Former Council Scholarship Recipient Judy Kilian’s Resilience Inspires Next Generation

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After Judy Kilian graduated from Madison Memorial High School at the age of 18, she says her first attempt at college did not go as planned. While she got straight A’s throughout high school, Judy says being a student with vision loss made it difficult to adjust to college. “I didn’t have the self-advocacy skills I needed to be successful,” she says.

But Judy didn’t give up. After getting married and starting a family, she went back to school 20 years later in 2003, attending UW-Madison and Northern Illinois University (NIU). Judy graduated from NIU in 2007 with a degree in special education, with an emphasis on teaching students with visual impairments.

Judy received a scholarship from the Council shortly after transferring to NIU, which she used to travel from her school in Illinois to her family in Portage every weekend. “I really appreciate how much that scholarship helped me achieve my goal,” Judy says. “By the time I went back to college, I had two kids who were in middle school. The scholarship helped pay for transportation to go home every weekend so I could stay connected with my children and still be ‘Mom’ while attending school.”

After working for the Madison Metropolitan School District for a few years, Judy took a job closer to home with Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) 5 in Portage, where she continues to work as a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) today.

CESA 5 serves over 30 school districts, but Judy says her work keeps her in Portage. The number of students she works with varies from year to year, but last year she worked with ten students with vision loss on either a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Judy says much of her work is teaching students with vision loss how to read braille and how to use access technology.

Judy says she decided to become a TVI partly because she realized that her own vision loss would give her a leg up in the field, becoming an asset instead of holding her back. “I realized I had a real passion for this,” she says. “I wanted to be a mentor for students with vision loss, and to be a living testament who can say “Hey, I succeeded and so can you.’”

It would seem her role modelling is not going unnoticed. Judy says one of her students is already talking about wanting to study to become a TVI after they graduate high school.

Judy loves to be able to show her students that their vision loss does not have to hold them back. “I want to tell future college students with vision loss to follow their dreams and not let anything stop them,” Judy says. “Don’t be afraid to speak up and say what you need. Sometimes it’s okay to ask for assistance. That self-advocacy is so important.”

“I appreciate how the Council helped me in college so much, and I appreciate everyone who gives to the Council to allow these scholarships to happen,” Judy says. “I have students with vision loss who are looking at college now, and I am certainly telling them to apply when their time comes.”

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