A drastic life change led Julie Rigdon to enroll in UGA’s online Bachelor of Science in Special Education program. In 2011, a retinal disease severely impaired her husband’s vision, forcing him to quit his job. To financially support her family, Rigdon accepted a job as a bookkeeper for an elementary school in Waycross, Georgia.
Out of this new chapter in her life emerged a very personal and deep understanding of the experiences and challenges faced by vision impared individuals. In Waycross, Rigdon connected with Ware County School District’s visual impairment teacher, Barbara Sonnier.
After Rigdon witnessed Sonnier working with her students, equipping them for a life without sight, she knew what her next step would be.
“There aren’t enough vision teachers anyway,” she says. “But in South Georgia, there are practically none.”
Rigdon leaned into her newly discovered passion for teaching vision impaired students and took measures to equip herself with the skills necessary to make a real difference in their lives. She enrolled in UGA’s online Bachelor of Science in Special Education program, a two-year degree that best suited Rigdon’s and her family’s needs.
“It was not an option to drive to the nearest on-campus program because I needed to stay close to home for my husband and daughter,” she says. “Having the flexibility to be available for my family and get a degree from UGA was too good to not go for it.”
After graduating from the program, Rigdon dove into her online master’s degree in visual impairment. In the fall of 2019, she began her first job as a visual impairment teacher in Wayne County.
She teaches 11 students in grades 2 to 11 how to read Braille and equips them with learning materials and living skills best tailored for their needs. These living skills include cooking, cleaning the house and other daily skills they can’t acquire from visual cues.
Finally, Ridgon’s dream of teaching arrived.
“I’m so excited to finally get to work with the students and their parents,” Rigdon says. “Just to let them know there is someone here that can help them.”