Scurlock Overcoming Blindness

Thursday, February 21, 2013
Doug and April Scurlock at the NFB convention in Dallas

April Scurlock, formerly of Rector and daughter of Gene Ellis, is one of 30 individuals to receive a scholarship from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the oldest and largest organization of blind people. Scurlock, a popular fifth and sixth grade math teacher at Mt. Ida, has been continuing her education at Arkansas State University in order to teach special education for students in the fourth through 12th grades. The $3,000 NFB scholarship will go a long way toward helping Scurlock reach her goal.

Scurlock was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, known as RP, a hereditary disorder which began with the loss of "night vision" before overtaking much of her sight, in 2005. As a teacher, wife and mother of two, Scurlock's life is a busy one by anyone's standards. Since her diagnosis, Scurlock's vision worsened. In 2009, she stopped driving because she no longer felt safe behind the wheel.

With one eye seeing at 20/200, "Which means I can see the big 'E' on the eye chart," Scurlock noted, and the other seeing at 20/160 allowing her to "see the third row under the big 'E'," Scurlock has had to adapt much of her life in order to accommodate her blindness.

"It was determined that I was legally blind in 2009," Scurlock wrote to the Montgomery County News, her hometown paper, this past August. "The way I found out I was legally blind was because I was having trouble entering my grades into my gradebook."

Scurlock would go on to contact the Division of Services for the Blind (DSB) in her search for a larger print gradebook. In her communications with the DSB, she learned of numerous methods to aid teachers dealing with blindness. She now has a closed circuit television in her room which enlarges the print of any book or form placed within the viewing area, low vision writing paper, a large print keyboard for her computer and other tools designed to aid those with poor vision.

At one point, Scurlock believed she would have to give up teaching, but assistance from the DSB not only helped her continue her career, it sparked the method by which she plans to advance in teaching.

In 2011, Scurlock's counselor with the DSB sent her a scholarship application for the NFB. Scurlock says she filled out the application, but didn't expect a positive result. The surprise came when she received an announcement telling not only of her $3,000 scholarship, but also presenting her with a new iPod Touch, a $350 prepaid Visa Card, $1,000 cash, educational software and a paid trip to the NFB convention in Dallas.

"But for me, the knowledge I gained about my vision loss and how to live with this disability is worth far more than money and object," Scurlock wrote.

"She's always been very intelligent and hard-working," Ellis said of his daughter. "A lot of people would just give up and quit over something like that, but not her. She's turned it around into something that motivated her to keep learning."

Scurlock is set to graduate from Arkansas State University with her master's in special education in May.

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