Halls are carpeted and intersections tiled at the Braille Institute

Today, less than 10% of visually impaired people can read braille. One might therefore question the purpose of the Braille Institute which was established in 1919. However, when you consider that macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss among people ages 50+1 and our growing baby boomer population, you clearly see the need for an organization that assists those with impaired vision. 

The Braille Institute offers free services to anyone whose loss of sight affects quality of life. Their vast array of programs and services provide assistance to children, adults, young adults, seniors and their families throughout Southern California.

Beverage devices sound when full

Beverage devices sound when full

“Our programs assist anyone who feels their glasses are no longer working,” said Executive Director Lisa Jimenez who has been with the organization for 23 years and has seen it grow to serve a larger population. “Less than 5% of our clientele are totally blind,” she adds. “In the last two years, our focus has really changed to assist those in our community with low vision.”

You really cannot grasp the breadth of inconveniences placed on those with low vision until you visit the Braille Institute. They understand the challenges faced and most likely have an answer, from talking watches to marking devices for appliances and clothing; from kitchen safety tools to computer devices and programs.  

 Services include counseling, education, art and music, cooking classes, children’s programs and even career development for young adults. “We are a unique organization in that we offer so many services under one roof,” says Field Services Manager Felice Chiapperini. “We are here to help people losing their vision understand what they can expect, and to support them along the way.” He adds that most clients come on a weekly basis, and some daily. Did I mention that all services are free?

Volunteers help clients with free services

Volunteers help clients with free services

“Many seniors will not admit to having as much vision loss as they have,” says Chiapperini. “Their greatest fear is usually their DMV test and getting past that fear is often the biggest challenge. And sometimes the sighted spouse becomes their lifeline, so we encourage them to come in as well.” 

The Braille Institute’s newest addition is a comprehensive technology center called Connection Pointe. Chiapperini explains that adaptive software has been around for 20 years but has come a long way, and is now available on mobile devices like iPhones and tablets. They have three levels of technology: magnifying computers and text-to-speech devices; traditional PCs with adaptive software; and smaller smart devices. Volunteers, who teach all classes at the institute, assist clients in learning technology.

“Twenty years ago the average age of our client was 70,” says Jimenez. “Now it is 55, and our programs continue to change to meet the needs of our clientele.”

The technology center at the Braille Institute

The technology center at the Braille Institute

Chiapperini adds that there are over 200 apps for people with impaired vision including EyeNote and similar apps that tell you which dollar bill you are holding, and VisionSim which simulates the progression of specific eye diseases. The Braille Institute also has an aggregator app called ViA (currently Apple only) that lists all available apps for low vision.

If you or someone in your life is experiencing vision loss, answers to your many questions can be found at the Braille Institute. 

The Braille Institute is located in Rancho Mirage at the corner of Ramon and Da Vall. For more information call (760) 321.1111 or visit www.BrailleInstitute.org. 

References: 1) National Eye Institute, NIH. www.nei.nih.gov/health/maculardegen/armd_facts.asp#1 

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