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.

A Learning Ally Member's Songs of Success
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Georgia-based E.Z. Cleghorn had a tough time starting out in this world. Born four months early, doctors gave him little to no chance of survival. His parents prayed for the best and prepared for the worst, choosing an outfit off of a 9-inch doll, which was still too large for him, and a miniature casket in which he could be buried. Despite overwhelming odds, E.Z. made it through his first night, first month, first birthday…and the rest is history. With the support of his loving family and a strong will to live, he persisted through close calls, numerous surgeries, and complete blindness to become the successful college student and talented singer he is today.

Some people might think he got an unfair start in life, but E.Z. does not let it faze him. “I don’t think I ever looked back and thought, ‘Well I started out this way…’ As I’ve gotten older the subject comes to me more, and I think to myself that I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for God and prayers from people. I can’t afford to not do everything as best as I can because I’ve been given way more than a second chance.”

One area of E.Z.’s life where it’s clear he's making his best effort is in the pursuit of his dream of being a professional singer. From a young age, music has been a huge part of his life. “I listened to everything growing up,” he says. “A defining moment was when I was about four, in the car coming home from the state school for the blind. I heard this voice on the radio, sat up in my car seat, and asked my mom, ‘Who in the world is that?’ It was Elvis, one of his live recordings, and the applause just captured me like nothing else had ever done before. I remember thinking that anybody who can get an audience reaction and an emotion out of people like that is somebody I want to learn about. I listened to whatever music of his I could get my hands on. I memorized, I studied, I practiced, and that was the beginning of everything.” While Elvis set E.Z. on a trajectory for becoming a singer, his all-time musical icon is Michael English of The Gaithers. Most people never get a chance to meet their heroes in person, but E.Z. has had the lucky fortune to actually perform with his – twice. “Michael English is the end-all, be-all of singers for me. I learned proper breathing technique and other patterns for my own singing style by listening to his music. We met when I was 18, and he went out of his way to be amazing to me. I got to sing with him twice. The first time was with a whole band, but the second time was very special. It was just the two of us, each with our own microphone, and nobody else on stage. I’ll never forget it.” E.Z. has performed thousands of times, in front of audiences of all sizes, the largest being a crowd of 300,000 at a “Stand for Children” rally. He sings in churches and high schools, at weddings, funerals, and every type of venue and event in between. He also has a weekly gig in his hometown of Warner Robins, Georgia at the El Cotija restaurant, performing with Bruce Brookshire -- a former member of the Southern rock group Doc Holliday. E.Z. describes the guitarist as “one of the most talented people on the planet and a huge mentor to me.” Their weekly show is well attended, and when asked if they have a fan following in Warner Robins, E.Z. says, “People are really supportive around here. It’s the south! Everybody is nice.”  While he aspires and is actively working toward a career in the music industry, E.Z. hasn’t put all his eggs in one basket. “I would love to perform full time and go national and record—that’s the dream. Realistically, I’m finishing my history major and preparing to teach high school if a music career doesn’t pan out, but in my perfect world that will happen some way, somehow in the next couple years.” Set to graduate this spring from Macon State College, E.Z. is proud to say he’s used Learning Ally accessible audiobooks for the last 18 years, nearly his entire academic life. “I use Learning Ally for everything,” he says, “every pleasure book and every textbook. Anything I want to read I get from you guys, and I read a lot.”  He considers C.S. Lewis to be one of the greatest writers of all time, and is also a fan of J.K. Rowling and Rick Riordan. I’m on my computer every day, and all text online is synthetic speech; but when it comes to books I’d only listen to synthetic speech if I had absolutely no other choice. I love the way you guys do it. I love the human aspect. I love that I can almost always find everything I want. It’s absolutely perfect.” Though he hasn’t yet crossed paths with any Learning Ally audiobook production volunteers in person, E.Z. stresses that their efforts and generosity do not go unappreciated. “If there’s one thing I want to say, it’s how much what you guys do means to me and I know to so many other people. It’s such an amazing thing that people are willing to give their time, and I am so grateful. Pass that along to the volunteers from me with all the sincerity you can.”

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