By Rochelle Rose

Noozhawk Contributing Writer

Photos by Rochelle Rose / Noozhawk photo

The Braille Institute celebrated 100 years of service and 36 years in the Santa Barbara community at a noontime barbecue celebration on Aug. 1 at its De la Vina Street location.

The Braille Institute is a nonprofit organization that since 1919 has provided free programs and services for people with vision loss.

The free buffet of tri-tip, chicken, beans and rice was served by institute volunteers and provided by the Santa Ynez Valley Elks. After lunch and cake, there was a short program, classroom demonstrations and guided tours for those interested in learning more about the organization.

The video and program were facilitated by Braille Institute President Peter Mindniche, based in Los Angeles, and Susan Cass, executive director of the Braille Institute’s Santa Barbara center.

The Braille Institute is a nonprofit organization that since 1919 has provided free programs and services for people with vision loss.

Cass has been on the job for 10 months and said she felt that the Centennial Celebration was a good way to bring together the institute’s volunteers, staff and clients and to re-introduce the Braille Institute to the community.

Other nonprofit leaders were there to show support, including CEOs Ernesto Paredes of Easy Lift Transportation, Luke Swetland of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History,and Heidi Holly of Friendship Center Adult Day Services.

“This is a very exciting and special day for us,” Mindniche said. “Less than 5 percent of organizations and companies of all kinds have survived for 100 years. Braille Institute is one of them! We are dedicated to serving those with blindness and vision loss. Currently, there are 4 million people with vision loss in this country, and this number is expected to double.”

Gloria Coulston, left, Braille Institute President Peter Mindniche, and Susan Cass, executive director of the organization’s Santa Barbara office, attend the Centennial Celebration.

 “Braille Institute Santa Barbara Center is an invaluable resource in this community. Our staff and volunteers are committed to empowering and educating those living with vision loss so that they, too, can live a life without barriers,” Cass said.

The Braille Institute was founded in 1919 by the efforts of one man, J. Robert Atkinson, and has grown in the decades since.

In 1912, an accidental gunshot wound left Atkinson, a Montana cowboy, blind and without direction. He learned to read braille and began transcribing books for his personal library. In less than five years, he had transcribed nearly a million words of ink print into braille.

Impressed by Atkinson, philanthropist Mary Longyear and her husband, John, donated $25,000 to help him establish the 1914 Universal Braille Press. The fledgling organization occupied several rooms and the garage of his Los Angeles home until 1922.

In 1922, the first issue of The Braille Mirror published, a braille magazine for adults patterned after Reader’s Digest. The magazine has published continuously for 82 years. Atkinson’s lobbying efforts resulted in federal legislation in 1929 to fund the printing and national distribution of raised-print materials through the Library of Congress Services for the Blind.

The Universal Braille Press incorporated as the Braille Institute of America Inc.

In 1933, Atkinson moved his organization to 741 N. Vermont Ave. in Los Angeles. The headquarters is still there today, taking up an entire city block. Its Santa Barbara office is at 2031 De la Vina St. in Santa Barbara.

Click here for more information

Go to www.brailleinstitute.orgfor more information about the Braille Institute, or email sb@brailleinstitute.orgor call 805-898-8301.

Noozhawkcontributing writer Rochelle Rose can be reached at