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How Bookshare is Closing the Literacy Gap in Alaska (Part 2)

LenaMarie is smiling and leaning against a treeIn Part 1, we learned how Mystie Rail, Executive Director of Assistive Technology of Alaska, provides resources for Alaskans with disabilities.

In Part 2, we learn how high school student LenaMarie leverages Bookshare, Voice Dream Reader, and other resources to succeed in her classes.

LenaMarie is seventeen and lives in Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow) which lies 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle. She was diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia and also experiences anxiety. School was very challenging, and she often felt like a failure. Her parents urged the school to provide more accommodations like assistive technology (AT) and accessible instructional materials (AIM) to help improve her reading and comprehension levels, writing, and processing.

The school asked Mystie to meet with LenaMarie and complete a uPAR assessment to gather data to discover her comprehension and optimal method of reading. LenaMarie read a passage silently and answered ten questions to determine her current reading level compared to her grade level. Then she listened to human-narrated audio of a passage and responded to questions, followed by synthesized audio plus highlighted text. The results revealed that LenaMarie’s comprehension was much higher than the school initially thought, despite her reading fluency level. While the teachers had been prioritizing interventions for her anxiety, they were struggling to address the reading challenges. Once they saw the uPAR results, the team was able to adjust their approach.

Failure is an Event, Not a Person

The first thing Mystie told LenaMarie was a famous quote by Zig Zigler, “Failure is an event, not a person.” Then she helped her create an AT & AIM Implementation Plan in a shared Google Doc that listed the requirements for each class, the tools she could use to complete the requirements, the IEP guidelines, and how comfortable she felt using the AT on a scale from one to five. For her health class, for example, she could read the textbook using Bookshare and Voice Dream Reader on her iPad, take notes using Read&Write on her laptop, and complete worksheets using Google Docs.

As they utilized the Plan, Mystie realized it helped everyone break each strategy into identifiable steps and associate them with the most appropriate tool. It was the first time she had created anything like this for a student, and it offered a clear, well-defined road map of which AT to use and when. The AT & AIM Implementation Plan became part of her IEP, and because LenaMarie drove the process and provided input, it was successful.

Once LenaMarie started using Bookshare independently to read books while listening to the text-to-speech narration, she was able to study more efficiently and effectively, complete her homework faster, and have more time to socialize with friends. Another bonus was that her anxiety decreased as her academic performance improved.

Competence and Confidence Put Opportunities Within Reach

“Using the technology built her confidence, in addition to her competence,” said LenaMarie’s mom. “That’s huge. It built her belief in herself that she can do anything.” Her dad appreciates how Bookshare gives students the ability to read the digital text with the audio. “LenaMarie’s quality of life has improved tremendously, and she is much more confident now that she can read on her own,” he says.

Last summer she participated in a six-week program called RAHI – Rural Alaska Honors Institute – at the University of Alaska Fairbanks where she took college-level classes and learned study skills and time management. She also went to Yale University for a week-long program requiring a lot of reading and research for a community project which she completed using Bookshare on her iPad. With Mystie’s help and LenaMarie’s ownership of the tools and resources she needs, programs like these are within her reach.

Benetech would like to thank LenaMarie for sharing her story and Bookshare champions like Mystie and her team who help students overcome reading barriers.

Learn how you can bring Bookshare to your school.

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