Learning Ally name and logo
|Founders||Anne T. Macdonald|
|Slogan||Making Reading Accessible for All|
Learning Ally, which was previously named Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic or RFB&D, is a non-profit volunteer organization operating nationwide in the United States. It produces and maintains a library of educational accessible audiobooks for people who cannot effectively read standard print because of visual impairment, dyslexia or other disabilities.
Learning Ally's audiobook library, which in 2013 contained nearly 80,000 titles, includes a broad variety of specialty and academic subjects, from kindergarten through post-graduate and professional. In addition to general interest titles and literature, Learning Ally records specific titles requested by member borrowers, provided that the title is educational in nature and supports a formal academic curriculum, and that the member can provide two copies of the book to Learning Ally, which are necessary for the recording and editing process.
Borrowers must provide a certification of their disability, and may borrow titles through an individual membership, through their association with a member institution such as a school, or both. In recent years, approved borrowers had paid no charges or fees for this service thanks to funding provided by the U.S. Department of Education. Since the federal appropriation was eliminated in 2011, Learning Ally began requiring an annual membership fee for individuals, currently $119, with hardship waivers available for those who qualify. Support software for mainstream mobile devices or Learning Ally's ReadHear software for Mac and PC are available to members free of charge. Institutional memberships are also provided at various fee levels to public and private schools, colleges and universities.
The organization also offers integrated learning management systems and professional development for teachers, as well as support for parents through personal consultations, webinars and other tools.
Textbook and literature titles are digitally recorded into downloadable audio files in a specialized format which allows Learning Ally to respect copyright and allows users to navigate their audiobooks by chapter or page number, set bookmarks, speed up playback, etc. Downloadable audio textbooks can be played using mainstream devices like the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch, as well as Android smartphones and tablets, Mac-OS or Microsoft Windows-compatible computers running Learning Ally’s ReadHear software. The audiobooks can also be played back on assistive technology devices like the Plextalk, Humanware Stream, and Intel Reader, to name a few.
Select titles in Learning Ally's library are available in their VOICEtext format, which features on-screen text-highlighting that is synced with the audio playback.
More than 65% of Learning Ally’s digital library includes core-curriculum textbooks for K-12 and college, with extensive collections in science, technology, engineering, and math. Of critical importance for blind readers, Learning Ally audiobooks include descriptions of charts, graphs, and illustrations. It is the largest human-read audiobook library in the world.
A volunteer force of approximately 5,000 people records over 6,000 titles annually into Learning Ally's digital audiobook library. Volunteers primarily assist by reading books in one of Learning Ally’s studios or by recording books on a home computer, but they are also needed for directing, editing, writing image descriptions, fundraising, and many other volunteer activities. Specialty readers with backgrounds in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) are particularly in demand for their ability to explain complex concepts and describe graphs, diagrams, and other textbook images.
Learning Ally was founded in 1948 by Anne T. Macdonald, a member of the New York Public Library's Women's Auxiliary, in response to an influx of inquiries from soldiers who had lost their sight in combat during World War II. The newly passed GI Bill of Rights guaranteed a college education to all veterans, but texts were mostly inaccessible to the recently blinded veterans, who did not read Braille and had little access to live readers. Macdonald mobilized the women of the Auxiliary under the motto "Education is a right, not a privilege".
Members of the Auxiliary formed Recording for the Blind and transformed the attic of the New York Public Library into a studio, recording textbooks using then state-of-the-art six-inch vinyl SoundScriber phonograph discs that played approximately 12 minutes of material per side. In 1952, Macdonald established recording studios in seven additional cities across the United States.
By 1970, the organization found itself serving an increasing number of people who had learning disabilities, including dyslexia. To acknowledge this growing member population, the organization’s name was changed on June 1, 1995 to Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D). On April 11, 2011, the organization's name was again changed to Learning Ally. More than 70 percent of Learning Ally's membership, including children and adults, are certified as having learning disabilities.
The SoundScriber discs were eventually replaced by four-track cassettes; since July 1, 2007, all titles have been distributed on CD in a specialized format (DAISY) which facilitates accessing the audio recording by chapter or by a given page number from the printed material. As of August 2008, titles have been converted into downloadable audio files.
National and Local Award Opportunities
Each year, Learning Ally awards four types of scholarship prizes to students who are recognized for their academic excellence, extraordinary leadership, and service to others; and who have thrived on their education paths thanks in part to their extensive use of accessible educational content and assistive technology provided by Learning Ally. Each award winner has a long list of honors and accomplishments, and has graduated with a GPA above 3.0, with most near the 4.0 mark.
- Mary P. Oenslager Scholastic Achievement Awards (SAA)- Since 1959, Learning Ally has honored exceptional students through the privately endowed Mary P. Oenslager Scholastic Achievement Awards (SAA) for college seniors and beyond who are blind or visually impaired. Hundreds of students apply for these prestigious awards each year and are selected by committees of Learning Ally volunteers, board members, parents, educators, donors and staff.
- Marion Huber Learning Through Listening (LTL) Awards- Each year, Learning Ally honors exceptional students through the Marion Huber Learning Through Listening® Awards, which were instituted in 1991 for high school seniors with learning differences such as dyslexia. Hundreds of students apply for these prestigious awards each year and are selected by committees of Learning Ally volunteers, board members, parents, educators, donors and staff.
- William L. Ritchie Learning Through Listening (LTL) Award- Given to high school students in the metropolitan DC area.
- Winslow Coyne Reitnouer Scholastic Achievement Awards (SAA)- Given to high school juniors or seniors and college undergraduates in southern California.
In 2013 Learning Ally launched the 1in5 Initiative, a web-based campaign to drive public awareness of dyslexia. The campaign combines a viral public service announcement along with an extensive community-driven website, Explore1in5.org.
The Explore1in5 site offers resources and information on dyslexia, including:
- The facts, signs, and symptoms of dyslexia
- Common misconceptions about dyslexia
- Stories from people who have experienced dyslexia
- Opportunities for site visitors to contribute their own stories by uploading a video or writing a blog entry
- Ideas and materials to help raise awareness of dyslexia
-  Learning Ally's (formerly Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic) accessible website
-  Learning Ally's national campaign to raise funds and expand production of accessible audiobooks
-  Learning Ally's national and local award opportunities
-  The 1in5 Initiative's awareness campaign website