Ayer resident and adaptive tech specialist at Harvard proves visual impairment is no barrier to educational success
PRINCETON, NJ – Learning Ally, a 68-year-old nonprofit serving individuals with learning and visual disabilities, has bestowed its highest award to Ashley Cwikla of Ayer, Massachusetts. Ashley is one of six students from across the U.S. who received scholarship awards and traveled with their families last month to be honored at the organization’s National Achievement Awards Gala celebration in Denver, Colorado.
Ashley is legally blind and pursuing her Doctorate in Education Leadership in Student Personnel Services at the University of the Cumberlands, holding honors distinction with a high grade point average. She is currently employed as an Adaptive Technology Coordinator at Harvard University, and is focused on studying how disability impacts college graduate rates and developing a universal design model for accessibility.
Advocating for others with visual impairments has become second nature for Ashley. “I do not perceive my blindness as a hindrance in any capacity,” she says. “Any challenge can be overcome with the right attitude and mindset, in conjunction with appropriate assistive technological and non-technological tools.
"Technology has really proliferated and made it very streamlined for students to gain access to their books at the same time as their peers. That's essential in college since there's really no time extension for learning the material.
"I primarily work with the vision impaired students on campus at Harvard, and provide them with not only technological and educational advice, but also advice to help them adjust to the college environment, being independent, living on their own for the first time, and providing them with guidance and expertise. So connecting with the students with disabilities, it really has brought me full circle."
View a brief video profile of Ashley Cwikla
About the National Achievement Awards
Since 1959, Learning Ally has honored exceptional students who are blind or visually impaired through its privately endowed Mary P. Oenslager Scholastic Achievement (SAA) Awards for college seniors and beyond. 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. Students are recognized for their academic excellence, extraordinary leadership, and service to others; and they have thrived on their education paths thanks in part to their extensive use of accessible educational content and assistive technology provided by Learning Ally.
NOTE: Applications for this year’s scholarship awards are open until May 31 for college student members of Learning Ally who are blind or visually impaired. For more information, visit https://LearningAlly.org/naa.
About Learning Ally
Founded in 1948, Learning Ally supports K-12, college and graduate students, veterans and lifelong learners – all of whom read and learn differently due to dyslexia, blindness or visual impairment, and other disabilities. The organization hosts live and virtual events for families and teachers; provides instructive webinars led by experts as well as peer-to-peer sessions led by students; personal consultations for parents; and professional development workshops for educators. Learning Ally’s collection of 82,000 human-narrated audio textbooks and literature titles can be downloaded by students using their smartphones and tablets, and is the largest of its kind in the world.
As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Learning Ally is partially funded by grants from state and local education programs, and the generous contributions of individuals, foundations and corporations. For more information visit www.LearningAlly.org