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In her own words: Transforming loss into action

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Each year thanks to support from generous donors, Braille Institute San Diego helps thousands of San Diego residents who are blind or visually impaired through free classes and programs for students of all ages. This is a first-person story from Braille Institute student Khanh T. about how she transformed her sight loss into new achievements and goals.

My story

My name is Khanh, and I live near the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) campus. My visual impairments are caused by weak eye muscles, which is a result of a neuromuscular autoimmune disorder called Myasthenia Gravis (MG). MG causes muscle weakness and fatigue in all of my voluntary muscles. While the cause of my condition is not definitive, my plans for the future are. Although I’m currently on medical leave, I plan on returning to UCSD to complete my B.S. in Pharmacological Chemistry. Then I’m looking into San Diego State University’s Master's in Rehabilitation Counseling, because I'm now considering becoming a Department of Rehabilitation counselor.

Some of my visual impairments include: double vision, droopy eyelids (ptosis), and lack of depth perception and peripheral vision. I have a very limited range of central vision – I can only see straight ahead, and many things are just blurry patches of color. Sometimes, when my eye muscles are extremely weak, my eyelids will not open at all, so then I am completely blind.

Getting started at Braille Institute

Braille Institute didn’t seem like the right fit for me when I was first introduced to it, but eventually I decided I was ready to find out more about how the staff could help me. I’d seen signs near the Westfield UTC mall. Then my physics tutor, who had been a volunteer at Braille Institute, told me that I could benefit from free classes there. In Spring 2014 my health had declined to such a poor state that I couldn't continue school, my best friend had just passed away, and I had memory issues that I attribute to being in shock from my friend's sudden death. I decided to take up piano instruction at Braille Institute because I read an article online that playing piano helps to improve cognitive functions. That’s when I decided to give Braille Institute San Diego a try.

During my first term at Braille Institute San Diego, I took piano to help regain my memory skills, yoga to help boost my immune system, and Spanish to be able to talk to my late friend's parents. Later I continued the same classes, and I also volunteered helping out at the front desk, as a teacher's assistant for gardening and keyboarding classes, and as a mentor for the first Welcome Club, which helps new adult students get acclimated to the center, its personnel and resources. The following term, I started taking Beginning Braille while continuing to volunteer at the front desk. I also did one-on-one Orientation and Mobility (O&M) training, and it was amazing! My O&M instructor taught me how to use a white cane, which helped me travel outside my apartment complex safely and independently, even when I am not able to open my eyelids because of my condition.

My favorite thing about Braille Institute is how much the organization’s President, Peter Mindnich, cares about helping others, and how serious he is about making sure that Braille Institute will help out as many people as it can with various services and resources. I only met Peter once, briefly, during a breakfast meet-and-greet, but I admired him instantly for his dedication to help those in need. My favorite thing about Braille Institute San Diego is the kind and caring staff members, volunteers, and students. They try so hard to be as helpful as they can be to anyone who needs it. I feel incredibly grateful to have found Braille Institute San Diego, and I feel so lucky to be part of its community.

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For more information on how you or someone you know can benefit from free services at Braille Institute San Diego, call 1-800-BRAILLE, visit BrailleInstitute.org, or email Richard Ybarra at RMYbarra@brailleinstitute.org.

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