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Born with total blindness, FIU student has vision to inspire others: Miami Proud

Miami Proud: Blind FIU student aims to inspire others
FIU student aims to inspire others: Miami Proud 03:20

MIAMI -- Florela Francois contacted CBS News Miami about her impending graduation from Florida International University.

She has a different perspective after being born with "total blindness."

Although her sight has been impaired for virtually all of her life that doesn't mean she lacks vision. Because she says she is able to see the world -- just not with her eyes.

"I navigate, I use transportation. I have my cane to navigate," Francois said. "So yeah, I get around. I can go, I use Uber everything like everybody else."

Florela is an immigrant, moving to the U.S. some 10 years ago. 

She first had to learn to speak English, then braille while also figuring out how to use a white cane.

"Well, it's been challenging, but manageable," Francois said. "At first, I thought it would be very difficult, but I overcame it. It's not easy, but I overcame it. I'm from what I get trained, and who I am."

Francois wanted a formal education so she worked to obtain a bachelor's degree from Miami-Dade College in 2022. She started working towards her masters' degree in social work from Florida International University in January 2023. With a 4.0 grade point average, she will graduate with that masters' degree on Dec. 12.

Florela explains how she studies saying, "I get the books, PDF version. And I have a computer working on a computer with a software on it called JAWS, which is Job Access with Speech is basically a screen reader that helped me with anything that's on the screen. So that's how I'm able to read my book, study for the exams."

Florela uses the voice control feature on her iPhone. Everything is spoken. When she's not alone, she moves around following voices. There's the occasional bumping into things but who doesn't. She says, she's 100% completely independent. 

Florela wanted her world to be shown unapologetically. She wants to use her 33 year life experience along with her degrees to encourage people, especially those who become visually impaired to know that life does go on. "Some people they born blind, but some of them they just like suddenly they lost their vision. So they had to readjust. So they had to relearn. So I want to provide therapy for them to kind of help them see that it's not the end of the world to help them rehabilitate."

Florela says she's now ready to start life outside of studying and books. She's looking now for a job.

Florela says she's had a lot of help from social services. She's provided a list for us, in her own words, that you can find here:

Division of Blind Services (DBS)
The Florida Division of Blind Services is a Florida state-funded organization promoting independent living and employment for those who are blind.

DBS assists people who are blind and visually impaired to attain their goals and live their lives despite their disability, independently through rehabilitation services. DBS also covers all expenses for ophthalmologist visits, assistive technology hardware and software, visual aids, education and transportation costs.

Their mission is to ensure Floridians who are blind and visually impaired have the tools, support and opportunity to achieve success. The Division serves thousands of blind and visually impaired individuals statewide with 15 district offices, assisting Floridians through its abundance of programs and services with the district and satellite offices across the state and Rehabilitation Center and Talking Book Library in Daytona.

DBS provides programs for all goals and age ranges. The Blind Babies Program provides premature interceding education to children from infancy through five years of age. The Children's Program serves children who are blind from five years of age through transition to the Vocational Rehabilitation Program. The goal of the Transition Program is to assist young people in achieving their future employment goals through transitioning from school to work or from school to a higher educational program. Independent Living Services are provided to enable individuals who are blind or visually impaired to live independently in their homes and communities with the highest level of self-direction.

Successful outcomes enable individuals to live more independently in society. Vocational Rehabilitation Services are provided to assist individuals who are blind and visually impaired seek employment. Employer services and information services are provided to employers who need to know how to make a job accessible to an employee with a visual impairment. The Business Enterprise Program provides job opportunities in the food service sector for eligible people who are blind under the Randolph-Sheppard Act. The Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired is a place where people who are blind can reside temporarily while they learn to lead productive, self-sufficient lives. The Florida Division of Blind Services also provides information and reading materials needed by individuals who are unable to use standard print because of a visual, physical, or reading disability. These services are provided through its Bureau of Braille and Talking Books Library the first step to accessing these services is to apply online or in person. Then an initial interview is conducted by a counselor to establish eligibility for services.

Miami Lighthouse for the Blind

DBS is in partnership with a nonprofit organization, Miami Lighthouse for the Blind. Through education, training, research and vision enhancement, Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired provides hope, confidence, and independence to people of all ages. Miami Lighthouse for the Blind is a training center where lessons of low vision evaluations, solution store of visual aids, braille, typing, assistive technology, independent living, personal management, orientation and mobility, music and job services are offered to all clients who are blind. Clients receive these services free of charge through a referral from their counselor at DBS.

Bookshare makes reading easier. People with dyslexia, blindness, cerebral palsy, and other reading barriers can customize their experience to suit their learning style and find virtually any book they need for school, work, or the joy of reading.

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Florida Division of Blind Services.

Miami Lighthouse for the Blind


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