The words "struggle" and "success" mean different things to different people. As a student Marie Kouthoofd struggled through school because of her vision loss, but she found success as a college professor. This is Marie's story.
The Way It Was
I remember sitting in the driveway with my husband. Nearing the completion of my undergraduate studies and gearing up for my Master's Degree program, I was drained and tired. The strain on my eyes and patience was taking its toll.
In 1989, I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa and was declared legally blind. I had been working as a licensed practical nurse – I lost my license to drive, became unemployed and had to make some tough decisions. Those decisions eventually brought me here.
Struggling with my collegiate work load, I found the bulk of my difficulties less a result of academic incompetence, and more a result of my limited vision. I simply lacked the visual ability and resources to access my reading material. Of course, I hired readers, scanned material and used books on tape. But all of these options, as wonderful as they were, always came up short. Technology was not that advanced, readers were not a dime a dozen and many of the books I needed were not accessible in a taped format.
Nonetheless, I graduated, Magna Cum Laude and immediately entered graduate school determined to attain my goals. The reading assignments in graduate school, as you can imagine, did not lessen but multiplied. It became exceedingly difficult to get my books on tape and almost impossible to find available readers who were willing and qualified to tackle the work load.
My "Driveway" Dream
So it was that evening in the car, I still remember, I was almost reduced to tears, fantasizing about the time I would be able to read whatever I wanted as easily as my sighted counterparts. I dreamed of the time when I could thumb through books and articles with ease and carry my material in a hand held device. I remember holding my cell phone (which at the time was much larger than cell phones today) and saying "What if I could have all my reading material right here in a device like this?". How I believed my life would change. I knew this technology was possible someday, just probably not in my lifetime.
I missed reading, I missed curling up with a book, flipping through an article, simply having the freedom to expand my mind with the knowledge gleaned from books. But that was just a fantasy, that fantasy was not reality. In my somewhat cynical view I just thought that was for the future, someone else's future, not mine. So I continued through school, found it more and more difficult to find the graduate school materials prepared and ready in an accessible format. I spent many beautiful days, days I could have spent with my family, locked up in my room waiting for my software to "scan and recognize". It wasn't until I became a college professor that my driveway dream was realized.
A Dream Come True
I went to a meeting at our state capital. During a meeting recess I overheard a "digital voice" coming from a small hand held device. I was so intrigued I introduce myself so that I could inquire about it. The device owner said it was a Victor Reader Stream. She graciously gave me a quick demo – I fell in love! I grabbed my cell, called my husband and exclaimed "They did it! They made a handheld device that holds books!". My husband Googled (like any good husband would (smile)) and found the HumanWare website. I could not get home quickly enough. I found a sales distributor and purchased the VR Stream without hesitation. Now you may be saying "Great, nice to hear it…and your success story is?".
My success may not be the "traditional" success that most people think of, but I will tell you the truth, the VR Stream and DAISY navigation changed everything for me. Ever since I placed that reader in my hand, I have done nothing but make up for lost time – the time I lost reading, thumbing through bookshelves and filling my mind with knowledge. The use of DAISY books with that little device has impacted and improved my life as a teacher and learner in so very many ways. Nevertheless, allow me to share some of them with you.
I have been teaching now for approximately eight years. As a college professor, my reading load has not diminished. The major change however is the ease with which I can access written material. Thanks to friendly publishers who supply files, the progressive speed of Optical Scanning Recognition and file conversion and transfer, the Victor Reader is my universal transit library for navigable DAISY books and other content. It is the realization of a fantasy, my "driveway dream". My VR Stream bookshelf holds a plethora of textbooks, lecture guides, instructor resources and any scanned material I choose to read. I have read the 6th, 7th & 8th edition of my class text. I mean I really read them! I take memos which assist in my writing endeavors, keep a couple of MP3's for my listening enjoyment and I have even been known to take it to bed using its handy snooze button. I thumb through my bookshelf, read, use bookmarks to quickly find noteworthy points and even gave Bookshare a try for a year. With the additional memory card I have plenty of room for whatever I choose. The battery lasts a good long time and just for those times when I'm a bit scattered and forget to turn it off – oh I love that lifesaving automatic shutoff (smile).
One definition of success is 'one who succeeds'; the word succeed may be defined as 'to attain a desired object or end; to be successful'. It is my life's goal to grow, fill my mind with wisdom and knowledge and to help other's do the same.
Success as I See It
The Victor Reader Stream is one piece of assistive technology that has helped me to continue on that path. Thanks to the VR Stream and the rich reading experience DAISY books provide, when it comes to knowing my stuff, I may humbly but accurately declare that I am a force to be reckoned with. But, as silly as it sounds there is one thing the VR Stream has given me that no other device has had the ability to. And that is the ability to proudly and authentically proclaim to my students each and every semester "I will never assign any reading to you that I myself have not read". That statement, to me, is a true definition of success and the realization of a dream!