As a first-year student, Karah Kluck helped establish a free assistive technology consultation program at the University of Iowa for families of children with reading disabilities. The program continues to provide guidance to families from Iowa and beyond. 
Emily Nelson
Tim Schoon

Few would entrust a first-year undergraduate student with the task of getting a statewide program offering free assistive technology consultations for families of children with dyslexia and other reading disabilities up and running.

But that’s exactly what the Iowa Reading Research Center did when it hired Karah Kluck shortly after she started studying at the University of Iowa.

Three and a half years later and about to graduate with a BA in communication sciences and disorders, Kluck has worked with more than 100 families from Iowa and beyond to find assistive technology to help with their children’s unique needs. 

“Talk about an incredible opportunity,” Kluck says. “I always say I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to do that anywhere else.”

The University of Iowa wasn’t even on Kluck’s radar until her older sister became a Hawkeye. But even then, she wasn’t terribly interested in moving to Iowa.

“She just loved it and would always tell me I should come to Iowa,” says Kluck, who grew up in Plover, Wisconsin. “And I would say, ‘No, I’m never coming to Iowa.’ Nobody from my high school went to Iowa. Growing up, I didn’t even know what the Hawkeyes were.”

Karah Kluck
Karah Kluck

Degree: BA in communication sciences and disorders

Hometown: Plover, Wisconsin

Future plans: Karah is applying to graduate schools, with Iowa as her top choice.

But as Kluck got to know her sister’s school and the town, she started changing her mind. The fact that Iowa’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders has one of the top speech-language pathology programs in the country also helped.

“My mom is a speech-language pathologist, and I felt like that might be a good fit for me,” Kluck says. “I like helping people, and this field is very flexible, with a lot of different ways you can go with it.”

Shortly after moving to campus, Kluck attended a student employment job fair. She was thinking she might find a job in food service or parking and transportation. But after stopping at the table for the Iowa Reading Research Center and having a conversation with Sean Thompson, communications specialist for the center, she learned about a new program they were looking to get off the ground.

“Her enthusiasm for our assistive technology coordinator job made an impression on me,” Thompson says. “When it came time to make a hire, we knew Karah had the intelligence, maturity, and desire to make an impact for families of children with reading disabilities. Going into it, I would not have thought we would have chosen a first-year student for this very important position, but after interviewing Karah, it was an easy decision to hire her.”

Kluck was hired as one of two student assistive technology coordinators. She and another student researched and tested dozens of assistive technology options, developed demonstrations, and created handouts explaining each technology’s specific features for families to take home with them.

“I always think about, what if I hadn’t gone to that career fair?” Kluck says. “I’m so thankful they took a chance on me, because I was so young and I didn’t have a lot of experience. It’s a big deal that families trust me with their information and their children’s stories. Assistive technology can have such a big impact on students’ academic and social lives, and just quality of life in general, and so the fact that I even get to play a small little part in that is super rewarding.”

Now the lead student assistive technology coordinator, Kluck is training two students to continue the work she started three years ago.

Communication sciences and disorders

The University of Iowa’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders is one of the oldest and largest such programs in the U.S. At the heart of its legacy is a commitment to better understanding the causes and treatment for communication disorders, training students, engaging with colleagues and families, and serving clients with speech, language, and hearing disorders.

In 2022, U.S. News and World Report ranked Iowa’s audiology program No. 2 and its speech pathology program No. 6 in the country.

“Karah is always thinking of ways we can improve, and she doesn’t stay down for long. Just as she was getting it established in March of 2020, the assistive technology consultation service got totally derailed by the pandemic,” Thompson says. “When we were able to return to campus in the fall, Karah helped us implement health and safety protocols so we were able to resume in-person appointments. Then, she had the idea to find a way to do virtual appointments. Because of her initiative, we now offer in-person and virtual appointments, and are able to help families from across the state and beyond that wouldn’t have been able to travel to Iowa City. That’s just one of many ways she has continuously improved the service, all for the benefit of the children and teens and their families.

“The service will continue to grow and help more people. That’s quite a legacy to leave,” he adds. “I’m so proud of everything she has accomplished. I can’t wait to see what great things she does in the future.”

Kluck says her work with the assistive technology consultations has given her a head start in her profession.

“Conducting over 100 assistive technology appointments has absolutely strengthened my ability to communicate with families, talk about their children’s needs, and help them find additional resources,” Kluck says. “This mirrors what I will do as a speech-language pathologist during individualized education program meetings. This part-time campus job has really pushed me to a high level of professionalism that sets me up for future success. 

“Because of this opportunity, more doors will be open for me.”

“I’m so thankful they took a chance on me, because I was so young and I didn’t have a lot of experience. It’s a big deal that families trust me with their information and their children’s stories. Assistive technology can have such a big impact on students’ academic and social lives, and just quality of life in general, and so the fact that I even get to play a small little part in that is super rewarding.”

Karah Kluck
fall 2022 graduate, communication sciences and disorders

Her work also has had an impact in the classroom.

“I feel like because I’m in that professional mindset going into the classroom, I’m a little bit more focused,” Kluck says. “It has helped motivate me to do well in school because all of this is going to better prepare me for grad school and my career.”

Learn how assistive technology may help your child

The Iowa Reading Research Center at the University of Iowa offers free assistive technology consultations for Iowa families of children with dyslexia and other reading and writing disabilities. These one-on-one in-person or virtual appointments are tailored to demonstrate devices and programs that address each child’s unique needs.

Examples of assistive technology for reading:

  • Audiobooks
  • Text-to-speech software, which reads digital text aloud
  • Optical character recognition, which reads aloud text from images or scanned documents
  • Speech-to-text software, which converts what a person says to written text
  • Word prediction software, which can suggest a word as a person types
  • Display control to allow people to change the font, font size, color, and spacing of text, or mask parts of the screen to lessen distractions while reading

Between her work in the classroom and at the Iowa Reading Research Center, Kluck still has found time to participate in other activities while at Iowa. She is a member of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA), was a research assistant in the Audiogenomics Lab, was on the 2022 Homecoming Court, and is a volunteer and secretary and finance officer for UI Device Advice, which works to educate older adults about today’s technology.

As an honors student in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Kluck also wrote an honors thesis, which she presented at the Fall Undergraduate Research Festival (FURF). The thesis explores individual differences in reading ability using data collected from a research study by her advisor, Stewart McCauley, assistant professor and director of undergraduate studies.

Kluck says she is grateful for all the experiences she has had at Iowa: academic, professional, and personal.

“I have so many fun memories here,” Kluck says. “Thinking back to my first semester when I got to meet my freshman roommate, whom I didn’t know before but now have lived with for more than three years, and just how excited I was to be here. I love sports, and going to the football, basketball, and baseball games has turned me into quite a Hawkeye fan. I’ve just loved the whole experience. Iowa City has really become a home away from home.”

Kluck hopes to make Iowa her home for just a little longer. She is in the process of applying for graduate school, and Iowa is her top choice.

So, what does Kluck’s sister have to say about how much Kluck loves being a Hawkeye?

“She secretly loves how wrong I was,” Kluck says. “But I’m happy to admit I was wrong. Iowa was the perfect choice for me, and I’ve never regretted it.”