Christie Smith, a Durham N.C., native has never backed down from a challenge.
At 20 years old, she was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare, degenerative retinal disease that eventually left her legally blind. However, throughout the years, she learned to embrace her unique journey with visual impairment, which helped her become more aware of the overwhelming need for service professionals in the field.
After earning bachelor’s degrees in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and middle grades education from North Carolina Central University (NCCU), she set her sights on a master’s degree in education from NCCU, specializing in teaching and assistive technology training with plans to provide services to individuals living with visual impairments. The program, which is housed in the NCCU School of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, is the only one of its kind in the state of North Carolina and at an historically Black college and university (HBCU).
But her academic journey wasn’t a walk in the park.
During her master’s program, she maintained a 4.0 grade point average despite undergoing four major eye surgeries, two of which occurred while she was completing her assistive technology internship at the Division of Services for the Blind Career and Training Center.
“I want to be in a position to help others the same way others helped me,” said Smith. “It’s easy to quit, but I will not be another statistic. That’s not what I want for my life; I want to show people with visual impairments that we can do anything.”
On May 7, 2022, Smith will be the first graduate of the visual impairment master’s program with a concentration in assistive technology for individuals with visual impairments. She will become a certified assistive technology instructional specialist for individuals with visual impairments – one of only six in the state.
“Assistive technology is my passion. Helping individuals with low vision or no vision learn to access technology changes their worlds and their lives,” she said.
She is grateful to her curriculum and instruction professors for preparing her and opening up her eyes to new ways of teaching, including Sean Tikkun, Ph.D.; William Weiner, Ph.D.; Yolanda Dunston, Ph.D.; and Josephine Harris, Ph.D.
“I’ve learned that what is inside of you is always greater than what is in front of you. I may move more slowly, but I will never stop,” said Smith.
She is currently interviewing for assistive technology instructor positions where she can utilize her expertise to make a positive impact in the lives of individuals living with visual impairments.
Smith encourages future Eagles to examine their limited beliefs.
“You can go as far as you want to go. The only limits you have are the ones you place on yourself. If I can do it, you can do it. You are just as special.”