Very Blessed: Teaching and Learning While Blind

Written By: Kim Shoffner

Headshot photo of Kim looking off in front of the school house

Where it All Began

I am blessed in so many ways.  I was diagnosed with retinoblastoma (cancer on the retinas of my eyes) at age two. My younger years were spent with very low vision in one eye and none in the other.  Wearing thick glasses provided 20/200 sight without depth perception until December 2012 when I had a stroke in my eye which took the remaining vision.  Now totally blind, I use assistive technology, education, and experience to live a very full life.

With the support, creativity, love, and tireless effort of my parents, I graduated from Southeast Guilford High School with honors.  Greensboro College presented some challenges of navigating campus which was loaded with staircases and professors with extremely high expectations.  I graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Special Education with three certifications.  Hard work and a “can do” attitude proved invaluable.

Career, Family, and Life

My first job was in the Davidson County Schools teaching students in kindergarten through fifth grade with behavioral or emotional disabilities. I used a handheld LED-lit magnifier and a CCTV for magnification and reverse coloration on the computer screen. I maintained excellent principal and peer reviews.  One frustration for me was not having access to public transportation or a driver’s license in our rural community. But I was willing to walk to work and I advocated for myself to get rides when I could. Marrying my husband in my second year of teaching gave me a supportive partner who was happy to drive me places when he was not in college classes or working himself.  I changed to teaching resource classes and then to self-contained classes of cross-categorical or multiply handicapped students.  After teaching for 14 years, I resigned to raise our two young children.  I was able to home school them until my son graduated high school and my daughter completed the eighth grade.

Since my own children were high school age, I decided to work for the Division of Services for the Blind as a teacher of mini centers.  These sessions were provided in 15 counties around the piedmont of NC to adults that had recently had a significant change in their vision including blindness.  Classes covered topics such as cooking, sewing, laundry, house cleaning, personal grooming, money identification, eating techniques, and many more activities of daily living.  Through this job, I was made aware of Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind – now IFB Solutions.  I interviewed and was hired as a Braille instructor for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade.  I worked part-time for both agencies until 2018 when I became the Youth Program Coordinator at IFB Solutions.  The Student Enrichment Experience (S.E.E.) program provides opportunities for blind or visually impaired students in kindergarten through twelfth grade to learn and practice skills to help them become independent adults.  The S.E.E. program offers after-school and summer camps, plus advocacy and awareness in the community.

Many challenges exist for a person who is blind.  Assistive technology is a big equalizer of job requirements, but it also takes resourcefulness and willingness to keep going.  After going blind, I learned Braille so that I could continue to be literate.  It took about a year to become a fluent reader in contracted Braille. Using Apple computer products in the public school system, I was most familiar with the voice-over screen reader.  After completely losing my sight, I took classes to learn JAWS (Job Access With Speech) which is used more in the business community.  Again, this allowed me to succeed in my work because I was willing to learn and grow.

Kim helping a student cook during an activityIn teaching children, youth, and adults, I use what I have proven successful in my own life.  These are things such as:

-Bump dots to mark microwaves or appliances

-Organizing and labeling items that are similar by touch

-Asking for help when needed

-Using iPhone apps for bar code reader, setting a timer, or identifying bill denominations

 Here are some tips to get the job done:

-Organize paperwork with different size clips or folders and Braille labels – maybe large print song sheets for students are in a stack with a large binder clip while regular size print sheets have a smaller binder clip; both sets have a Braille label clipped to the front telling what the sheets are

-Digital calendar from Outlook provides reminders of upcoming appointments and important dates – keep it current by filling in the data as soon as it is available so as not to forget something

-Supplies for S.E.E. (Student Enrichment Experience) kids are grouped by activity in Ziplock baggies of different sizes and delivered in boxes labeled in large print and Braille to work on their independence of finding the items on their own

-Screen readers JAWS on Windows computers and VoiceOver on Apple devices gives opportunity to interact with emails, websites, Zoom meetings, spreadsheets, continuing education courses, and many more assistive technology products

-Using UEB (Unified English Braille) is a means of reading novels, magazines, puzzle books, cookbooks, and loads of other material

Trying and practicing a task is the best way to figure out what works well!

I continue to have the love and support of my parents, husband of 31 years, and my two children.  My faith provides me with the strength to keep going even when tasks seem difficult.  I enjoy singing, cooking, and reading.  Knowing I am helping students to achieve goals is satisfying and their joy is a great reward to me.  Though I am blind, I plan to keep learning and growing, sharing my skills and showing the present and next generations how to focus on their abilities.  I am very blessed to have a family, home, and job I truly enjoy.

IFB Solutions to produce 10,000 masks for the US. Air Force

Local nonprofit IFB Solutions, the largest employer of people who are blind or visually impaired in the country, has started production on 10,000 masks for the U.S. Air Force at its Winston-Salem facility. IFB, which already makes a variety of apparel products for the government, including apparel, mattresses and office supplies, quickly ramped up a mask production line and employee training. The following media outlets have more on the story.


Triad Business Journal

Winston-Salem Chronicle

WRAL-TV and WRAL TechWire

Carolina Health News (scroll down thru May 6 highlights to get to story)

Triangle Business Journal (subscriber-only access)

News Break

American Security Today