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Braille Institute raising awareness of visual impairment health issues

February is "Low Vision Awareness Month" and there are several free seminars to learn more about low vision issues.

SAN DIEGO — In an effort to raise awareness for the often-overlooked health issue of low vison and educate the community, the Braille Institute is offering free medical expertise to those that suffer from the issue as well as those that are looking to learn more during "Low Vision Awareness Month".

By 2030, the number of Californians with visual impairments is projected to reach more than 850,000 (estimated), with 580,000 (estimated) having low vision. Low vision is when even with glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery, people have difficulty seeing, which makes everyday tasks like reading the mail, shopping, and cooking challenging.  

Aim Gilstrap, who was born blind, is a student and volunteer at Braille Institute San Diego. She explained that the resources she has been able to access through the non-profit organization have been life-changing. 

"It's helped me become independent. I can read my mail if I have something that I need to read. If I need to learn how to make something or cook something, I could just read the directions from the back of a box or package on my scanner," Gilstrap said. 

During the pandemic, she has learned to use Zoom and Microsoft Teams, which has allowed her to engage virtually with other people, while staying safe. It has opened up a whole new world for her during a time of isolation. 

Though the seven Braille Institute locations in Southern California are physically closed due to the pandemic, they continue to offer free resources that include educational classes and a library with audio books.

It's been a really unprecented and scary time for so many people," said Wanda Myers, Educational Programs Manager for Braille Institute San Diego. 

"We have an orientation and mobility program that's really important for people who lose their vision because it teaches them about the sighted guide and how to navigate the land," Myers said. 

While the sense of touch is critically important for people with visual impairments, Myers said through technology they've been able to provide opportunities for exploration and encourage people to connect.

"Of course, we look forward to all being back together again, but meanwhile, we're able to continue to educate and to engage and learn together through technology," Myers said. 

View the upcoming schedule of seminars and workshops available during February here