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Braille Institute of America

Positively Transforming the Lives of  Those with Vision Loss

Braille Institute of America Inc | Jim (Dimitri) Kales
Braille Institute of America Inc | Jim (Dimitri) Kales

Braille, audiotapes, or magnified text are just a few of the ways that students with vision impairments can access information. A variety of inclusive teaching and assessment techniques can benefit all students. Still, there are several specific techniques that are effective when teaching a group that includes children with vision impairment.

The amount of visual information we receive each day is something we frequently take for granted. Many vision-impaired students lack a lifetime’s worth of visual experiences to draw from. When developing learning exercises, it is critical to consider the amount of assumed visual information in your subject.

Braille Institute of America is a non-profit that provides a full array of direct services to serve the whole person by meeting a range of physical, social, intellectual and emotional needs. Its year-round, free programs and services are available to individuals of all ages (children 0-6, teens 7–18, and adults) and all stages of vision loss.

A customized service plan is given to each client to address both their unique visual needs and personal objectives. Both individual and group settings are available for services. Students can visit the institute as frequently as necessary to reach their objectives because there are no age or service term restrictions. They can receive services in-person at one of its seven centers in Southern California or remotely via teleservices by phone or computer.

Braille Institute of America’s initiative is focused on thousands of students of all ages, helping to demonstrate that vision rehabilitation is a beginning, not an end.

Kindly tell us the source of inspiration. What led you to venture into healthcare?

Our founder, Robert J. Atkinson, was personally inspired to help individuals with vision loss, as he himself lost his vision at the age of 25 due to a gunshot accident. He realized that there was little support available for those with vision loss. Fast forward 103 years, and today the Braille Institute’s comprehensive services include help for those who are not only blind but anyone along the vision loss spectrum.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) estimates that the number of people with visual impairment or blindness in the United States is expected to double to more than 8 million by 2050. Baby boomers are aging, and age-related eye diseases like macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts are on the rise. Other eye diseases, such as diabetic retinopathy, are linked to the increase in diabetes. We also see a large number of individuals experiencing vision loss from retinitis pigmentosa and even stroke.

Can you elaborate upon the core values, mission, and vision on which the company is built?

Braille Institute’s mission is to positively transform the lives of those with vision loss. We are an organization inspired by our belief that rehabilitation is a beginning, not an end. We were founded by a sightless visionary who refused to let blindness define him. Braille Institute embraces the challenges of sight loss in all its facets and rejects its perceived limitations. Our organizational values are the foundation for everything we do and are also a reflection of our culture. Our 4 core values are mission first, passion to serve, teamwork, and commitment to excellence and integrity. We are funded through generous gifts of private donations which allows us to offer our services to anyone who needs it, free of charge.

Tell us about the company’s products and services.

Our services and offerings include low vision consultation and rehabilitation, arts and healthy living classes, orientation and mobility training, daily living skills, technology training, and library services. All services are free of charge, and we do not require proof of insurance. We never turn anyone away due to a financial inability to pay. We work closely with a client’s optometrist or ophthalmologist to complete a doctor referral form, which gives us a clearer understanding of the client’s eye condition and aids in our rehabilitation assessment.

In what ways do the company’s services help the patient population in resolving their care needs? How are these different from other forms of care that they receive or do not receive in general?

We differ from healthcare professionals who are focused on treating or curing an eye disease or eye condition. Instead, we focus on rehabilitation that helps one utilize the remaining vision they have by giving individuals training, tools, and support to enable confidence and allow them to stay active and independent. We are often referred to by a physician because a person’s vision can no longer be improved by corrective lenses, contacts, or surgery. It’s important that a person learns to live with their vision condition by finding alternative ways to perform day-to-day activities such as cooking, getting around, reading, and writing.

What role does compassion play when serving patients who are affected with illness or specific disease? How does the company serve their needs?

Compassion and empathy play a significant role in working with clients and students who come to Braille Institute. Losing one’s sight is frequently cited as the top sense one would miss the most out of the five. It is, therefore, no surprise that when someone does begin to lose their sight, fear, denial, and significant emotional stress follow. We have trained and certified social workers on staff who provide counseling and work with clients on the emotional aspects of sight loss. We also offer peer support groups to assist with the ongoing needs of our clients.

What endeavours is the organization currently pursuing to improve its care measures for patients?

Expanding vision rehabilitation services to patients with neurological vision loss.

Our well-rounded and highly trained low-vision staff continue to receive education and training in specific low vision conditions such as neurological vision loss, in order to meet the continuous demands for vision rehabilitation. Vision rehabilitation may include oculomotor skills, visual perceptual skills, and cognitive re-training as they pertain to vision loss.

Utilizing Vision-in-Place (VIP) Boxes

By incorporating a strong, professional, remote component into our service model, we are better able to follow along on the continuum of each client’s development without requiring him or her to physically come in to one of our centers. This is especially valuable for those who can maintain a high level of independence and only need help with specific tasks.

The VIP boxes will consist of an assessment kit containing an iPad with cellular data for a video appointment, a reading test, and a lighting assessment. The low vision staff member will assess the client virtually and complete a follow up appointment using the intervention kit. The intervention kit will consist of magnifiers, portable video magnifiers, and/or glare filters as needed for the client to trial and purchase.

What advice would you like to give to the budding entrepreneurs and enthusiasts who desire to venture into healthcare?

Innovation can be a game changer in the field of healthcare. In the area of vision loss, mobile apps and assistive technology have positively impacted day-to-day activities in significant ways. Voice-enabled products have enabled individuals to perform everyday tasks without vision. Walk in someone else’s shoes for a day; it can help spark ideas and possibilities.

How do you envision scaling your organization’s services and operations in 2022 and beyond?

The pandemic enabled some positive outcomes for our operations, and one of them was expanding delivery of our programs and services online so people can access us remotely. We now serve individuals throughout the United States and, in some cases, throughout the globe. We will continue to expand our reach by further utilizing our remote delivery platform.

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