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.

Summer Reading Recommendations Part 4: More Learning Ally Staff
Open book in braille

July 30, 2020 by Katie Ottaggio

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

The College Success Program decided to put together a summer reading list so that we could encourage our students and each other to gravitate toward good books we've either read or plan to read. I've recently learned about enough great books to start a blog series! I have to admit that hearing about the many recommended books leads me to feel almost frozen by the thought of all the books I might not get to! We hope these book lists will help give you a sense of who we are and our program, and also offer some reading entertainment for everyone! For the third and fourth parts of our series we asked Learning Ally staff from across the organization to contribute their favorite books. As you may already know, the College Success Program is a very tiny part of Learning Ally, a mission-driven non-profit which works to ensure that teachers have the tools to deliver high quality reading products to their students with visual, learning or physical disabilities. Our solutions have grown from the audiobook, so naturally our company is full of bookworms. On Zoom, the platform we use to carry out our work, our Literature and Audiobook Experience Lead, Alexis (pronounced Alexie) created A Place to Talk Books. From that channel, I received more recommendations than I could possibly use - maybe that means I need to write a mini winter break reading list! But in any case, we hope these recommendations will get you started!

Please note: These books are not necessarily available in the Learning Ally catalog.

Alexis, Literature and Audiobook Experience Lead
The Knowledge Gap
by Natalie Wexler
Incredibly insightful book which provides a sorely needed historical context for diagnosing the issues with literacy instruction in the US today. I found the main argument very persuasive. Very relevant to Learning Ally's mission!


Christine, Instructional Texts Administrator
Young Elizabeth: The Making of the Queen
by Kate Williams
Biography of Queen Elizabeth before she becomes queen. Interesting and well researched and written. You realize how much history she has seen and has been a part of.


Daniel, System Support Specialist
Start With Why
by Simon Sinek
This book will ask you why you do what you do in life, in your career, in your work environment or any social circle that you are a part of. It is very illuminating.


Jane, Inside Sales Representative
A Piece of the World
by Christina Baker Klein
Beautifully written, moving story inspired by Andrew Wyeth's painting "Christina's World."


Julia, Manager of Development
by Nora Ephron
"Comical drama" about breakup, relationship, and cooking. Engaging, funny and a very easy read.


Mir, Front-End Developer
Deep Work
by Cal Newport
A guide to finding focus and clarity in an increasingly distracted world.


Rachel, HR Generalist-Admin
White Fragility
by Robin DiAngelo
This is a great book for challenging the way you think about racism and what it means to be white. Excellent read for an open-minded reader.


Shelley, Inside Sales Representative
The Cost of Living
by Deborah Levy
This is a poetic/minimal/feminist autobiography about a woman rebuilding her life.


Sumedha, Senior Developer
The Forty Rules of Love
by Elif Shafak
Shafak beautifully weaves her modern story with Sufi poet Rumi and Shams of Dervish's story. It clarifies Sufism and its philosophies.


Looking for more reading inspiration? Check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this blog series of browse the Learning Ally Audiobooks.

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Impressions from the 2020 National Federation of the Blind Convention
NFB logo

July 29, 2020 by Katie Ottaggio

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

Learning Ally was thrilled to join the 2020 National Federation of the Blind Convention once again as a bronze sponsor. We enjoyed meeting many individual members in the exhibit hall, hearing and learning from their stories and connecting them with resources. As we reflect on the 2020 convention experience and plan next steps for our programming, we decided we'd like to feature the convention experiences of a couple of our community members. We hope you enjoy their reflections!

Miso Kwak, College Success Mentor
I have fond memories of attending two NFB national conventions while I was in college. The thrill of navigating an unfamiliar hotel, meeting old and new friends, and walking around the exhibit hall are some of the highlights I still remember. This year, the convention went completely virtual. On one hand, I was sad that it took away some of my favorite elements of the convention, and on the other hand, I was glad that the virtual nature of the convention enabled me to join the convention for the first time in many years, while also being able to juggle my work at home.

Despite no in-person interactions, I found the virtual convention experience as engaging and memorable as my previous experience of attending the convention in-person. I especially enjoyed the Upward Mobility seminar, which was packed with advice and insights on carving out one's career path from blind people working in various sectors. I also appreciated ways in which NFB highlighted the importance of diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality within the blind community.

Jonathan Zobek, College Success Summer Intern
I learned a lot at the 2020 NFB National Convention. I attended many meetings, from the National Association of Blind Students Business Meeting, to the Humanware Live webinar, to the meeting for the Committee on Autonomous Vehicles and Innovations in Transportation. However, the meeting that I learned the most from was the meeting for the Committee of Professionals in Blindness Education (PIBE). As an aspiring TVI, I thought that this meeting would be beneficial and educational, and it certainly was. After discussing business, there were great speakers, such as a representative from the American Printing House for the Blind, and they were all informative. After the speakers presented, there was a Question and Answer session with the speakers and other members of PIBE. As one would probably expect, the vast majority of questions centered around adjusting to online learning, considering how hands-on blindness-specific education is. The answers were interesting and pointed me in the direction of many resources such as the APH webinars about blindness related topics, the APH Hive, Distance Education Resources from the NFB, and Paths to Literacy.

Aside from the resources, it was great to find a network of blindness professionals, including TVIs, O&M instructors and many other professionals. As I begin my TVI coursework in the future, I will certainly reach out to this knowledgeable group of professionals for help. I look forward to becoming a more active member of this group.

Outside of individual meetings, I learned that it is possible to have a convention experience remotely. Even at the beginning of 2020, nobody would have guessed that the convention would have been held over Zoom, and for the most part, it was successful. It was nice to mingle with companies and organizations at the virtual Exhibit Hall, hear the familiar voices of friends in the Federation, and learn, network, and meet new people. Even though the convention was online, I was still exhausted at the end from the jam-packed agenda. This format also allowed for greater access to the convention, considering how it was free of associated costs, such as hotel, transportation, and food. Overall, my second NFB National Convention was a positive experience.

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Top Takeaways From Our Webinar - Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe - Which Assistive Technology Do I Need At College?
Student with back to camera sitting at desk with laptop and computer.

July 27, 2020 by Katie Ottaggio

By: Katie Ottaggio, CSP Engagement Operations Manager and Kristen Witucki, Curriculum and Content Editor

Once a month, the College Success Program (CSP) hosts a webinar on a topic of interest to high school and college students who are blind or who have low vision, their parents, and the professionals who work with them. On July 9, 2020 the CSP hosted a webinar called "Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe - Which Assistive Technology Do I Need At College"? CSP student, Jessica Karim moderated the webinar in which two of our CSP mentors, Megan Dausch and Emily Vasile, discussed many of the considerations around assistive technology in college.

In case you missed it, here are our top takeaways from this enlightening discussion. You can also view this webinar in its entirety by clicking here.

Technology Becomes Your Responsibility
When you move from high school to college, you move from a system which supports you to one in which you must manage everything related to your technology including: figuring out how it works, applying it to your college life, troubleshooting and maintenance and reaching out for help when it needs to be fixed. You will also need to explain the use of technology to others such as professors, classmates and even disability resource centers. You'll need to tell others what the technology can do for you and any limitations which will affect your schoolwork and how you plan to overcome them.

Many Ways to Figure It Out
Although you are ultimately responsible for your own learning, there are many ways to learn about assistive technology. Reading everything you can, including the product documentation, social media posts, reviews, and articles from organizations such as the National Federation of the Blind and the American Foundation for the Blind can be a great starting point. You can also talk to friends, mentors, or assistive technology experts to find out what they think of devices and what they like or don't like. Finally, reach out to the vendors if you still can't find information. You can contact their technical support with questions, or you can attend blindness conferences to try out or learn about the equipment they offer.

Affording Technology
For most students, the primary resource to cover the cost of technology is your state agency for people who are blind or have low vision. Connect with your state's vocational rehabilitation department if you have not already done so. Local grants, such as those from the Association of Blind Citizens or Lions Clubs in your area, can also sometimes help. Finally, remember that you can use some college scholarships, particularly those for blind students, to cover technology costs. American Council of the Blind has a list of scholarship resources.

Apps and Devices for Students with Low Vision
Many phones have built in magnifiers. They look like cameras but allow you to zoom in and out, change color contrast, etc. You can also use a number of apps, including:

Visor - Turns your phone into a video magnifier with options to change color contrast, zoom things in and out, change backgrounds, etc.

Seeing AI - Allows you to take a picture of any text and it will read the text out loud to you.

Voice Dream Reader - Allows you to upload anything such as textbooks, worksheets, articles, PDFs, etc. You can read from it but also edit as well as import from the Google drive and Dropbox.

Super Vision - This app is a handheld magnifier, you can zoom in, change backgrounds, change colors, etc.

With regard to devices, they often require a prescription so a specialist is needed to figure out the proper magnification for your particular eye condition. However, handheld magnifiers or binoculars can help you to read everything from street signs to notes in a lecture hall.

Apps and Devices for Students Who Are Blind
Many apps can assist with creating, augmenting or maintaining a home wherever you are. Here are some that are helpful:

Seeing AI - This app can identify products such as food boxes.

Way Around - Allows you to purchase tags and affix them to items in your room. You can then record your label into your phone, hold your phone near your tag and it will tell you what it is.

Be My Eyes - This app offers volunteers that will assist you through your phone.

Having a color identifier app may be helpful to separate your laundry or to know what you're wearing. And don't forget apps for your downtime such as book or music apps.

As for devices, remember not to depend on one device because flexibility is key. It's important to have a computer and to know how to use at least two different web browsers, because you'll never know when a website experience will work better in a different browser. Be sure you know how to use sharing programs/apps such as Google Docs and you're school's learning management system. If you are a braille reader, having access to a braille display can be invaluable for proofreading and making presentations. Be sure to include low tech devices, such as a braille writer or maybe a label maker. Finally, your disabilities office may help you with scanning documents, but you might find a way to do this independently as well. You can use regular scanners or apps such as Seeing AI, Voice Dream Scanner, Canopy Reader, etc. Try a few and see what might work for you.

Talking About Technology
As soon as you know your professors' names, send them an email explaining who you are, your needs, your tech, and ask to meet with them. At the end of the first class introduce yourself, and remind them that you want a meeting. Advocate and make a name for yourself.

People are genuinely curious about assistive technology and how it works. They want to talk and ask questions. Explain that it helps let you do what your sighted peers do and how it does that. Demonstrate how it works to help with their understanding.

Advice for the COVID Crisis: You are Not Alone
Don't feel like you're the only one who is frustrated. Your sighted peers may not be using a screenreader or other technology like you, but they're frustrated as well. If you're preparing to start the next semester online, find out what technology your professor is using ahead of time and then practice so you're more comfortable using it. Finally, always have a backup plan. Try your meeting, course management and other software on your phone, computer, iPad, etc. Technology fails and that's okay as long as you can figure out a workaround.

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College Knowledge Podcast - Episode 4: Advocacy
College Knowledge by Learning Ally

July 22, 2020 by Katie Ottaggio

College Knowledge Podcast - Episode 4: Advocacy

Being a college student with a visual impairment can be challenging but connecting to the College Success Program can help you make the most of this experience and succeed in reaching your goals. Join our mentors and cohosts, Bryan Duarte, Rachel Grider and Rashad Jones as they explore the academic, the professional, and the personal aspects of College Knowledge. If you are a college student who is blind or who has low vision, or you are curious about the world of college and visual impairment, this show is for you!

Episode 4: Advocacy

Many people know that if you are blind or have low vision, you need to advocate in the classroom and around campus. But advocacy is part of our daily lives, and you never know when you'll get the opportunity to use or sharpen this skill. Join Rachel, Rashad and Bryan as they dive into advocacy for all kinds of situations.

You can also find this episode, and previous episodes, on iTunes by searching College Knowledge or by clicking here. Be sure to leave us a rating or review!

Learn more about the College Success Program and sign up at learningally.org/CollegeSuccess.


Episode 4: Advocacy Transcript

Rachel Grider: Welcome to “College Knowledge,” Learning Ally’s podcast for college students who are blind or visually impaired. This show brings together the three core elements of Learning Ally‘s college success programs: mentors, resources and community. I am your co-host Rachel Grider, blind (?) mentor, music teacher, performer and lifelong advocate. And speaking of advocacy, that’s exactly what we’re going to be talking about today. 

Last year, based on the feedback for mentors, the college success program added a course to the curriculum called, “Living on your own.” I was really excited to write some resources for this course. For instance, I wrote a resource about shopping on your own, but I also wanted to write a resource about advocacy. I wanted to show that when it comes to advocacy, we’ve all been there. We’ve all most likely gotten it wrong a few times. Well, we’re all human, and we also want to make advocacy easier for people. I also wanted to show that advocacy happens all the time. You usually don’t get a break from it. It can happen in your classes, in job interviews, with friends and family, in restaurants and in recreational activities. So unfortunately, or fortunately, you always need to be prepared. 

Here to join me in our advocacy chat are my co-hosts Rashad Jones and Bryan Duarte. To get us started, Bryan is going to discuss advocacy in a professional and educational setting, as well as appropriate and effective strategies for both situations. 

Bryan Duarte: Thank you, Rachel, for that great introduction. And yes, advocacy is something that is very, very important to me, and I’m a big advocate of self-advocacy. I believe that in a lot of situations there are right ways and wrong ways to advocate, and you’re not always just advocating for yourself. In a lot of ways, especially in the social aspect of things, you are really under a microscope. So the way that you interact with people in a professional or educational setting really could have repercussions on other individuals who are blind or low vision. If you have a good interaction, it could reflect good on the next person they interact with, so it’s very important that when you are advocating to not just stomp your feet and storm out or start banging things. 

So let’s look at this from a scenario kind of perspective. When I was an undergraduate, I had a really rough time. I think I’ve talked about this before where I had a rough time. My first semester was almost my last semester because of the time that I had, and I expected things to be in place and things really were not in place to the standard that I thought they should have been. And I had a couple meetings and things did not go well, and I had a decision to make then. I was meeting with the Dean, I was meeting with the director of the Disability Center, as well as my disability advisor, and I think my professor. One of my professors was included in this meeting, and I had to really think about it. How I present myself and my problem and my issues in this meeting could really help me or they could hinder me, so I really thought long and hard about it. I took time. I wrote down the points I wanted to make--the things that I thought that I needed or wanted and wasn’t being given, and I directed my energy into that so that when it came time to be in this meeting with these very, very important people so that I didn’t make a fool of myself first of all, but also that I was getting things in place for myself and those to follow behind me. 

So during the meeting I directed most of my attention to my Disabilities Advisor. Most of my conversation was almost directly to her at the time because I wanted to let them know that I respected her as my “first in command,” so to speak. I didn’t try to go over her head by directing it directly to the Dean or directly to her supervisor, the Disabilities Advising Supervisor. I went straight to her and to my professor because I wanted them both to know that I respected their authority and their position. 

The next thing I did really was I outlined, like I said, I outlined the things that I felt like I needed to be successful in the course, as well as the things that I didn’t feel like I was getting or weren’t adequate for me as a blind student, so that was very important. And I want to emphasize the fact that going into a meeting like this with a game plan is probably the most important thing that you can do for yourself. Because it’s very easy when you have what feels like your back is against the wall --I was on one side of the table; all five of them were on the other side of the table. You can really feel like everybody is against you, but if you go in prepared, it really reshapes your mindset in something like this. It tries to help you from being put into a corner and having nothing to stand on, and then what happens? Your emotions come out, and then you start yelling or crying or demanding, and that’s not really effective or appropriate in this situation. 

Finally, to conclude the meeting (I had this in my notes by the way), was to lay out next steps. Who was going to do what? How was it going to be done? Was the professor going to be responsible for getting me accessible content, or was the Disability Center going to be responsible? Was more money needed? Now this gets directed to the Dean and to the Disabilities Advising Supervisor.  Was there more resources that were needed? Was it something that we needed to brainstorm together? All these things were strategies that now we came together amongst the people at the table. We came together to outline the next steps and the strategies that we were going to use. At the end of the meeting, things went well. We had a plan in place. We were holding each other accountable. They were checking in with me, and the next three years, four years, I guess, were history. I was able to not only be successful in that class but the classes to come; and I developed great working relationships, and I helped others. I think that the important thing to take away from this is to make sure that you plan ahead. Don’t let your emotions get in the way, and really make sure that when you are talking to them, you’re not just advocating for yourself. You really are advocating for yourself, but you’re maybe teaching those. Maybe you’re the first person who is blind that they are interacting with, but there definitely will be more to follow behind you, and you want to make sure that you don’t leave a bitter taste in their mouth because interacting with you was not pleasant. 

So that concludes my piece on interacting in a professional and educational setting, but what we are going to do now is put Rachel back on, and she is going to go over advocacy in a public setting. So, Rachel? 

Rachel Grider: All right. Thank you, Bryan. Great, great examples there. So there are so many times when we have to go out into the community to do various things, whether we're going out to eat at a restaurant or just walking down the street. Or if we’re volunteering our services in some capacity; Going to a store. Going shopping. Going to the movies. Going anywhere, really. And you may not think of it this way but advocacy, you have to advocate for yourself, even in settings like that. So, for example, I’ll give you an example of a time. This has happened to me a couple times. I was walking down the street one time, just minding my own business on a busy city street and I was about to cross. And someone came up behind me and grabbed my arm and said, “I will help you cross the street.” And there was no introduction or anything, just this random person. And so I could have chosen various ways to react to this intrusion. I could have pulled away and said, “No,” and been very rude about it.  I could have elbowed him in the ribs and said, “Get away from me.” Or I could have said politely but firmly, “No, thank you. I know  how to cross the street independently, but thank you for your help.” I also could have just accepted his help and meekly gone along with him. So I chose to do the third option. Politely, but firmly, I said, “Thank you for your help but I can cross the street independently.” He asked me how I was able to do that, and I told him how I could cross the street by listening to my parallel traffic. It was a really nice, actually a really good conversation because I was able to educate this person on how a blind person can cross the street. 

And I think it's very important, just as Bryan said, that in order to really have a good impression on people because we are representing the blind community by the way we react to these types of things. And yes, there are there are times when we may need to be more firm than others and sometimes we don't necessarily have time to stop and give a lesson on how a blind person is able to do things, but but it does happen, and it can be a great opportunity for us to share our insights and to educate people so that the next blind person that comes along, that that person will know better how to help them. 

Another thing that I told this particular person after I had explained to him how a blind person crosses a street, I said you may come across a blind person that needs help sometime, and when you do that, this is the appropriate way to to address it. You ask them if they need help and how they can best help them, and that would be more appropriate than than going up and grabbing the person’s arm without any introduction. So it was a very positive experience for all of us, but there have been other times where I know I haven't always reacted the best way in public situations. And I think we probably all have done that or not not acted appropriately. Sometimes, as Bryan said, our emotions can get in the way. So I think it is very important to try to approach these situations in an objective way and to remember that in all these types of situations, or most of them, people have our best interests at heart even if they are misguided about how to appropriately address them and what our best interest might be,  so it's an opportunity for us to educate, and I think that’s really important.

We will talk a little bit more about different scenarios later, but I think there is one other type of advocacy that we haven't quite gone over yet. We are going to have Rashad address it. Rashad, what are some other ways other situations where we might be in where we would advocate?

Rashad Jones: Well, you know what there are a lot of different situations, so like Bryan said, it's very important to be prepared when it comes to interacting in those professional situations. I can attest that I have gone through something like that, and he's absolutely right about how the emotions can get in the way and then how did you end up having to really you feel like you have to just do whatever they’ve said because you didn't know going into the situation what it would be like. So you end up having to follow whatever they say without very much input, so that's one reason why it's very important to do that. And then as Rachel was talking about in a public setting, that's always, you know, you come up with a million and one different time where things have gone right or things have been like, “What in the world just happened?” 

One thing that really here's something a lot of people may or may not think about is that you even have to advocate sometimes amongst your family and your friends, and this can sometimes be some of the most challenging territory to navigate through because these are the people who know you the best. They’ve known you the longest, so they've seen you at various levels of your life and sometimes in the case of family members, particularly, they see you at a younger level so they don't always, they may not always value as an adult, as a young adult or wherever you currently are and what you’re capable of. So it could be really easy for them to kind of trivialize what you are able to do and what you're capable of. So, we’re going to talk about this type of thing in specifics and greatest specifics kind of an review later, but I can think of several times where family members have played video games and things like that, and I haven't been able to do that, because it wasn't accessible or there hadn’t been much thought, or it had just been automatically assumed. Anyway, and these are people who genuinely, generally want to include me, but you know there there is the occasion where they're playing something, and it doesn't help too that I'm not very up on what’s all out there, although I’m learning that there are games and things like that in, and ways that accessibility has been incorporated, but at the time I didn’t know.  I just automatically assumed from what my brothers and other family members were doing that it just wasn’t very accessible anymore. And they are so involved at so many different levels to these games and stuff like that as far as they become so much more sophisticated. So I just thought it was just out of my league, beyond of my reach, so I would just sit there if there was a gathering or something like that, or if they were playing a card game or something like that, I would make mention of the fact that there were Braille cards and things for certain things, but I just didn't know where to turn. So even in these situations, I was there. I was able to enjoy myself somewhat. There was food and drink and snacks and things like that available, but you know when you don't take the time to think about these things, then you can really get a very big disadvantage. 

My family and I get together as much we can. We find an excuse to get together and celebrate. I think one Thanksgiving was when I really found out that they were willing to be accommodating. They were playing this game called Taboo. It’s one where it’s a card game, for those of you who are familiar or those of you who aren’t, it’s an awesome game. I love it. It has a phrase or word on it and then below it the line that separates that term from the terms that the person who's giving the hints and stuff cannot say when they're trying to get you to understand what it is, the rest of people on the team. I remember it was so funny. It was perfect timing. I walked into the house, to my aunt’s house, and they were trying to get the word “daredevil” and they were talking about the guy in the movie, and how he moved around and did stuff really fast. Or they talked about just different things, you know, maybe the guy couldn’t see. It’s safe to say I haven't watched the movie, but the point is that they were throwing out clues, and I said, oh my Gosh, I know this one, I know this one! And then after nobody on the team got it, since I was just a late coming to the game, and I was like, I know what it is! It’s “daredevil!” And they were like, “You could play this game.” So it was instantly, one of those situations where me just being willing to participate and having that familiarity with my family, where it was really helpful. So it worked out and then so every time we play a game, they often think about how they can include me. Because we don't have stuff in Braille most of the time. It’s just whichever game my family member happens to bring with them. But they've been really good about it, but it's just because I was willing to say, “Hey, I wish I could play” or “Is there a way that we can make it work so that I can enjoy too?” or asking that question that may feel uncomfortable and may feel like you're nagging, but you know the squeaky wheel gets the oil or however that phrase goes. But you know you have to really put yourself out there even amongst your friends and your family members to just say I would love to be included and here is what has worked for me in the past. So you being willing to present some possible solutions and things like that can really help them out.

Rashad Jones: So that's really what I have on that one. And this really brings me to a great question that I want to get you guys to chime in on: How do y'all think you can, you should be advocating for yourself and the things that you need, without putting anybody else out. Without alienating somebody or putting them on the defensive? What do you all think about that?

Bryan Duarte: Rachel, why don't you chime in first and then I'll follow up after you. But how do you feel about how to do this?

Rachel Grider: I think it’s important to remember that most of the time, it’s just that they don’t know. They just don't know how to include you or how to make those accommodations for you.  So I think if you approach in with that mindset, from an objective mindset, and say, okay. You know, I'm going to teach this person, rather than just be aggressive and try to get my way. I think that really helps. So using those moments to educate, and I like Rashad’s example of being able to jump in and just start doing. Sometimes you don't even need to say,”this is how I’m going to do it.” Sometimes you just need to do it. I've had many situations where I've done that, where you just jump in and do it. I think that's really the main thing, and also not taking certain things personally. Like in Bryan’s example in his meeting. If you're not getting the accommodations that you need for school, it's not personal. It’s not something personal to you. I mean, it is because you feel like it is, but they're not sitting around saying, “You know, I don't care about this person. We're not going to accommodate this person.” They’re not doing that. They just don't know how to best help you, and so it's your job to teach them. So don't take things personally. Figure out solutions and have the solutions in your mind, how you're going to do it. And if someone asks you how you're going to do something, and if you don't know the answer, then tell them, “I'm not sure yet, but I'm going to find out.” And do your research. Use your network. Talk to your friends and colleagues who have done these things before.

Bryan Duarte: That is really great.  That is a spot on, the best approach. I remember back shortly after that semester, maybe even the very next semester, I really gained a lot of knowledge from that meeting and that preparation and being able to advocate for myself. And so what I ended up doing was going kind of a step beyond that, and I said hey, that seemed to work with all of those people, that professor. Maybe I can try to build what I call a working relationship with my professors. Maybe I don't even need to go up as high as that, and so what I started doing was I started attending office hours. I started sticking around after class. I started talking to the professors one-on-one. I started brainstorming with them. I looked at the syllabus ahead of time, and I would say, oh look. We have this big project and it seems to be a project that you can very well look at, I mean it’s software engineering, so yeah there's going to be a very heavy visual component of this. How am I supposed to do that? Instead of going into his office and throwing it on the ground and being like, “You know what? You need to change this! This isn't right. I'm going to go to the ADA,” or something. I went in there and I said, “Hey, you know, Professor, I can see that we're going to have this big project coming up and I'm just wondering, do you think it's possible for me to develop something similar but without such a visually intensive component of it? And you know, this is what I was thinking.” Like you just said, Rachel, have done your research and really understand, like prepare for what you're trying to do, and develop that working relationship. And so I would go in there and say, “Hey, you know, I see this is going to be a part of it. What if I did it this way?” You know, really think about, I can meet those requirements of this assignment by doing it this way. And then you start brainstorming with them and then they get engaged and say look, he's not trying to skirt the system. He's trying to learn in his way. He's trying to do this the way that he can. That really helped and I think probably the whole rest of my educational career ,I pretty much handled most all of my accommodations directly with the professor. Because I had built working relationships with all of them, every single semester. So that's big. 

Bryan Duarte: How do you meet with people without alienating them? I really think you hit it on the head right, you you just have to be willing to understand that they're not doing it in spite of you. They're not doing it to attack you. They're not doing it because they don't want to. They could just be doing what they're doing because they don't know. And you have to approach it in that way like, hey, are they really trying to do this against me? Or do they not know? Maybe I need to teach them. Maybe I need to show them what is possible. And I say this, and I mean it. I say it all the time: it's one thing for you to be laughing with me. It's a different thing for you to be laughing at me. And in the same way, you’ve got to approach these situations with that same kind of mindset, where are they trying to help me and they don't know how? Or are they really not trying to me at all? And so when we think about it in that way, you can approach it with a different mindset, like Rachel said. 

Rashad Jones: If I could, you know those are great points that both of you made in terms of how to do this, because it can be tricky. I can personally say that I was somebody who it took a long time for me to get that I had to be organized enough to start advocating for myself in college myself, because I'd been so used to doing, to having it done for me, prior to going into college. So making sure that I had those course registration numbers and the ISBNs for each book, and emailing the professors. I know this wasn't necessarily in my area of expertise to cover earlier but just in the general discussion, sometimes it takes people like me awhile to get it through my head that if I don't wanna go through it being my fault that something wasn't in place, then I've got to make sure that I do this. And so for me, I will say that there were times where I seriously and to this day question how much some of those professors were actually looking out for me as much as they were trying to cover their own skins, so unfortunately you will run into that sometimes. It's not always the case, so I recognize that now.

Rachel Grider: Very true.

Rashad Jones: Whether or not you think they're trying to help you or they're out to get you, you want to be prepared. You want to put your best foot forward so that even if they are trying to get you they won't get you this time because you were prepared, and you emailed them and you were able to copy everybody to the emails so they saw that you took for the effort to take the steps that you needed to get it done. So if they tried it, I’d say, if you would refer back to my email that I sent on these dates, then you'll see where I made the effort. I did what was asked of me and so it's at that point it’s up to the University or the people to make it happen. It’s not on your plate. Just in a broader sense, I just wanted to say that you know, I definitely felt what you were saying about being in a position. Feeling like you're not in power because you don't have things in place or you don't have anybody on your side. Sometimes it's because they're trying to help you and you're not prepared and sometimes it's because they don't really want to do it in the first place. So you will run into both definitely.

Bryan Duarte: Let me just say that accountability part is critical. It is crucial. It is essential to anything and it's not always a “refer back to my email” because you're trying to throw it in their face. Sometimes it's just a good way of finding, even yourself, what did we talk about? That's actually really good thing that you brought up, Rashad. I remember when I started kind of advocating for myself and learning, one of the things that I learned early on was a paper trail goes a long way. So whenever I would have in-person meetings I would leave that meeting and go directly to my computer and I would send an email: “Hey, I just wanted to follow up on that. You know we talked about this; you said you were gonna do this; I'm gonna take care of these things, and we're going to meet next week. Have a great day. Talk to you next week.” And once that paper trail is laid, it's really an accountability piece. I really like that you brought that up, so it's a really good strategy to follow up meetings like that, in person meetings, like that. Again, it's not always that you're going to throw it in their face later. It's also just a really good reminder for yourself as well as to who's doing what when is it going to be done by, because you know you're not the only student they're working with. So it's important to keep that in mind. 

Bryan Duarte: But real quickly I wanted to throw another kind of question out there for us all to tackle real quick. And I know Rachel that you had a kind of different view on this, and I think both views are important from my view, so maybe we can talk about this. When is it a good time to advocate for yourself? Or when is it a good time to ask for help? And I think that keyword there is asking for help. So why don't you start off and talk about how you think of asking for help, and then I'll jump in and talk about it from my perspective.

Rachel Grider: Okay, so that's such a great question because I feel like a lot of times when we think of being independent, sometimes we think that independence means that we have to do everything on our own. So, we have to have all of our skills in place and everything, and we don't need help from anybody! We can be islands! But people aren’t islands. We are all interdependent on each other to some degree or other, whether you're blind or sighted or whatever. That’s just how it is as members of the human race. So there are times, I think, that you know we may need to ask for help, and everybody is different. In terms of you know, I know Bryan you're going to speak to the educational aspect in a minute, but in terms of just, say, mobility is an example. A lot of us are at different levels when it comes to how you, being able to travel from point A to point B independently. So if I'm in an airport, my personal preference is use IRA (?)  to get around, but there could be someone who maybe needs more hands-on help, and that is totally okay. So if you feel like there may be, if someone feels like they want to be able to be more independent, they may need to ask for help to learn how to be independent traveling, and that's okay. I think that we're all at different levels, and when it comes to, in a situation where, say you're at a job interview and you're asked a question. You know, how are you going to be able to do this job? Maybe you didn't prepare for that question, so it’s best to have prepared for that question and to be able to answer that question, so we also hopefully you already know the answer to that or have had ideas, but ideally what you could do is you could ask for help from someone who has done this job before. Use your network. We all have great networks. I mean, we’re representing Learning Ally, and if you’re listening to this podcast, you probably either work with a mentor or you’ve used some of the other resources of Learning Ally. There is a plethora of blind and visually impaired people who are, who work here and also who are students. Being able to depend on each other in a way that does not take away your independence, but it enriches it, enhances your independence and enriches it. And I think that's when it's really absolutely okay to ask for help and to say, you know I don't know how to do this on my own right now, at least not yet, but I need help learning how to do it on my own.

Rashad Jones: Absolutely.

Bryan Duarte: Absolutely, and there's so many good points you’ve just made right there. Yeah and I really agree, and I think it is so important that we hear that perspective of getting help. When I think about getting help or asking for help, I tend to think about it in a more rigorous way, and both of them are applicable. You need to know when you're in a situation for both. So the way that I look at getting help or asking for help is, the situation I gave with my professors and I was able to develop a working relationship with them, and then I didn't really have to go to the Disability Center or my DSO all the time. And I definitely don't have to go to the Director of the Disability Services, and I didn't have to go to the Dean all the time. That is one ideal situation right? It's not always going to be like that, as Rashad pointed out. Sometimes you're going be faced with adversity. They're not going to budge. I'm sure one if not all of us have had that situation where the professor just wasn't willing to do anything. They wanted to teach the class, and they wanted to go. They did not want to take any time to work with you. They didn’t want to take any time to make things accessible. And in that situation, what do you do? 

So when I think about asking for help, you need to know your chain of command. You have to understand where your network is and how to use them. So my professor. I would talk to them. Let’s say they weren’t willing to work with me. Okay, well, then now I need to go to the Disability Center. I need to go ask the Disability Center. Hey, Such and such class has this going on. The professor isn't able or isn’t willing to get it for me I need to have the disability center convert this for me. Now let's say for example the Disability Center says, you know what? We don't have the time, the resources, or the money to be able to convert that for you. Okay, well that's not my problem. Now it's a bigger problem. So now I need to go ask the Director of the Disability Center, “Hey, your DSO said that they weren't able to do this for me, that they didn't have enough funding.” “Oh, well it's true. We don't have enough funding.” Well, guess what I gotta do now? Now I have to go above their head. So really what I'm trying to get at here is sometimes asking for help is knowing who to involve next and how to do it, still navigating it along that line of being appropriate and effective. So if you go to the Disability Center then to the Advisor Supervisor and then possibly the Dean, eventually you're going to get what you mean because you know the chain of command and how to ask for it appropriately. 

Rachel Grider: So I think there's also important, I think what you said is spot on. But I would, that’s a situation where you may also need to take some of that responsibility on yourself. For example, okay so I'm in a situation that was similar kind of to what you described. I was in grad school and I had a large or part of the book that I needed to be transcribed. and I needed it by a certain date, and my DSO was not able to get it done. And I was I was doing exactly what Bryan, what you were saying, but there wasn't time, you know, because the date was coming and coming. And I couldn't get it resolved. There was no way I would be able to get it resolved in the amount of time that I needed it to be resolved, so I had to, I ended up scanning it myself so that I could do the assignment. Now I suppose I could have asked for an extension, but I wanted to get it done. I knew it would be a lot more stress later on, so for that particular situation, I had to find that balance. Okay yeah, that is their responsibility, but I still need to be responsible and get this done. And I still of course pursued it, and I still wanted to make sure because I also had to think of the future. I didn’t want this to happen to me again. I didn’t want to spend a whole Saturday night scanning a book using ???? because that was a long night. It wasn’t something I wanted to have to do again. I think finding that being able to find other ways around some of these barriers we may face is also very important. Okay, go ahead Rashad.

Bryan Duarte: I think that's a great thing before Rashad goes, that is a very, very key thing that neither of us really touched on, so I'm glad you brought that up. Asking for help is one thing, and knowing when to ask for help with another point. But understanding your chain of command is just as important as being effective and appropriate in it. But there's still one other component and that component is, do I need to just tie up my boot straps and do this myself? That is amazing. And there’s one thing that I think it can be said for most all individuals who have a visual disability is they are problem solvers. 

Rachel Grider: Yes, they are!

Bryan Duarte: I worked with a person just the other day on a software. He wanted me to do a user study for him. And he said you know I've never seen people who have such a desire and such an aptitude to finding work arounds. I know, I never thought about that, but it's true. We find ways and that is a very, very important thing, and don't lose that, but understand that it might take you a whole Saturday late night doing it yourself, but you'll get it done, versus it could take you a month or two to get it done the other way. Sometimes you need to buckle up your bootstraps. Other times you just need to ask. So very, very good, very important question. Rashad, did you have something to add to the question?

Rashad Jones: Yeah, really what you have said is very important to remember to keep in mind. You guys covered everything, and just in thinking about how else a situation like that could be covered. A pro tip: something that I've done several times, was I went to, since I was a music student, I went to the music library and I had a music librarian help me when it came to having text and things like that scanned because I didn't have the technology to do it on my own, and I didn’t know how to do it. So it's working those networks. I think we may have covered that in a podcast episode, but the thing is being willing to reach out, and actually taking the step of asking for help is so important because sometimes you just need it. Sometimes you need help. To me there's no shame in asking for help. You put yourself back, you set yourself back when you’re in need of something and you don't ask because you're trying to struggle and do it on your own. And you may not be successful in certain situations. But I would just say a general rule of thumb is if it's something that is within your reach, or your ability then you should do it for yourself because you get a greater sense of accomplishment when you do it that way. And then if there's something that you just cannot do on your own, and there's no time, and you need the help, then help is there, and you should not feel bad about asking for help, if you’ve done all that you can. Because you don't want to become that person that seems like they can't do anything by themselves but by the same token, I think that we need to realize that even people who don't have disabilities need help sometimes. I mean I didn't build the townhouse that I’m living in, nor the shoes that I'm wearing, so we all have to have that sense of like Rachel said, interdependence to a certain degree, so just knowing that and really being a willing participant in your education inside the classroom and outside. It's so important.

Rachel Grider: So, the mentors have come up with some great situations we've all most likely been in or are heading for. We would like to chat about a couple of them on this podcast, and we’ll definitely be revisiting the topic in the fall because, like it or not, advocacy is going to be, or is already a constant for us. So we’re going to start with Bryan for the first situation.

Bryan Duarte: Nice. So let's talk about a situation that I think most all of us should or have already interacted with. And that is inaccessible handouts. How are we going to approach this? So here's the scenario: you receive an email from your professor you open the file and your screen reader just does not read it. It’s a PDF, and it is inaccessible. What do you do? Do you:

A) decide to ignore the email because your professor wasn’t able to create an accessible handout? 

B) Do you send an angry email to your DSO demanding that they transcribe it because your professor did not create it accessible to begin with.

C) Have your roommate read the document to you because your professor isn't responsible for Accessibility.

D) Explain why you weren't able to do the excitement next time you have class. (I think I said excitement, but it's really assignment.)

E) Do you use technology to try to convert the file and send an email to your professor and the DSO explaining the situation.

Bryan Duarte: So I'm going to ask you two to give me what you think. If you need me to repeat any of these, definitely let me know, but how would you approach something like this where you have an inaccessible file?

Rachel Grider: Bryan, I thought I was done with school and that I wouldn't have to take anymore quizzes! What is up with this? Just kidding. So I think for me, what I would do, there are definitely different ways. I think it's important to realize that we all have choices in how to respond to these different scenarios and those choices will come with varying results. So I decide to ignore the email --what would happen? I mean what do you guys think would happen? Would the problem go away? 

Bryan Duarte: Definitely not.

Rachel Grider: What would the professor think of me? Definitely not, right? So if I sent an angry email to my DSO demanding that the professor be educated about the Accessibility and I mean that would probably not be..., it would probably get the job done, right? So could I do that? 

Rashad Jones: You could do that. Should you? I don’t think you should though.

Rachel Grider: Probably not. Probably wouldn't give the best side impression. I suppose I could have my roommate read the assignment to me, but you know and I could get it done, but then do we think my roommate would want to do that every time I get an inaccessible assignment? 

Rashad Jones: Nope!

Rachel Grider: Probably not. I could be a victim and explain why I, poor me, couldn’t do the assignment. Probably wouldn't be a good idea either. So what I think would be the better solution or at least the solution that would produce the best results? I can try to use my technology or if there's time, you know get DSO to make this file accessible for me, and I would maybe go and talk to my professor or send an email to my professor and ask, explain, ask if I could possibly have it in a different format next time. And either that, if this professor refuses to help me even after I’ve explained the situation, then I suppose I would have to work out with my DSO how they can make things accessible for me in the future.

Bryan Duarte: Absolutely, and I think that what I'm hearing is you're probably leaning towards E: try to take matters into your own hands. You're going to see if you can do it through assistive technology, trying to convert the file, and you're going to email simultaneously to your professor and the DSO to let them know about it, and hopefully they can get things rectified for the future, and that is the way. Although, I do agree with you that it might be tempting to send that angry email. That's definitely not the most appropriate or most effective way of handling this situation. 

Rashad Jones: Right, I think that's true. You could be tempted, especially if you’ve faced something like this before, if it's from the same professor or something like that. But the thing is this too. A lot of times the people who work for the DSO, they know some of the professors and they know how some of them operate. So some of them are really good about accessibility and accommodations, and then some of them are not. So sometimes they're not unknown entities,  then they'll have something in place. So it's a good idea to follow up with that email like Bryan said between yourself, the professor, and the DSO just so that you have that trail and just so that everybody's on the same page.

Rachel Grider: Yes, having the records is very important. Having the paper trail as Bryan mentioned earlier. 

Bryan Duarte: So Rachel, what do you have for us?

Rachel Grider: All right. So I have “Service to Humanity!” All right. Scenario number 2. You hear that during the COVID-19 crisis, hospitals are short on blood. You have been responsibly social distancing for two weeks, and you've given blood before, so you should qualify again. But when you show up to the Blood Bank, a frazzled staff member sees your cane and says, “Um, I don’t really know how I'm going to lead you to the different stations, so I'm sorry, you can't give blood today. I’ll give you a participation sticker though. So what would you do? Would you:

A) Take your sticker and leave, relieved that you can at least pretend you gave blood today.

B) Ask in a defiant tone to speak immediately to this person’s manager, determined to show these unenlightened fools that blood is blood.

C) Leave because this is a crisis situation, and they have enough to deal with.

D) Politely reply that you would very much like to give blood, explain that you can follow the staff members’ directions without any physical physical contact with them, and ask if they have any additional concerns.  

What would you all do?

Rashad Jones: I mean it's something where you really have to be diplomatic about it and say, you know I don't understand why you preventing me from doing this. This is something that I can do. I would explain to them that blood is blood, and you know I'm healthy, I meet all of the requirements, so can you give me a reason as to why you don't want me to do this? Sometimes having them provide you an answer will help you and then if that doesn't work, if they're being contrary about it, then you would need to escalate the situation and say you know this is really not acceptable behavior, and you know as a citizen or as as a concerned volunteer, I'm going to have to speak to someone above you about this because...

Rachel Grider: Well now, the Blood Bank person has already said that they don't think that they should take you because they can't lead you to the stations without violating social distancing.  So how would you respond to that, if they said that to you?

Rashad Jones: Well, then hopefully, you have a cane or if you're a guide dog user, you have that, and so you could tell them they can verbally give you cues as to which way to go as they lead you, something like that. That’s just off the cuff what I'm thinking.

Rachel Grider: Yeah. So you’re going with D. Okay, so I have a follow up question for either of you. What if you're comfortable taking verbal directions and following, then that is the solution. Now what if though, what if you're not? If you don't feel comfortable with that. How would you address that issue? What do you think you would do?

Rashad Jones: I don’t know. This is a tough one. I’m sorry, Bryan?

Bryan Duarte: I was going to say what you said, we’d be getting into deeper woods there, because you could argue that maybe the person needs training. They should be able to take directions verbally or in any other way. I don't think that going in and expecting someone to give you human guide assistance here is always the right choice. In that situation, I would argue that maybe the individual should maybe just say, I’ll come back with a family member, and they can lead me around or come up with a different situation. Because it probably isn't fair for them to break social distancing rules on your behalf because you aren’t trained.

Rachel Grider: That’s an excellent thought. So you’re actually saying that the person would go back and ask for help from a family member, and maybe with the ultimate goal of eventually having the skills that they can navigate the Blood Bank or wherever on their own with verbal directions..

Rashad Jones: Right. And it did make me wonder how the person got there in the first place, so that might one of the cases where…

Rachel Grider: Took Uber!

Rashad Jones: Right, right if they took Uber, but then they had to get into the building. But I mean, this could happen, it certainly could.

Rachel Grider: And some of you who may have multiple disabilities in addition to blindness, other disabilities in addition to blindness, may need to think outside the box of other ways, maybe discussing with a family member or friend, how you can navigate this type of situation. Because it’s going to be the same for all of us. So I think trying to come up with productive, creative ways where you can still give this type of service right now during a crisis like this and do it in a safe way. So let's go to our last situation with Rashad. Our last question.

Rashad Jones: All right, well here we go. This is something that most of us, or some of us at least could really identify with. Friends from school or work are going to be meeting up on Zoom for a game night, but they did not invite you because they thought that you wouldn't have fun, because the game that they’re going to be playing is inaccessible. You find out that they're going to play the game at the last minute. That definitely happens. So, do you yell, “You're violating the ADA! You’ll be hearing from my lawyer”? Or do you sit quietly on sidelines and hope that somebody recognizes that you're not having fun? Do you politely approach one of your friends or colleagues to see if you could talk about how to make it accessible for you? Or do you just not participate, and sit at home and cry? What do you do? Now I’ll start off by saying…

Rachel Grider: Aww, it’s sad.

Rashad Jones: It is sad. Personally, I have done the second one. I will admit to having been someone who's just sat there, like, maybe they’ll notice. But that doesn’t always work. Then sometimes what ended up happening with me was they realized later on, and they said something about it later on, like “dang, we just left you out. Sorry.” That happened with family one time. That’s not always the best thing to do. It’s a pity party.

Rachel Grider: I’ll admit that I’ve done that as well. I’ve done the last one too before, honestly. Maybe not stayed home and cried, but I’ve decided not to go, felt sorry for myself, yeah moped about it. Not very productive.

Rashad Jones: Nope.

Bryan Duarte: I tend to be the outspoken one by nature, so I threaten them with my lawyer. No, I don’t.  

Rachel Grider: I think that’s a great solution!

Bryan Duarte: I take the same approach that I take in other situations, but in a much different way. And sometimes humor goes a long way. Just being able to lighten the mood, or maybe being able to modify the game in some way. You pair up, and you have somebody who is on your team.

Rachel Grider: That’s what I usually end up doing. It’s fun. It’s totally fun. I think there are always ways. If they’re really your friends, then they’ll be more than happy to make those accommodations or maybe change, have someone pair up with you. I think it’s totally fair to ask, to discuss ways to help the game be more accommodating, to accommodate you. And it’s fun. You can always have fun, and sense of humor is great. I love that Bryan, what you said about having a sense of humor.

Bryan Duarte: Nice. Well, I think that this has been a great discussion. Thank you both for your insightful and your transparent experiences in both situations. I think we all had fun. I know I can speak for myself that I had fun. I just want to give a special thank you to Rachel for the beginning of this idea. She wrote a nice resource that you should all go check out. You can find that through the Schoology app, or you can go to LMS.learningally.org, and you can find it on your dashboard in your courses in the Schoology app. And if you need any help, please feel free to email at csp@learningally.org. This is the end of our podcast pilot. We hope you enjoy it. We’ll be back in the fall with more content, more drama, and more fun. Be sure to subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, and be sure to tell your friends about our new adventure in creating a podcast.

Rashad Jones: Before we go, we’d just like to take the time to thank our Learning Ally staff for supporting the launch of this podcast, as well as all of our funders and stakeholders for supporting all that we do. The co-hosts for College Knowledge are Rachel Grider, Bryan Duarte, and Rashad Jones. Our program director is Mary Alexander. Our podcast writer is Kristen Witucki. Abigail Shaw produced the audio for this podcast, and our social media and distribution manager, Katie Ottaggio. I’m Rashad Jones, and this is College Knowledge.

Read More about College Knowledge Podcast - Episode 4: Advocacy

Summer Reading Recommendations Part 3: Learning Ally Staff
A man is shown from behind and is looking at a smartphone and has headphones on.

July 16, 2020 by Katie Ottaggio

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

The College Success Program decided to put together a summer reading list so that we could encourage our students and each other to gravitate toward good books we've either read or plan to read. I've recently learned about enough great books to start a blog series! I have to admit that hearing about the many recommended books leads me to feel almost frozen by the thought of all the books I might not get to! We hope these book lists will help give you a sense of who we are and our program, and also offer some reading entertainment for everyone! For the third and fourth parts of our blog series we asked Learning Ally staff from across the organization to contribute their favorite books. As you may already know, the College Success Program is a very tiny part of Learning Ally, a mission-driven non-profit which works to ensure that teachers have the tools to deliver high-quality reading products to their students with visual, learning or physical disabilities. Our solutions have grown from the audiobook, so naturally our company is full of bookworms. On Zoom, the platform we use to carry out our work, our Literature and Audiobook Experience Lead, Alexis (pronounced Alexie) created A Place to Talk Books. From that channel, I received more recommendations than I could possibly use - maybe that means I need to write a mini winter break reading list! But in any case, we hope these recommendations will get you started!

Please note: These books are not necessarily available in the Learning Ally catalog.

James, Leader of Process Redesign Analysis
I just finished Spying on the South by Tony Horwitz. He's one of my favorite authors. Sadly, he died just after this book was published. It's part history, part travelogue (as most of his books are). Germane to our times, Horwitz follows the trail of Frederick Law Olmstead. Olmstead traveled the south in the mid-1800s as a correspondent for the New York Times, reporting on the divide between the slave-holding south and the free north. Horwitz reports on the same cultural divide in our own time. It's illuminating and fun in equal measures.

I also recently read Sharon Salzberg's Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness. I started it before the nightmare of 2020 got fully underway, and it turned out to be a good choice. This is based on her study of the Buddhist "divine abodes" meditations (brahamaviharas): Kindness, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity.

Another five-star book for me recently was James McBride's The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother. The title is all you need to get interested in reading this beautiful memoir. This is the second nonfiction book of McBride's that I've read; I've got to read some of his fiction.

On the lighter side, I had to read Caitlin Doughty's new book: Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death. Doughty is terrific, and this book was a fun, quick read, not just for children. That said, her first book, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (And Other Lessons from the Crematory), is my favorite of hers. She also has a channel on YouTube called "Ask a Mortician".

And what I'm looking forward to in the summer? I like to read genre fiction, graphic novels, and other lighter fare in the summertime. I just reread some P.G. Wodehouse, because I needed some silliness. I'm looking forward to reading something by sci-fi author N.K. Jemisin; probably her new novel The City We Became. I already read the second of Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad novels (The Likeness); I'll probably continue going through Walter Mosley's detective novels, too (next up: White Butterfly). I'm fond of Gilbert Hernandez's graphic novel work, and since many of his books are on my library's Hoopla service, I'll probably read one or more of them.

Sharon, Inside Sales Representative
Born A Crime by Trevor Noah
This book was recommended to me by more than one person. It was heartwarming, educational and funny (plus, the author's lilting voice! I love to hear a story in the author's voice.)


Terrie, National Director, Educator Engagement and Initiatives
I'm into self-help books so my recommendations fall in that world:

Talk Like Ted by Carmine Gallo

15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by John Maxwell

Stacie, Community Lead; Virtual Books Project Admin
The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff
This book is fascinating if only because of the way it was organized. Instead of going through one person's experience, and then another's, the author goes in chronological order, covering multiple people's experiences all at once. It's really an amazing book.

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde; translated by Diane Oatley
One of the best books I read back in 2017. Lunde uses clean prose to tell the interlinked stories of three families over three centuries and how bees affect them and the world around them.

Shtum by Jem Lester
This story of relationships, family history, and autism shines with the love and humor that can come only through personal experience.

The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo by Ian Stansel
A quiet little book with a lot to say about relationships. Beautiful writing, and an interesting story with a twist at the end.

The Tenth Island by Diana Marcum
I expected sappy chick lit, but it was so much more. I learned a lot about the Azores, Azorean communities in the U.S. and journalism. It's a terrific book.

All the Ever Afters: The Untold Story of Cinderella's Stepmother by Danielle Teller
A wonderfully written and greatly imaginative retelling of the Cinderella story from the point of view of her stepmother.

Austral by Paul McAuley
One of the best near-times sci-fi books I've read since The Girl With All The Gifts (which was SO much better than the movie). Wow. A terrific story, well-written; I will definitely look for other books by this author.

The Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig
A wonderful, heartwarming coming-of-age story centered on an eleven-year-old who rolls with the punches and takes his fate into his own hands.

The Broken Circle: A Memoir of Escaping Afghanistan by Enjeela Ahmadi-Miller
Ahmadi-Miller tells the story of the Soviet takeover of Afghanistan in the late 1970s and early 1980s through the eyes of a young girl. Her family's experience was harrowing and heartbreaking, but with moments of joy and continued hope. A truly compelling autobiography.

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive by Stephanie Land
What I expected: a somewhat whiny, very PC tale of the terrible lives of cleaning ladies. What I got: a very well-written, thought-provoking memoir about the author's experiences as an uneducated single mother trying to keep her child safe and healthy (and get an education for herself) while living an existence bound by the crazy rules of our labyrinthine welfare system. I really think everyone would benefit from reading this book.

Looking for more reading inspiration? Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog series or browse the Learning Ally Audiobooks. And, check back in the coming weeks for Part 4, the final blog in this series!

Read More about Summer Reading Recommendations Part 3: Learning Ally Staff

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