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Karen Thomas Receives Hadley's "Lifelong Learning Award"

Karen Thomas

Karen Thomas has been visually impaired for most of her adult life but hasn't let her disability get in the way of achieving her goals. The 48-year-old Austin woman received a degree in English and Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin in 1991. Her work in communications includes more than a decade as a columnist and editor of Dialogue, an international magazine for people who have experienced vision loss.

Recently, Karen received the prestigious 'Lifelong Learning Award' from Hadley in recognition of her more than three decades of classwork that includes 26 completed courses.

A survivor of a rare pediatric eye cancer when she was just 18 months old, Karen lost significant vision as a teen, following complications with a detached retina. It got to the point where large print and visual aids were no longer helpful.

It was during high school when she first reached out to Hadley while needing assistance in becoming proficient in the literary and math braille codes. Hadley provided her the training she needed enabling her to be successful at Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX. At the time, she was the only blind woman to study at the school.

"We have to cope with what we are given," Karen says about the significant vision loss she's experienced. "My grandfather, who was a school teacher, was very concerned about my education and how I would manage without sight." It was her grandfather who purchased her first magnifier when the print in her schoolbooks became too small to read.

Thankfully, Hadley was there back in the late 1980s to help Karen, and the two remain trusted partners to this day. In addition to braille courses, Karen has taken business and technology courses that have helped her in her education as well as her career. Upon graduating from college, Karen worked for eight years as a research and editorial office assistant, was a longtime columnist of a magazine before serving as its editor, and is the author of a resource handbook for visually impaired job seekers.

As a user of assistive technology, including screen readers and a braille display, Karen has benefited immensely from course offerings at Hadley to keep up with rapid changes in technology. With a goal to help promote web accessibility, Karen is currently studying website design and is a member of a web content development team for a group of blind artists and crafters.

Today, the former magazine editor-turned artist is a tactile craft advocate, designer and teacher who makes and sells useful art and one-of-a-kind creations, including jewelry, knitted accessories, clay work and handmade braille greeting cards, and is a member of the National Federation of the Blind's Krafters Division. She joined the club following the loss of her loyal Seeing Eye dog, Cisco, who she had for 16 years.

"In addition to a wonderful educational resource for learning the skills you need to survive as a person with low vision, Hadley also offers support," said Karen. "There are two braille chat groups held every week. When you're feeling a bit frustrated with the new Unified English Braille or are not sure how to accomplish something without vision, there are others in the group who understand and are quick to offer encouragement and practical solutions. I'm incredibly honored to have received the Lifelong Learning Award. I am grateful to have discovered Hadley when I did, and am glad Hadley continues to offer excellent programs that are available to blind people everywhere."

"Karen Thomas is, without a doubt, one of the most deserving students I've had the honor of nominating for the Lifelong Learning Award," remarked Hadley instructor, Susan Fisher. "She is not only a fabulous student, but readily shares her knowledge and talents with others. She is truly an inspiration."

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