Holly M. Lawson -  University of Arizona

Photo: Holly M. Lawson, NCLVI Fellow

My experience with teaching the blind and visually impaired began when I applied for work as a substitute teacher at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI)—one of the most reputable schools of its kind in the country. At TSBVI I had numerous opportunities to train with skilled and dedicated professionals. Each day I learned more about visually impaired and multiply disabled students. Realizing that teaching requires a great deal of imagination, I embraced this opportunity to utilize my creative energies. Because of this experience, I got hooked on teaching and chose to extend my teaching experiences abroad.

As a Peace Corps volunteer I worked in the field of visual impairment, teaching at the Organization Alaouite pour la Protection des Aveugles aux Maroc (OAPAM) School for the blind in Fez, Morocco. This experience developed my interest in international education for the visually impaired. By instructing in Moroccan Arabic, I became sensitive to the cultural background of my students and the need to implement culturally appropriate and meaningful lessons. I also learned that there were few educational opportunities available for individuals with visual impairment and other disabilities in developing countries. Morocco, like many other poor countries, did not have a university program to train teachers of the visually impaired. After my experience with the Peace Corps, I wanted to learn more skills to influence more change in developing countries.

I pursued a Master’s degree at the University of Arizona to be a teacher of the visually impaired and an orientation and mobility specialist. The program provided many research opportunities, including the chance to work as a research assistant under the supervision of Dr. Penny Rosenblum and Dr. Anne Corn. Their research examined the experiences of non-driving adults with visual impairment. I interviewed participants and coded data for this project. 

Upon completion of my Master’s degree, I worked in the Tucson Unified School District as an itinerant teacher of the visually impaired and as an orientation and mobility specialist.  My caseload consisted of students from grades K-12 with varying degrees of visual impairment and many with additional disabilities. The job required employing my organizational skills and collaboration with other special and general educators. One of the most gratifying responsibilities was advocating for and counseling parents of the visually impaired.

I am now a doctoral student at the University of Arizona working toward a specialization in visual impairment with a minor in public administration. I feel honored to have been awarded a National Center in Leadership for Visual Impairment Fellowship. My academic and professional goals for the future reflect a deep interest in quality services for the blind and visually impaired. My long-term goal is to work in an academic setting in a teacher preparation program. In addition, I intend to work with international organizations to help develop curricular models for improved educational programming in economically disadvantaged countries.