PROFILE: Annie McEachirn Often Serves as Both Learner, Teacher

Annie McEachirn says returning to school to earn her master’s in social work at UC has been both a teaching and learning experience.

“As well as the teachers teaching me things, I think I have helped them to learn how to work with a person who’s visually impaired,” says the mother of two who decided to advance her education when her adult son and daughter moved out and left her with “an empty nest.” McEachirn has been legally blind since birth due to retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary condition that leaves the retina severely scarred. The condition skips a generation, therefore she and three of her nine siblings have it, but not her two offspring.

McEachirn’s studies in the UC School of Social Work have placed her in field work with teenagers who have physical disabilities at Western Hills High School. The real-world experience, contracted through the United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cincinnati Inc., helped her to discover that she would like to work with teens on an ongoing basis, after Commencement.

“I think maybe I can have the most impact on them,” she says. She tells youth that “you have to become your own best advocate.”

McEachirn holds a bachelor’s degree from Western Carolina University and has lived in the Cincinnati area since 1980. She works with the Cincinnati Association for the Blind’s Talking Book Machine Program, which provides playback equipment for the print-disabled to listen to books. She chose to pursue social work because of her own life experiences. “I had run across so many barriers in trying to get through my life – from getting a job, to getting financing, that I thought why not take my skills and help somebody else?”

McEachirn tests a chair made of recycled materials in Brazil.

McEachirn tests a chair made of recycled materials in Brazil.

Recently McEachirn pursued one of her passions – travel – by touring Brazil with the Friendship Force. She was matched with families in San Miguel, Santo Angelo and Rio de Janeiro and lived with them during her April 25-May 15 trip. “I went to be a student and a teacher,” she says. “I knew I was probably the first legally blind person that many of these people had ever lived with. There were some instances where I heard people saying, ‘someone has to take care of Annie,’ and I had to tell them you can assist me, but you are not taking care of me.” During her trip she spoke to peers about U.S. social services and in turn learned about some social service agencies in Brazil. At Cepron, an agency that works with handicapped people, she sat in chairs made by the disabled out of recycled bottles and bubble wrap.

When she first headed overseas, she admits she was a bit fearful of the unknown, especially because she had to leave her dog guide, Jessica, at home. But now that she has ventured to Brazil, she would like to travel even more.

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