When Megan Bening, a national honor roll student at Sibley East High School, MN and winner of the 2009 National Braille Institute Challenge, sets out to accomplish a goal, she goes for it! This smart and popular senior has a rare eye disease called Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, a condition that affects only 1 in 80,000 people, usually at birth. But that doesn’t slow Megan down.
Take, for example, her love of reading. Since becoming a member of Bookshare in the fifth grade, Megan has downloaded and read as many as 800 books. She sometimes reads 16 hours a day and frequently listens to books while she sleeps. “I’m up for any challenge at any time,” she said. “I don’t want life to happen to me, I want to happen to life!” This avid reader listens to books aloud through assistive technology and braille devices. She finds the Bookshare online digital book library easy to use and attributes much of her content knowledge on many subjects to her love of reading and access to Bookshare’s more than 125,000 available books and periodicals, including the Matilda Ziegler Magazine.”
In 2009, when Megan competed against as many as 500 contestants at the National Braille Challenge, she buzzed through subjects in reading comprehension, proofreading braille, identifying charts and graphs and keyboarding. She describes Bookshare “as a school and home resource for homework and for pleasure.”
Recently, Megan read the Harry Potter series twice. “Without Bookshare, I’d be bored. I can read all the books I want, when I want and get smart! I’m also glad to not have to wait for my schoolbooks anymore.” Bookshare adds new K through 12 and postsecondary textbooks and recreational titles to the collection every day. For those who know of Megan’s success and wonder if she is still winning on her school’s ‘quiz’ Knowledge Bowl, the answer is yes. Her team consists of mostly females and this year they made it to regional playoffs. “We kicked the guys’ butts,” she said jokingly. “And yes, I’m still known as the “fact girl.” Megan is pursuing computer programming and has a desire to attend MIT. In high school, she takes college prep courses and reads required textbooks such as ‘Quintessential Human Anatomy and Psychology’ and ‘World Geography.’ These two large volumes would be burdensome to carry, an extra benefit of the Bookshare membership. Through Bookshare, Megan says her reading skills improved and it has made her vocabulary richer. “There are always more academic challenges to win and good books to read,” she adds.
Recently, Megan got a new Macbook AIR. “I love it! Its thin, 1.6 lbs and light weight. It has text-to-speech and voiceover just like JAWS. The voiceover is free for my Braille Note Apex display and that helps my pocketbook.” Megan also uses Booksense, a portable device that looks like a cell phone and listens to audio books from RFB&D (Learning Ally) and the National Library Service.
This busy teenager wants portable devices because she is always on the go. This year, she visited eight countries on a European cruise after saving for the trip for several years. Megan, with six of her closest girlfriends decided to raise funds through their Girl Scout troop. “It was a fantastic trip! Climbing the steps of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy was exhilarating. It reminded me that I can do anything! Now, I am back to the books and preparing to compete for the next Braille challenge. I’m up for it! Bookshare has brought out the best in me and helped me to prepare for a great future!”
Notes: Valerie Chernek interviewed and wrote this article with Megan Bening in September 2011.