A Reading man is receiving national recognition for proving that visual impairment is no obstacle to education success.
Learning Ally, a nonprofit organization serving individuals with learning and visual disabilities, announced Tuesday that it has bestowed a National Achievement Special Honors award upon Luis Fontanez Jr.
Fontanez, set to graduate from Penn State University in 2016 with a master's degree in counselor education, will receive cash rewards of up to $3,000 in recognition of his academic excellence, extraordinary leadership and service to others, Learning Ally officials said.
Fontanez, at the age of four, lost the vision in his left eye due to a condition he was born with called congenital open angle glaucoma. An accident in high school caused him to suffer a detached retina and lose his remaining vision.
"I can state with the utmost honesty that my life did not truly begin until the day I became totally blind," said Fontanez, now 30.
His loss of vision led Fontanez to use human-narrated audiobooks from Learning Ally through his schooling at Reading Area Community College and Alvernia University.
"The differences Learning Ally has made in my life can be described as liberating, freeing, and profound," Fontanez said. "It has liberated me from the constraint of having to be read to, and it has given me the freedom to choose when and where I want to read."
Fontanez's goal after graduating from Penn State is to become a vocational rehabilitation counselor.
"Working hard is one of the things I do best. I want a career and I want to work, and blindness will not keep me from achieving these goals," Fontanez said. "I look forward to an opportunity to pass on my experience and knowledge to future generations of students who are disabled just like me."
Learning Ally, founded in 1948, serves students of all ages, veterans and lifelong learners who cannot read standard print due to blindness, visual impairment, dyslexia or other learning disabilities.