AJ Snitko, 21, of Madison, AL, is physically unable to hold a book and turn its pages. Among other books, including textbooks he needs to read for his classes at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, where he’s majoring in engineering, he wants to read "Quiet Strength," a memoir by his favorite NFL head coach Tony Dungy.
With help from T.A.S.C. and Bookshare.org, AJ is on his way to reaching this goal.
AJ developed dystonia at age 10 as the result of an infection. Dystonia is a syndrome of involuntary spasms and sustained contractions of the muscles, which cause repetitive abnormal movements of parts of the body or persistently abnormal postures. As a result, AJ has very limited use of his arms and hands and relies on a power wheelchair for mobility.
His mother, Shelly Snitko, brought AJ to T.A.S.C. (Technology Assistance for Special Consumers), a program of United Cerebral Palsy of Huntsville and Tennessee Valley, Inc., in July in search of a better way for AJ to access his computer for school and home use. AJ is now successfully using a regular mouse to navigate his laptop and has learned to access a number of on-line activities, including Facebook and card games. He also works on using an on-screen keyboard that will allow for more complete computer access.
But Shelly said that reading is still especially difficult for AJ. His textbooks are not available as audio books, and the literacy resources AJ has used that are designed for the vision impaired are cumbersome and still require assistance from another individual.
"Bookstands get knocked over, pages get torn," Shelly explained. "He is a proficient reader. He used to read all of the time, but he just couldn’t hold the book anymore. AJ is just not as attentive with audio books, and they don’t allow him to browse. We just needed a better way."
T.A.S.C. introduced AJ to Bookshare.org, a resource that makes reading easier and more enjoyable. The on-line resource offers free electronic text, computer reading software, and webinar trainings to find, download and read books for eligible individuals with physical, vision and learning disabilities.
AJ has since accessed a literature textbook, which has allowed him to read and study independently for the first time since entering college. He looks forward to gaining access to other textbooks and books of personal interest, including books for Bible study and the "Left Behind" series.
"AJ is glad to read more independently," Shelly said. "We would encourage others to use Bookshare.org, especially if they have a hard time holding books."