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Technology is a Game Changer for Justin Smith

By Justin Smith

Veteran Bookshare member and disability rights advocate discusses the joy of reading, books that transport him, and the critical role technology plays in his life

I have always loved reading. Stories have always been my escape to different worlds, getting to know different characters, and wrapping my head around new ideas. The first books I vividly remember reading on my own were those of the Harry Potter series.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

I remember reading The Fault In Our Stars as a teenager and being deeply moved. I’ve reread this book a thousand times and love the way the story deals with the questions about life. I proceeded to read every other book by John Green and his brother Hank Green.

The thing is, without Bookshare, I wouldn’t have been able to read any of these books independently.

Technology Brings Freedom and Independence

I am an avid reader who happens to have visual tracking difficulties. I read a line the way you would read it, but the next line backwards. I also have auditory neuropathy, which means my hearing is a bit like someone with terrible bandwidth’s garbled speech in an online meeting. That, along with cerebral palsy and uncontrolled movement, makes it impossible for me to hold a book, let alone turn the pages of one. It makes for some interesting reading challenges. 

In my blog (JustinSmithWrites.com), I write about how important technology is in helping me do what I want to do — from driving a power wheelchair to using a communication device to reading independently using Bookshare. Having text read aloud as the words are highlighted is key for me when it comes to reading. That way, if I lose my place in the text because of my visual tracking issues, I can find my place again quickly. Or, if I don’t hear something correctly because of my hearing issues, it’s easier to follow along with the text as the words are highlighted. 

Despite my hearing and visual issues, Bookshare helps fill in any gaps if I both hear and see when I’m reading. I use the online reader and select the narrator voice and reading speed, too. 

I rave nonstop on my blog and in speeches about Bookshare, which I’ve been using since fourth grade. Bookshare allows me to read anything I want to read whenever I want to read it. It’s freedom and independence. I don’t have to rely on someone else to hold the book, read aloud, point to the words and always be next to me. Imagine being a 22-year-old and having your mom or personal care attendant read the steamy parts of a novel to you. Not my idea of a fun escape!

Bookshare is Pathway to Education, Lifelong Learning, and Enjoyment

My latest finds on Bookshare are sci-fi and fantasy. I just got my mom To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, by Christopher Paolini. I love the fractal verse! Other favorites include An Absolutely Remarkable Thing and A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor, both by Hank Green. Adore the Carls! 

Through the years, I’ve used Bookshare to read books and textbooks from late elementary school through college courses. I’ve used Bookshare to read for fun and learn about history and politics. I’m able to read classics as well as new books on the day they’re released.

Now that I’m older, I realize just how lucky I have been to have technology in my life for the past dozen years. Thank you for making reading independently possible. 

White Bear Township resident Justin Smith is a disability rights advocate, blogger and speaker about accessibility and living with a disability. He has presented at Closing the Gap and Charting the C’s and was featured in Microsoft’s Inclusion in Action series. This article originally appeared in White Bear Press on March 31.

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