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in Madison, Wisconsin. It might seem paradoxical, but blind and visually impaired students are frequently discouraged from the teaching of the blind and visually impaired themselves. This story highlights the value of having a teacher who shares your disability.
A student teacher in Madison has a relationship with her pupils that no other teacher has had as long as the district can remember.
One single mother of four, who decided to go back to school in her forties, is now giving kids independence in a world that is only accessible to them through sound, smell and touch.
14-year-old Trevor Hei is an eighth grader at Toki Middle School. Trevor was born blind and struggles with some symptoms of autism.
"When Trevor started to learn braille several years ago he was barely reading," says Trevor's student teacher, Judy Turner.
Now Trevor is making significant strides with Turner's help. The two share quite a bit in common, including the fact that Judy herself is visually impaired.
At the age of 39, Judy enrolled at Northern Illinois University. At age 43, she will graduate with a bachelors degree in education and be certified to teach the visually impaired. "It was a lot of hard work as a visually impaired person to go to school and I maintained a 4.0 while I was at college," says Turner.
"We do not have any other visually impaired teachers on staff nor have we ever in my history of working in this district," says Judy's supervising instructor, Sandy Adams.
Judy was inspired by a visually impaired teacher she had in elementary school. With a nationwide shortage of vision teachers, Judy believes her unique perspective may fill a gap that has been growing for years. "She is able to have a sense of empathy with the students that sighted people don't necessarily have," says Adams.
"I'm learning the software [that] I'm teaching my students," says Turner. "I'm using them every single day and my braille, I'm highly qualified in braille because that's what I use, that's how I read!"
Judy uses a special notetaker that acts as a portable computer. It has a refreshable braille display on it and serves as a laptop, allowing Judy to store and retrieve information from it in braille. To access the school hallways, Judy's guide dog, Lambert, navigates through traffic. Judy can decipher color as well as sense light and certain shapes, but teaches students with all level of visual impairment. She hopes to continue teaching in the Madison School District upon graduation and credits the visually impaired childhood instructor she had for her courage to enter the profession.
"I never had a chance to tell her how important she was to my life so it's okay if they don't tell me, it's just wonderful to be able to inspire another visually impaired person the way she did me."
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