Like many Stanford students, Eva Hangartner is accomplished and multi-talented: she graduated from the prestigious Bronx High School of Science in New York City (where she competed in track and swimming), she speaks German and Arabic, and she is now pursuing a major in history. When she finishes at Stanford, Eva plans to work in the field of refugee support and advocacy.
Unlike most students at Stanford, Eva is legally blind. She was born with a congenital condition known as cone dystrophy, which she was diagnosed with at age three. Cone dystrophy is a progressive condition that becomes more severe over time. While Eva presents as sighted (i.e., does not use a cane), she must sit in the front row to be able to see the whiteboard and finds reading on screen to be frustrating and difficult.
Of course, Eva’s rigorous course load means that she has enormous amounts of reading to do — often hundreds of pages per week. Fortunately, she is supported by Stanford’s Office of Accessible Education, which turned her on to two Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA) member organizations that have together helped her plow through her weekly reading load.
The first is the Bookshare reading platform, which allows Eva to access many books that she needs to read for class. The Bookshare platform contains hundreds of thousands of academic and popular titles, and it uses advanced text-to-speech capabilities so she can listen to her reading materials out loud.
Though she is legally blind, Eva still reads visually, with the help of a color-based technology created by SEA Pave a Path member BeeLine Reader. Instead of displaying text in black, BeeLine Reader uses a color gradient that wraps from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. Displaying text in this way makes reading easier — especially for people with vision impairments, dyslexia, or ADHD.
Here’s an example of how it looks:
For Eva, text that is formatted in this way is much easier to read. It allows her to read much more quickly, which is important given the amount that she has to read. And because BeeLine Reader’s patented technology has been embedded into the Bookshare platform, Eva can access her digital readings in one place and either read them visually or listen along, depending on the situation. Tools like these help Eva complete — and more fully enjoy — her coursework, and ultimately they will help her become a more effective advocate for the refugees she hopes to support through her work.
Broad Impact, At No Cost
Although Eva’s specific visual condition is somewhat rare, there are millions of students with print disabilities like vision impairment, dyslexia, or neurological differences who can similarly benefit from Bookshare’s and BeeLine’s tools. Best of all, they can access both of these tools at no cost.
Bookshare’s platform is available for free to any student with a print disability in the U.S. (thanks to a grant from the federal Department of Education), and the BeeLine feature can be used within the Bookshare platform at no cost as well. BeeLine is also separately available at low cost, or at no cost, in the case of many students in low-income schools.
For more information on Bookshare, refer to the Bookshare website. Questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.