Picking Up New Tools for a New Normal

Jisselle Yanez, age 19, was blind at birth and learned to navigate her world without vision from a young age. But as the Vacaville resident was preparing to graduate from high school in 2020 and begin classes at San Francisco State University, the pandemic hit – she realized she had a lot more to learn.

“Everything started shutting down and was suddenly online and I didn’t even know how to use a laptop,” Jisselle said. “That’s where I had a reality check. I realized that if I’m struggling now, I seriously need to get this technology training for when I start college in August.”

Born with Peters anomaly and glaucoma, Jisselle had taken most of her blindness training and classes at a Bay Area nonprofit, even attending a camp for kids with blindness in Napa. She was successful in school and participated in extra-curricular activities, so she never bothered to learn any different technology than what she had been taught. When everything went online and she realized she needed more training, her Department of Rehabilitation counselor suggested she look at Society for the Blind since Sacramento was closer to Vacaville.

Photo of Jisselle Yanez

Photo of Jisselle Yanez

“Honestly, I didn’t even know what I was looking for in tech skills,” Jisselle said. “I just knew that I needed to learn as much as I could in the next couple of weeks so I could get my assignments done.”

Jisselle participated in Society for the Blind’s Core Skills Program, focusing on assistive technology classes, from August 2020-May 2021.

“It meant a lot to me that I was still able to have such great people for instructors,” Jisselle said. “Just learning how to navigate the computer, access websites and get assignments done was so helpful. I was able to learn the skills and apply them on a daily basis in this new normal. Even now, when I get stuck, I always know I can call Society for the Blind for help. When you know you have someone you can ask for help, it truly makes a difference in how things play out.”

One year ago, Jisselle used the technology skills she was learning at Society for the Blind to co-create an organization of undergraduate students with vision loss through a Bay Area nonprofit. The group meets monthly through Zoom, covering a different topic each month, from volunteering and internships to study tips and school-life balance.

“We started it because we wanted to have a place where we all as blind undergrad college students could come together, connect, build community and share in our struggles and successes,” Jisselle said. “We use a lot of Dropbox and Zoom to plan and execute our meetings, and I would never have known how to do that without my classes at Society for the Blind.”

In spring 2021, Jisselle was invited to present at one of Society for the Blind’s CareersPLUS seminars and answer participants’ questions about college.

“I love presenting, and that was a great experience,” Jisselle said. “There were a lot of people around my age, and I know sometimes it really helps to have someone your age who is going through what you’re going through. I was able to answer questions about how I chose my school and how to know if you’re ready to move to campus. I was really happy I was given the opportunity to help.”

Jisselle is now a sophomore majoring in sociology. She plans to obtain a master’s degree after receiving her bachelor’s degree.

“I like that sociology is so broad that I can go in so many directions and play around with different ideas of what I might want to do with my degree,” Jisselle said. “It keeps a lot of doors open for me.”

Her next big step is to move to campus for in-person classes in the spring.

“I’m excited but nervous at the same time,” Jisselle said. “It’s going to be a drastic change moving from Vacaville to a big city like San Francisco and trying to navigate a new campus and city. But I chose San Francisco State because I wanted new air and a new vibe. It will be a change, but it’s exciting.”