Beth Berenson, Blindness Ambassador

Beth BerensonAnother in a series of LightHouse staff profiles.

As LightHouse’s Community Services and Information and Referral Coordinator, Beth is one of our frontline teachers. “People call with all sorts of questions,” she says, “like ‘Where do I learn how to walk with a white cane,’ ‘How do I tell my university or job I have a visual impairment,’ and ‘Is there a special library with books that I can access?’ Some people new to blindness or low vision are not ready to dive headfirst into blindness skills training, but I can help address their immediate needs. LightHouse maintains a toll-free Information and Referral phone line to make sure that anyone facing challenges because of blindness can access a real, live person to answer their questions. This first phone call or email gets them in the door, and eventually leads them to more of our classes and ultimately independence.”

Beth was born blind and talks about how attitudes towards her blindness strengthened her determination to succeed. “When I was born in the 50’s, parents of blind children were pressured to institutionalize their kids. My mother and I refused, forging our own path using instinct and intuition. I went to a regular elementary school in rural Massachusetts, and learned how to read and write because of the tenacity of my teacher, Miss Packard. Like my mother, she refused to allow me to end up ghettoized in an institution.”

Beth’s fortitude enables her to lead others to a path of independence. “I look for solutions to student’s concerns, wherever those solutions may be. “In addition to providing hundreds of blind people each year with individual attention, Beth coordinates LightHouse special events including our new LightHouse Connect Series, which teaches blind people how to use the latest accessible technology to access print materials, email, text and surf the internet and use GPS and tactile maps to traverse the city and world. She sends out a weekly email, “Beth’s List,” updating the blind community on events happening at LightHouse and nearby. Sometimes she’s able to offer blind students free tickets to some of the biggest shows in the Bay Area, including the San Francisco Symphony, SF Jazz, and the de Young Museum; so, if you’re not already getting Beth’s List in your inbox, email her at BBerenson@lighthouse-sf.org.

Beth also acts as blindness ambassador on behalf of the LightHouse, performing critical trainings to community members and organizations such as the San Francisco Opera, Yellow Cab Corp, de Young Museum of Art, Twitter and Facebook, helping these companies understand and meet the needs of their blind constituents all over the world. “In my experience, people and organizations want to make things accessible to the blind, they just don’t know how, or they’re too intimidated to ask questions. I offer my personal experience and professional expertise to these organizations, working with them to make our world a more accessible place for everyone, including the blind.”

The many hats Beth wears at the LightHouse keep her busy, but she always finds time for her first love, dogs. “I don’t have a dog of my own, which means I have more room in my heart for everyone else’s dogs. When I’m not at the LightHouse, I’m usually visiting a canine friend, occasionally also engaging with their owners,” Beth jokes. “I’m also podcast obsessed; dedicated to listening to far too many podcasts to name. They remind me of the bygone era of the radio. I love my podcasts!”

Part Baystater (Massachusetts-ite), Floridian and San Franciscan, Beth loves to wear bright, tropical Floridian colors, while peppering her speech with New England colloquialisms (“It’s a grocery carriage not a shopping cart!”), and a flower-in-hair San Franciscan openness to everyone who walks through LightHouse’s doors. “I think it’s my fusion of various regionalisms that makes me best equipped to adapt to each individual student’s needs.” It is Beth’s uniqueness and moxie that makes her indispensable to the LightHouse because she can relate to just about anyone, whether it’s a student learning to travel with a white cane, or an organization eager to be more welcoming to the blind.

If you or someone you know is blind or has low vision and has questions about LightHouse programs and services, give Beth a call at our toll-free Information and Referral number, 888-400-8933, or email her directly at BBerenson@lighthouse-sf.org. If you’d like to sign up to receive Beth’s weekly events listing, email her and let her know you’d like to keep up-to-date on all the amazing events in our area.