In rural Tupelo Mississippi, there’s a teenager who cannot speak or hold a book, yet is so passionate about encouraging people to read, she visits her local library to make sure reading happens for people like her.
Nichole Maples, now 17, has severe Athetoid Cerebral Palsy, a disability caused by damage to the cerebellum or basal ganglia, an area of the brain that coordinates body movements. Nichole has little control of anything except her eyes, but she loves to read with the help of her computer and can listen to stories read aloud. For this bright young gal, reading has become a lifelong purpose.
This summer, she competed in the Bookshare Summer Road Trip Reading Contest and won an iPod Nano in the 9th-12th grade category. She will use the iPod so that she can (with the help of her aide) shoot video and listen to music and audio books.
The contest required students to download books from a recommended reading list established by the NEA (National Education Association) to learn about geography, ethnicity and regions of the U.S. 50 states. Nichole read more than 100 books during the contest from the American Girl series (Josefina on the Navajo Reservation) to Mare’s War, a story about the first African American women to serve in the military. “She loved this book!” said her mother, Valerie Maples. “It was more than 342 pages long and she couldn’t stop listening!”
Nichole reads or listens to digital books from the Bookshare library through assistive technologies like the Read:OutLoud text reader and her Dynavox VMax communication device. “My hands are not able to turn a page,” she said, “but I love to listen to every word. Bookshare has fueled my reading passion and I want to share this resource so that more people with disabilities can enjoy reading too!”
Mr. Jan Willis, Director at the Lee-Itawamba Library System, said “Nichole is a reader like you wouldn’t believe! The ole saying about one’s eyes is true, for Nichole’s eyes truly express the joy she feels for reading, learning and helping others. She loved our summer ‘Paws for Reading’ program where children read to therapy dogs.”
Mr. Willis was pleased to learn more about Bookshare from Nichole and her mom. Mrs. Maples heard about the federally-funded online library that is free for U.S. students with qualified print disabilities. She asked her local school to sponsor an individual Bookshare membership for her daughter. “The library has over 90,000 digital books, including teacher recommended reading, novels, textbooks, required curriculum and compendiums like dictionaries and encyclopedias,” she shared.
Through Bookshare, Nichole can download and use free accessible tools too. It takes her a long time to share her thoughts on her communication device, but her family and friends can verify her love of reading. “That’s why she visits the library,” said Mrs. Maples, “to demonstrate that it’s possible to read, in spite of a disability.”
Growing up, Nichole sat in general education classes from 1st through 9th grade absorbing knowledge, but her teachers couldn’t tell that she was learning. “Through Bookshare, I believe Nichole has acquired a sense of purpose and passion,” said Mrs. Maples. “Reading ebooks has enabled her to feel connected socially. It took some of the stigma away that she couldn’t learn and improved her attention span. Now she wants to help others to read more books!”
Her homebound teacher, Lorraine Bowen, from the Tupelo, MS School System, said, “Bookshare has expanded Nichole’s opportunities to enjoy books of all kinds. Through her love of reading she will inspire others in the library and classroom.”
Nichole’s mother wants to share an important message about educating kids with disabilities. “They know more than you think,” she said. “Using assistive technologies as accommodations and resources like Bookshare, they can learn!”
Today, Nichole Maples is on a journey. She feels it’s her job to tell others about Bookshare. “She’s become a teacher in a sense,” said her mom. ““At the library, she can see the faces of people who are becoming readers. This proves how anyone can attain success in spite of barriers. Bookshare helped her share a joy of reading with our community and what could be better!”
Follow Nichole’s progress on the CaringBridge Website: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/nicholemaples