January 25, 2013
For more than 50 years, the Charlottesville unit of national non-profit Learning Ally has helped provide hundreds of thousands of audiobooks for the disabled.
Due to lack of funding and changing technology, the local studio closed its doors Friday, but not before volunteers like Bob Edgerton slipped on their headphones and pressed record one last time.
Edgerton estimates he has spent about 3,000 hours in the recording booth donating his time reading books, mostly mathematics textbooks, for people who are blind, dyslexic or have other disabilities.
As a retired professor, Edgerton understands the importance of having as many tools as possible for academic success. Before the studio closed, he was working on developing guidelines for teaching math to dyslexic students, something he says he became very passionate about.
“They have real talents which are not being recognized,” he said. “[The audiobooks] will help them to overcome some of the impediments to that recognition.”
The hundreds of local Learning Ally volunteers have never met the folks on the receiving end of their audio recordings, but volunteer Jane Hamre says their long hours in the booths haven’t gone unnoticed.
"We know that it's doing so much good, and we hear from them and they write back and say how thankful they are that we're doing this for them,” Hamre said.
Hamre, like many others, has been making recordings for more than a decade. She says not heading to the studio every week will take some getting used to because it has become a part of her life.
"I don't think it's sunk in yet. I know that next week I'll be thinking that when Friday comes around I'll have to go into the studio and read,” said Hamre. “It just hasn't hit me yet."
But volunteers will still be able to contribute to Learning Ally’s collection of audiobooks, just not from its Remson Court studio.
Learning Ally’s director of media relations, Doug Sprei, says they hope people like Edgerton and Hamre continue their efforts through virtual volunteering, a cost-cutting measure that new technology has made possible.
"There are now ways for volunteers to record from home or remote locations and not have to come to a physical studio every week,” said Sprei. “They could record and create materials for people with disabilities anytime, anywhere."
Edgerton and Hamre say they’re willing to give it a shot but admit they will miss the studio’s social environment.
Learning Ally’s Charlottesville unit has been active since 1958. It’s just one of eight studios the non-profit will be closing across the country. Eleven studios will remain open, and audiobooks will continue to be available for those who need them.