Learning Ally Blog: Access and Achievement

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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.


The Student Becomes the Teacher
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Getting an explanation for her reading difficulties came better late than never for Kelly Fritz, who wasn’t officially diagnosed with dyslexia until after completing her undergraduate degree. Through perseverance and hard work, Kelly has thrived and will receive her Master’s degree in Special Education this December.

Pictured in the photo above with her husband and daughter, Kelly is a scholarship winner, grant receiver, full-time preschool teacher, and now with the help of Learning Ally’s accessible audiobooks, an avid reader. Adding to her long list of achievements and qualifications, she has licenses in early intervention and early childhood special education, as well as an autism certificate. Kelly has struggled with the challenges of dyslexia since childhood and has found that, frustratingly, schools often refuse to acknowledge the condition, calling it a “reading problem.” She was placed in a spelling and reading program in first grade, but was moved back into mainstream classes by the end of eighth grade. She reflects on how her mother bought her the “Boxcar Children” book series, which she enjoyed but never finished reading, explaining that “It gets so difficult, you kind of quit.” Kelly ultimately graduated high school with a C average, managing to get by with help from her mother and friends but receiving no special help. At the University of Montana, Kelly intended to pursue a music degree but found the required mastery of sheet-music reading to be too much of a barrier, so she switched her major to Social Work. “It wasn’t until after studying all weekend for an exam and receiving a ‘D’ on it that my friend suggested I go and get tested again.” After utilizing the disability resources on campus, she was diagnosed with a “reading and memory issue,” which led to her introduction to Learning Ally—then called Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic. RFB&D audiobooks helped Kelly finish her undergraduate degree, but “that was back when we had the big tape players,” so when she sent her player back she couldn’t access the services anymore. A decade passed during which she didn’t use her membership. Then she decided to pursue a Master’s degree in special education—“I’m so passionate about helping children who are impacted by autism,” and enrolled in the graduate program at Portland State University. "Going from thinking about what you can’t do, to seeing what you can do is amazing.” One of Kelly’s professors at PSU, Anne Shoepe—also a dyslexia specialist and founder of Developing Young Minds LLC—helped her get re-assessed for a learning disability, confirmed that she has dyslexia and became her tutor. “I was really excited when I got that paperwork because it meant that I would get accommodations," Kelly recalls. “Finding the right tutor for dyslexia can help you relearn spelling and writing concepts.” She also rediscovered Learning Ally’s audiobooks, this time accessing the digital format on her iPad. The impact on her schoolwork was dramatic: “I went from getting C’s and low B’s on my exams to getting 100%. It made a significant difference." Since starting to use Learning Ally’s audiobooks last March, Kelly went from not reading at all, to reading nine books, in addition to all the texts required for her curriculum. “It’s totally amazing. I love that I can go on, look through the books, and download it to my iPad. I no longer have that big tape player. I can take it with me.” She looks forward to listening to all the classics that she was unable to read before, such as “Little Women” and “Pride and Prejudice.” Kelly has also taken full advantage of Learning Ally’s book request system, having already sent in nine books she wants recorded and receiving audio formats of the first three. She says having this newfound access has changed her outlook and level of confidence: “Going from thinking about what you can’t do, to seeing what you can do is amazing.” Kelly has exciting plans for the future: she currently teaches preschool at The Children’s Hour Academy in Oregon and, upon completing her master’s degree, intends to work with autistic children. She also says, “After graduation, I’m going to aggressively take on advocacy for testing accommodations for the GRE and other licenser exams. I’m also pushing for using modern technology… the testing services are still using cassette tapes, so things really need to be brought up to modern standards.” She doesn’t miss the large tape players that Learning Ally used a decade ago either: “Being able to play it through the iPhone is cool, because then we’re like everyone else.” She also adds, “There’s no way I would have been able to make it through school without Learning Ally’s help . . . I hope you guys keep doing what you’re doing.”


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