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Online Athens: Athens Volunteer Spent 50 Years Recording Books for Disabled

Categories: Audiobook Library, Blind or Visually Impaired, In the News, Learning Disabilities, Volunteerism

This article, by Lee Shearer, was posted to the Online Athens website on December 2, 2013. 

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Volunteer Ellen Hanna looks down to read a middle school level math textbook to be used by blind students in Athens, Ga., Friday, Nov. 22, 2013. Hanna began reading books for Learning Ally 50 years ago. Ellen Hanna is celebrating a remarkable milestone: 50 straight years of volunteer service with the same Athens organization. For five decades, Hanna has been recording books for Learning Ally, a group which provides such books for print-disabled students such as the visually impaired or those with reading disabilities. Hanna started with the group in 1963, when she and her late husband Mark Hanna had just moved to Athens. Gasoline cost 29 cents per gallon, Beatlemania was getting underway with the release of “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and people flocked to movie theaters to see “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Lawrence of Arabia.” Hanna’s husband was a new faculty hire in the University of Georgia’s business school, and she went to a kind of fair to look over what volunteer opportunities in which she might take part. “It just seemed interesting,” said Hanna. Five decades and thousands of recording hours later, Hanna, now 84, can hardly imagine life without being a volunteer for Learning Ally. “I enjoy it and I just feel like it’s part of my life,” said Hanna, who served twice as chair of the local group’s board of directors. She doesn’t know how many hours of recording she’s done for the group. “I don’t keep up with it,” she said. Hanna did more than just volunteer with Learning Ally in those five decades. She raised five sons, got a master’s degree in education, taught math and science, and reared five sons, for starters. She bowls and plays golf, though she recently gave up tennis, she said. Learning Ally was called “Recording for the Blind” when she began helping in 1963. Back then, the group’s recording studio was a disused University of Georgia laboratory. But since 1967, they’ve been in a building on Florida Avenue near the new UGA Russell Library Building. Built with a donation from the Callaway Foundation of LaGrange, it’s one of 11 recording studios nationwide for Learning Ally. The group’s mission has expanded over the years beyond those with impaired vision to include people with learning disabilities. Volunteers like Hanna don’t record popular fiction, but just about everything else, explained production director Eleanor Cotton. Some titles volunteers are working on this week include “A History of Western Music,” Mieroop’s “History of Ancient Egypt” and “United States History and Geography.” Volunteers also record law school textbooks, first-grade readers, and right now even a Catholic Youth Bible, said Learning Ally production administrator Stacie Court. Hanna’s specialty is science and math books. Hanna didn’t begin with Learning Ally because she had a sight-impaired family member or anything like that. But she recalled a touching moment during a visit after her mother had lost her sight, years after Hanna started volunteering. “I wish I could see your face again,” her mother said.