Alum Spotlight

A Different Outcome

Published in: Update - Issue 1 - 2013 »     Listen to Article ♫
Nicole and yellow Lab Louise pose for their Leader Dog team photo

When Nicole Liebl graduated from high school in 1986, she didn't even consider going to college. She had used a magnifier to read in school but as her vision deteriorated due to Juvenile Macular Degeneration, she was limited because she didn't read Braille and screen reader technology wasn't readily available. Instead, Nicole entered a trade program specially designed for people who are blind and ran a vending route for the next 21 years.

When the economy declined in 2008, Nicole's route slowed down dramatically and she had to close her business. She applied to Leader Dog and arrived for training soon after. During training, Nicole became friends with another client who urged her to go to school. "He said to me, 'Nicole, you're a smart girl, you should go to school.' Prior to that, I had not thought about going to college."

After finishing training with Leader Dog Louise, Nicole packed her bags and headed to Indiana, about 600 miles from her home in Minnesota, to complete a course in using screen readers, speech software for computers and Braille. After finishing her technology training, Nicole enrolled in the University of Indianapolis.

Nicole sits and hugs Louise as Louise licks Nicole's cheek

"Louise has definitely played a part in my going to college because I wanted to be way more independent and I wanted to give her the active life she deserves," Nicole says, "Before getting Louise I didn't go out after dark a lot, now we're out in the dark all the time. She takes me to my classes and has flown home with me on holidays—I wouldn't have done any of that on my own."

"I will be applying to the social work program in the fall and I'm really interested in working with veterans, maybe with those who have been blinded. My vision loss was gradual and I know their situations will be different, but I hope I can help them to be strong, to know that they can do it," says Nicole.

Nicole has also started her own nonprofit organization, Alms for Animals, helping people on fixed incomes get the medical care their pets need.

"I was devastated after I lost my job. Now I sit and think about how I have Louise and I'm going into social work and I have a different outcome than I ever imagined. I was down the summer after losing my job and didn't think I had a purpose in life; now I have school and my nonprofit, which I wouldn't have if it wasn't for Leader Dog."