- Associated Press - Saturday, January 7, 2017

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) - Chris Jones learned to read Braille at age 5.

He was blinded at birth when he was diagnosed with retinopathy of premature, a disease that occurs in premature babies. It causes abnormal blood vessels to grow in the retina, the layer of nerve tissue in the eye that enables people to see. This growth causes the retina to detach from the back of the eye, leading to blindness.

Jones is the president of the Central Idaho Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. He aims to help other blind people by connecting them with resources available through the group, reported the Times-News (https://bit.ly/2j3WIOl).

They have about 10 members in the Magic Valley and Jones is recruiting more, both sighted and blind.

“We pride ourselves on doing stuff for the blind,” Jones said. “It’s blind people changing what it means to be blind.”

The National Federation for the Blind was established in 1940 and is the oldest and largest organization of blind people.

To let more people know about the group, the Central Idaho Chapter threw a party Jan. 6 in honor of Louie Braille, the creator of Braille.

“A lot of people don’t know how important Braille is,” Jones said. “There is still a need for blind people to use Braille. If you’re using your sight, you need to learn Braille.”

Braille is a system of raised dots that convey to the reader the letter, word, number or symbol. There are three different grades of Braille to meet the different needs of Braille readers. Louis Braille created the system and first presented it in 1824.

Jones’ wife, Judy, is also blind and was also diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity as a baby. They’ve been married for 36 years and have two adult daughters.

The couple met in Frankfurt, Germany as children, but didn’t reconnect until they were adults. Their fathers were both in the military, and each family moved often.

Growing up, Jones attended both public schools - where he was one of a few blind children - and schools for the blind.

He’s lived in Orlando, Florida, Atlanta, Georgia and San Francisco to name a few. He has a bachelor’s degree in social work from Florida State University and used to work at a technical college in Washington state.

He was living in Cheyenne, Wyoming when he ran into someone who knew Judy. At the time, she was teaching Spanish and German at a public school in Kansas. He reached out to her and they rekindled their friendship. He proposed to her on the phone. She said she had to pray about it but eventually said “yes.”

The Joneses have lived in Twin Falls since 2008 and been members of the local National Federation of the Blind chapter since 2011.

“A lot of people don’t know there is help out there,” Jones said. “There is a lot you can do if you’ve seen before.”

Besides resources to help people find jobs or a mentor, there are also tools to help people obtain higher education. For instance, NFB awards more than $120,000 in national scholarships to blind university and college students.

In mid-December, Jones demonstrated how he operates his Braille Sensory U2 to read. The machine hung around his neck by a strap. He read minutes from the chapter’s last meeting by moving his fingers over the Braille keyboard on the device.

“Technology has grown leaps and bounds,” he said.

He also uses Web-Braille a web-based service that provides Braille books and magazines in an electronic format.

“Back in the day all you had was a library, and they’d send you books in Braille, but technology makes it so much easier,” he said.

Anyone can join NFB, but the president and vice-president have to be blind.

“It’s important for the blind to run what we are doing,” Jones said. “I’m just concerned about helping people. Blindness is real but you don’t to let it stop you.”

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Information from: The Times-News, https://www.magicvalley.com

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