Bookshare member successfully navigates college life and offers valuable advice for students with disabilities
“A disability is something you have, not who you are.”
As graduation nears for many high school students, thoughts turn to college and the importance of survival skills. Topping the list is the ability to advocate for yourself because the days of spoon-feeding and hand-holding are over. This advice is especially important for students with disabilities, and a student who embodies this sentiment completely is Veronica Lewis.
“Self-advocacy is learning how to speak up for yourself, as well as learning, building a support network, problem solving, and knowing when to reach out for help,” says Veronica. “It’s an extremely important skill to have, as there may not always be someone with you when a situation comes up. This skill has benefited me greatly outside of school, in college, and beyond.”
Veronica, a student at a university in the Virginia/Washington, D.C. area, is studying software engineering and assistive technology in order to develop tools for people like herself with low vision. Bookshare is a big reason why she wants to pursue this field. In 2011, she attended an assistive technology conference for students with disabilities where she learned about Bookshare. She quickly became a member and started downloading accessible ebooks from its extensive library, which now exceeds 550,000 titles.
Reading Before and After Bookshare
“Before Bookshare came along, I was limited to the large print section of the public library which was filled with romance novels and had no age-appropriate books for thirteen-year-old girls,” explains Veronica. “I tried to order other large print books but often the font wasn’t large enough, and the books were expensive and too big to lug around. Then came Bookshare and the Nook ereader which changed my life.”
Bookshare’s library of accessible ebooks solved the problems associated with selection, format, and cost. Membership is free to all U.S. students who qualify. “Thanks to features like enlarged fonts and adjustable color contrast I can have the same reading experience as my sighted friends,” she exclaimed. Veronica uses a variety of reading tools and electronic devices to read books: iPad, Nook and the Go Read app for Android, and Bookshare Web Reader. She enjoys disability literature, nonfiction, memoirs, and books for her English classes. “Most popular books are available instantly so I can read them and join the conversation. I love to get lost in a book,” says Veronica.
Advice for Students with Visual Impairments
Veronica recommends these tips to build a network of resources:
- Ask questions. Make sure you know exactly what services you can receive and how you receive them.
- The world doesn’t have a large print setting you can toggle on and off. If someone hands you a document with small print, develop a plan in advance for making it accessible so you can keep up with schoolwork.
- When considering colleges, evaluate the Disabled Student Services (DSS) and make sure the staff will work with you proactively to give you the tools you need. Read Veronica’s blog: Ten questions to ask when choosing a college.
- If you report a problem, offer a solution – help people give you the help you need.
Seeing the World with Four Eyes Open
Veronica started her Assistive Technology blog (www.veroniiiica.com) to reach out to people with low vision or blindness and let them know they can be successful. She strives to be a role model for younger students and show how they can do amazing things just like their sighted friends. She also offers valuable advice for teachers, parents, and friends of these students. Here are just a few of her engaging and informative blog posts:
On Veronica’s Digital Bookshelf
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw
Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
Many thanks to Veronica for sharing her story and for being a strong advocate for Bookshare by urging the Virginia members of Congress to support renewed funding for Bookshare. Follow Veronica on Twitter: @Veron4ica