's work in mentoring students and advocating for disability policy is driven by her passion for equity and inclusion. Currently, her primary work is at the Human Services Research Institute, where she supports efforts to improve disability and aging policy across the United States. She is an aspiring educator and researcher, so she is thrilled to walk alongside blind college students through her work with Learning Ally. When she is not sitting in front of the computer screen, she can be found playing the flute, running, or going to various performing arts events.

Preston Radtke
Education: BA in Public Relations and Creative Writing from Ball State University; MA in Emerging Media Design and Development from Ball State University

Preston is a Web Accessibility Specialist at Rutgers University and a part-time lecturer in Rutgers's School of Communication & Information. Advocacy and equity are the driving passions behind his life and work. In his spare time, Preston enjoys traveling, listening to records, and playing with his Seeing Eye Dog, Burton.

To read the biographies of the rest of our mentors, click here.

Read More about Meet the 2020-2021 CSP Mentors Part 4

Meet the 2020-2021 CSP Mentors Part 3
Two men meeting over a laptop.

October 22, 2020 by Katie Ottaggio

Compiled by: Kristen Witucki, College Success Program Curriculum and Content Editor

The College Success Program is pleased to introduce our 27 Mentors for the 2020-2021 academic year, and what better time to do it than during Meet the Blind Month! Our Mentors represent a variety of interests, personalities, experiences, and knowledge. Read on to learn more about a few of them in Part 3 of this blog series and see if you have anything in common. You never know when or where a connection can be made!

This blog is the third in a 5-part series. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

If you are a college student who is blind or low vision, and who is interested in working with one of our Mentors, please email csp@learningally.org to begin the process!

James Boehm
Education: BA in Psychology from Middle Tennessee State University; MS in Mental Health Counseling from Vanderbilt University

James is a passionate leader and advocate who values collaboration and empowering others to reach their fullest potential. Through time and experience, he learned that his disability provided him the ability to serve and engage in opportunities that he would have never imagined! He entered college after fourteen years out of high school. He has served as an intern at The Tennessee Rehabilitation Center; at the center he worked with the blind, clients with traumatic brain injuries, and individuals with other disabilities. James started his own practice, Alliance Counseling, and now volunteers at The Refuge Center, a nonprofit counseling center.

James is quite active in many organizations, initiatives, and collaborations including: The Nashville Mayoral Council for People With Disabilities, American Foundation for the Blind, Vision Aware, National Federation of the Blind, National Alliance of Mental Health and many others. He also founded the Kustom Cane Initiative, which customizes canes for the blind and donates canes to blind people around the world who can't afford them.

James feels that with the proper tools, education, and supports, all individuals can live the life that they were created for. To unwind from his busy schedule, James enjoys time with his family, music, sports, and cooking.

Katherine Barba
Education: BA in Sociology from Manhattanville College

Katherine is currently working with people with disabilities and low-income families at a health advocacy organization in Yonkers, New York.

During her free time, Katherine likes to watch movies, go on walks, and spend time with family and friends. She has a passion for helping people with their life journey and is a great listener who is happy to help college students succeed in their higher education and social life.

Kinzey Lynch
Education: BS in Business Administration from Drexel University

Kinzey lives his life with the mindset that his lack of vision should never hinder his personal or professional growth. In college, while thriving in the classroom, Kinzey undertook 3 paid internships, spanning market research, communications, and enterprise marketing. He also served as President of Drexel's Rotary Interact Club, focusing on civic engagement throughout Philadelphia. Kinzey is a Client Relations Associate at Vanguard Investment Group.

In his free time, Kinzey enjoys long-distance running with Achilles International, an organization that provides guides for athletes with disabilities. He also enjoys pulling for any Philadelphia sports team, traveling, and spending time with friends and family.

Kristen Witucki, College Success Program Curriculum and Content Editor
Education: BA in English with a minor in German and certification in Secondary Education from Vassar College; MA in Giftedness from Teachers College/Columbia University; MFA in Creative Writing/Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College; Ed.M in Teaching Students who are blind or visually impaired from Dominican College

Kristen has been totally blind since birth due to microphthalmia. In addition to curating resources that she hopes students will enjoy or find useful, Kristen assists in the recruitment and training of mentors and co-facilitates one of the Mentor small groups. Outside of her work with Learning Ally, Kristen mentors for New Jersey's EDGE Program and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs and teaches braille for Vistas Education Partners. She is the author of The Transcriber, a book for adolescent emerging readers, Outside Myself, a young adult novel, and several shorter nonfiction articles. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, James, her sons, Langston and Noor, and her daughter, Karuna.

Liliya Asadullina, AKA Lily from Philly
Education: BS in Integrative Health Care from Metropolitan State University of Denver, LMT Academy of Massage Therapy and Bodyworks

Lily was born in a small town in Russia and was diagnosed with a rare eye cancer called Retina Blastoma at age two. She and her mother immigrated to the United States so that she could receive better medical treatment.

Currently, Lily lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and works as a massage therapist. She enjoys being a resource for mentees and loves to see each student grow. Some of her hobbies include swimming, reading, meeting new people, and listening to country music.

To read the biographies of the rest of our Mentors, click here.

Read More about Meet the 2020-2021 CSP Mentors Part 3

Meet the 2020-2021 CSP Mentors Part 2
Two women sit in conversation at a table in front of a large window.

October 19, 2020 by Katie Ottaggio

Compiled by: Kristen Witucki, College Success Program Curriculum and Content Editor

The College Success Program is pleased to introduce our 27 Mentors for the 2020-2021 academic year, and what better time to do it than during Meet the Blind Month! Our Mentors represent a variety of interests, personalities, experiences and knowledge. Read on to learn more about a few of them in Part 2 of this blog series and see if you have anything in common. You never know when or where a connection can be made!

To read Part 1 of this blog series, click here.

If you are a college student who is blind or low vision, and who is interested in working with one of our Mentors, please email us at csp@learningally.org.

Caitlin Mongillo
Education: BA in English and Secondary Education from Manhattanville College; MSW from Stony Brook University

Caitlin is a social worker and program director at an unemployment agency in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Currently, she works with people with disabilities and homeless families; helping them access training, resources and education in order to help them attain steady employment.

Caitlin spends her free time reading, writing, and hanging out with family and friends. She loves to travel and learn new things. She is excited to share her educational journey with the next generation of blind students and hopes that her experiences, both good and bad, will help students as they progress through higher education.

For Learning Ally, in addition to mentoring students, Caitlin facilitates one of the Mentor small groups.

Dezman Jackson
Education: BA in Psychology from Auburn University; MA in Industrial/Organizational Psychology with a concentration in Orientation and Mobility from Louisiana Tech University

Blind from an early age due to cataracts and glaucoma, Dezman grew up in a small town near Mobile, Alabama. As a youngster, Dezman knew that he would have to overcome obstacles in life mainly imposed by those who held low expectations about blindness. He would eventually have an opportunity to raise expectations and inspire independence after gaining certification in Orientation and Mobility (O&M).

Currently, Dezman teaches O&M along with other skills at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland in Baltimore. He also enjoys the power of technology and access to information and is part of a team of digital accessibility testers at the nonprofit, My Blind Spot.

In his spare time, Dezman enjoys reading, podcasts and playing the saxophone and is active in his church. He has also become conscious of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and has a long-term goal of becoming a wellness coach. In addition, Dezman has a passion for empowering young people.

Dora Lopez
Education: BA in Psychology and MA in Vocational Rehabilitation from the University of Northern California

Dora currently works for the Orientation Center for the Blind in California. She became blind in 2010 due to retinal detachments and glaucoma. She is grateful because her blindness has given her numerous life-enriching opportunities. She enjoys spending her spare time with her family and being of service to others.

Emily Vasile
Education: BA in Elementary Education and Psychology and MAT in Special Education from The College of New Jersey; MS in Vision Rehabilitation from Salus University

Emily is a faculty member of the Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies at Salus University and the Program Coordinator of the National Leadership Consortium in Sensory Disabilities at Salus University. Emily is certified in Elementary Education and Special Education in the state of New Jersey as well as a certified Teacher of Students with Visual impairments in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. She is also a certified Low Vision Therapist through the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation & Education Professionals (ACVREP). Her areas of expertise include Low Vision Rehabilitation and Education of Students with Visual Impairments. Born with a cataract in her left eye and later on diagnosed with glaucoma, Emily never let her visual impairment define her ability to succeed. In her free time, Emily enjoys hiking, yoga and mindfulness, exploring, reading, singing and performing, and making art.

Glenn Dausch
Education: BA in Psychology from Dowling College

Glenn works as a web accessibility coordinator and lives in New York. While he doesn't see blindness as a barrier, he recognizes that no two people experience life the same way.

In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his family, reading, and playing the guitar. He is looking forward to sharing his experiences, both as a student and as a university administrator, with students in the College Success Program.

For Learning Ally, in addition to mentoring his own students, Glenn facilitates one of the Mentor small groups and our weekly Meet Ups.

To read the biographies of the rest of our Mentors, click here.

Read More about Meet the 2020-2021 CSP Mentors Part 2

Meet the 2020-2021 CSP Mentors Part 1
Two girls looking at each other having a conversation.

October 15, 2020 by Katie Ottaggio

Compiled by: Kristen Witucki, College Success Program Curriculum and Content Editor

The College Success Program is pleased to introduce our 27 mentors for the 2020-2021 academic year, and what better time to do it than during Meet the Blind Month! Our mentors represent a variety of interests, personalities, experiences and knowledge. Read on to learn more about a few of them in Part 1 of this blog series and see if you have anything in common. You never know when or where a connection can be made! 

If you are a college student who is blind or low vision, and who is interested in working with one of our mentors, please email us at csp@learningally.org.
 

Abigail Shaw, College Success Program Mentor Coordinator and Learning Ally Production Coordinator
Education: BS in Music Industry Studies from Appalachian State University; Currently pursuing a MSW from Fordham University

Abigail Shaw was raised in North Carolina but now lives in Brooklyn, New York. She strives to educate the public on persons with disabilities through her hobbies and work.

At Learning Ally, Abigail serves as the College Success Program's Mentorship Coordinator for college students who are blind and contributes her skills with audio and recording to the production process of Learning Ally's audio books.

As a long-distance runner, Abigail is a co-captain of the New York City chapter of Achilles International, an organization promoting mainstream athletics for people with disabilities. She has competed in several national half and whole marathons and triathlons.

Since June of 2019, Abigail has been on the Advisory Committee on Transit Accessibility for New York City Transit, and currently acts as the co-chair. Whether traveling by plane, train, or automobile - Abigail's preferred method of transportation is with her yellow lab guide dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind by her side.
 

Amanda Baker
Education: BA in History and BS in Mathematics from Binghamton University; MLS in Information Science and Digital Data Curation from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Amanda works as a young-adult librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library. While in college and graduate school, Amanda has served in several leadership roles, such as Vice President of Academic Affairs of her student association at Binghamton and President of the Special Libraries Association at UNC. Outside of school, Amanda loves to cook, read, and go horseback riding and rock climbing. Although blindness is a large component of her life, she strives not to make it the most memorable part of her identity but rather, thinks of it as a unique way to perceive the world.
 

Anthony Butler
Education: BFA from The New School; MSW from New York University

Anthony Butler was born in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. He lived with both of his parents and always found himself in trouble as an adolescent. He attended 5 high schools in the greater NYC area before dropping out at the age of 17 and getting his GED. Growing up, Anthony knew the value of hard work. The day after his 8th grade graduation, he began working at McDonald's with his father on the weekends and always held on to a job throughout high school and beyond. In the summer of 2008, he was the victim of a shooting that resulted in the loss of his vision. After problems with his family and nowhere else to turn, Anthony moved into a homeless shelter. While residing in the shelter, Anthony was introduced to his mentor. He credits this relationship with changing the entire trajectory of his life.

Since graduating from his social work program, Anthony has held a number of positions in the workforce, including as Social Worker for Young Men of Color at the Kings' County District Attorneys' Office in Brooklyn, New York from 2016 to 2018 and a Recovery Specialist with Community Access from 2019 to 2020. After leaving Community Access, Anthony relocated to Minneapolis, Minnesota with his girlfriend where he works as a therapist for offenders of sex crimes. When Anthony is not working, he often participates in multi-sport endurance competitions which afforded him the opportunity to travel to over 6 countries and half of the United States. As a social worker, Anthony strives to be an advocate for the underserved and to help people navigate the hardships they may endure on a daily basis.
 

Brianna Murray
Education: BA in Psychology and English from Winthrop University; MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Winthrop University

Although she grew up in South Carolina, Brianna relocated to New Jersey in 2019 to pursue her passion of working with students with disabilities. Along with working as a mentor for several years, Brianna works as a program coordinator for the EDGE program, a pre-employment program for blind and visually impaired high school students in New Jersey. She has experienced varying degrees of vision from birth due to LCA (Lieber's Congenital Amaurosis).

In her spare time, Brianna enjoys reading, writing, and playing with her retired guide dog, Hopps, and her working Seeing Eye dog, Belle. She also enjoys helping others, and utilizes her life experiences, both positive and negative, to improve the educational opportunities for students with visual impairments.
 

Brilynn Rakes
Education: BFA in Dance and a BA in Communications and Media Studies from Fordham University; currently pursuing a graduate certificate in Business Administration from Foothill College

Brilynn grew up in the small town of Visalia, California and found her passion for dance performance when she was eight. For fourteen years, Brilynn trained and performed in various dance styles including classical ballet, pointe, pas de deux, Horton, Graham, Limon, contemporary, and jazz. Brilynn was also the AT&T Spotlight Performer on ABC's Dancing with the Stars; she performed alongside Emmy nominated dancer and choreographer, Derek Hough.

After completing her undergraduate degrees, Brilynn relocated to Palo Alto, California where she is interning with Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired and pursuing a certificate in Business Administrations from Foothill College. In her spare time, Brilynn enjoys Pilates, yoga, and long walks outside with her fiancé, Albee.
 

Bryan Duarte
Education: BS in Software Engineering from Arizona State University; MS in Computer Science from Arizona State University; currently pursuing a PhD in Software Engineering from Arizona State University

Bryan is a native of the warm state of Arizona. He became blind at the age of 18 as the result of a motorcycle accident. Bryan received training at the Colorado Center for the Blind where he gained the skills necessary for living a life of confidence and independence. Following his training, he returned to Arizona and spent the next 3 years as a stay-at-home father to his daughter, Chloe Luvlynn, and his twin boys, Xander and Seth.

Bryan currently works as a research student at the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing (CUbiC). He is also a member of the ASU IGERT program, as well as the Alliance for Person-centered Accessible Technologies (APAcT). Bryan's research interests span the following areas: sensory substitution/augmentation, human-computer interaction, haptics, and assistive technologies. He is currently researching how haptics can be used to augment the way non-visual travelers access details of their immediate surroundings through the sense of touch.

In addition to mentoring students with Learning Ally, Bryan co-facilitates weekly Meet Ups with students as well as a mentor small group. You can also hear him as co-host of the CSP podcast, College Knowledge.

To read the biographies of the rest of our mentors, click here.


 

Read More about Meet the 2020-2021 CSP Mentors Part 1

Mom’s Choice Awards Gives the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution Highest Mark of Distinction as Trusted Resource

October 14, 2020 by Learning Ally

For Immediate Release:

October 14, 2020 PRINCETON, NJ —The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution has won a 2020 Mom’s Choice Award earning the highest mark of distinction as a trusted resource for educators, students and families. The Mom’s Choice Awards® (MCA) is a globally recognized U.S. based organization with a mission to establish the benchmark of excellence in family-friendly media, products and services that demonstrate superior quality.

MCA evaluators are bound by a strict code of ethics which ensures expert and objective analysis are free from any manufacturer association. Over 85 million moms in the U.S. control 85% of all buying decisions and 76% of educators are mothers. When a product or service features the Mom’s Choice Awards seal, it establishes an instant rapport with moms and teachers of every generational and ethnic segment.

“During this pandemic, it is imperative that we help students catch up and keep reading,” said Terrie Noland, CALP, VP of Educator Initiatives at Learning Ally. “This award is an affirmation that our audiobook solution is an optimal resource to support students in the classroom, in distance learning, or a hybrid learning environment.”

The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is an effective reading accommodation to ensure struggling readers in all grades K-12 receive equitable access to books they need for school and want to read for pleasure. With the largest ‘human-read audiobook library’ in the world, it includes access to a comprehensive, academic library of curriculum-aligned textbooks, literature, and popular titles to meet every age, grade, and intellectual level.

“Low reading ability is often the primary reason for students to struggle in school and it impacts their self confidence as well,” adds Noland. “Our audiobook solution can play a critical role in a struggling learners’ education to read on grade level, keep up with their peers and gain confidence and self esteem.”

In the United States, one in five students have a reading deficit. The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution supplements teachers’ direct instruction with access to grade-level books, while engaging students to build strong reading habits and skills and to read independently. Teachers and parents can use progress monitoring tools and data to gain insight into students’ reading needs and to personalize goals and/or instruction.

About Learning Ally                                                  

Learning Ally is a leading nonprofit education solutions organization dedicated to equipping educators with proven solutions that help new and struggling learners reach their potential. Our range of literacy-focused offerings for students in Pre-K to 12th grade and catalog of professional learning allows us to support more than 1.5 million students and 135,000 educators across the US. The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is our cornerstone award-winning reading accommodation used in approximately 19,000 schools to help students with reading deficits succeed. Composed of high quality, human-read audiobooks, and a suite of teacher resources to monitor and support student progress, it is designed to turn struggling readers into engaged learners.

Visit www.learningally.org/educators. Call 800-221-1098.

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