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UW Profiles

The Courage to See Things Differently

First-year student Shelby Kappler doesn't let her visual impairment slow down her college or career plans.

By Micaela Myers

Going off to school is at least a small act of bravery for every first-year student. Add to that a new state and a severe visual impairment, and it certainly takes courage.

Shelby Kappler of Washington state started the University of Wyoming in fall 2013. She has a disease called Stargardt macular dystrophy, a genetic eye disorder that causes progressive vision loss.

"It affects the rods and cones of my central vision, so it leaves me with only peripheral vision that causes me to be color blind and night blind and light sensitive, so I wear sunglasses a lot," Kappler explains.

"The way the disease works is that I had 20-20 vision until I was about 8, and then it progressed from there over a period of about 10 months to 20-400, which is where it is now. It should stabilize and not get any worse."

The visual disability presents a host of challenges in the classroom. "It's a lot harder to read. It's almost dyslexic in a way. I have phantom vision—letters come and go," she says. "I'm definitely a slow reader. I can't see the board or notes like that, so I have technology. I have a camera that will hook to my computer that allows me to see the board, and I have magnifiers that help me read. I use a lot of audio books and things like that."

UW offers services to help students like Kappler in need of specific resources.

"Shelby contacted Wyoming Assistive Technology Resources prior to the start of the fall semester," says Wendy Alameda, assistive technology specialist at the Wyoming Institute for Disabilities. "She was interested in borrowing a talking scientific calculator that she felt would be necessary for the math course she was enrolled in. We set up an appointment to meet and discuss devices. After learning more about her and her assistive technology preferences, I discovered that she currently uses an iPad and I was able to suggest a talking scientific calculator app as well as some others that were of interest to her."

"They've been really good about support," Kappler says of the institute.

The people are one of the reasons she chose UW. "I really like the people. Everyone I've talked to has been super nice and helpful."

Kappler says something people don't realize about her visual impairment is the social aspect. "A lot of people don't think of it, but socially it can be a challenge. If someone waves at me or smiles, it's really hard, and I don't want to come across as rude or stuck up or anything like that. Verbal communication helps a lot," she says, such as people verbally identifying themselves when they say "hello."

No stranger to courage, Kappler hopes to have a career traveling the world after she graduates.

"I recently switched majors to international studies and Spanish," she says. "I really want to travel, so I thought international studies would allow me to do that. [After school] I'm thinking some sort of social work abroad—maybe helping accessibility issues with kids."

One of the 10 Cowboy Ethics adopted by UW is "Live each day with courage." Shelby Kappler is certainly living each day with courage as she works toward her goal of an international career.

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Shelby Kappler

Shelby Kappler
Shelby Kappler has a disease called Stargardt macular dystrophy, a genetic eye disorder that causes progressive vision loss.

Challenges in the Classroom

UW offers services to help students like Kappler in need of specific resources.

Future Plans

Shelby Kappler
No stranger to courage, Kappler hopes to have a career traveling the world after she graduates.

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