Learning Ally Blog: Access and Achievement


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.

Communicating with Professors
Female teacher and female student talking in front of a white board

September 23, 2020 by Katie Ottaggio

By: Jonathan Zobek, CSP Intern, Summer 2020

An important part of college is interacting with professors. Their knowledge, after all, is what college is all about. There can be many benefits to reaching out to your professors, such as a strong professional or personal connection, academic or career development opportunities that extend beyond your college years, and discovering that you love a new subject area. The possibilities are endless. These relationships can form in many ways, whether visiting during their office hours, talking after class, or just raising your hand and participating during class. A lot can take place during in-class discussion! Some professors even sponsor small group discussions about their subject.

Professionally, a professor could be a great career connection, and a letter of recommendation with their name on it could go a long way. Additionally, a professor can help you dive deeper into your subject area and develop your interests. It took years of research and writing for professors to obtain their positions, and they are certainly willing to help the next generation of interested scholars. For example, when I showed interest by going to office hours, a professor in a research methods class was willing to work closely with me to ensure that I found the best research for my proposal. While this professor helped everyone during class, showing interest and putting forth extra effort to attend office hours went a long way.

Additionally, more personal connections can form. Even though professors have advanced degrees, and may be intimidating, they are people who may have similar interests or backgrounds as you. For example, I was able to connect with my Interpersonal Communication professor personally based on a discussion in class about regional differences in communication. As an example, he used New Jersey, the state where my college is located and where most students are from. I found out that this professor grew up in the town right next to mine. This was especially surprising because not many people have heard of my hometown, which is about two square miles. We were both familiar with the area, and this commonality fostered a deeper connection beyond the fact that I was studying the same subject that he taught.

Moreover, meeting with professors can allow you to discover a subject area that you did not know about previously. For example, during my freshman year, I took the introductory Communication Studies course. I frequently attended office hours with the professor who taught the class, and she explained a lot about the area of Communication Studies. She explained what further coursework would consist of, the versatility of a Communication Studies degree, and how many applications it has in the real world. This sparked my interest in the field, and I soon switched majors to Communication Studies.

Going the extra mile and showing interest can also lead to professional and academic opportunities. An example from my own life took place while I was taking an Intro to Media Communication class. The professor who taught it was the director of my college's Office of Instructional Design, and who holds training sessions for the integration of technology in course curricula. After working closely with this professor to ensure accessibility in the classroom, she said she saw a call for a journalistic article about accessibility in the classroom, and she asked if I was interested in co-writing it with her. I gladly accepted, and we wrote the article during the summer, and submitted it for a poster session at an academic conference in Seattle, Washington. Later, the paper was accepted for the conference. Even though the conference itself was cancelled due to COVID-19, we presented the article to students in a Special Education class at my college. Although on a smaller scale, it was still a great way to present the article since we could not do it at the conference.

Overall, there are many benefits to connecting with professors during college. It can lead to long-lasting professional, and possibly even personal, connections. These can later be used for LinkedIn connections, and even letters of recommendation for graduate school or other pursuits later in life. It can also lead to more unexpected opportunities that will allow you to grow professionally and academically. While letters of recommendation and other benefits should not be the only reason for connecting with professors, a little extra effort does go a long way.

About Jonathan
Jonathan Zobek graduated from The College of New Jersey with his degree in Communication Studies. He served as an intern for the College Success Program in the summer of 2020.

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Audiobooks for Kids Who Struggle with Reading
Pamela Taylor, Dyslexia Specialist

September 21, 2020 by Jhara Navalo

Pamela Taylor Founder of Lexiability

Earlier this year we met with Pamela Taylor, Lexiability founder to discuss why she believes audiobooks and Learning Ally Audiobook Solution can truly help transform the lives of struggling readers.  Pamela Taylor is a Certified Dyslexia practitioner, certified Orton Gillingham teacher, Certified Masters Barton tutor, and with over 100 student referrals a Learning Ally Reading Champion.  We are so grateful for her investments of time, talent, and treasure to moving forward the Dyslexia Awareness movement.


We asked Pamela a series of questions that relate to the importance of providing struggling readers with the right accommodations to ensure their academic success. Here you can find her responses by topic in audio format.


Audiobooks is not cheating!

Audiobooks & Word Exposure

Audiobooks as an accommodation for various learning differences

About Learning Ally

LEARNING ALLY is a leading education solutions organization dedicated to transforming the lives of struggling learners. The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is a proven multi-sensory reading accommodation for students with a reading deficit composed of high quality, human-read audiobooks, student-centric features and a suite of teacher resources to monitor and support student success. Used in more than 18,000 schools, empowering over 425,000 struggling readers annually, this essential solution bridges the gap between a student’s reading ability and their cognitive capability, empowering them to become engaged learners and reach their academic potential.

Learn More About Becoming a Learning Ally Member

Read More about Audiobooks for Kids Who Struggle with Reading

Learning Ally's CSP Summer Workshop Virtual Choir Presents "Lean On Me"
Learning Ally's College Success Program presents the CSP Summer 2020 Workshops Virtual Choir singing

September 21, 2020 by Katie Ottaggio

Throughout the summer of 2020, the Learning Ally College Success Program conducted free workshops where students participated in fun and engaging virtual environments with their peers, while learning new skills or expanding on existing ones. These workshops, run by CSP mentors and held weekly over the course of 6-8 weeks, included Creative Writing, Coding, Wellness & Mindfulness, a Book Club, and a Virtual Choir.

Five students and five mentors from the Virtual Choir worked hard over the summer, collaborating and combining their voices virtually, and the results of their hard work have paid off in this amazing version of "Lean On Me". The CSP is excited and proud of this accomplishment by our students and mentors.

We hope you enjoy the CSP Summer Workshop Virtual Choir's rendition of "Lean On Me"! You can access the recording here - https://youtu.be/vshpGyFKAlk - or by visiting the CSP YouTube channel.

You can follow the College Success Program on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter!

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#Words of Affirmation: Volunteers Motivating Our Students
Video of Volunteer sharing a positive word with our students

September 17, 2020 by Jhara Navalo

We know this year has presented its challenges and our children are truly feeling the brunt of this pandemic especially as it relates to the new school year. As a way to show their support, our volunteers recorded a few inspirational messages to let your child know they are not alone.

Please take a moment out of your busy day to curl up with your child and enjoy a few words of affirmation from our volunteer narrators.

Post from volunteer Ali S.

Post from volunteer Joan W.

Post from volunteer William P.

Post from volunteer Laurie F.

About Learning Ally

LEARNING ALLY is a leading education solutions organization dedicated to transforming the lives of struggling learners. The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is a proven multi-sensory reading accommodation for students with a reading deficit composed of high quality, human-read audiobooks, student-centric features and a suite of teacher resources to monitor and support student success. Used in more than 17,500 schools, empowering over 375,000 struggling readers annually, this essential solution bridges the gap between a student’s reading ability and their cognitive capability, empowering them to become engaged learners and reach their academic potential.

Learn More About Becoming a Learning Ally Member

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The Joys and Perils of Guide Dogging
Labrador retriever guide dog lying at the feet of its handler.

September 15, 2020 by Katie Ottaggio

In celebration of National Guide Dog Month, we are re-sharing this post from former College Success Program Mentor, Alecia Iwima. Alecia shares the benefits of having a guide dog, but also the struggles that can come with it. She shows us that it's okay to chose a cane over a guide dog or a guide dog over a cane, it's a preference and all about what works for you. And just because you chose one, doesn't mean you have to stick with it forever. Be sure to read the About the Author section at the end of the blog for an update on Alecia and whether she's still using a cane or working with a guide dog again. This post originally appeared on Learning Ally's blog on October 23, 2017. 

The Joys and Perils of Guide Dogging
By Alecia Iwima, former College Success Program Mentor and Avid Blogger

Dear 85% of the People I've Met in the past 6 years,

I forgive you.

For devouring me with your eyes every time I walked into a room. For announcing me as an exhibit. For withholding from me the freedom to be known. For blatantly disregarding my requests and my safety. For the guilt trips and the invasive questions and the forgetfulness of my personhood. I forgive you. You didn't know what you were doing.

And neither did I. The first time I traveled with my guide dog at night, I was overwhelmed to tears with a sense of liberty. I weaved effortlessly with her through mazes of tables and poles and people, none of which I could discern through the darkness. She faithfully alerted me to street corners and uneven sidewalks and obstacles; nobody cooed and nobody stared. I felt confident and unhindered and empowered.

And I don't regret having gotten her. But when I left the town where we trained - where life was on pause and everyone was accustomed to the sight of cute guide puppies - things were different. For the first three years with Brownie, I spent the vast majority of my time on a small college campus in the middle of nowhere. Within two weeks of her arrival, everyone was used to Brownie's existence and educated on service dog etiquette. During the day, I hardly needed her, and at night her guide work was inconsistent. But I loved not having to wait for my eyes to adjust before maneuvering a crowded room and not having to struggle to see stairs. She quickly found doors and empty pathways. It was a substantial amount of work to care for her and to maintain her training, but she was helpful. Besides, I loved her, and surely it would all pay off when we moved to a big city, right?

In the fall of 2014 I relocated to Dallas, Texas. I am pretty extroverted and always surrounded by people and, as it is usually not feasible to use a guide dog and talk with friends at the same time, it was common for me to have Brownie with me but not end up using her much. She was also slowly beginning to develop a lot of anxiety, which made her guide work tentative and halting, and eventually rendered her unable to travel in cars without being terrified. And this was not my tiny private college anymore: I was in the vicinity of new people almost every day. And all of them loved dogs; all of them "just couldn't help" but caress/talk to her; all of them had a story about their pet or a question about my blindness or a comment about her appearance. And yet, somehow, at the same time, none of them saw me. It wasn't just you. It was normal. And you couldn't have known you were the twelfth one that day.

Brownie was a pretty good guide, but I hated the constant attention so much that, for the first time in my life, I came to dread social gatherings; for the first time in my life, I thought you were my enemy. You existed to assail me with discomfort whenever I entered the public sphere - to show up and say something that would strip me of my ability to enjoy a lively party or a beautiful concert; worse than that, you existed to convince me that I was not a person beyond her - that my essence was in her and that I was not worth knowing apart from her. Sometimes, Twelfth Person That Day, I was terse with you and impatient. Sometimes, I hated you for your insensitivity and inconsiderateness, without ever having engaged in a real conversation with you. I derided you with my friends and fantasized about angry Facebook posts I could write in your honor. You made a thoughtless comment one morning at Walmart, but I made a consistent decision not to love you. Please forgive me. I didn't know what I was doing.

And it's over now. I retired my guide dog in July, and have been using a cane ever since. It is not able to guide me through mazes of tables or quickly locate exits, but I am again overwhelmed with a sense of liberty. The truth is, canes just don't incite acts of unintentional dehumanization the way dogs do. No one comments; no one stares. For the first time in six years, you're remembering to ask my name! When you initiate conversations with me now, it's about the weather or my work or my life. It's refreshing to be able to stow away my mobility device at my leisure, and to not need to constantly be monitoring the behavior of an animal or of the people who take interest in it, but it is most of all refreshing to be finally seen.

With no resentment now, I recognize that some of you are wondering, "But how do you get around with out her?" Because, I confess, I was often too impatient with your "ignorance" to quell it, even when you asked. Guide dogs are trained to avoid obstacles, while canes are designed to detect them. Neither a cane nor a dog can function in place of a personal sense of direction: just as a cane is unable to take me to science class on command or tell me how to cross a street, neither is a guide dog capable of performing those tasks. Each, then, comes equipped with its own advantages and disadvantages. While a cane is unable to discern a pathway through a restaurant, for instance, most dogs are unable to reliably identify signposts or texture changes that may be extremely helpful landmarks for a blind pedestrian. While a dog can be taught to follow people or locate specific objects on command, a cane requires no training or maintenance whatsoever. A dog will stop to alert you to a patch of uneven sidewalk; a cane will show you the exact nature of its unevenness. It's a preference thing.

I'm thankful to be able to have this conversation with you, now that I'm slightly removed from the experience. But I'm even more thankful that, as a cane user for the time being, I can participate in my community knowing that there will be no Twelfth Person to have it with tomorrow.

About the Author
Alecia Iwima served as a mentor for the College Success Program and is now beginning her second year of law school. After taking a break from working with a guide dog, she realized that traveling with a cane was not conducive to her particular lifestyle. So, she switched from working with a very people-oriented golden retriever to working with an intimidating German shepherd, and interference from the public greatly decreased.

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