Brenda Szymkowiak, a Teacher of the Visually Impaired for Plano ISD in Texas, is beaming with pride over the accomplishments of her eighth grade student, Anna Martinez. Anna just won second place in the Digital Media Access event at the 2013 Region 10 Technology Olympics. “Anna is quite the reader and competitor,” said Ms. Szymkowiak.
The Region 10 Technology Olympics is an annual event held at the Education Service Center in Richardson, Texas. Students in third through twelfth grades compete and demonstrate their skills and knowledge of the latest technology equipment and educational resources for blind or visually impaired students. This year, students in Region 10 could participate in three grade-level competitions using tools and software programs on various devices, computers, portables and mobiles, braille machines, and adaptive technologies in these categories:
- Abacus and Calculators
- Braille Writing
- Computer Access Internet
- Word, Excel, and Powerpoint
- Digital Media Access
- Braille Notetakers
- Magnifiers and Telescopes
Anna chose to compete in the Digital Media Access category against ten other students reading Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry, a required seventh grade English book. She placed second for answering the most correct reading comprehension questions. Anna read the digital accessible book on her Victor Reader Stream. She downloaded it through her individual membership to the Bookshare online library.
“Bookshare is AWESOME!” she told students. “If you qualify you get a free membership and can go online to get your books!”
Ms. Szymkowiak says, “Bookshare is an excellent resource for students like Anna. They can get their reading assignments on time and read for pleasure at home or in the library. I love how versatile the organization has become to offer different apps and formats to give students a choice to read on smart phones, tablets, or computers.”
Anna’s mom, Martha Martinez, says, “Bookshare has been a beneficial resource for my daughter. She is able to listen to all the books that other children are now reading. She’s able to follow highlighted words and likes to listen to the computer generated speech, which is more fluid. Formerly, when she read print, she was much slower and got frustrated with small print books. Now, she loves to read using an iPad and Read2Go. We see her reading day and night!”
Interestingly, Ms. Szymkowiak also taught Anna’s older brother, Alex, who is visually impaired. At a young age, he learned to use reading technologies and was provided a membership to Bookshare. Alex will attend the University of Texas at Dallas. He chooses to read books on his Android phone using Bookshare’s free app, GoRead.
Last year, at Plano ISD, more of Ms. Szymkowiak’s colleagues learned how to sign up for and use Bookshare effectively to support students who qualify. They met with local outreach coordinators who are part of the Accessible Books for Texas program. The program is funded by the Texas Education Agency and administered by Benetech, a nonprofit organization that serves humanity through technology. It offers training and information to Texas educators and parents to help them better understand the benefits of accessible books and technologies in support of children with print disabilities. “It is amazing to see how much progress we have made in the last few years around accessible books and technologies to serve individuals who are visually impaired,” said Ms. Szymkowiak.
Mrs. Martinez adds, “With tools and resources like Bookshare, my children can compete in events such as the Technology Olympics, attend college, and live more fulfilled lives.”