By Gail Arnold, Santa Barbara Independent
At the January monthly meeting of the Braille Institute Auxiliary of Santa Barbara, Nutsiri “Earth” Kidkul, a visually-impaired technology instructor at the Braille Institute Los Angeles Center (BILAC), enlightened and inspired auxiliary members and guests with her talk about her teaching role and her life experiences.
Kidkul, the lead instructor at BILAC’s Connection Pointe technology center, explained how after she became blind eight years ago, she enrolled in BILAC’s internship program. With her love for technology, she joined the newly-created Connection Pointe staff and rose quickly to lead instructor, where she teaches students one-on-one. Kidkul shared how much she enjoys teaching students, who range in age from 18 to 85, about different technologies that enable them to become more independent.
She explained how Microsoft’s Seeing AI and similar apps have a wide range of uses for the visually-impaired. With her phone, Kidkul demonstrated how the app takes a photo and immediately provides the user with information about the subject. It protects the blind from being cheated out of change when paying for groceries, bus fare, and other items — an occurrence that she related can otherwise occur.
When photographing a person, the app will identify the person’s gender, age, and emotional state. A couple of auxiliary members were quite pleased with the age-guessing feature, which apparently errs on the side of younger years. The app saves the photo and then alerts the user in the future when that person in nearby.
Kidkul explained how Instacart and other services allow people to order and pay for groceries online. Not only is picking out items in a store challenging, but the travel component is as well. Kidkul quipped, with a smile, “travel with eggs, good luck with that.” GPS apps which tell people their exact location are also part of her instruction. Kidkul also teaches computer skills, both mainstream and accessibility skills, and on both regular computers and on pricey devices that display in Braille instead of on a monitor.
Braille Institute Director of Digital Programs Ben Pomeroy shared with the group that he hired Kidkul and had her train other visually-impaired individuals to be instructors because the perspective that visually-impaired individuals have makes them more effective than sighted instructors. A nice side benefit is that the instructors gain valuable work experience, which enables them to move on to other jobs outside of the Braille Institute. Each year, Kidkul trains new instructors.
The nonprofit Braille Institute, which is funded almost entirely from private sources, offers free programs, classes, and services at six centers and 220 community outreach locations in Southern California. The Santa Barbara Center, at 2031 De la Vina Street, offers a wide variety of classes, including a new and popular Advanced Sensory Awareness class, which takes students to places as varied as Costco and the Santa Barbara Bowl. There are other general living skills classes and classes in cooking, art, music, fitness, and other subjects. A few classes are offered in Spanish. It also offers low vision consultations and an orientation and mobility program.
The center serves a large community, with 703 students enrolling in classes and utilizing other, non-library services in the first half of this fiscal year. Even more took advantage of its onsite and online library services. The center serves people in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties and transportation is provided free of charge to qualified students who live between Goleta and Carpinteria.
The Braille Institute Auxiliary of Santa Barbara is a group of 68 volunteers who raise funds, provide community outreach, and help out at the Santa Barbara Center. New members are always welcome, email Barbara Toumayan at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Santa Barbara Center has more than 100 volunteers who function as drivers, teachers, classroom aides, and library aides. Others perform clerical and reception duties and community outreach. Currently, the center is in need of volunteers for its offsite classes.
For more info, go to brailleinstitute.org/santabarbara.html.