Monday, April 28, 2008

Record-A-Thon for blind and dyslexic kicks off


For most of Alexis Hulsebos’ life, she was told nothing was wrong with her. The words that danced around on the page and so frustratingly eluded her were just words and her parents and teachers told her she needed to focus.
She was a smart girl. Could do the math, write the papers and read the map, but she couldn’t read quickly. What took some students one or two hours to read took Alexis seven or eight.

For the majority of her life there was a hurdle preventing Alexis from reaching the goals she set. That hurdle was dyslexia and a disease called Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that destroys glands that produce tears and saliva, which causes the eyes, skin, nose and other parts of the body to become dry.
It crippled Alexis’s ability to read and rendered her unable to reach her potential as a student until mid-2007, when she discovered Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, a national organization with a local office that audio records textbooks and other curriculum for physically and mentally disabled students who have difficulty accessing the written word.
“I couldn’t ask for a lot more,” she said. “I think that this is the only thing that’s really helped me get over the hurdle.”
Now a senior at San Marcos High School, Alexis is on track to graduate with a 4.25 grade point average, a nearly one-point jump in the past year, and has been awarded a full-ride scholarship to the college of her choice.
Alexis’s story isn’t rare. There are currently 650 students in Santa Barbara County who utilize the services provided by RFB&D, and according to Kristen Reed, educational outreach director, the goal is to increase that number five fold in the near future.
A big part of that effort will occur this week during the RFB&D Record-A-Thon, where local teachers, celebrities, journalists and community leaders will step into one of the six, square recording booths, and read aloud anything from a science fiction novel aimed at third graders to a weighty calculus textbook for graduate students.
Reed, 35, who was born with cerebral palsy and suffers from dyslexia and a visual processing disorder, said she began using RFB&D services in the sixth grade. Before that, Reed said she could only read two pages before the words stopped making sense.
“We’re very smart, we’re very bright,” Reed said of herself and Alexis. “We just needed something to help us level the playing field.”
That leveler was made available through services provided by RFB&D, which according to those who have used it, works like a charm.
The studio is located at 5638 Hollister Ave., where six sound booths dominate the room, books and other manuscripts line the walls, and volunteers come and go pretty much at their leisure.
The volunteers do everything from reading to marking the books with symbols that indicate when a reader should make additional remarks about the text.
When the finished product pops out of the CD burner, it’s distributed to students throughout the country, who then listen to it on a special “device,” or portable CD player.
Reed said the listening devices allow students to bookmark pages and jump from chapter to chapter, which saves students a significant amount of time and allows them to peruse the text just like any other person.
So far only Santa Barbara, Goleta Union and Carpinteria Valley Unified School Districts are on board, which leads Reed to believe there is a colossal unmet need.
Many of the students seek the services out separate from their schools, such as Alexis, who said she had difficulty convincing San Marcos High officials to help her. She was eventually given a four-year scholarship through RFB&D to utilize the materials for free.
Reed said RFB&D costs $100 for the first year and $35 for each consecutive year, but no one is turned away for lack of funds. The listening devices cost the most, ranging from $94 to $400. She said the listening device formatted to play RFB&D CDs cost $260.
Ethan Saxton, RFB&D’s production director, said this year’s goal is to complete 183 books and amass more than 4,000 reading hours. At the end of February, the studio had already wrapped up 93 of those books.
The process is time consuming, and almost always requires several different voices to complete one book. But before reading even begins, dozens of hours are spent marking the two different copies of the text, one for inside the studio and one for outside. Then they’re proofread. Of the 14,458 total volunteer hours in 2007, 3,978 were spent reading.
Saxton’s own story is similar to those of Reed and Alexis. He was diagnosed with dyslexia and another language disorder in the fifth grade, which prevented him from being able to take the words from his head and clearly put them on paper.
“Up until then it was hit or miss about whether I was brilliant or severely retarded,” he said. “It’s really that same common story you hear from everyone else.”
Saxton began using the RFB&D CDs and excelled.
Reed fears there are other children currently in need of the programs who simply don’t know about them. She said there aren’t any students utilizing the program in Lompoc or Santa Maria.
Tim Owens, executive director of RFB&D, said he hopes at least 300 people will volunteer during the Record-A-Thon, which aside from being a way to spread the word about its services, acts as a fundraiser. This year’s goal is to raise $60,000.
For Jerry Byrd, there’s no place else he’d rather be than at the Record-A-Thon.
He said he began reading at similar recording studios 40 years ago and traveled to Santa Barbara yesterday from Huntington Beach just for the event.
Byrd, 73, said he can’t remember now why he began reading in small sound booths all those years ago, but when he hears stories like Alexis’s, it becomes clear why he needs to continue.
“Every time I sit down to read a book I see a listener,” he said. “I picture a listener. It’s not just ‘Let's get this book out of the way.’
“It’s a real need. It’s not a nice thing, it’s a necessity.”
More information about RFB&D and how to volunteer is available at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to let you all know that on the actual paper, "dislexic" is not correct. It is spelled correctly here on the site; dyslexic. I have dyslexia and wanted to let you know we can still read.
Just an FYI.