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.


Graphic Novels in an audio book format?
El Deafo Audiobook

January 16, 2019 by Jhara Navalo

Maus Graphic Novel - Audiobook recordingGraphic novels are the only genre of books that has experienced a boost in sales and they currently bring in over $1 billion annually. The genre was initially not taken seriously until critically acclaimed books such as Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1991) and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen (1987). The 2000s ushered in a bunch of new classics and award-winning titles like Marjane Satropis’s Persepolis (2000), Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (2006), and Raina Telgemier’s Smile (2010). Graphic novels are now part of every student’s required reading list and have been a great way to get a younger audience engaged in reading.

With over 70 years of experience in ensuring students with learning differences gain access to the books that students need and want to read, Learning Ally has taken up the challenge of providing graphic novels via an audio format. Dave Kozemchak, Audiobook Production Director at Learning Ally, is in the know of all that is popular in the literary world. He looked at the latest and greatest audiobooks for K-12 students and knew that Graphic Novels were wildly popular.  In an effort to ensure that Learning Ally is providing the most relevant content for our students, he worked with our Solutions, Technology, Audio Production, and Volunteer teams to find a way to produce Graphic Novels for all of our student members. Our solutions team quickly responded to the needs of our students by upgrading our Learning Ally’s Link App Reading tool to allow functionality for our students to fully access our graphic novel audio books.

Abigail Shaw - College Success ProgramAbigail Shaw, former College Success Program mentor and now full-time Learning Ally employee, gave us insight into the world of our blind and visually impaired students. Abigail is visually impaired and an audio production expert, providing Learning Ally with the perfect combination of talents to produce top quality audiobooks for students who struggle to read print.  Abigail has a of knowledge in the area of Accessible Media and knew ways that other media groups provide access to content for the blind and visually impaired. Netflix provides a function that consumers can enable allowing for audio descriptions of moving media for individuals who cannot see.  For example, in a scene when someone is leaving a room, Netflix Audio description functionality will quietly describe the non-verbal elements of a scene, such as “character x leaves the room”.  Non-verbal cues are big in communicating content and something sighted people can take for granted. We are fortunate that Abigail can provide us with that insight and help Learning Ally develop the best tools possible to support students who cannot read print!

To produce graphic novels, we needed 3 components to properly execute the production of audio books for graphic novels; (1) Book, with our first endeavor being El Deafo (2) Instructional text narrators to record visual descriptions, and (3) audio book narrators to record the text for the books.

Colleen - Asbury Park, NJ

Graphic Novel Volunteer - Colleen

Colleen is a classically trained dancer from Asbury Park, NJ, and a theater actress performing in shows such as 42nd street and West Side Story.  A Rider University School of Music graduate, Colleen moved to New York City two years ago and she heard about Learning Ally volunteering opportunities.

She attended an informational session at the NY studio and now volunteers from home.  She’s happy to know that she is using her God-given talent for good and volunteers between acting jobs. Colleen originally started recording instructional text such as textbooks, tutorials, table manners, historical references, and English books.  Her experience with recording instructional text gave her the ability to ease into recording graphic novels.  Colleen lends her voice to provide image descriptions and visual nuances that are specific to graphic novels, allowing these types of books to come to life for the visually impaired.

Why I Volunteer?

Chloe - Hightstown, NJ

Chloe from Hightstown, NJ has been a volunteer at Learning Ally since 2010.  She first came into the Princeton Studio with her mom; her mom was a volunteer in the days of Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic before Chloe was born. Chloe started on quality control when Learning Ally was still distributing books on tape. She went off to New York University where she studied Linguistics, Psychology and minored in Politics. She came back to volunteering for Learning Ally in 2014, lending her voice and subject matter expertise in recording books in German and political topics such as voting rights.

Graphic Novel Volunteer - Chloe

Chloe specializes in Young Adult fiction, where she can use the sound of her young voice to bring life to popular characters for our students to enjoy, such as the voice over for El Deafo and the image descriptions for Sisters, two very popular graphic novels. Chloe has Amblyopia, a condition that affects her vision, and can understand the difficulties of not being able to easily read print.

Why I Volunteer?

Melody, New York.

Graphic Novel Volunteer - Chloe

Melody, originally a Learning Ally intern, was referred to us by the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. She has a portfolio of voice over for animated productions and volunteers a few times a week lending her voice to books such as Smile, Drama, Sisters, and other Raina Talagmeier books as well as voicing Ogi in the Wonder books.  Melody is talented in recording multiple characters in a book, providing a more consistent flow and completing a book in a more timely manner so we can get the books our students need and want to read.

Why I Volunteer?

Audiobook Recording Sample


Interested in Volunteering?

Learning Ally has over 70 years of experience in providing assistive technology to students with a learning difference such as Dyslexia or a visual impairment. Our talented team of employees and dedicated Volunteer Nation has persevered through an ever-changing audio production and distribution industry.  From Books on Tape, to CDs, and online streaming, we’ve maintained our efficacy in bringing both high-quality audio books and relevant content for our K-12 students to continue to read, learn, and achieve for lifelong success.

Volunteer Opportunities
Read More about Graphic Novels in an audio book format?

Tips for Supporting Reading at Home
Audio books for kids

November 8, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

Student Reading at Dining Room TableTry these ideas to encourage your child to practice reading skills at home.

Encourage Daily Reading

Research shows that reading every day helps children build reading comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary. Consider these suggestions for supporting your child with daily reading:

Establish a Routine 

Designate a specific time for your child to read a book at his or her level for at least 20 minutes every night. For example, set aside time for reading after dinner or before bedtime.

Create a Comfortable Reading Environment 

Use pillows, lamps, and comfortable furniture to set up a cozy reading area in your home. Read your own books there to model good reading habits.

Incorporate Fast and Fun Reads 

Use magazines, newspapers, recipes, TV schedules, and road signs as reading opportunities. Incorporate quick reading whenever and wherever you and your child happen to be.

Share Workplace Reading 

Bring home materials and documents from your job so your child sees the relevance of reading in the workplace and the long-term importance of becoming a successful reader.

Read and Ride 

Listen to audio books while traveling by car so your child hears modeled fluent reading. Bring a CD or mp3 player with headphones for your child to listen to audio books while on a train or plane.

Read and Chat 

Discuss the books that your child is reading. Ask questions such as: What was your favorite part? Who were your favorite and least favorite characters? Can you think of another ending?


About Learning Ally

Learning Ally is a leading nonprofit ed-tech organization delivering a comprehensive learning solution for struggling readers in elementary, middle and high schools. Our proven solution includes the most extensive library of human-read audio books that students want and need to read both at home and at school. This reading experience helps accelerate learning, enables a new level of access to knowledge and powerfully increases confidence and self-belief. Learning Ally empowers over 370,000 students with improved comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, and critical thinking skills. For over 70 years, we have helped transform the lives of struggling readers by bridging the gap between their reading capability and their academic potential as they confidently become lifelong learners who thrive in school and beyond.

Become a Learning Ally member today!

Read More about Tips for Supporting Reading at Home

Volunteer Spotlight: Actress Mojena Talien
Mojena Sitting on a Director's Chair

November 5, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

by guest blogger, volunteer,actress and voice over artist, Mojena Talien, talks about her first audio book recording experience with Learning Ally.


Actress, Voice Over Artist and Volunteer, Mojen TalienWhen I found out about the book The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and that I would be recording  audio books for it with Learning Ally, I felt honored, excited, and ready all at once. The voice-over and audio books industry have always been respected by me since I was a child in the theatre. Some of the actors I look up to now, as a child, I discovered their voice before I knew what they looked like. Like James Earl Jones in The Lion King and Star Wars or any character in a Disney Film. With the help of my voice and acting instructors Jay Goldenberg, Sara Buffamanti, and Eileen Connolly at The New York Conservatory I went into this project prepared and grounded in my technique.

The story that Angie Thomas tells is something that I feel very passionate about. Police brutality was first exposed to me with Trayvon Martin and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. I was raised in Florida so that really opened my eyes to the issue. This book is important because it tells the story from the perspective of the adolescent. The book is a roller coaster of love, vulnerability, fear, and learning to come together no matter the differences; whether it be race, religion, and specifically social class. I would like to thank Alexis Bourbeau at Learning Ally. I hope you, the listener enjoys the roller coaster, for it is a great example of optimism and love. Self-love especially.

This is my first book with Learning Ally. You will hear and see me soon again. I just wrapped up a series of beautiful short films that were shot in West Palm Beach, Florida and I just got casted as a dancer and singer in The Greatest Showman that will open in May of 2019. The Hate U Give is a very important story and I’m glad that you’re listening. Here’s to art that enlightens the viewer, listener, or reader while telling the stories of those forgotten or not heard as much in our society. Happy listening!

Watch as we take you through a clip of our "The Hate You Give" audiobook, recorded by Majen Talien


Learning Ally is a national 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that offers volunteer opportunities. Our volunteer nation has provided narration to our library of over 80,000 audiobooks and has helped students with a financial need, access services that help them succeed in school and in life by making a financial donation. Join the volunteer nation today!

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Reading Challenges - Audio books A ‘Secret Weapon’
Specify Alternate Text

October 29, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

Pink Hair Challenege PhotoBBC world news published a story recently about a determined young girl, Samyra, who made a bet with her camp counselor to read 10 books in just five weeks. If she completed the bet, Oliver, would dye his hair any color she chose, but there was one catch, Samyra has dyslexia, a learning disability that makes it difficult to read books in print. Since early childhood, Samyra hated to read until her mom and teacher teamed up to find a solution.  

That solution was audiobooks read aloud with human narration. Samyra’s school had provided her with access to Learning Ally, a reading accommodation that helps dyslexic kids listen to textbooks and literature on a device, like a tablet or smartphone, as they follow along the highlighted text. This multisensory approach provides the reader with more context of the story and eases the burden of frantically attempting to decode words, which slows the reading process to a crawl and frustrates the reader. 

To ace the bet with Oliver, Samrya chose the Whatever After Series, a modern day fairytale by Sarah Mlynowski. When her mom, Kristen, saw her face light up with joy, she knew this would change her daughter’s life. “She became a totally different kid,” said Kristen. 

Five weeks later, Samyra accomplished her goal. She read 10 books and 1796 pages. Oliver dyed his hair pink and she and Oliver were very proud. Kristen said, “Samrya would have never accepted Oliver’s challenge had Learning Ally not been her ‘secret weapon’.  

Before Audiobooks…Pain and Angst  

Prior to receiving access to audiobooks, Samyra didn’t sleep well. She always felt sick on the way to school. She had suffered horrible anxiety. She would tell her mom that she didn’t understand how other kids could read and know the answer, when she was still trying to comprehend the question. 

Kristen said, “How nerve-wracking it must be for kids with dyslexia to be called upon in class to read aloud and feel so inadequate?”

After years of mentioning her concerns to teachers, Kristen was grateful to her daughter’s 5th grade Science teacher, Mrs. Spence, who wondered why the youngster had not grasped the mechanics of reading. She observed these warning signs:  

  • Emotional frustration with reading assignments
  • Lack of comprehension of the story
  • Taking hours to read a short book
  • Poor spelling and handwriting
  • Difficulty understanding the sounds in words and mixing up letters

Waiting for a Formal Diagnosis

After a series of tests, her school gave Samyra an individual education plan (IEP) that provided extra time on classwork, a tutor who worked on phonetics with her, the ability to have tests read aloud and access to Learning Ally’s more than 80,000 audiobooks. She and her mom would wait nine long months for a formal diagnosis at the local hospital Dyslexia testing center. 

Kristen said, “Over many years of talking with teachers, I heard the same comments – “it was normal for children to go through this,” “she would outgrow it,” “she wasn’t trying.” These assumptions were all wrong. I wish I had been more persistent in pursuing resources, like audiobooks.” 

Today, Samrya is close to reading at grade level and is working on her school’s “Read 40 books challenge,” that she will accomplish with ease using Learning Ally’s mobile reading app, to read anytime and anywhere. “This technology is her constant companion,” said Kristen. “I hope more parents will encourage a struggling child to listen to an audiobook and see if it makes a difference. Audiobooks help children with dyslexia gain learning confidence in whatever they decide to tackle.” 

10 Million Students…Probably Many More!

Today, more than 10 million students in the U.S. are dyslexic, and probably many, many more have trouble keeping pace in school and believing in themselves as good learners. 

If you suspect your child has dyslexia, please share your concerns with your doctor, your school administrators and their teachers, and ask for help

Take dyslexia screener


About Learning Ally

Learning Ally is a leading nonprofit ed-tech organization delivering a comprehensive learning solution for struggling readers in elementary, middle and high schools. Our proven solution includes the most extensive library of human-read audiobooks that students want and need to read both at home and at school. This reading experience helps accelerate learning, enables a new level of access to knowledge and powerfully increases confidence and self-belief. Learning Ally empowers over 370,000 students with improved comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, and critical thinking skills. For over 70 years, we have helped transform the lives of struggling readers by bridging the gap between their reading capability and their academic potential as they confidently become lifelong learners who thrive in school and beyond.

Become a Learning Ally member today!

Read More about Reading Challenges - Audio books A ‘Secret Weapon’

Dyslexia - a Disability or a Difference?
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October 26, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

Practicehope.orgby guest blogger Jen Palmer, a highly qualified teacher with 21 years experience. She has a masters in education and also is a certified dyslexia tutor. Her compassion to help parents comes from being dyslexic, navigating the special education world for her daughter with cerebral palsy, and creating a program at a local private school to help kids with learning differences see success as attainable.


Dyslexia DifferencesI sat across from a mother with tears in her eyes. Her daughter had just been diagnosed with dyslexia and a few other challenges. The wordy scientific books recommended to her were daunting. She searched for an understanding and jokingly asked if there was a Dyslexia for Dummies book to read.

This resonated with me for two reasons.

The first reason being that there is no simple way to explain the intricate processing of the dyslexic’s brain. The other is that our children learning to live with dyslexia have probably felt like “dummies” before.

The word dyslexia means trouble with words.

Kid struggling to readWe need to impress this definition into our children’s minds. They are not dumb or less of a person because they struggle. Many call dyslexia a disability. Disability means not able to do something. Our children do have the ability to read, write, and learn. They just do it differently. This is why we should describe it as a learning difference.

We all learn to tie our shoes differently, but we end up with the same result. It does not matter if it was made with bunny ears, loop over loop, or cross over and go through the hole. It’s a tied shoe that will not fall off.

Our children will learn, but we need to be patient. They may process sounds, letters, word, or directions in a different manner. They have such an amazingly complex network of neurons, that it may take a bit longer than you would expect to process information. As a parent and a teacher, I have to remind myself to stop, wait a minute, and maybe even describe a sound or word in a different manner to get those neurons connecting. Give your child the time. Do not assume they are zoning out or choosing to be difficult. I am pretty positive that they do not want to be different.

Parent reading with childAs you embark on this journey of acceptance and parenting a different learner, please be an advocate for you child. Advocate for them to try new things, spend more time doing what they are good at, and give them tools to make it through school. Work with your child’s teachers to explain that your child may need to access information and/or be assessed in a different manner than others.

I will be honest, that I struggle with the advice some parents are given when seeking a program to help their child with dyslexia. Some have been told teachers should never require their child to use a dictionary, take a spelling test, write in any subject, or have any homework. It seems futile to fight for a child to not be labeled disabled, but then treat them as disabled.

School is practice for life. There are modifications that can be made to keep your child from feeling like they are not able to learn. Shorten the list of spelling words, excuse them from mindless writing of the spelling words 10 times each, and then after the spelling test, give them tools to make corrections. The teacher should circle the missed words, then let your child use a spell checker, a laptop with spell check, or even a word wall.

The goal is to get your child to try.

We want them to understand they learn differently, and have the right to use different tools to help them learn.

Kid reading audiobooksSet a time limit when your child is writing. Let them know you understand writing is difficult, but want them to practice. After the kitchen timer beeps, scribe for your child, and then write the teacher a note detailing how long they wrote, and then you wrote exactly what your child said. Do not autocorrect their writing or interject your thoughts, because the teacher knows your child struggles with spelling and writing and can spot your work immediately. Set your child up with talk to text or a program like Dragon Naturally Speaking if their fingers cannot keep up with their imaginative writing.

You have the opportunity to take a situation that many of you have grieved about and turn it into something wonderful. Yes, your kid learns differently. Some people need glasses to see and hearing aids to hear, but they can still live a full life. Teach your child how to work hard and embrace their differences, because those differences are what will make your child shine in life. Each obstacle they overcome, each time they have to work harder than their peers, each tear of frustration shed is brightening their light and creating a star beautifully different from others.


About Learning Ally

Learning Ally is a leading nonprofit ed-tech organization delivering a comprehensive learning solution for struggling readers in elementary, middle and high schools. Our proven solution includes the most extensive library of human-read audiobooks that students want and need to read both at home and at school. This reading experience helps accelerate learning, enables a new level of access to knowledge and powerfully increases confidence and self-belief. Learning Ally empowers over 370,000 students with improved comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, and critical thinking skills. For over 70 years, we have helped transform the lives of struggling readers by bridging the gap between their reading capability and their academic potential as they confidently become lifelong learners who thrive in school and beyond.

Become a Learning Ally member today!

Read More about Dyslexia - a Disability or a Difference?