Annamarie Parker Gets College Degree After 10-year Journey

Tags: News & Updates

It was one of the proudest moments of her life, and Annamarie Parker was ready. She was all smiles when she received her degree this spring.

“I’m so excited about finally getting my degree,” said Annamarie, a native Philadelphian who works as a supervisor for VisionCorps’ Contract Management Services group. “I’m so proud of never giving up on myself!”

Annamarie is legally blind as a result of myopic degeneration diagnosed in 1999 which resulted in a severe form of nearsightedness that prevents her from seeing out of the center of her eye and blurs her peripheral vision. Her associate degree in liberal studies with a focus on business courses culminated a decade of hard work and obstacles that might have sidelined a less determined individual. Her accomplishment was also recognized as part of a 6 Action News graduation story from Montgomery County Community College

“When my eyes went like this, my only question was how am I going to do this?” said Annamarie, 57. “I never walked around thinking woe is me. Yes, I have moments when I think my vision is bad. So then, I have faith.”

She’s experienced many other achievements – working in challenging jobs, buying her house, graduating from high school, and coping with a visual impairment that got worse and left her legally blind – but nothing compared to her graduation.

Her journey began when she realized she needed a degree to advance in her professional life, and she started attending a community college. It wasn’t easy. She needed accommodations to see her text books and read the materials that professors went over in class. Magnifier/Screen Reader tools didn’t always work well with textbooks.

One professor told her that she needed to unenroll from his class, “because if I needed someone to read to me, and write down the answers, that’s cheating,” said Annamarie. “I met with college officials who told me, they commend me for taking the time to try to take courses, but they couldn’t help me.

“It was overwhelming and discouraging,” she said. “Sometimes, we have to be our own advocates.”

Annamarie did some research and thought a switch to another institution would help. She found the Center for Disability office at Montgomery County Community College, and after some discussion, enrolled there in 2019. She began receiving many more accommodations.

She used accessibility tools such as a ZoomText magnification screen reader, to enlarge print and images on a computer screen, two 27-inch monitors, a large keyboard, and apps on her desktop and iPad to read text to her.

Math was particularly challenging because it is so visual.

“In algebra, you have the exponents, negative signs, and letters sometimes in italics, and Zoom text couldn’t read it.”

She explained this to her new algebra professor.

“He went by the acronym KISS, Keep It Simple, Steve. When he learned about the stuff I had problems with, he just gave me other problems or questions. When I didn’t understand it, he talked through it step-by-step,” said Annamarie. “I finished the algebra course with an A+.

“I took a second math course with him called Math in Society that included linear equations, statistics and probability, finance, and stock market stuff. It had all kinds of math word problems. I got an A+ in that class too,” she said. “It makes a big difference when someone makes it accessible for you.”

She also felt more accepted and welcomed in her classes, and said, “for the first time, people would talk to me and wanted to help me in class.”

It was still tough to complete the work.

“I had long nights. Some Thursday thru Saturday nights, I’d be up to 2-3 a.m. working,” said Annamarie. “One accelerated marketing course required four assignments a week. There were plenty of times that I had just a few hours sleep, and would have to get up and go to work the next day.”

Just like she learned to deal with her vision loss, Annamarie developed learning and coping skills to finish her degree.

“I just had to do it. I don’t know how I did it sometimes – but with the grace of God,” she said.

Her future plans include possibly continuing her education. She would like to work with the federal government, but for now she’ll focus on her job, and wants to learn more about the contracting process from her director, Carolyn Madison.

“It’s a weight off my shoulders,” said Annamarie. “I want to encourage people to continue to work toward your goals. Yes, we (people with vision loss) have to work twice as hard but don’t give up on yourself.”