Helping kids see what they can achieve

Legally blind braille mentor helps visually impaired children


OLDSMAR, Fla. – A young woman practically blind from birth is doing things that amaze and inspire those around her, especially the younger ones. She's helping other kids see what they can achieve.

The braille club at Forest Lakes Elementary School in Oldsmar, Fla., meets every few months. The visually impaired children delve into dots of dialogue, but the highlight of their day is Michelle Yongue. She's their braille mentor and she's legally blind.

The 15-year-old honors student was born with rod-cone dystrophy. Her vision was never perfect and it gets worse and worse every year. She only sees shades of color and can't decipher details, so she relies on her imagination and visual memory.

"I've done all these things and it kind of shows that you can do anything if you kind of put your mind to it," said Yongue.

When Yongue was in elementary school she says she didn't want to learn braille or use her cane. Now she wants to be a doctor.

"I had to realize that if I wanted to be independent I had to do these things and really go out there and try it," she said.

Forest Lakes Elementary School teacher Andrea Wallace says the vision students need each other to stay focused. Yongue is their inspiration.

"It's really important they have mentors and older students that they can look up to," said Wallace.

"I can function the same way as a perfectly sighted kid can do," said Yongue.

She says she has an iPad, iPhone, and computer. They have screen readers which read everything on the screen, but pictures can still be a challenge.

Additional Information:

The World Health Organization separates vision function into four categories: normal, moderate visual impairment, severe visual impairment, and blindness. So visual impairment can mean a slight loss of vision or total blindness in which the person is unable to see at all. Some vision loss can be corrected with simple aids such as glasses or contacts, but other impairments may require surgery, medicine, or may be too severe to help. It is currently estimated that 314 million people across the globe have some visual impairment and close to 45 million are blind. (Source: www.scripps.edu

Causes: Vision loss and blindness can be gradual or happen all at once depending on the cause of the impairment, although not all vision loss will lead to total blindness. The most common causes of vision loss and blindness include:

  • Injury to the Eye
  • Macular Degeneration
  • Diabetes
  • Cataracts
  • Glaucoma
  • Blocked Blood Vessels
  • Optic Neuritis
  • Premature Birth Complications

(Source: nlm.nih.gov)

Braille: For blind individuals, braille serves as a way to read. The system was invented by a French man named Louis Braille in 1809 who, being blind himself, wished for a way to translate books and other writings into something blind individuals were able to read. Because blind people are unable to read using their eyes, braille consists of a series of raised dots. The dots are separated into braille cells which can have up to six dots and stand for numbers, letters, and symbols. People are able to write in braille using a braillewriter, which is similar to a typewriter except with only six keys and a space bar. To keep up with technology, software programs for computers and portable electronic braille notetakers have also been developed. Currently, braille is used across the world. (Source: www.afb.org)