Friday, April 10, 2009

A visit to the Braille Institute

Pictured here are some beautiful houseplants growing in a greenhouse at the Braille Institute (BI) in Rancho Mirage (Palm Springs area), California.
Yesterday I toured the facility with a group of friends in PEO. We took this excursion as a way to educate ourselves about vision loss or encroaching low vision (probably a fear for everyone, and especially so for bead or jewelry artists!), and to learn about the services and volunteer opportunities provided at the BI.
I was very surprised to learn about the huge array of classes and workshops offered to the public at absolutely no cost to us. Visiting the regional center in Rancho Mirage, we learned that many people lose their sight with advancing age or after an illness or onset of disease such as diabetes. It can be very frightening and stressful to lose such a precious gift as sight later in life, after taking it for granted for so many years. That is why the services offered by the BI are so critical to anyone who is going through this difficult transition.
After evaluating the type of sight loss and reviewing each situation, professionals at the BI direct their clients to various educational and recreational programs, including its vast library of books and magazines on tape, exercise classes, social programs, educational seminars, support groups, clubs, and more.
What really struck me was the sensitive care that volunteers give to their clients, whether they be children, their parents, middle-aged folks like me (I'm 48), or older adults who are suddenly losing their once-perfect vision.
Visiting the greenhouse where beautiful, healthy plants were flourishing from cuttings, we learned that even totally blind people often love their plants and do not want to give them up; although they cannot be seen, they can be enjoyed through scent and touch. It's critical to one's well-being to be able to enjoy the same things after losing or partially losing one's sight.
This includes art. You might wonder why a blind person would be interested in creating art, but again, it just takes a shift in perspective. Art can be enjoyed in different ways, especially 3-dimensional pieces that can be touched and handled. Free classes are offered in a huge classroom at the BI in Rancho Mirage, where students learn to make collages, paintings, pastel drawings, papier mache figures, sculptures, paper arts, assemblages of found objects, and more.
I was truly impressed by the setting and inspired by the possibilities presented to students, and especially by the positive attitude expressed by volunteers who staff the art studio. If I ever do find myself moving from Idyllwild to the desert in the future, I will certainly look into volunteering myself!
Visiting the BI gave me a renewed appreciation for my own eyesight, which has never been 20/20 (I have worn glasses or contacts since I was a child) but has always been perfectly adequate for my needs. While teaching my workshops on jewelry making, I've noticed that many of my students aged 40-plus need reading glasses or magnifying apparatus of various types to continue making intricate works of art. I myself have to take off my regular glasses while I work on jewelry. I still depend on my naked eyes for close-up work, but I have to face the reality that in future I may need to get some help!
For anyone who is starting to experience some trouble with their vision, after recommending that you consult a qualified medical professional I would strongly suggest visiting one of the Braille Institute's regional centers as soon as possible in order to learn about all of their free programs.
I also suggest visiting their "Vistas" stores, where you can find all types of useful items that help with everyday life. If you need low-vision devices such as magnifiers or screen-reading software for your computer, you'll first meet with a specialist who can evaluate your personal situation and suggest the products that will be of most use to you. They will also train you in their use and help you to adjust.
I am gratified to know that art is possible after vision loss! What would I do without art? It's difficult to imagine a world without color, line, form, shape, volume, or design to admire and emulate. That I can still appreciate it, make it, and share it with the world whether I can see it or not is a hopeful thought. Right now, my vision is great (with glasses) and I'm grateful for that! But if I do begin to experience a serious loss of vision, you can be sure that the first place I'll visit (after my doctor) will be my local Braille Institute.
By the way, they exist purely on donations and volunteers! If you'd like to learn more about giving to the BI or volunteering in one of their many programs, click here.
Tomorrow I'm driving to Brea, California to teach a fun class on the Gem Cuff bracelet (pictured below). If you're interested in attending this class, I believe there are some openings.
Call Brea Bead Works at 714 671-9976 to inquire.
Cheers,
Sharilyn

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