Amanda Bagwell

Amanda Bagwell and her service dog, Roscoe, pose for a photo at the Valparaiso University School of Law. The Kokomo resident is a first-year law student and has been blind since the age of 4.

VALPARAISO — Amanda Bagwell is unable to see, but she has a clear vision of what she wants to do with her life.

Bagwell, 23, of Kokomo, is a first-year law student at the Valparaiso University School of Law.

She has been blind since the age of 4, the result of a rare genetic condition known as Stickler syndrome.

The condition affects connective tissues, and caused the retinas of Bagwell’s eyes to become weakened and ultimately detached.

She lost her left eye and can only see light and shadows in her right. She navigates hallways and attends classes at the law school with the help of her service dog, a black lab named Roscoe.

“He’s pretty much an honorary student,” Bagwell said. “We’ve been through so much together. He’s a very social guy, and he’s taught me how to come out of my shell.”

While Roscoe is at her side, so is her laptop computer, which runs Kurzweil software designed for the visually impaired.

Before coming to Valparaiso, Bagwell earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in criminal justice from Indiana University Kokomo.

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Her life experiences inspired her to attend law school, and she wants to pursue a career in which she can help nonviolent offenders reintegrate back into society.

After being released from jail, nonviolent offenders often can’t get a job because no one will hire them, Bagwell said. They end up homeless and commit another crime just so they can have a roof over their head, she said.

“I’ve grown up with people who’ve fallen through the cracks,” Bagwell said. “Our system is setting people up to fail and costing our society money. I want to work on legislation to change policy.”

For now, Bagwell feels completely at home at Valparaiso, which offers personalized attention to students through its small class sizes, and hands-on experience through its clinics.

“They really want to see you succeed, and the professional connections are amazing,” she said.

As she pursues her education toward her dream career, Bagwell also is preparing for another dream to come true: she’s getting married on Feb. 28.

She hopes to inspire others with disabilities to achieve their dreams and not let obstacles stand in the way of their goals.

“Embrace your differences and do your best to learn how to stand on your own two feet,” Bagwell said. “Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you. Chase them down. And always be a good person because people are watching you.”

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