Braille Institute offers free education and therapeutic programs

Translated from article by Virginia Gaglianone, “Una Vida Independiente Es Posible”, La Opinion, November 22, 2016 

Rosie Tuck crocheting, sitting at a table with a volunteer.

Rosella ‘Rosie’ Tuck has been blind since birth, but far from being an impediment, being blind never stopped her from learning and helping others. Rosie is a student, volunteer, and teacher at the Braille Institute in Los Angeles. 

“I started working as a volunteer in the library, and today I teach others, answer the phones, pick up the mail and help others where needed,” she said.

When talking about the classes and her general participation at Braille Institute, Rosie stresses, among other things, the opportunity to share time with friends. “We are a big family,” she said.

The Institute is not limited to teaching braille, but has many other free programs and it is open to all ages.

“There are many people who are not interested in learning braille. In general, 10% of our students seek to learn it. But the Institute also offers enrichment classes for daily living, orientation and mobility, art, music, and more, “said Rocio Vallejos-Hoyt, Field Services Manager.

Fourteen years ago, Rocio began working at Braille Institute as a volunteer. “I worked as a waitress in a restaurant that was in front of Braille Institute,” she recalled. Rocio was always interested in helping others and working for the community, and when she learned that at Los Angeles Community College they offered a class to learn braille, she did not think twice. She enrolled in the class and once she learned the code, volunteered to teach reading to blind Latinos. At Braille Institute, Hispanics can learn English and Braille at the same time.

“Braille is a code system, based on six points, which also has contractions that correspond to certain words. At first it may seem complicated, but it is not. The important thing is to learn the alphabet, “she explained.

A Creative Choice to Express Your Feelings

Among its many programs, Braille Institute offers classes to understand vision loss and what it means, not only for people who are legally blind, but also for their family.

We have counselors who work individually with each person, support groups to address the emotional aspect of the lack of vision and the challenges that can arise. We also offer therapeutic programs in art, music and creative writing that help express feelings, ” she said

Music classes are preferred by Rosie, who sings in the women’s choir and in the mixed choir of Braille Institute.

Now I’m learning guitar, but I also know how to play the piano,” she said. Rosie explained that because she can’t read music, she learns everything based on what she hears. “First I listen to the melody and then I play it.” Music occupies a central place in Rosie’s future plans.

“Since I was a little girl I liked the music, I like the ‘Rancheras’ and the oldies, shared Rosie, who also takes crochet classes and is finishing weaving her first blanket.

The unconditional support of her parents and siblings was a determining factor in Rosie’s life. “My mother was sometimes a bit strict, but she has always been very affectionate and supportive, they have always treated me very well,” she said.

An Independent Life

In the Latino community there are many people who are blind or have severe vision loss, who suffer from diabetic retinopathy as a result of diabetes.

“At [Braille Institute] we provide resources so that the blind can lead an independent life. The programs are free and open to everyone, regardless of age, documents or medical coverage. But many Hispanics, whether out of fear, insecurity or lack of moral support, do not believe they are ready and do not come, ” said Rocio.

Rocio recalled the case of a young Latina who sold hot dogs in the streets, and one day began to lose her vision.

“Her family wanted to protect her and for a long time she stayed isolated in her house. One day her husband learned about the programs at Braille Institute and encouraged her to come. When she arrived, she had a great depression, but the classes and programs [from Braille Institute] changed her life. Now, she works as a volunteer, helping others and for the first time, she is smiling again. A great change that no one would have imagined,” Rocio recalled.

“I tell other blind people to come and learn, but also to have fun and to leave things to God,” added Rosie. “Above all I tell you, keep going [forward]!”

Breaking Down Barriers 

Braille Institute is a non-profit organization whose mission is to eliminate barriers caused by blindness and severe sight loss. The Institute, which has five centers and 220 community outreach locations, serves more than 75,000 people each year through integrated education, recreation and support programs, classes, services and seminars. Their services are possible thanks to the contribution of the volunteers and donations. For more information, you can call 1-800-BRAILLE (272-4553) or visit