Jerry Damon is a man on the go. You might find him on the bus somewhere around Palm Springs. You might find him 35,000 feet above the ground on a flight going somewhere across the U.S. You might find him showing his handcrafted macramé at a state or county fair, taking home first place for his crafts.
Jerry was born in Minnesota, he was premature and put into an incubator and lost his vision due to the increase in oxygen, making him totally blind. Despite his blindness, through orientation and mobility training, Jerry has been able to lead an incredibly active, mobile, and award-winning life as an artist.
His mastery of exceptional orientation and mobility (O&M) skills are some of the primary reasons Jerry has been able to live life to the fullest. Through these O&M skills, he has traveled on his own on buses and airplanes, all by himself, for decades now. Many people in the Coachella Valley area are familiar with Jerry as he can be found using the public transportation system on most days, and loves nothing more than talking with people in the community.
Jerry’s skills also allow him to use the Amtrak and the California Metro systems. He regularly travels between his home in Palm Springs and Los Angeles for doctor appointments, traveling more than 200 miles round trip in one day, independently.
He started attending Braille Institute in Los Angeles in 1967, studying in several classes and skills, including orientation and mobility, and various art classes. Those art classes, which he began in 1989 at Braille Institute’s Rancho Mirage Center (Now the Coachella Valley Neighborhood Center), sparked a passion for ceramics and macramé, he has pursued for more than 30 years.
After years of honing his craft and creating ceramics and macramé, Jerry started entering his works into art contests at county and state fairs around Southern California, starting with a fair in Indio. Jerry’s works were an instant success and he started winning competitions around the region and other states.
Over the years of showing his art, Jerry has accumulated an impressive stockpile of award ribbons and cash winnings for his work. His home is now filled with a vast collection of ribbons to go along with his art.
Throughout his art career, Jerry has also been dedicated to giving back to the blind and visually impaired community. He regularly wins cash for his art and he donates those winnings to Braille Institute, bringing his journey of orientation and mobility, education, art, and dedication, full circle. He also spent many years as a volunteer for Braille Institute’s Library.
“I’m happy the winnings I get from my art goes back to helping more people like me be able to learn how to be mobile and active, work their independent living skills, and develop passions, like artwork the way I have,” said Jerry.
Through his time as a student and as a donor for Braille Institute, Jerry has developed close, personal relationships with many Braille Institute staff members, including President Peter Mindnich.
“Jerry and I are phone pals. Getting a call from him is always a pleasure and I love hearing about all the different places he’s been able to go and how he shares his art with the world. I can’t wait till the next time I talk with him and hear about all the wonderful things he has been up to,” said Mindnich.
The COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily limited Jerry’s travels near and far and his ability to show his art at fairs, but he’s ready to get moving again once he can. Keep an eye out for him and his work at a fair in Southern California when they continue, hopefully in 2021.
“I’m excited to hopefully soon share the macramé I have been working on with the world again. Creating art and being able to get around and show it to the world is my passion and keeps me motivated every day,” said Jerry.
Jerry’s story is perfect for Orientation & Mobility (O&M) Month, which we celebrate each October at Braille Institute. The O&M skills Jerry was able to learn and maintain have allowed him to be able to travel independently and he is just one of the thousands of people who are blind and visually impaired who we have helped maximize their independence through O&M training over the past more than 100 years.
Visit Braille Institute’s website for more information on our Orientation and Mobility services, which are offered at each of our centers in Southern California. Contact the Braille Institute Center nearest you and ask about Orientation & Mobility, Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. You can call us toll-free at 1-800-BRAILLE (272-4553)
Art education is also a key part of Jerry’s amazing story and has long been a cornerstone of the educational services offered by Braille Institute at our seven centers across Southern California. Current students can find the schedule of art classes each semester in the catalog for their local center and new students can find free art workshops available on our events page. Those who want to register as new students can Call 1-800-BRAILLE (272-4553) to make a free appointment with our Low Vision Rehabilitation Specialist who will be able to assess their vision abilities and set them in the right direction to maintaining their independence.