The assistive technology lab at Santa Barbara City College is filled with students typing furiously to finish papers and others rapidly reviewing notes before their next exam. One sits in a corner quietly working out a calculus problem. Another organizes his homework, a carefully researched essay about the state of the economy.
Serving as a hub for homework and studying, the lab is designed for students with disabilities and is a part of the Disabled Student Program & Services department.Director of Student Disability Services Jana Garnett says the program provides access and educational support to over 2,000 students.
Walking through the lab, you’ll see many of the students are wearing ear buds or headphones. They aren’t listening to music notes or drum beats, but words recorded by Learning Ally. A human voice delivers every sentence of their philosophy, biology, math, science or any textbooks, directly to their ears. Audio textbooks improve comprehension for students with disabilities that limit their reading.
Riley is listening to a book about disputed moral ethics, one of the many subject matter categories found in Learning Ally’s library of more than 80,000 digital audiobooks. SBCC has nearly 150 students approved to use Learning Ally audiobooks, including Riley who says, “I use Learning Ally on my iPhone and on the computer. I like how listening reinforces the information for me and when I follow along in the book, I get it from two senses – listening and seeing each word.” The Learning Ally program is quickly earning interest from students due to Teacher Ally, an easy online management tool which allows the DSPS staff to give each eligible student access to an account they can use to download books and manage their learning.
Staff can also assist students with their account and review reading progress. “Our assistive technology specialist, Laurie Vasquez, is very student-centered and when we learned about this easy way for students to access audiobooks, she worked really hard to market it to students and pioneered our training programs. Then, students told other students and more and more became interested in Learning Ally,” says Jana.
SBCC is one of many California community colleges involved in a partnership with Learning Ally to provide the audiobook service for free to any eligible student. All California community colleges are given memberships through a special grant making Learning Ally audiobooks available to all of their students with reading disabilities. “The partnership has completely opened the door for students because what was perceived as cumbersome is now seen as something easily accessible,” says Vasquez.
“Students see they can use it and be independent.”
“Of the 64% of California community colleges taking advantage of the partnership, SBCC is utilizing it with probably the most substantial results,” says Learning Ally Southwest Project Director Lea Rakoff. “They have 144 students signed up and have ordered 799 books to listen to. They are an excellent example of a college providing critical access to educational materials for students with disabilities.”