Parent and family involvement is a critical component of a child’s educational, emotional, and social development. To better connect with families, MDE-LIO hired a Blind/Visually Impaired (BVI) parent liaison, Amy Shepherd, in 2019. Amanda Schneider was brought in as a Deaf/Hard of Hearing (DHH) parent liaison in 2020.

These parent liaisons bridge the gap between MDE-LIO and the families we serve by:

  • Bringing a parent perspective to MDE-LIO events and services, as well as to the educational field overall
  • Sharing resources regarding family events, educational workshops, and MDE-LIO news
  • Representing MDE-LIO at collaborative community events that benefit families
  • Engaging parents and family members in statewide programming
  • Facilitating parent-to-parent conversations that provide a forum for parents to share their stories, exchange parenting tips, and offer each other moral support

Below, Amy and Amanda answer a few questions about their experience and the importance of reaching out to families.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

Amy: I live in Ann Arbor and grew up in Kalamazoo. I have been a part-time tennis teaching pro for the past 30 years and love to play tennis and pickleball in my free time. I am a part-time “expert” substitute teacher for Washtenaw Intermediate School District’s Visual Impairment Team, and I do a lot of work adapting educational materials for students who are BVI. I am also a community volunteer who is passionate about accessibility and inclusion, and I have served on numerous boards in Ann Arbor, including the YMCA, the Commission on Disability Issues, the Parent Advisory Committee to Special Education, and the Lions Club. 

Amanda: I grew up in the Lansing area and currently live in Lowell with my husband and two sons. I earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary math education from Western Michigan University and pursued a master’s degree in teaching and curriculum at Michigan State University. I decided to leave the field of teaching a year after my first son was born. Since then, I have become involved with Michigan Hands & Voices, a nonprofit that supports families of children who are DHH. I currently serve as the Program Coordinator for Michigan Hands & Voices’ Guide By Your Side program. 

Describe the beginning of your journey as a parent of a child who is BVI or DHH. 

Amy: My son, who is now a junior at Kalamazoo College, was shaken as a baby. This left him severely visually impaired and legally blind. Our family was traumatized, but during our time of grief, our hospital-appointed social worker got us in touch with the Anchor Center for Blind Children in Denver. That one connection put me on a lifelong path of perseverance, education, and advocacy. The resources I received from the Anchor Center gave me the hope, confidence, and awareness I needed to tackle the daunting task of raising a child who was blind.

Amanda: My son was referred for further testing on his newborn hearing screening. We had a difficult experience at the re-screening and were referred to an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT) for further evaluation. The ENT ordered a brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER) test at 3 months of age, and we learned our son had bilateral profound sensorineural hearing loss. Because we had no family history of hearing loss, we had many emotions and questions. We struggled to learn about our potential language and communication options. Connecting to the Guide By Your Side program early on in our journey helped our family understand that we were not alone. Our son had bilateral cochlear implant surgery when he was 15 months old. Gaining access to appropriate early intervention services supported our son in his rapid development of language and helped shape him into the happy and successful elementary student he is today.

What resources were most valuable to you during this journey?

Amy: I shamelessly took advantage of any person, teacher, and community organization that was willing to share their expertise, guidance, and love. Parents who were going through similar trials provided immediate comfort and support. Teachers of students who are visually impaired (TVIs) who were willing to share tips and educational resources, as well as many MDE-LIO staff members, enabled me to expand my own knowledge and expertise. Community organizations that provided social engagement, recreation, and fun taught us to embrace a #NoBarriers mindset. Family, friends, and faith filled me up when my tank was empty.

Amanda: Being connected to a parent organization was a very valuable resource to my family. It was comforting to know that I had a network of parents who were experiencing similar struggles and triumphs while raising their children. I also relied on our DHH teacher consultants. Their specific knowledge and skill sets provided insight for how I could continue to support my child’s development at home.

You both have years of experience working for nonprofit family support organizations. Describe these organizations and why they are important to you.

Amy: Our family moved from Denver to Ann Arbor when my son was 2.5 years old. A friend from church connected me with another parent who had a teenage daughter who was visually impaired. This parent told me about a nonprofit parent support group called Michigan Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (MPVI). I immediately reached out to MPVI, and we attended our first family event at a children’s museum in spring 2003. I joined the board soon after and eventually served as president for six years. While the thought of spending retreat weekends with new people and sharing personal stories was often scary and daunting, I felt strongly that the benefits of being around other families who were experiencing similar trials and challenges was more important than my own insecurities. I was right. The time and effort we put into attending MPVI events over the past 18 years enabled us to form priceless relationships, friendships, and connections. 

Amanda: I have been involved with the Michigan chapter of Hands & Voices since we began our journey. The network of families within Michigan (and nationally) has been amazing. I became a Parent Guide for the Michigan Guide By Your Side program in 2016. Guide By Your Side is a free program offered to families of newly identified children and is offered in partnership with the Michigan Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) program. In 2018, I became the Guide By Your Side program coordinator. At the state level, we offer social events, educational and advocacy events, and an annual family conference. There are also many opportunities for networking and learning through the national Hands & Voices organization, including a conference and webinars. I have experienced love and support by being involved with a non-biased organization that supports all language and communication choices for families with children who are DHH and believes in the motto “What works for your child is what makes the choice right.”

What have you enjoyed most about your role as a parent liaison, and what do you envision for the future?

Amy: I have loved meeting new families, working with MDE-LIO’s education consultants on programming, and stepping outside of my own comfort zone to embrace new challenges. I foresee many more great opportunities to expand on inclusive parent and family participation at all MDE-LIO events, as well as collaboration with other organizations.

Amanda: I am proud to work with a team of professionals that is focused on addressing the needs of the whole child and support families. I love bringing a parent perspective to the team. In the future, I hope to continue developing opportunities for education professionals and families to learn and support one another as we work toward a common goal of raising happy and successful children.