“LightHouse is a place I’ve wanted to work at for a long time,” Christina Daniels, our Access Technology Specialist, said when asked what made her consider working for us.
After graduating from our Employment Immersion program, Christina, an experienced accessible technology instructor, got her foot in the LightHouse door when she was hired as receptionist for the LightHouse in May, 2013. By hiring Christina we gained an important ally.
Employment Immersion was not Christina’s first introduction to LightHouse. A Bay Area native, and high school graduate of Ygnacio Valley in Concord, Christina first came to the LightHouse to receive low-vision cooking training from our instructor, the late David Baioni. “It was David’s class that piqued my interest in establishing a career in helping blind people such as myself live passionately.” Little did Christina know that she would one day call LightHouse home.
As LightHouse’s morning receptionist, Christina’s light shined brightly as she ushered people in from the windy Van Ness Ave. corridor. “It’s great to see you Mrs. Wright, come on in and take a seat just to the right of the front door. I’ll let Debbie know you’re here.” Her smile and reassuring, pleasant voice welcomed morning students and clients to our office. Once LightHouse students learned that, in addition to being a jovial woman of confidence, Christina is also tech savvy, and a master at using accessibility software, our clients couldn’t resist asking her for help. “Christina, I can’t seem to open my email on my iPhone. What have I done?” Christina to the rescue.
Christina’s work was impressive and it didn’t take long for LightHouse to recognize this by offering her first a part-time and then a full time position as an Access Technology Specialist. Christina now helps students navigate braille displays connected to their computers, smart phone accessibility features, and accessibility software such as JAWS, Zoom Text, and Dolphin Guide for computers. She is fulfilling one of her life-long goals: working to help blind people thrive independently by using technology.
When describing her approach to teaching accessibility technology, she emphatically states, “I don’t preach dogma; I listen first and then make suggestions to meet each person’s needs. People should dispel the ‘one size fits all’ mentality for blindness training. I urge my students not to focus on what others are doing, but instead concentrate on learning what is important to them personally. For some students this means learning how to access online bank accounts; for students entering the workforce, it means learning adaptive techniques to navigate around excel documents and create professional looking resumes.” Further hitting home the importance of individual learning, Christina stresses, “there are no wrong ways to learn, which is why I focus on the needs and desires of each student, and create a plan with the student to meet those needs.”
While Christina’s approach to teaching students makes her a superstar Access Technology teacher; her zeal for musical theater makes her a humming queen. “I love live theater, particularly musicals. Last year I visited Manhattan and saw twelve Broadway shows in seven days. I guess you could say I ‘went for broke.’” She fastidiously catalogues her massive collection of Broadway albums, programs, posters, signed photographs of actors, and other memorabilia. “Live theater is about being in the middle of art being made, talking with your neighbors during intermission, feeling the energy in the room. It’s about the orchestra tuning their instruments – first middle C on the piano, then the strings, then reeds, then brass, and finally a gentle drumming of the percussion instruments. Live theater is so much more than a visual experience; it’s an every-sense-and-emotion experience. Listening to theater at home is never ever as electrifying as witnessing it live.” Christina’s interest in theater leads her down dark alleys where she patiently waits to snag her favorite actors’ signatures and photo-ops, often catching them before they dash between exit door and town car. “You can’t get a picture with Idina Menzel while listening to an album in your home,” she laughs.
One of Christina’s favorite musicals is The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a show that includes audience participation and actor improvisation, making a unique show at every performance. Christina rattles off another life goal: “One day I hope to have my own acting company, a company for blind actors to come and perfect their craft, then bring their shows live to a stage near you.”
Christina graduated with a degree in literature from San Francisco State University and though her career has led her to teaching technology, she still loves reading. “I often have two books going at once, one that’s erudite, and one that’s fluff. People think the blind don’t have access to good literature, or current literature, but many of my blind friends read more than my sighted friends. One of the prominent concerns I hear from students new to blindness is, ‘I won’t be able to read ever again.’ I immediately dispel that misinformation, providing my students with a dizzying but gratifying array of options to meet their needs. I’m blind and I read books and enjoy theater as thoroughly as any of my sighted friends. I just use alternative methods to get there.”
If you want to practice your spelling with Christina in case you happen to be picked as an audience participant at the next showing of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, or if you are eager to make technology your friend as you pursue a joyous life with low vision or blindness, be sure to contact Christina Daniels at CDaniels@lighthouse-sf.org or call 415-694-7315.