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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.
Serving Those Who Served
On August 16, 2010 in
Blind or Visually Impaired
Doug Sprei (LAE)
Blinded by the rarest of calamities while he was in the Marine Corps,
discovered that schooling and service to others who served were his tickets back to health and wholeness. In 2010, he was honored with a National Achievement Award scholarship by RFB&D (now Learning Ally).
“I began looking for ways to improve my surroundings, in my home and community. Things like taking leadership roles within the blinded veteran community and advocating for student veterans who were too ashamed to ask for help. Helping others somehow helped me.”
For 36-year old
, a steadfast resolve to be of service has blossomed into a rewarding career path and a journey toward healing and wholeness.
As a young serviceman in the Marine Corps, Dan spent a decade training and serving on the East Coast, West Coast, and overseas. Shortly after leaving Okinawa, he started experiencing severe headaches, losing and regaining his eyesight twice due to a buildup of cerebral-spinal fluid in his head. The third time he lost his eyesight, he never recovered, and it was discovered that the cause was a reaction to a vaccination he’d been given for Japanese Encephalitis while stationed in Okinawa. “I was just one of the very rare guys that have a reaction to it,” he says. “It seemed so incredibly ironic that this could happen to me in the military.” In poor health, Dan ended up separating from the Marine Corps on the same day that terrorists were crashing planes into the World Trade Center, and descended into what he calls “a dark place” in his life. “I lost my eyesight, went through a divorce, left the Marines, moved back to live with my parents. . . and subsided into doing what people call ‘self-medication’ – drinking, withdrawing and not talking to people. And at the end of that tunnel, it was education and school that turned everything around.”
School became the conduit for me to change my life – and reading books in audio format instead of text was huge.
Dan entered Central Arizona College in early 2005; a Veteran's Affairs vocational rehabilitation counselor introduced him to RFB&D (Learning Ally) shortly before starting school. “RFB&D (Learning Ally) turned out to be a major part of
for me,” he says. “When I first lost my vision, reading was the last thing on my mind. But later on, school became the conduit for me to change my life, requiring me to learn completely new ways of doing things – and so reading books in audio format instead of text was was a significant step forward. Having equal access to the same material meant that the focus remained on the course, not the disability. “Reading books through RFB&D (Learning Ally) has helped me become a better listener. A lot of people are such visual learners that as soon as the book closes, they forget about it. In listening to books, I find that I retain the content better.” Today, Dan serves as a coordinator in the Veterans Reintegration & Education Project at the Disability Resource Center at University of Arizona in Tucson. He finds genuine fulfillment as an advocate for student veterans – many of whom are returning from two wars with a variety of trauma impairing their ability to read and learn. “As I continue to serve those who served, I consider my membership with RFB&D (Learning Ally) as an invaluable tool for accessing the printed word.”
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