Elizabeth Lalonde is the founder of Victoria’s Pacific Training Centre for the Blind.
“We teach braille, braille literacy, travel with a long white cane, you know, learning how to get around and take the bus, cooking, cleaning, financial management – anything you can think of to really support a blind person. To empower them to live a really full and productive life,” Lalonde said.
Wayne Cargill and Kashmere Krystal Bling, who are both losing their sight, both wear a learning shade to block any vision as they learn braille at the training centre.
Gina Huylenbroeck, a volunteer instructor at the school explains the importance of wearing a learning shade.
“After you learn the skills non-visually, your bad sight, if you have any, becomes an asset, instead of a hindrance,” Huylenbroeck said.
Cargill said he has glaucoma. “I can see, basically, colours still in my right eye. My left eye I have about less than 20 percent field of view, so I’m legally blind.”
Bling explains that she has both retinitis pigmentosa, and Usher’s syndrome.
“I’m going blind and deaf. It’s hereditary,” Bling said.
Reading braille is a challenge for Bling, but she’s determined to learn this crucial skill.
“I have no feelings at the tip of my fingers, so it’s hard, but I’m getting there. I’m doing the best I can,” Bling said.
Lalonde says the school focuses on what’s going to pertain to their life.
“We have a senior that comes in and she learns braille. She’s learning to label all her spices, and her medicines, to take notes, to write phone numbers down, and addresses,” Lalonde said.
“It’s important for yourself to be able to read materials and to write materials. Like your electrical box at home needs to be labelled, your spices, your medications.”
Now, the school, where all instructors are also blind, has been recognized with a national award from ABC Life Literacy, which supports innovative literacy projects across Canada.
“It was such an honour,” says Lalonde. “And I was able to go to Toronto and receive the award, and $20,000 that went with it.”
And that $20,000 dollars will go a long way.
“We do a lot with very little,” says LaLonde. “It’s amazing. We don’t have a lot of money, and we manage to do a lot with that, and make a lot of difference in people’s lives.”