Greg Benavidez has spent all of his life in Santa Barbara, a place of storied beauty, where crashing waves and singing seagulls create a living soundtrack to the laid-back California lifestyle. But Benavidez’s life hasn’t always been as sunny.

As a young man working in his family’s handyman business, Benavidez struggled with the pressures of adulthood and the grueling work schedule his father demanded, which often required him to be up before dawn.

He began to dread the early-morning darkness, especially after he noticed some problems with his eyes. The change was gradual at first, but before long he realized he had several blind spots in his field of vision.

“I was working on tall ladders and driving around at night, but I knew there was something wrong with my vision. I was in complete denial,” Benavidez said. “But the turning point came one day on my way to work when I almost hit this kid who was crossing the street.”

The close call was enough to scare Benavidez into the ophthalmologist’s office — where he was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa.

But it would take more than medical confirmation to cure his denial. A friend told him about the Braille Institute Santa Barbara Centerr, and although he came in for a visit, he just couldn’t bring himself to enroll.

“When I first found out I was losing my vision, I was a mess,” he said. “I had so many misconceptions about Braille Institute. I just figured it wasn’t for me.”

Nearly three years went by before Benavidez found the courage to give it another try. After enrolling in independent living skills classes at the center, he found a new thirst for life. He learned how to use a white cane to travel around safely, became a volunteer in his spare time and was even hired as the center’s front desk receptionist.

But he became so proficient at using computers and adaptive software for people with visual impairments that he was recently tapped to fill the position of adaptive technology specialist.

“I’m a walking advertisement for the fact that people can change,” Benavidez said . “You just have to be willing to confront your fears, and at Braille Institute I found out that you don’t have to do it alone.”

— Courtney Goines for the Braille Institute Santa Barbara Center.