Bookshare member is excited to start college and embark on a career in biopsychology with help from disability resources and self-advocacy
Raven Riley is going places. At just 15, she is starting her classes at Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC), located in northern California. Like most first-year college students, she is excited and nervous. She will take online classes for the first semester and transition to on-campus classes after that. Raven, who has a visual impairment, will rely on her white cane, monocular, and all the independent living skills she has developed over the years. Also calming her nerves is the knowledge that she has prepared herself well by researching disability resources and advocating for her needs.
Bookshare and Assistive Technology Put Learning within Reach
Raven has low vision with no depth perception. “Everything is blurry,” she says, “but I can see motion and color.” As a result, reading was very challenging as a child. She relied on her mother to read to her, but her mom wasn’t always available, so Raven needed to become more independent. “I have vivid memories of forcing myself to read print books because I thought that was what you were supposed to do. I just wanted to finish my assignments so I could go play. I remember holding my history book so close to my face that I could feel my eyelashes flicking the page.” This close reading, however, caused eye strain, migraines, and sore wrists from holding books.
Fortunately, in fifth grade, a vision specialist told her about Bookshare and its vast library of ebooks for people with reading barriers like her. Raven finds books on Bookshare and uses Read&Write Gold to increase the font size and select white text on a black background for maximum contrast. She also uses the Zoom feature in Chrome to enlarge text as well as a Windows magnifier. With these tools, Raven learned to read on her own without the assistance of others.
Roadmap and Resources for College Success and Beyond
When it comes to her college goals, Raven has them all mapped out. “I plan to major in biology with a minor in psychology, and then get a PhD in biopsychology – a niche but burgeoning field that combines biology, neuroscience, and psychology, with a sprinkling of endocrinology,” she explains. “It is a marriage of all those fields that focuses on the physical brain with regard to behavior.”
“I begin classes at Santa Rosa Junior College on Monday. The prospect of attending college at my age seems surreal, but I feel very prepared.”-Raven Riley
To ensure that she has all the tools she needs to be successful, Raven contacted the SRJC Disability Resources Department. She plans to take advantage of handheld magnifiers, textbook conversions, note-taking assistance, and a DaVinci machine – an HD video magnifier with a camera and text-to-speech. You place a document under the camera, it enlarges and projects the document on the monitor, and DaVinci reads the document aloud.
Ask For What You Need
What is her advice to other students with disabilities? “Research the programs and services that are available at your school as well as at the local, state, and federal levels. Be firm with your demands, but also flexible. Be confident you can ask for what you need without being a burden,” says Raven. As a passionate member of the Bookshare Student Roundtable, she frequently shares her advocacy advice with younger members.
Raven urges teachers and paraprofessionals to assemble a well-rounded team that can help with all of a student’s needs, including support for positive social interactions. “Students who are blind or visually impaired often have difficulty socializing since they can’t see body language or facial expressions,” she says. For parents, she notes that advocating for their child may be difficult or awkward at first. “It’s like being an Olympic surfer versus trudging through wet cement. Advocacy requires work, but it’s so worth it once you get to other side,” remarks Raven.
Capitalize on Strengths
When Raven isn’t studying, she enjoys playing video games, especially online multiplayer games like Destiny 2. These types of games focus more on teamwork, leadership, and reaction time, skills that Raven excels at as opposed to finding small objects in a dark room.
It takes ample self-awareness for Raven to say: “I am disabled. There are some things I cannot do, but I don’t have to focus on those deficiencies.” Raven’s many strengths – determination, passion, focus, and a maturity beyond her years – will carry her far in life.
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