Now more than ever, people with learning and visual disabilities are flourishing in the classroom, launching productive careers and becoming assets in their communities. With over 7,000 hours logged reading to students with learning differences, retired University of Texas professor Dr. Ian Thomas is doing all he can to make sure those students are successful for years to come.
To put that amount of time into context, 7,000 hours totals 875 working days. For those who know Dr. Ian personally, that translation makes absolute sense – he treats his volunteer work like a job, often working six days in a week reading anything and everything asked of him. His work inside the classroom at Manor Elementary allows him to work directly with young students, often requesting to work with the students who have the most behavioral issues. His work with Learning Ally, where he’s spent the majority of his volunteer time, involves reading into a microphone so each book can be accessed by any of the 10 million students in grades K-12 who have a learning difference. He stands out among his peers both for his warm voice and his dedication to reading entire books so listeners can hear a familiar voice throughout the recording – typically each book is divided among 2-3 readers so listeners are adjusting to new voices. “Ian has been an amazing volunteer for us,” says Gigi Franklin, studio director at Learning Ally in Austin. “His contributions to the Learning Ally library and to our students are amazing, and we are incredibly fond of him.” Both in the classroom and in the recording booth, Dr. Ian shows his passion for improving the way students learn and for keeping them on a positive path.
Recently, Learning Ally has made the strategic decision to transition to virtual volunteering – easy access to high-speed internet and the relatively cheap cost of recording devices means just about anyone can volunteer their time at home to add to the online audiobook library. Unfortunately, Dr. Ian is not one of them. He lives in a rural area without access to high-speed internet and as a result has had to forego the work he’s shown such a passion for. Dr. Ian is 80 years old now, and for most of us, such a situation at such an age would lead to a rather easy choice to simply stop volunteering – not Dr. Ian. You can find him most days at Manor Elementary, doing the thing he seems unable to stop doing – helping children get a hand up in life.