Braille Institute offers free virtual courses and services
The Braille Institute in Santa Barbara is continuing to serve its clients with virtual versions of its support groups, classes and services.
Free courses during the pandemic are covering everything from Braille to vision loss to a particularly popular subject: computers.
“We closed down at the end of March. All the staff have been working remotely,” Tracy Alfino, the Santa Barbara campus’ educational programming manager, told the News-Press.
Soon afterward, the institute started virtual support groups and remote classes.
Mrs. Alfino said the staff also has called the students regularly to see what they need.
“We’ve been bringing services online to our students,” she said. “A lot of them struggled at first, but we have some great instructors who walk them through how to log on their phones, their iPads or their computers.”
Mrs. Alfino said the institute’s visually impaired clients include low-income residents who need assistance and don’t want to leave their homes during the pandemic.
“Can you imagine being someone who’s visually impaired? How do you know if someone is 6 feet from you or if someone next to you has a mask?” she said.
So the institute has worked to help the clients with food deliveries and has connected them with resources such as the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, Mrs. Alfino said.
Before the pandemic, it was easier for clients to rely on families and friends, Mrs. Alfino added. She explained the institute is working through its phone calls to help the clients.
“Our main goal is to help them live independently,” she said.
In addition, clients can continue to learn various skills through a variety of online classes and workshops, which include programs hosted by the Santa Barbara center and campuses throughout Southern California.
“The most popular classes are our tech classes,” Mrs. Alfino said. “Most of our students use iPhone and iPads.”
She said more than 20 students enrolled in one weekly class, so the institute added another one.
Students can sign up for the free classes at brailleinstitute.org.
Mrs. Alfino said technology classes will be offered in January to help students with the iPhones and iPads they receive as Christmas gifts.
Classes are covering everything from “Staying Organized with Siri” to “Introducing Amazon Alexa.”
“How to order your groceries has gained a lot of popularity over the last couple months,” Mrs. Alfino said.
Programs also cover activities such as using a guide dog, preventing falls and applying makeup.
And classes range from “Independent Living Skills” to “Balance and Mobility,” “Move to the Music” and “Understanding Vision Loss.”
Another class, “Positive Living,” addresses the importance of having a positive mindset and being proactive in challenging circumstances.
The institute also provides access to more than 100,000 books and magazines in hard copy, digital or as audio books. It teaches clients how to use the online audiobook service BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download) for downloading books and magazines.
Mrs. Alfino said the institute’s Santa Barbara campus serves 90 clients in Santa Barbara County and twice that many in Ventura County. Clients also live as far north as Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo County.