One of the amazing things about technology for visually impaired and how it has evolved to improve the lives of those who are visually impaired, is how it has made higher education more accessible and easier to navigate. Our technology services can help anyone who is visually impaired further their education, whether they already have a college degree, are working on one, or want to pursue one in the future.
Knowing how to best use technology is now a crucial part of almost any higher education pursuit, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Braille Institute’s technology for visually impaired services aim to help our students navigate the pursuit of their degrees with confidence and independence.
This Technology Month, we want to share the stories of two of our students and how technology for visually impaired has played a role in them achieving and pursuing their higher education goals: Cesar and Grace.
Dealing with fading vision has been an issue throughout Cesar Franco’s life. He was born in South Gate, California with partial vision due to glaucoma and had several issues as a youth which did further damage to his vision, including a retina detachment in 2000 and medical attempts to remove cataracts.
Cesar’s vision issues never held him back though. He attended Marshall High School, just up the road from Braille Institute’s Los Angeles Center and continued to learn technology, a subject he began to learn in middle school.
“I started learning JAWs (screen reader technology) and ZoomText (magnification & screen reader technology) in middle school, but my overall technology use and knowledge was very basic. I typed with one finger all through school,” said Cesar.
Cesar graduated high school and took part in Braille Institute’s Child Development and Youth Programs throughout his early years. Through his education, he developed an interest in technology and decided that being a computer programmer or working in computer repair was his “dream job.”
However, he needed to continue his education first, and he was starting from a limited point, still only typing with one finger. So, he went to Braille Institute’s adult services and Connection Pointe Technology Center to pick back up his education.
“I went to Braille Institute’s technology center still typing with one finger and bending over to use the keyboard. One of the staff members there, Shenai, saw me and told me that I needed to learn keyboarding,” said Cesar.
Cesar was hesitant at first, but he started learning on the Talking Typewriter. He thrived taking the keyboarding classes and was helped by already having experience with screen reader technology, which allowed him to type without looking at the keyboard.
Mastering keyboarding was just the beginning of Cesar’s technology skills development.
“After keyboarding, I went on to learn how to use the Victor Stream (handheld audio reader technology) and VoiceOver. I also learned the basics of using the iPhone, from Technology Instructor, Jose, who is also visually impaired and this really helped me,” said Cesar.
The technology education Cesar received allowed him to use technology to make his life easier and to continue his overall education as he enrolled at Los Angeles Community College. He utilized the High Tech Center at L.A.C.C. and leaned on the technology education he received at Braille Institute to excel at the classes he took in college.
“What I learned at Braille Institute helped me at school. College is not easy, but learning how to type makes it easier,” said Cesar.
Cesar is still working on that dream of becoming a computer programmer or repair technician, still enrolled in his college courses and advancing his education with Braille Institute and has advanced to the point where he can do maintenance on his iPhone, cleaning programs and improving its performance. He also now feels more than comfortable using an iPad and MacBook Air for school and continues to get more and more skilled at using technology.
In addition to his technology skills allowing Cesar to be able to succeed in his classes, it has also helped him give back to the visually impaired community. He is now part of Braille Institute’s Student Committee and, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, was active in helping other students move around Braille Institute’s Los Angeles Center.
“Braille has given me a lot so I try to give a lot of support and look forward to volunteering again when we can go back to the Center,” said Cesar.
Grace Gonzalez started college at the age of 40 and after having four children. She wanted to learn, she wanted a career, and she wanted to improve herself, so she enrolled at California State Los Angeles University and began to pursue a degree in Spanish.
However, to truly understand Grace’s story of higher education, you also must know her story of vision loss and the technology education she received at the Braille Institute.
Grace was born partially sighted but fully lost her sight during the pregnancy of her fourth and final child due to retinitis pigmentosa at the age of 26. One of the first things she did after fully losing her sight was to begin going to Braille Institute in Los Angeles, where she started learning braille and keyboarding.
“I learned basic skills at Braille Institute that set me up to really start learning as I moved on. Then I started to think about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” said Grace.
Grace knew she wanted to further her education and Braille Institute staff pointed her in the right direction, letting her know that Los Angeles Community College was right next to the Los Angeles Center.
“I always say that Braille Institute took me to college. They actually took me to L.A.C.C. and showed me that I could go to school there,” said Grace.
After attending classes at L.A.C.C. and after earning a degree in Spanish from California State Los Angeles, Grace decided she wanted to become a teacher and pursue an advanced degree. She continued her education and started earning a master’s degree in Spanish.
The one problem was her lack of technology skills made her education challenging and expensive.
Grace had to write a lot of papers and reports for her degree and did not have a computer. She had been reluctant to get a computer because of her sight loss and their high price at the time. Instead, she had to use a typist who would charge $10 per-page to type her reports and papers.
Aside from being expensive, using typists also made it difficult for her to perfect her work and to be okay with any mistakes or typos she found in her papers.
“You can accept your own mistakes and fix them easily, not others. It was frustrating and I wanted to find a way to not have to rely on paying the typists anymore,” said Grace.
Grace turned again to Braille Institute to help her with learning technology, particularly learning how to use a computer. She took technology classes and worked on improving her keyboarding skills.
Through Braille Institute, she was able to take classes that improved her ability to use computers to where she was able to utilize school computer labs and type her own papers and reports.
This breakthrough allowed Grace to save money while also improving independence in her education and life. It wasn’t much longer before she graduated with her master’s degree.
Recently, Grace reflected on the journey she’s been on for the past 45 years-plus and her education.
“There is no perfect age to learn. I’m 71 and still learning. You should always be learning, my mother always said, and Braille Institute gave me a lot of things to learn. Because of what I’ve learned, I was able to teach my kids typing and how to write a paper and now they’re professionals themselves,” said Grace.
Braille Institute also opened Grace to the visually impaired community and what she’s learned from the community over the years has impressed her and taught her a lesson for life.
“We can do a lot. A lot of friends of mine who are visually impaired are professional and went to school. If you put your mind to something you can do anything,” said Grace.
Cesar and Grace’s stories are perfect for Technology Month, which we celebrate each January at Braille Institute. They are just two of the thousands of people who are blind and visually impaired, who we have helped to maximize their independence through technology education.
Visit Braille Institute’s website for more information on technology services, which are offered through each of our centers in Southern California. Contact the Braille Institute Center nearest you and ask about technology services, Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. You can call us toll-free at 1-800-BRAILLE (272-4553).