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Braille Institute: Free support for people with vision loss

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Richard Ybarra

Braille Institute’s broad range of programs and services serves people of all ages who are blind or visually impaired. All programs are free of charge. The organization was founded in 1919 by J. Robert Atkinson, a Montana cowboy who was blinded as an adult after a gun accident. Through the last 95 years, thanks to the support of its generous donors, Braille Institute has grown from a sole focus of publishing books in braille to providing an unparalleled range of services that help tens of thousands of people primarily in Southern California, but also across the country. Specifically, Braille Institute San Diego has helped more than 8,000 area residents who are blind or visually impaired.

Through the years, Braille Institute has developed an expertise and a welcoming community for people who are blind or visually impaired.

"In reflecting on Braille Institute’s nearly 100 years of service, like many other nonprofit and service organizations, we continue to engage in the constant process of renewal and change to ensure our programs are reflective of the evolving needs of the communities we serve," says Richard Ybarra, Executive Director, Braille Institute San Diego.

Today, the majority of Braille Institute students and clients still have some vision, but their sight loss has progressed to a point that regular eye glasses no longer help them. Many Braille Institute students are learning how to cope or live more fulfilling lives despite their vision loss, which is most commonly due to progressive ocular diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and retinitis pigmentosa.

As medicine and technology have evolved, so has Braille Institute.

Today, Low Vision Consultations are often the first step many adults take when coming to Braille Institute. These one-on-one consultations help students understand tools and programs that can help them get around town and enjoy the things they love. Consultations also feature demonstrations of assistive devices and technology, such as special lighting, magnification devices, visual aids, and the benefits of assistive technology available through mobile phones and tablets including iPads and iPhones. The goal is to help Braille Institute’s clients make the most of their remaining vision and educate them on resources available.

Students can also take advantage of free classes, which are offered in both English and Spanish. Students can learn to stay connected through technology, get around town or travel the world, regain confidence in the kitchen, rediscover fun and fitness through leisure activities, and express their creativity through art classes.

Whether through Braille Institute classes, the free audio-book and braille Library program — which serves more than 30,000 people — or outreach presentations that bring Braille Institute programs and services into the community, Braille Institute leaders, volunteers, donors, staff, students and clients stand ready to champion the best ways to serve those who seek support.

At Braille Institute, we demonstrate that vision loss is not the end of independence, but the beginning of a new way of living. Our free services help people of all ages learn practical skills and techniques.

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For more information about Braille Institute San Diego, or to find out how you can support our center, call 1-800-BRAILLE, visit BrailleInstitute.org, or email Richard Ybarra at RMYbarra@brailleinstitute.org.

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