“It just happened,” says Ivan Gonzalez of the vision loss that began when he was in middle school. Routine eye exams revealed retinal detachments in first his right eye and then his left eye—which fortunately surgery was able to correct.
Unfortunately, in 9th grade, Ivan developed cataracts in both eyes, and despite multiple surgeries, he became legally blind. “I just had to readjust,” he remembers. He got some help from his school, learning a little braille and how to use JAWS (Job Access With Speech) computer screen-reading technology.
Life really started to improve, however, when Ivan was introduced to Braille Institute in the 11th grade. He began participating in our youth programs, including a cooking class. He even completed a rock climbing challenge. “I met a lot of great new people around my own age,” he says enthusiastically. “We could support each other in what we were all dealing with.”
A year later, Ivan graduated from high school and began attending college. It was during his first year at UC Irvine that he says, “My left eye went out on me.” It was hard to keep up with classes, and so he withdrew from school. “I decided to take a step back to refocus on things.”
That’s when he returned to Braille Institute and registered in our Adult Program. “I wanted to really learn braille and refine my computer and job skills so I could return to school,” Ivan said.
Technology Leads to New Opportunities
Guided by Braille Institute access technology instructor, Juan Hernandez, Ivan grew so adept at using iPhones, iPads, and other devices that he soon became a Braille Institute computer lab volunteer.
He found this volunteer work the most rewarding, sharing with others what he leaned at Braille Institute.
“With technology, you can open doors to so many opportunities!” says Ivan Gonzalez
New doors are already opening for Ivan. Now proficient in braille and the use of technology, he’ll resume his studies this August at San Diego City College and then transfer to UC San Diego, where he plans to major in computer science.
To reward all his hard work, Ivan Gonzalez recently received the Student of the Year Award from the Braille Institute San Diego Center. “I was really surprised that they would honor me,” he says. “I’m just giving back. A lot of the things I, and others, accomplish wouldn’t be possible without Braille Institute’s great team.”