Born blind in Paraguay, guest author Vicky Codas was enabled by assistive technology to become a teacher. Now this Learning Ally member wants to pay it forward. Here she shares her story about discovering the power of audiobooks, and her dream to make accessible education in her native country a reality.
"I was born totally blind and grew up in Paraguay, a small country in South America. My mom wanted me to have the same quality of education and opportunities my brother and sister had, so to make a long story short, I was the first blind student in my country to attend a regular school from grade 1. My whole education has been quite an experiment, but it was indeed an exciting journey! I majored in general education, and worked as a music teacher with sighted kids at a regular middle and high school, which was another first for a blind person in Paraguay.
"I discovered Learning Ally a few years ago, through a friend who volunteers by reading at the Tennessee chapter. One day she mentioned she was doing this volunteer work, and she was wondering aloud how useful the service could really be. Knowing firsthand what it feels like to not have access to textbooks, I launched into a long and detailed account of woeful personal experiences and the wonderful benefits such a service could have meant for me had I had it, and surely what it means for current users. That was four years ago, and she's still reading. I have encouraged other friends to volunteer and support in whatever way they can, and I'm always happy to advocate for Learning Ally in this way... especially now that I’ve been a user myself!
"Years after I graduated, I decided I wanted to go back to school. I wanted to explore more about curriculum adaptations, accommodations and assistive technology for persons with visual impairment, the latter being still a bit of a mystery in my country.
"In 2010, thanks to a Fulbright scholarship and an International Teacher Education scholarship from the ADK foundation, I moved to Michigan to start my master’s degree in Visually Impaired Special Education. Learning Ally has made a huge difference: All my life, I've had to either have someone dictate things so I could transcribe them to braille, or have some family member or classmate read to me or record text (sometimes even over the phone), or rely on my class notes alone, or only recently, scan things myself. In short, I've always had the added task of figuring out a way to get my study materials. Somehow I managed to be a good student in spite of all that, but I've certainly never performed as high as I did these two years: I graduated with a 4.0 (no bragging, just making a point)!
"With Learning Ally's support, all I needed to concentrate on was succeeding in my courses, rather than wasting half of the time in producing my study materials myself like I used to. I’ve felt terribly spoiled; I've never had this accessibility to educational material before.
"The quality of the service and the way it works has actually inspired me to try to fulfill a big dream: Now that I’m back in Paraguay, I’m in the process of launching a similar initiative for the production of accessible reading material, my big priority being textbooks needed in our public education system. It is more than a little daunting, but spreading the “magic” of equal educational opportunities for persons with disabilities is definitely worth the sweat and tears, especially because I've lived it and know it’s possible.
"To those who might need accessible materials, I strongly encourage you to give it a try. Learning Ally will not provide 'just audio books,' but a strong network of educators and other team members with ideas and resources promoting a true commitment to learning."
– Vicky Codas, Paraguay