Braille Institute offers free technology workshops in January
Faced with the pandemic’s challenges, vision-impaired individuals are reliant on technology — which seems to be everchanging.
The Braille Institute, a nonprofit that helps those with vision loss, celebrates January as technology month and holds online workshops focused on assistive technology.
“Technology continues to be a game changer for those who are visually impaired as new advances in accessible technology emerge to improve the lives of those we serve,” Maria Valdivia, the institute’s vice president for technology and business solutions, said in a news release. “That’s why we have more than 20 expert technology staff throughout our seven centers who work directly with students so they can take advantage of the latest technology during Technology Month and every other month of the year.”
“So all these devices that I use — like, I have an Amigo (electronic magnifier) that helps me read menus. I use it for products in the store or if I have to read my mail — things like that,” Braille Institute student Cristina Torres told the News-Press. “There’s so much out there that helps us whether you’re visually impaired or blind. There are a lot of things out there to help us technology-wise.”
Braille Institute usually holds support groups and classes throughout the week in its centers across Southern California. The institute has a Santa Barbara campus, which has served clients from Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties.
With the threat of COVID-19, classes have moved online to allow instruction and a social connection but in a safe format.
“It’s a little different because we’re all at home and relaxed, but we’re still involved in what’s going on in the class,” Ms. Torres, a Ventura resident, said. “It’s just through our phones at home, so we all have to figure out how to work it instead of being right there in class, where it’d be different.”
Instructors usually sit down with students and help them navigate the technology, but the virtual classes require more independence. The Braille Institute offers nearly 30 workshops this month.
They cover anything from laundry machines that connect to phones to mastering Microsoft Teams.
“My Tech Tuesday class gives me news updates about what’s new out there: different gadgets; talks about the phones; new appliances that are coming out for us, like the washer and dryer, the refrigerator; the thermostat — it’s all new stuff that works off your iPhone,” Ms. Torres said. “ I never thought I would see things like that.”
She appreciates the new information her instructors source, and they’re always willing to help.
“If I have any questions, they’re just on it. And if they don’t know it, they find out about it, and they get back to me, which is great,” Ms. Torres said.
Ms. Torres learned about the Braille Institute when she moved to Ventura. She was looking for a supportive community while she was losing her vision and joined a group hosted by the Braille Institute.
She began attending classes at the Santa Barbara location and has continued for almost 10 years. Since then, she has gotten voiceover software for her phone, a program that reads the elements on the screen aloud so users can navigate the page without vision.
Not every website works well with assistive technology, which is especially irritating when shopping online.
“We have to really go by the description more than the picture because we can’t really see the picture that well. So it has to be really more description,” Ms. Torres said.
Like many others during the pandemic, she shops online to stay safe. Her reliance on hearty description is amplified.
Some of the technology classes at the Braille Institute address shopping and using platforms like Instacart. Some of the workshops are in Spanish as well.