Sheila Gately Gerbarg ’77


Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic

For most people, two blown knees would bring life to a halt. Not so for Dr. Sheila Gerbarg. An inveterate volunteer, her injury—sustained three years ago while wrangling sheep for Heifer International—just put her on a different path.

“I was overzealous, tripped and tore both knees; I needed surgery,” Gerbarg recalled. “And I thought, what am I going to do that’s interesting and fun while on crutches?”

Gerbarg learned of an organization, Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D), whose volunteers read and record textbooks for students of all ages. This national organization had a recording studio specializing in science and medical textbooks just five minutes from her home in Paradise Valley, Ariz. A perfect fit for the obstetrician/gynecologist.

“I volunteer for one half day, once a week,” she said. “I recently finished an eighth grade science textbook for a student, and I’m currently recording a college anatomy text.”

What’s unique about RFB&D is that its volunteers often read textbooks for individual students. Although, Gerbarg noted, volunteers did work long hours to ensure that its younger members could listen to the last Harry Potter novel at the same time it was released in bookstores.

An elementary textbook like the one Gerbarg just finished takes a volunteer about 40 hours to read. A college text may take as many as 120 hours. RFB&D members can take on as many as 30 books a year. And membership is free.

Gerbarg, whose volunteerism began in her Girl Scouting days, has honed her reading abilities at her own expense, taking voice-over lessons to improve her delivery: “I get so much out of it; I learn as I’m reading. My wish is that every student who is eligible should know about RFB&D.

”Because most of the books I record are college-level science and medical texts, I hope our URI students with reading disabilities know about RFB&D and take advantage of its services!”

—Marybeth Reilly-McGreen