APH FamilyConnect Parent Advisory Board: When Personal and Professional Roles Merge 

headshot of Amy Shepherd

For Amy Shepherd, M.Ed., transitioning her career from teaching in elementary school to being a resource for students who are blind or low vision. Most recently joined the APH FamilyConnect Parent Advisory Board – was the direct result of her son Austin’s vision. 

Now 23 years old, Austin was shaken as a baby by a babysitter, which gave him a traumatic brain injury that left him with scars behind his retinas that caused an ocular impairment. According to Amy, it didn’t seem like he could see anything. However, his vision gradually improved through early intervention three days a week, starting at six months old. Although legally blind, he has functional vision today and can read braille and digital materials with magnification.  

“It wasn’t until I started my job in 2018 that I learned about cortical visual impairment – and as soon as I started learning about it, I knew my son had it,” Amy says. That job, which she now holds, is Parent Liaison, Michigan Department of Education, Low Incidence Outreach. She is also a permanent expert substitute for teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs) in her local school district.  

Austin is thriving. He graduated from college and served AmeriCorps for one year. He’s now working with a mental health organization while pursuing a psychology degree to become a therapist.  

“One of the many things I learned is that it isn’t about fixing his vision, but living with the vision he has and finding ways to adapt and be fully independent,” Amy says. “That was our expectation from the beginning.” 

Learning and Teaching for Her Son’s Sake 

Holding a master’s degree in Education and Social Policy, Amy left her elementary teaching job when Austin first lost his vision. Living in Denver then, both she and Austin benefited from his involvement at the Anchor Center for Blind Children. After moving to Michigan, Amy engaged with the Michigan Department of Education. She attended workshops to learn braille and independent living skills. This engagement connected her with the Michigan Parents of Children with Visual Impairments group, where she remained active for many years.

“I got very involved with the blind and disability communities, and organizations I was part of provided resources for families and really focused on advocacy,” Amy says. “Austin is quite the advocate, too.”  

She adds that while she was working with Michigan Parents of Children with Visual Impairments, the group had a page on the FamilyConnect website where they could share their organization’s work. Plus, Amy took full advantage of the lessons and activities on the site, so she’s been involved with APH for many years. 

“APH is a great resource,” she says. “FamilyConnect gave me a lot of ideas back then on what types of skills to teach and how to teach them. And CareerConnect has so many great mentors to connect with. Learning and finding other people who are blind is really important to our families.” 

Sharing Her Expertise with Others 

In 2018, she began her job as Parent Liaison for the Michigan Department of Education, Low Incidence Outreach. One of her duties there involves working closely with APH because they are the department disseminating APH products to TVIs in Michigan.  

This is part of her larger role of presenting professional development workshops and events for TVIs, which are almost always open to parents. She gets information out to parents through newsletters and one-on-one conversations and helps coordinate the Department of Education’s summer camp. Moreover, she’s increasingly involved in professional development concerning cortical visual impairment (CVI).  

Outside her role as a part-time consultant, Amy works as a permanent expert substitute TVI. She supports students directly, adapting materials for their needs. This is particularly important for children with cortical visual impairment, including creating CVI-adapted books. 

Amy discovered the APH FamilyConnect Parent Advisory Board when she attended one of their meetings last spring. She reached out to learn more about the group and was invited to join. 

Amy participated in a panel discussion on collaborating with students and parents at the 2023 APH Annual Meeting. She’s keen to increase her involvement further.

“I like being part of the action and seeing things happen,” Amy says. “I think ongoing education and pursuing knowledge is so important. And when I talk to families, I encourage them to talk to other families and people who are blind so they can grow up with role models.”