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A Life Comes Full Circle

Categories: Blind or Visually Impaired, Parenting, Volunteerism

Jill Brondolo’s compelling story began when she became a Learning Ally member in high school, and has come full circle as a Learning Specialist, local board member, and mother. “As a parent who is blind, I’m not able to read to my daughter. So we listen to Learning Ally’s books together!” Jill Brondolo, who is blind, was introduced to “Recording for the Blind” (now Learning Ally) in the late 1970s. She continued to use her membership throughout her college career to earn a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s degree in mental health counseling at Florida Atlantic University (FAU). FAU Learning Ally signage Jill’s relationship with Learning Ally—and FAU—continued to expand. When she worked as a Learning Specialist at FAU’s Office for Students with Disabilities, Jill instituted a Learning Ally school membership. On campus, Jill mostly helped individuals who have learning disabilities with assistive technology like Learning Ally’s audiobooks. Coincidentally, the Boca Raton studio of Learning Ally is located on the FAU campus, where some of those textbooks are recorded. Jill Brondolo with her dog LucyJill reminds us that, while audio textbooks are crucial, reading is much more than just schoolwork. “Like when the Harry Potter books were newly popular, Learning Ally’s audiobooks gave kids who otherwise couldn’t read the ability to connect with their peers in different settings. They didn’t have to sit on the sideline thinking they couldn’t read it. “As Learning Ally has expanded its library to incorporate more fiction and pleasure reading, I continue to use my membership today. When you get older, you find that people have book clubs and such. So I feel like I’m part of the conversation-- I also don’t feel out of the loop! Learning Ally helps to give me the social connection.” As a lifelong learner and someone deeply connected to her community and organizations like the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), Jill says she “stepped up to the plate” to become a local Learning Ally board member simply because she was asked, and was flattered to accept. “Previously, I had only seen the user’s side of Learning Ally. But then I found the recording studio open here on our FAU campus. Now I can see it full circle, the whole process, from the beginning when the book is being recorded, to how our volunteers’ work directly impacts people’s lives and education in the end. We are now able to motivate each other about Learning Ally’s mission.” Learning Ally uses human voices to read. And that’s something technology can’t replace..." Jill‘s job on the board of directors is making an impact on Learning Ally’s ability to effectively serve more individuals. “We are focusing on outreach to parents. For instance, The Florida Outreach Center for the Blind has a very active parent’s group (parents of children who are blind) and I am letting them know about Learning Ally and the services we provide.” Jill wants the world to know that Learning Ally is different in another important aspect. “There’s a big movement now with digital books. But Learning Ally uses human voices to read. And that’s something technology can’t replace: hearing the story from the human voice instead of a synthesized voice. It’s just not as powerful. “I think it’s really important, especially for children, to hear the human voice. I have a daughter, and as a parent who is blind, I’m not able to read to my child. So we are able to listen to stories together since I can’t read the book—we listen to the book together. It’s an important part of parenting. Learning Ally created that opportunity too. “Also, my daughter is going into 6th grade and has a summer reading book assigned. I ordered the book from Learning Ally so I can read it myself, because I want to be able to help her with her homework.” Jill Brondolo has seen her life come full circle: she reaches out to others while her own life continues to be fed in a multitude of ways. We commend her service and value her warm spirit as a Learning Ally ambassador.  

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