As a child, Shannon Shepherd’s eyesight was so bad that when his mother asked for assistance from the superintendent in his school district, she was told to keep him at home and let him catch butterflies. Fortunately, his mother did not heed that advice and now the 35-year-old is an art teacher and has his work on display in art shows across Kentucky.
“When you do something you really enjoy it gives you a good feeling that nothing else can. That happens for me with art and with teaching, especially when the student succeeds,” Shepherd said.
The Magoffin County native was born with a visual impairment and has worn glasses for severe nearsightedness since he was four years old. But even with glasses, Shepherd had to stand near the chalkboard or get notes from other students because he could not read the board.
Shepherd said he knew he wanted to continue his education after high school and have a career instead of continuing to receive Social Security benefits but he did not know how to accomplish that goal.
In his senior year, Shepherd began working with Kentucky Office for the Blind (OFB) Rehabilitation Counselor Mike Hall to choose a career that fit his abilities and interests.
Hall took Shepherd to the Kentucky Rehabilitation Center for the Blind, now called the Charles W. McDowell Rehabilitation Center, for an initial evaluation for college in 1987. “I was very hesitant about going to Louisville because I was so scared,” Shepherd said.
He returned to the center in 1988 for about three months of training on typing, job skills, interview skills and life skills. Those classes also improved his self-esteem, Shepherd said.
OFB provided him with a typewriter and assistive technology and helped him enroll at Lees College in Jackson where he earned an associate’s degree in arts in 1990. While at Lees College, he worked as an assistant resident counselor during the summers for the Governor’s Scholars Program and realized that he wanted to teach art.
Most of Shepherd’s teachers and fellow students were not aware of his visual impairment. “I didn’t want people to know because I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me or give me something I didn’t earn,” he said.
Shepherd continued his education at Morehead State University (MSU) where he earned a bachelor’s degree in art education and a teaching degree in 1993 and a master’s degree in studio art in 1999.
“It’s 99 percent the individual. I think the person has to really want it. Shannon wanted it. He would have been successful at whatever he chose,” Hall said. “We just provided the way but he did the work. Our agency affords people the opportunity but they have to do it.”
Shepherd’s first teaching position was in Floyd County elementary schools. In 1995, he became an art teacher at Betsy Layne High School in Floyd County.
For the most part, Shepherd has not needed OFB’s services since he started teaching but this year he sought assistance from the agency when his wife Stephanie died from cancer. Shepherd and their two children relied on her to drive because Shepherd’s visual impairment kept him from getting a driver’s license.
“She was my best critic, my compliment, my other half,” Shepherd said about his wife.
The couple was worried about how Shepherd would get to work, how he would get their children to activities and about the family becoming isolated. They thought the family would have to move after her death to an urban area with public transportation, but Shepherd found out about OFB’s Bioptic Driving Program and contacted the agency.
Shepherd had to meet the program requirements, complete 30 hours of instruction with a trained specialist and be fitted for bioptic glasses that magnify road signs before taking the driving test. Now Shepherd can drive to work and stay in his rural community.
“I had the desire to go to school and do art. I believe God opened doors when it was time and OFB was one of those doors and the bioptic driving program was one of those doors,” Shepherd said.
This fall, Shepherds’ paintings and printmakings have been on display at MSU at the Claypool-Young Art Gallery, Prestonsburg Community College and touring Kentucky with Appalashop’s Images from the Mountains. In the past few years, Shepherd’s artwork has been displayed at the Kentucky Governor’s Mansion and the Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg.
Shepherd’s subjects reflect his Appalachian upbringing with images of log cabins and remaining chimneys from long abandoned mountain homes.
“I like realism. I prefer rural subjects. I guess it’s because I grew up with it,” Shepherd said about his artwork. “All my spare time was spent in the hills.”
Shepherd said he feels fortunate to have been involved with the people at OFB. Their assistance has helped him to be independent and given him guidance. His success was recognized by the agency when Shepherd received the 2004 OFB Vocational Achievement Award recently.
“It (OFB) afforded me opportunities. When I was 18 it opened a door for me. I knew I wanted to go to school. It let me know it was possible. It opened by eyes to another world outside of Magoffin County. It encouraged me to pursue going to school,” Shepherd said.
OFB is an agency of the Department for Workforce Investment in the Education Cabinet.
The Education Cabinet coordinates learning programs from P-16, and manages and supports training and employment functions in the Department for Workforce Investment. For more information about our programs, visit www.educationcabinet.ky.gov or www.workforce.ky.gov or call 502-564-6606.