PRINCETON, NJ – Learning Ally, a nonprofit educational organization serving individuals with learning and visual disabilities, has bestowed a National Achievement Special Honors award to Luis Fontanez, Jr. of Reading, Pennsylvania. He is one of several students from across the U.S. who will receive cash awards of $3,000 in recognition of their academic excellence, extraordinary leadership, and service to others.
At the age of four, Fontanez lost the vision in his left eye due to a condition he was born with called congenital open angle glaucoma. Later in high school, he suffered an accident which detached the retina of his right eye and robbed him of his remaining vision. After struggling with his disability for a few years, he received his first cane in 2003, took lessons in how to use it, and fully embraced the challenges in front of him. “I can state with the utmost honesty that my life did not truly begin until the day I became totally blind,” he says.
Fontanez had used human-narrated audiobooks from Learning Ally in school for many years, and he developed a deep and lasting appreciation for the service during his college years at Reading Area Community College and Allvernia University. “The differences Learning Ally has made in my life can be described as liberating, freeing, and profound,” says Fontanez. “It liberated me from the constraint of having to be read to, and has given me the freedom to choose when and where I want to read.”
Now at age 30, Fontanez is pursuing a master’s degree in psychology at Penn State University and his goal is to become a vocational rehabilitation counselor. “In the end, experience has taught me that if you happen to be a person with a disability, then you have to work twice as hard to get the things you want in life,” he says. “Working hard is one of the things I do best. I want a career and I want to work and blindness will not keep me from achieving these goals. I look forward to an opportunity to pass on my experience and knowledge to future generations of students who are disabled just like me.”
About the National Achievement Awards
Since 1959, Learning Ally has honored exceptional students who are blind or visually impaired through its privately endowed Mary P. Oenslager Scholastic Achievement Awards (SAA) for college seniors and beyond. Hundreds of students apply for these prestigious awards each year and are selected by committees of Learning Ally volunteers, board members, parents, educators, donors and staff. Students are recognized for their academic excellence, leadership, and service to others; each award winner has a long list of honors and accomplishments, and has graduated with a GPA above 3.0, with most near the 4.0 mark; and they have thrived on their education paths thanks in part to their use of accessible educational content and assistive technology provided by Learning Ally. For information about applying for Learning Ally’s National Achievement awards, visit https://learningally.org/naa/apply
About Learning Ally
Founded in 1948, Learning Ally serves K-12, college and graduate students, veterans and lifelong learners – all of whom cannot read standard print due to blindness, visual impairment, dyslexia, or other learning disabilities. Through its programs and audiobooks, Learning Ally enables families and schools to manage the needs of students with learning disabilities. The organization offers integrated learning management systems and professional development for teachers, as well as support for parents through personal consultations, webinars and other tools. In addition, Learning Ally’s collection of more than 80,000 human-narrated textbooks and literature titles can be downloaded on mainstream smartphones and tablets, and is the largest of its kind in the world. Several thousand volunteers help to produce the educational materials, which students rely on to achieve academic and professional success. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Learning Ally is partially funded by grants from state and local education programs, and the generous contributions of individuals, foundations and corporations. For more information, visit https://learningally.org
Contact: Doug Sprei
Learning Ally PR & Communications