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Decoding Dyslexia with an Ivy Leaguer

Bookshare member Brian Meersma shares his journey to Cornell University

That Was Then: Dyslexia Diagnosis in Third Grade

When we first met New Jersey native Brian Meersma, reading was a challenge. He was diagnosed with dyslexia in third grade, and because his reading skills were lower than his peers, his school recommended that he be removed from the regular classroom and placed in a special class. Brian had to rely on his parents and others to read to him. As a result, he never enjoyed books.

“When your child is struggling to read, and so much of what they come in contact with on a day-to-day basis is reading, it can be very discouraging. It sets them apart, and it can lead to isolation and diminished self-esteem when they can’t read,” says Kathy Stratton, Brian’s mother.

Once Brian discovered Bookshare and assistive technology, however, he began to take control over his own learning. He downloaded ebooks onto an iPad that offered text highlighting and audio narration. It gave him a great sense of independence and accomplishment.

“One of the great things about Bookshare is I can hear and see the words that are being read, so instead of putting all my energy into decoding the words, I can use my energy to understand the content,” says Brian.

This is Now: Cornell University, Microsoft, and Beyond

Brian exceled in high school and is currently a senior at Cornell University where he is majoring in Industrial and Labor Relations. Says Brian, “I find it is much easier to blend into the college classroom while using assistive technology on my iPhone or iPad.  It’s so common, and almost all students use some kind of technology, so I can use my devices and not draw attention to myself or my disability.”

Brian has many other achievements to his credit. In 2015, he was honored as a White House Champion of Change for Disability Advocacy Across Generations. The White House honors “individuals doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities.”

During the summers of 2016 and 2017, he was a program manager intern at Microsoft. This fall he is serving as a legal intern for the U.S. Department of Justice. All of us at Benetech congratulate Brian on his many accomplishments and are pleased to share this new video about his extraordinary journey.

[Download video transcript]

Are you interested in learning more about how Bookshare helps individuals with dyslexia? Check out these articles:

Doctor Shares Daughter’s Discovery of Accessible Ebooks

CEO Credits Bookshare with Unlocking His Love of Reading

2 Comments

  1. Gina

    This is definitely a great example that your disability will not hold you back. Congratulations!

  2. I have 15 Nices and Nephews that are older then my own children. Three have graduated from Ivy Leage shools an another is a senior at Columbia. As you can imagine, my family takes higher education very seriously. Of my 9 year old twins, my daughter is right on target. My son however is in a special education class and strugles every day. Brian’s story has given me hope and encourgment as I work with my 9 year old son daily to find ways to overcome his disability.

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