Lighthouse Central Florida, a nonprofit that provides education and life skills training to people living with vision impairment and blindness, has been offering its services virtually for the past year.

What You Need To Know

  • Nonprofit helping blind, visually-impaired turned to virtual learning amid the pandemic

  • Everything from cooking lessons to support groups offered through video chat

  • Lighthouse Central Florida is now offering some in-person services

The nonprofit shut down in-person services at the beginning of the pandemic, determining what additional technology was needed for the shift, such as webcams and loaner laptops for clients who needed them.

“We’ve had to pivot our entire organization to meet the needs of folks,” said Kyle Johnson, president and CEO of Lighthouse Central Florida. “Because I know we’re quarantined and I know we’ve got to maintain our safety, but when you’re blind you need help.”

Instructors had to adjust their lessons for a virtual format, either over the phone or online via webcam, teaching whatever life skills are needed for each client.

“That’s been a whole new world for me to learn,” explained Chris Sacca, a vision rehabilitation instructor. “It got off to a little bit of a bumpy start because most of my students learn by physical contact, physically showing them what to do.”

“The vast majority of people classified as legally blind have some residual vision, have some lighter shade perception,” Johnson explained, meaning those people can still be helped through video chat if they choose.

Lighthouse Central Florida has offered everything from cooking lessons to support groups virtually for the past year.

“Some things are definitely more challenging than others,” Sacca said. “Anything that has to do with navigation is particularly challenging.”

Ashoke Muaherjee of Orlando is learning through video chat how to send text messages using his cell phone’s VoiceOver mode.

“I needed to learn, regardless of whether I could learn in person or virtually, remotely,” said Muaherjee. “It has been difficult but this is my opinion, is that the virtual learning is still absolutely wonderful.”

Lighthouse Central Florida is now shifting to a hybrid model, offering some in-person services with safety protocols in place. The nonprofit is determining the logistics of when more people can be welcomed back.

Every year, Lighthouse Central Florida helps 700 to 800 people across Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, according to Johnson. An estimated 45,000 in that tri-county area are blind or visually-impaired.