Who is Dr. Rachel Rawls and why is there an award in her honor?

By Gail Waters
Image of Rachel Rawls

Dr. Rachel Rawls was a longtime advocate for children and adults with visual impairments in NC. She died in 1999 at the age of 77. Although many of the younger consumers and professionals in the field have not had the opportunity to know her, the impact she has had on them and the profession is enormous. In 1992, on the occasion of her seventieth birthday, over 150 attendees recognized her unique contributions by attending a dinner in her honor. At that time the Rachel Rawls Award for significant contribution to the field of visual impairment was established. An education fund was also created in her honor, in addition to the one already established at NC State University, where she was Professor Emerita.

Rachel’s career was long and distinguished. She joined the faculty of the Governor Morehead School in 1945, after a brief time with Wake County Public Schools and the State Department of Public Instruction. In 1949 she became psychologist and counselor at the School and served in this capacity until becoming Director of Research in 1965. After obtaining a doctorate in psychology from George Peabody College (Vanderbilt University), she accepted a position as instructor in the Department of Psychology at NC State. In this position she was a consultant in psychological testing for the NC Division of Services for the Blind, and not only did psychological testing herself but trained many psychology students at NC State in psychological testing of children and adults with visual impairments. She became NC’s recognized expert in this field. After her retirement as Professor Emerita at NC State, she continued consulting, especially in the area of children with visual impairments, as she undertook private practice.

Rachel’s professional and special interest affiliations, spanning several decades, include the following: Board Member of the NC Commission for the Blind; President & Board of the Sir Walter Lioness Club; Board of the Friends of the NC Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped; New Bern Avenue Day Care Center Board of Directors; President & Board of the Wake County Genealogical Society; Board of the Gamma Eta Chapter of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society International; and the Human Rights Committee of the Governor Morehead School.

Rachel organized a committee in the early nineties in an attempt to address the issue of Braille literacy in this state and reestablish a teacher-training program in visual impairments. She spearheaded the effort as she worked with other professionals, resulting in the teacher training program that is now operating at North Carolina Central University. In addition, she spent many hours over the years in the General Assembly, fighting for funds for the NC Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and for specialized, trained staff, such as rehabilitation teachers, in the profession.

Through legislative contacts, Rachel advocated for other programs that would benefit people with visual impairments and strongly advocated against such proposals as “right turn on red,” which she believed would be detrimental to people who are visually impaired. She was a life member of the Association of Educators of the Visually Handicapped and AER. It was a great tribute to Rachel that the Secretary of the Department of Cultural Resources and other leading state officials donated the book North Carolina Women Making History in her honor to the Library for the Blind with the request that it be taped for the patrons of the Library.

Whether she was known as Mrs. Rawls, Dr. Rawls, or Rachel, she is lovingly remembered by her friends and long-time associates for her keen intellect and teaching ability, and her passion to improve the lives of North Carolina citizens with visual impairments. She loved children and animals, especially cats, and would put aside everything to help a friend. Those of us who were fortunate enough to know her to recognize the legacy she leaves to all of us who follow in the love and work of education and rehabilitation of the blind and visually impaired.

Winner of the 2019 Rachel Rawls Award

It is the great pleasure of the NCAER Board to announce Yvonne Franz as the winner of the 2019 Rachel Rawls Award. 

Picture of Yvonne Franz  accepting award

Yvonne is characterized in the following ways:

  • An outstanding professional, role model, teacher, and colleague
  • Energetic and an encourager
  • A wealth of knowledge
  • A very valuable resource
  • Advocacy for individuals with visual impairment extends to all ages
  • Invested in student global well-being
  • Models effective parent/teacher relationships
  • Invested in growing the field of TVIs in NC
  • A fiscal advocate for students in the LEA
  • (And perhaps most significant for this conference’s theme) An encourager of unique and innovative technology projects and practices

These professional descriptions extend many collaborations she supports:

  • The National Federation for the Blind
  • Early Learning Sensory Support Program
  • Division of Services for the Blind
  • The LIONs club

She is known in the community for understanding students with multiple disabilities and visual impairment, including deaf/blindness. She is a certified braille transcriber. She is known for her Assistive Technology leadership and has also published on the Perkins Schools for the Blind site “Paths to Technology.”

Last year a seat of honor at the Rachel Rawls professional table remained empty, as no nominations were made. This year Yvonne Franz is welcomed to take a seat at this honorable table. 


Past Rachel Rawls Award Designees:

2019: Yvonne Franz
2018: No nominations submitted
2017: Sandy Bryant
2016: Diane Brauner
2015: No nominations submitted
2014: No nominations submitted
2013: Laura Park-Leach
2012: No nominations submitted
2011: Gary Ray
2010: Lisa Swink
2009: Pattie Barker
2008: Mitch Woods
2007: Joan Baker
2006: No nominations submitted
2005: Donna Apple