Category Archives: LightHouse News

Announcing The 2017 Holman Prize Finalists

In January, the LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco announced The Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, a set of annual awards of up to $25,000 each for legally blind individuals with big plans. In six months, we received over 200 video applications, chose 51 semifinalists, and selected a committee of accomplished blind people to choose our inaugural prizewinners.

Our Holman videos were submitted from 27 countries and were viewed more than 75,000 times on YouTube. This week, we’re proud to announce our elite group of ten finalists, plus a “Peoples’ Choice” finalist who we honor for receiving the highest number of YouTube ‘likes’ for his ambitious idea. These finalists will all be in the running to make their ambitions a reality when our Holman Committee meets in San Francisco this June.

The ten finalists we selected (plus one selected by the internet) are as diverse and dynamic a group as you could imagine, including those who want to give back to their communities, those who seek to push the boundaries of science and tech, to those with infectious enthusiasm for a particular craft.

Over the next month, we hope you’ll sound off on which Holman Prize candidate you want to see take their ambitions on the road. Feel free to tag Holman Prize on Twitter, Instagram and head to the LightHouse’s Facebook page for more updates.

Meet the Finalists

Ahmet Ustunel, who lives in San Francisco, plans to take a solo kayak journey across the Bosphorus Strait from Europe to Asia. To prepare, he proposes to develop his non-visual kayak guidance system over the course of several months, including several voyages around San Francisco Bay, practicing a total of 500 miles over the course of the year before embarking for Turkey.

Caroline Kamaluga lives in Zomba, a city in the Southern Region of Malawi, where women and especially blind women are lucky if they receive sufficient education. One of these fortunate few, Kamaluga proposes to give back to her community by developing a mentorship for blind girls throughout the country. Currently an elementary school student teacher, she hopes to foster a new sense of strength amongst the girls of Malawi.

Jamie Principato is a physics student from Colorado who wants to show the world that rocket science is within reach for blind and low vision students who have a motivation to thrive in the sciences. Jamie is developing a series of workshops called Project BLAST, which will use adaptive technology to allow blind students to send high altitude balloons to the outer limits of the stratosphere.

Muttasim Fadl, who lives in Baltimore and trains blind and low vision students here in America, wants to return to his home country of Sudan and give back. Over two months of travel through the country, Muttasim would like to deliver both valuable tools, such as white canes, as well as lectures, in order to enable blind students to succeed in their pursuits.

Ojok Simon, who lives in rural Uganda, wants to create jobs where they are not available. A beekeeper by trade, Ojok wants to train blind and visually impaired people in his community to build and maintain their own bee farms to inspire a future generation of apiary entrepreneurs.

Peggy Chong calls herself “The Blind History Lady.” Based in New Mexico, Chong has a passion for uncovering stories about great blind individuals, much like James Holman, whose stories might go otherwise without note into the annals of history. Chong proposes to travel throughout America, visiting archives and collecting information about these individuals who might have at one time been Holman Prize contenders themselves.

Penny Melville-Brown, from the UK, has a baking show unlike any other. She proposes a whirlwind itinerary across the world in which she visits culinary experts both blind and sighted, cooking together, talking about food and documenting it all on video. Brown would like to make “Blind Baking” a household name.

Rachel Magario, who was born in Brazil and now lives in Colorado, has a passion for exploration, and with a travel show all her own, she hopes to document how blind people experience the world in a format that is fascinating for any audience. Like a blind Anthony Bourdain, Magario proposes to trip around North America this year, landing herself in some unlikely spots and crafting a fun, relatable narrative about how blind people explore.

Saghatel Basil has ambitions of peace in the Middle East. After growing up in Croatia, Syria and Yemen, and now residing in Sweden, Saghatel wants to embark on a path of peacekeeping trainings around Europe that will allow him to give back to those uprooted by various conflicts in the Middle East.

Tony Llanes believes that blind folks can have a crucial role in maintaining the infrastructure and safety of his home, the Philippines. An amateur radio operator, Tony proposes to train a cadre of blind individuals to build a radio network that will serve as a lifeline in times of natural disaster. Prone to extreme weather, earthquakes and other fast-acting crises, Tony’s project would turn blind radio operators into valuable agents of disaster relief.

Peoples’ Choice Finalist: Felipe Rigoni Lopes has big ambitions to become the first blind president of Brazil. Though Felipe’s educational journey has been largely funded through scholarships, he applied to the Holman Prize to raise awareness and help propel other blind individuals who find themselves drawn to participate in politics.

Help The Holman Prize grow:

Press: press@lighthouse-sf.org

Sponsorships: jsachs@lighthouse-sf.org

General inquiries: holman@lighthouse-sf.org

Bend it like Bikram: Summer Yoga with Meagan Lynch

We know you’re trying to get your steps in as part of the National Fitness Challenge, but don’t underestimate the value of strength and balance training to help you reach your cardio goals. Yoga may help you increase your tone and improve balance and mobility to provide you with some extra oomph in your physical and everyday life.

Come stretch with our summer instructor Meagan Lynch! No knowledge of yoga is necessary – Meagan will work with you no matter what level of experience you have. Class times are below and you must register prior to attending, or complete registration upon your first day of participation.Meagan smiles while putting her hands together in namaste.

Who: Students ages 14 and up and their blind or sighted friends.

Where: Fitness Studio at LightHouse Headquarters, 1155 Market St., 10th Floor, San Francisco

When: Mondays at 5:30 p.m., Wednesdays at 2:00 p.m. Classes last 75 minutes. (Please note that beginning in Monday, June 5, classes will be Mondays and Wednesdays from 5:30 to 6:45 PM, both days.) Classes close 10 minutes after the start time.

Class fee: $10 per class. Yoga mats, blocks and belts will be provided. This class is open to the public, blind or sighted, so bring a friend!

For inquiries or to RSVP, contact Evening & Weekend Program Coordinator Serena Olsen at solsen@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7316.

Note: Yoga may require intense physical exertion. While it can be modified to meet your needs, we suggest that if you have any concerns prior to participating, please consult your doctor.

Holman Committee: Meet the Blind Judges Selecting Our Inaugural Prizewinners

We are pleased to announce our inaugural panel of Holman Prize judges, who will come together in June to choose three winners from all of our ambitious and adventurous candidates.  Encompassing a wide range of expertise, including astrophysics, accessible tech, national politics, education and so much more, our international committee members — virtually all of whom are blind — embody the spirit of both James Holman, our finalists and the LightHouse for the Blind’s overarching mission. We can’t wait to welcome these individuals, some of whom are joining us from as far away as Denmark and India, to the table to select our winners in just a few weeks.

Read the biographies of all of our judges on the Holman Website, and stay tuned for a forthcoming announcement of our elite group of Holman Prize Finalists.

The 2017 Holman Prize Committee

Jennison Asuncion Headshot

JENNISON ASUNCION, Engineering Manager at LinkedIn

Bryan Bashin Headshot

BRYAN BASHIN, CEO at LightHouse for the Blind

Don Brown Headshot

DON BROWN, CEO at Access Work Systems

Wendy David Headshot

DR. WENDY DAVID, Author and Clinical Psychologist

Wanda Diaz speaks at TED2016

DR.WANDA DIAZ-MERCED, Physicist

Chris Downey Headshot

CHRISTOPHER DOWNEY, RA, Architect and President at LightHouse for the Blind

Chancey Fleet Headshot

CHANCEY FLEET, Technology Educator

John Heilbrunn Headshot

JOHN HEILBRUNN, Vice-President at the Danish Association of the Blind

Joshua Miele Headshot

DR. JOSHUA MIELE, Research Scientist

Brian Miller Headshot

BRIAN MILLER, U.S. Department of Education

 

JASON ROBERTS, Author of A Sense of the World

Jason Roberts Headshot

DR. ZACHARY SHORE, Author and Historian

Debbie Stein Headshot

DEBBIE STEIN, Author and Educator

Sabriye Tenberken Onstage

SABRIYE TENBERKEN, Author and Advocate

Sheri Wells-Jensen Headshot

DR. SHERI WELLS-JENSEN, Professor of Linguistics at Bowling Green State University

Gary Wunder Headshot

GARY WUNDER, Editor at The Braille Monitor

Meet Our New Access Technology Director, Erin Lauridsen

Building off the great work our tech trainers have been doing for years, we’re excited this month to announce the creation of a dedicated Access Technology Department at LightHouse, under the direction of our new team member, Erin Lauridsen.

“The launch of this department is a recognition of how central technology is to our lives as blind people,” says Lauridsen. “It really does affect every aspect of our lives—from cooking to voting to dating to moving around the streets. If technology comes into every part of that, we have to train blind people to really be savvy tech users and be able adapt to constant changes.”

Lauridsen feels the digital age is leveling the playing field for people who are blind or have low vision. With screen readers like VoiceOver, new and improved document scanners and apps that provide new services entirely, she thinks we have moved far beyond barriers posed by the inaccessible books and paper printouts of yesteryear.

Lauridsen grew up in rural Oregon, on the cusp of the technological boom. She remembers the leap she took in 7th grade, when she went from having a Perkins brailler and a paid staffer who transcribed all of her work to getting a Citizen Notebook Printer and a Braille ‘n Speak – and nothing was the same.

“For the first time I could turn in my own homework,” she says. “I had to learn all that technology mostly on my own because there weren’t other blind people around me. There weren’t teachers who knew it because a lot of it was very new. I got a computer with a screen reader and the internet in the late ‘90s. That was my first connection in a significant way to other blind people.”

So while technology provides a practical set of tools for everyday living, it can also be a starting point for widening personal horizons and reaching out and learning from a community of blind people all over the world. At its heart, Lauridsen feels, it’s about agency.

“If you give people access to technology they can access information, make their own choices and live their lives in better ways,” says Lauridsen.

But for the AT Department, it’s not just about the end user. The department also plays a key role in Silicon Valley as an accessibility gatekeeper — by bringing in major tech companies like Google, Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, Pinterest and Facebook for user testing and meetups, as well as working in-house with accessibility apps like Actiview and Be My Eyes through our budding startup accelerator programs.

As the head of the Access Tech department, Lauridsen will represent LightHouse in guiding the accessibility features for mainstream platforms and more specialized devices or “assistive technology,” as well as teaching our students how to use all of the above.

You can now schedule free weekday or weekend AT Training on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. or Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The beauty of these trainings it that they’re one-on-one, so if the tech talk intimidates you, you can start slow. We have staff that can meet you where you’re at — maybe ease in with typing and go as far as learning how to building your own website with a screen reader. To sign up, contact Access Technology Coordinator Shen Kuan at skuan@lighthouse-sf.org or (415) 694-7312.

We are assembling a list of people interested in being part of UX testing. These opportunities respect testers’ time and knowledge with compensation. Opportunities vary on skill level, technology preference and personal interest. 

Communicate with Erin Lauridsen directly at elauridsen@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7368 to get involved.

Get Paid to Help the Blind from Home: Aira Seeks Part-time Agents in San Francisco

 

Aira logoLast week, LightHouse Staff spent the day with Aira, one of the leading startups to emerge in the remote sighted assistant space. Equipped with a wearable camera or mobile app, blind users can use Aira’s platform to receive on-demand sight assistance from trained professionals – privately and discreetly. The “agent,” who uses Aira’s dashboard software to keep notes on your preferences, track your surroundings through GPS and zoom in on far-away visuals. The result is a highly proficient “expert” who can efficiently identify, explain and Google anything your heart desires, opening up the blind user to a more accessible, frictionless environment.

Aira’s agents are the backbone of their operation, and it’s safe to say these paid professionals have some of the coolest jobs you could imagine. Aira has put out an announcement that they are hiring agents in the San Francisco Bay Area, to work from home or from the co-working spaces available at LightHouse.

If you’re interested, read the full posting below.

Aira Agent – Part Time, San Francisco

At Aira, we are giving increased freedom and independence to individuals who are blind or visually impaired. But we need your help as the star of our service!

As an Aira Agent you simply log onto our dashboard from your computer at home and begin answering video calls from our customers who reside across the United States – you will help them to shop, read their mail or computer screen, cook meals or even describe individuals in social settings – the scenarios are varied and unique. You will join a small but growing team of Aira Agents who, along with training, will help you hone your skills and share your calls.

Through a live video stream, you are able to see what they would be seeing, and provide the information they need to make decisions or explore their world.

Hours are flexible. We offer a range of hours per day between the times of 4 a.m PST to 10pm PST.

In order to apply, submit here. To see more about Aira go to Aira Inspiration or the Aira Website.

We are looking for:

  • People that are Enthusiastic, eager, and well spoken.
  • People that love to search the web and find the best info.
  • People that can multitask while remaining focused and calm.
  • People that want to grow with a company- the opportunities are just beginning with Aira.

Student Spotlight: Toby Clark

Toby Clark stops by the LightHouse one afternoon to grab coffee with a friend who he met at our 30% and Growing blind professionals meet-up. The friend has been taking cooking classes in the 10th floor Teaching Kitchen and ushers Toby into the pre-function area with a piping hot plate of pasta parmigiano (“It comes with a warning: I might have gone a little heavy on the pepper”).

Toby works around the corner as an attorney at the federal courts, and he’s recently started to regularly attend 30% and Growing.

“It’s a very open and supportive environment,” says Toby. “You connect over shared experiences. So that next time someone asks, again, “Has your hearing improved?”, you can internally roll your eyes but also find the strength to carry forward so that you don’t become embittered by that experience. Instead you can stay positive and even add a little humor into the mix.”

But long before Toby was networking with fellow blind professionals, he was struggling with the uncertainty of a rare retinal disorder and being cycled through doctors offices for various (and often inconclusive) tests. As his eyesight changed, his mood began to decline and he was started to grapple with depression.

As an attorney, Toby’s work requires that he do a significant amount of reading. He was getting constant migraines from the strain of trying to read legal documents and fine print. He had improvised a few adaptive techniques on his computer, but he felt like his progressive condition was a moving target. He was constantly scrambling to improvise new ways to see.

But everything shifted when a friend asked Toby, “Have you heard of LightHouse?”

A year ago, he connected with LightHouse psychological services counselor Connie Conley-Jung for an initial session. She laid out a path for him, showed him the available resources and told him how to get connected with Department of Rehabilitation.

“Connie was great,” says Toby. “It helped to talk with someone who gets it. It was the first time in all that floundering and trying to figure out how to do things on my own that I felt like there was a map forward, both personally and professionally. And it included both internal and external resources. There’s also a great atmosphere here and started to understand that people really care and it’s just an open and welcoming place. And that combined with the quality of services I’ve received it’s just kind of a no-brainer.”

And that was just the start for Toby at LightHouse. Now, he’s completed more counseling sessions with Connie, a Changing Vision Changing Life Immersion Training at Enchanted Hills Camp, orientation and mobility with specialist Katt Jones, technology training and is beginning to dip his toe into braille lessons with braille instructor Divina Carlson.

“Now even as my vision continues to decline, I have that skill set waiting there and I have those resources ready,” says Toby. “Just knowing there are skills that I’ve learned and continuing to learn, like Braille, it’s a longer path but it’s building that foundation for going forward.”

The CVCL session he attended had a particularly strong impact on him, because it was the first time he was surrounded by other blind and visually impaired people, with a whole spectrum of sight and experience with adaptive techniques.

“We were there sharing all our different and shared struggles, our successes, tips and tricks,” says Toby. “You end up cheering for everyone and wanting everyone to succeed and it really felt like we, as a group and including the staff as well, had made progress towards this overall goal of ‘Let’s make our lives better, let’s be there for each other.’”

There, he was emboldened by a mobility exercise that involved navigating the woods at EHC blindfolded with a cane.

“It was really scary but kind of exhilarating at the same time,” says Toby. “And when I got back from the immersion I really started using my cane on a regular basis. I think it removed an emotional barrier, because I’d just think ‘Oh you were blindfolded and walked through the woods and somehow found your way back!’ I was like, “I can make it through the city.’”

And Toby has been making it through this city every day, as well as far off ones: he’s just returned from visiting Switzerland and Paris with his husband Chad, and they have a trip to Yellowstone coming up.

When he’s not perusing Parisian boutiques or visiting friends at the LightHouse, he’s acting on stage, and in short films and commercials. Losing his vision has made him a director’s pet though: he memorizes all his lines before the first rehearsal. “Directors love that,” he says, laughing.

These days, Toby uses Zoom Text, Jaws and NVDA to access his acting scripts and legal documents. And who knows, after a few more braille lessons, he might be reading braille scripts — so he can go back to procrastinating like the rest of us.

To learn more about LightHouse programs, visit lighthouse-sf.org/programs/ or call 415-431-1481. 

Volunteer Spotlight: Abby Cochran

When Abby Cochran first found the LightHouse three years ago, she came asking for help – but she wasn’t blind.

Abby, who is fully sighted, had just moved to Berkeley for her Masters degree and was working at a startup in the city called TransitScreen. The company was using bluetooth beacons to send transit data to users phones – particularly useful for blind users at inaccessible signs. She needed user testers though, and someone told her LightHouse was the obvious choice.

“I met a lot of really friendly people who expressed interest in my work and welcomed me,” she says. “They said, ‘Wait, that’s actually a really interesting thing. Can we talk about doing this? It was really welcoming and nice.”

As Abby transitioned into her PhD in Urban Planning at UC Berkeley, LightHouse stuck in the back of her mind. Her social circumstances were changing, her time circumstances were changing, and she was looking for new people and activities to fill her time.

A couple months and a few LightHouse newsletters later, Abby discovered our Fitness Partner’s program.

“At the time it was in the middle of a beautiful week and I was like man, if I’m going out running anyway, I might as well have a buddy,” she says. “That would be the best.”

Abby signed up for a Volunteer Training and Volunteer Coordinator Justine Harris-Richburgh connected her to her new fitness partner who, like Abby, lived in Berkeley and was excited to spend time every weekend getting out and about. The two quickly fell into a rhythm with hikes all around the Bay Area. Abby says they still hike about once a week, usually for half a day.

“Within the first few weeks we were exercising together, he invited me to an event,” she says. “We were doing introductions and meeting people, and he said this is Abby. And they were like ‘Oh, how do you two know each other?’ And we hesitated for a second and looked in each other’s direction and said, ‘Well, we’re… friends.’”

Despite morphing into a supportive friendship, Abby says the fitness outings are both regular and casual. “We might go to see a particular section of the Bay trail,” she says, “or one of us — I won’t say which — might want to go shoe shopping. We’re flexible.”

Abby continues to volunteer at numerous LightHouse events, assisted in our Sexual Health workshop series, connected with other fitness partners, and will work as an Orienteering instructor for STEAM Camp at Enchanted Hills this summer.

So what keeps Abby coming back to LightHouse, time and time again?

“I love the people first,” she says. “I like hanging out with my friends and my friends are now here. I have a really wonderful confluence in the LightHouse. There is a mission that I also think that I’d like to forward, and that is to increase opportunities for those who are blind and low vision, but also everyone with different capabilities to reach the potential and quality of life that they desire. I want to help people do whatever they want. I’m in a privileged position to do so, and I think it would be remiss not to take advantage of that.”

“So that’s the do-gooder response. But I’m also very selfish and everyone is super nice to me and they invite me to fun things and sometimes we go get beers. They’re very supportive.”

Abby found a home at LightHouse, but she also found a valuable network and wealth of information for her research and work. She’ll be writing her dissertation on disability responsive planning, and critically examining accessibility in cities and to show how we define, perceive and measure access determines qualities of the built environment that hinder or enable people in particular ways.

“It evolved as a direct result of my work here,” she says. “This place runs deep. It’s been hugely influential and meeting the network of people here that also have a network in fields that i’m interested in, in city planning, transportation. You cannot remove people from place.”

Browse the various volunteer opportunities we offer and fill out our volunteer sign-up form or our group sign-up form. If you have any questions, contact Justine Harris-Richburgh, Volunteer Engagement Specialist at 1altruism@lighthouse-sf.org or by calling 415-694-7366. All new volunteers are given background checks and are often given a group volunteering opportunity to start. We hope, like Abby, you’ll consider giving your time to the LightHouse (and becoming part of our diverse and growing community in the process)!

AMC Theaters Agrees to Improve Services for Blind Movie-Goers

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

San Francisco, CA – April 28, 2017 – AMC Theaters (AMC) has reached an agreement with several blind individuals, the California Council of the Blind (CCB), and the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco (LightHouse) to ensure blind customers have reliable access to audio description services at AMC movie theaters nationwide.

Audio description is a verbal description of the visual events on screen, which plays between pauses in dialogue. Many movies come with audio description tracks, and customers who are blind or visually impaired can listen to audio description through special headsets that are available at the theatres. With audio description, people who are blind and visually-impaired can fully enjoy the important and beloved American pastime of going to the movies.

Under the agreement, AMC will require the managers and staff who are responsible for programming and handing out audio description equipment to be trained on the equipment. AMC and the plaintiffs in the case have developed staff and customer information guides to facilitate better service. AMC also will require managers to check the equipment regularly. Additionally, AMC will now offer audio description immediately before the feature movie begins, so customers can test the equipment before the feature movie begins to help ensure customers don’t miss any of the movie troubleshooting problems. In the rare event that a theater’s audio description equipment is out of service, AMC will now update theater websites to remove the audio description designation from showtimes. AMC has agreed to implement these changes in theaters nationwide.

This agreement resolves a lawsuit brought by CCB, the LightHouse, and several individuals, represented by Disability Rights Advocates and Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP, in 2016, alleging that audio description equipment at AMC theaters frequently malfunctioned and that AMC staff did not properly check, program, or distribute the equipment to customers. AMC has provided audio description equipment to customers for years, but some blind individuals have had difficulty accessing the service because of equipment and customer service issues.

AMC Theatres and the Plaintiffs look forward to improved access to audio description services for blind and visually-impaired persons across the country.

Plaintiff Scott Blanks commented, “This settlement marks an important step toward improving access to the movies for people who are blind or have a vision impairment. I’m looking forward to going to AMC theaters and enjoying the movies with my family when AMC makes the changes to improve reliability of audio description in its theaters.”

Cynthia Pierce, AMC Senior Vice President for Facilities, Sight and Sound for AMC commented, “AMC is pleased to have worked with these organizations and individuals to develop solutions that will help bring the joy of movies to the blind community.”

California Council of the Blind President Judy Wilkinson stated, “The California Council of the Blind applauds AMC for working with us to enhance access to the movie-going experience for people who are blind. Movies are a central pillar of modern society, and ensuring that the blind community receives access to this content is critical to ensure that people who are blind are fully integrated into society.”

Bryan Bashin, Executive Director/CEO of the LightHouse states, “Access to reliable audio description is essential to ensure that blind movie-goers are able to enjoy movies in the same way that their sighted friends and family members do. Dependable audio description levels the playing field for the blind community. The LightHouse is pleased with AMC’s commitment to providing this service to blind movie-goers. We look forward to working with AMC to ensure that all blind movie-goers have a seamless experience when utilizing audio description.

Plaintiffs’ counsel Rebecca Williford of Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) explains, “We are pleased that AMC is committed to improving audio description services in its theaters. Audio description should be as reliable as any other service or technology at an AMC theater, such as a sound system or popcorn machine.”

Ernest Galvan of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld, counsel for Plaintiffs, said “when effectively implemented, technology like audio description has the power to further integrate people with disabilities into their communities.  By improving access to audio description services, this agreement harnesses that potential.”

Press Contacts

Scott Blanks

Senior Director, Programs

Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired

sblanks@lighthouse-sf.org

Rebecca Williford, Disability Rights Advocates

(510) 665-8644

rwilliford@dralegal.org

Michael Nunez, Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP

(415) 433-6830

mnunez@rbgg.com

About the California Council of the Blind

California Council of the blind (CCB) is a non-profit membership organization composed of Californians who are blind or have low vision. CCB’s mission is to gain full independence and equality of opportunity for all blind and visually impaired Californians. To read more about CCB visit: http://www.ccbnet.org/.

About the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired (the LightHouse), a San Francisco-based non-profit corporation, is California’s oldest organization serving the blind and visually impaired community. Through training, mentorship and recreation, the LightHouse is dedicated to aiding blind and visually impaired individuals in leading productive, enriching, and independent lives. For more information visit www.lighthouse-sf.org.

About Disability Rights Advocates

Disability Rights Advocates is one of the leading non-profit disability rights legal centers in the nation. With offices in Berkeley and New York City, DRA’s mission is to advance equal rights and opportunities for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA has successfully negotiated access improvements to many contemporary technologies, including Redbox’s self-service video rental kiosks, Scribd’s digital library, the Uber ridesharing platform, and Netflix’s video streaming and disc rental. For more information, visit www.dralegal.org.

About Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP

Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP is a private law firm that specializes in complex litigation, including with respect to business disputes, employment matters, institutional reform, and civil rights.  For more information, visit www.rbgg.com/.

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A Week with Be My Eyes: The First Truly Social Network

On May 11 from 5:00 t0 7:00 p.m., LightHouse will host Be My Eyes and its blind or low vision users for an evening of creative use, feedback and even a bit of friendly competition. The Be My Eyes team will take blind users through the past, present and future of the technology, and share some incredible stories about the iPhone app that connects blind people to a network of sighted volunteers via live video chat. The event is free and intended for blind and low vision users – RSVP on Facebook.

We love our independence. Even if our vegetables are grown and picked by hundreds of hands, our cars designed by teams of closely collaborating engineers, and everything from our electricity to our government benefits kept running by vast networks of individuals — modern day technology and consumption are designed to make us feel self sufficient.

We are thus allowed to hold ourselves ideals of self-determination and rugged individualism that have been passed down over the centuries. As blind people, these values are challenged every day of our lives. When something is poorly designed or downright unusable, we confront a deep conundrum: going it alone or asking for help, and risking the perceived possibility of burdening others.

When Be My Eyes launched nearly two years ago, a new tool was born: a radically different way to ask for help. Be My Eyes introduced blind smartphone users to a whole new type of social support network, one unbounded by geography, bureaucracy, or even practical limitations, that allowed blind users to get sighted assistance via video chat.

Today there are about half a million sighted volunteers with Be My Eyes loaded onto their phones, with more than 30,000 blind users on the other end. These volunteers will do anything from help you adjust the thermostat to spending half an hour helping you pick out an outfit for a high-stakes presentation. But at it’s core, each interaction is random, at-will and obligation free. The free app puts no limit on the number of calls you can make in a day. If you really wanted to, you could call 100 different people and have each of them identify the exact same piece of art – and the service, as always, would be free.

Even though thousands of blind people benefit from this app every week, the platform can handle thousands more. I wonder often if our notion of independent living so engrained, so hard-wired that we have still have trouble asking for help, even when there are really no strings attached.

Be My Eyes is working toward a gold-standard for people helping people. They have hundreds of thousands of hours of free labor, given with good faith, at a moments notice from people all around the world. It’s truly a new tool – like a fishing pole that reels in assistance whenever you want it. But as the old saying goes, you have to “teach a man to fish” before he can really benefit from the tools at hand.

Last month, I challenged myself to re-consider how I use the app. Occasionally I will be somewhere, alone, and realize that I am struggling. We all do this, sighted and blind alike: make things harder for ourselves then they need to be.

For one week, I told myself, any time I needed help I would pull out the app and give it a spin. What came out of it was surprising. Watch the video below to see Be My Eyes in action.

Not only did I use it for things I never thought it could work for – like identifying house numbers as I walked through a neighborhood or even the types of fish on my sushi plate – but I met people who were patient, not overbearing, and curious as to what they could do to be helpful without being obtrusive.

No one asked me personal questions, no one tried to coach me on how to live my life, and above all no one grabbed me by the arm and steered me somewhere I didn’t want to go. When I got what I needed, I could politely say thank you and hang up without fear that being brisk with someone would have repercussions later. It’s all the value of having someone nearby without any of the additional worry of initiating contact, explaining yourself, and ultimately breaking free of their of custody.

Our understanding of “independence” is not truly about total independence, but instead about masking the assembly line of helpers which make up our lives: the tiny little micro-transactions where individuals step in to provide assistance, whether or not we have a disability. For blind people, this is a more obvious reality than for most.

The reason Be My Eyes is so remarkable is because it embraces this reality wholesale: You can get the tiniest bit of help and move on through your life. The safety net is huge, and yet doesn’t loom over you.

Maybe it makes sense, then, that the guys behind Be My Eyes hail from Denmark, where you’re much more likely to hear about a more “social” approach. And if we think of human interaction as give and take, as an exchange of ideas or assistance as a true social interaction – maybe Be My Eyes has created the first truly social network.

Guide Dog Users: Have Your Voice Heard on AB1705 Regarding the California Guide Dog Board

On April 25, the Business and Professions Committee will hear California Assembly Bill 1705 starting at 9:00 a.m. The hearing will determine whether to extend the term of the California State Board of Guide Dogs for the Blind to January 1, 2022. Under the existing bill, the board will sunset on January 1, 2018. This is an impactful decision that affects many members of the LightHouse community. Take a moment to gain some background on the bill and let your voice be heard in the outcome of this vote.  

The California State Board of Guide Dogs for the Blind was established in the 1940s, in response to an influx of people with insufficient skill, expertise or knowledge claiming to be guide dog trainers. The guide dogs they provided weren’t trained properly and, rather, were ineffective and dangerous to blind people. At that time, a state-mandated governing body for guide dogs was a necessary regulatory and safety measure.

Now, however, the usefulness of this Board is being called into question by numerous blindness organizations and prominent guide dog users, including California Council of the Blind.
California is the only state with a board of this kind, most likely because the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF), established in 1989, serves a similar purpose. IGDF is the industry-elected body responsible for the development, monitoring and evaluation of guide dog training standards applied within all IGDF-member organizations.

In light of this body, many think having a state-mandated board is redundant and a misuse of state resources, as well as a drain on the time and resources of the California guide dog schools, all of whom are accredited by IGDF.

LightHouse Board Member Gena Harper, who has been a guide dog user for 35 years, is taking a firm stance on the matter.

“As a blind person, the presence of the board is frustrating,” she says. “It is patronizing that the state feels the need to have a protective body over guide dogs for the blind, especially when that body doesn’t actually do anything to provide the protections it claims.”

If you are a guide dog user who has traveled to or from the state of California or spent time in that state, and/or if you anticipate traveling with your guide dog to California, we urge you to let your voice be heard on this matter. Contact the Legislative Committee described below to express your view on extending the term of the State Board of Guide Dogs for the Blind.

To have your voice heard, contact the committee members below and relay your stance on AB1705. Voting YES will extend the board’s term for four years, while voting NO will uphold the dismantling date of January 1, 2018.

Rudy Salas, Jr. (Chair) Dem – 32

assemblymember.salas@assembly.ca.gov

Capitol Office, Room 4016

P.O. Box 942849, Sacramento, CA 94249-0032; (916) 319-2032

William P. Brough (Vice Chair) Rep – 73

assemblymember.brough@assembly.ca.gov

Capitol Office, Room 3141

P.O. Box 942849, Sacramento, CA 94249-0073; (916) 319-2073

Dr. Joaquin Arambula Dem – 31

assemblymember.arambula@assembly.ca.gov

Capitol Office, Room 5155

P.O. Box 942849, Sacramento, CA 94249-0031; (916) 319-2031

Catharine B. Baker        Rep – 16

assemblymember.Baker@assembly.ca.gov    

Capitol Office, Room 2130

P.O. Box 942849, Sacramento, CA 94249-0016; (916) 319-2016

Richard Bloom   Dem – 50

assemblymember.Bloom@assembly.ca.gov

Capitol Office, Room 2003

P.O. Box 942849, Sacramento, CA 94249-0050; (916) 319-2050

David Chiu        Dem – 17

assemblymember.chiu@assembly.ca.gov

Capitol Office, Room 4112

P.O. Box 942849, Sacramento, CA 94249-0017; (916) 319-2017

Jordan Cunningham     Rep – 35

assemblymember.cunningham@assembly.ca.gov

Capitol Office, Room 4102

P.O. Box 942849, Sacramento, CA 94249-0035; (916) 319-2035

Brian Dahle      Rep – 01  

assemblymember.dahle@assembly.ca.gov

Capitol Office, Room 4098

P.O. Box 942849, Sacramento, CA 94249-0001; (916) 319-2001

Susan Talamantes Eggman        Dem – 13

assemblymember.eggman@assembly.ca.gov

Capitol Office, Room 4117

P.O. Box 942849, Sacramento, CA 94249-0013; (916) 319-2013

Mike A. Gipson Dem – 64

assemblymember.gipson@assembly.ca.gov

Capitol Office, Room 3173

P.O. Box 942849, Sacramento, CA 94249-0064; (916) 319-2064

Timothy S. Grayson      Dem – 14

assemblymember.grayson@assembly.ca.gov

Capitol Office, Room 4164

P.O. Box 942849, Sacramento, CA 94249-0014; (916) 319-2014

Chris R. Holden Dem – 41

assemblymember.holden@assembly.ca.gov

Capitol Office, Room 5136

P.O. Box 942849, Sacramento, CA 94249-0041; (916) 319-2041

Evan Low          Dem – 28

assemblymember.low@assembly.ca.gov

Capitol Office, Room 4126

P.O. Box 942849, Sacramento, CA 94249-0028; (916) 319-2028

Kevin Mullin    Dem – 22

assemblymember.mullin@assembly.ca.gov

Capitol Office, Room 3160

P.O. Box 942849, Sacramento, CA 94249-0022; (916) 319-2022

Marc Steinorth  Rep – 40

assemblymember.steinorth@assembly.ca.gov

Capitol Office, Room 5128

P.O. Box 942849, Sacramento, CA 94249-0040; (916) 319-2040

Philip Y. Ting    Dem – 19

assemblymember.ting@assembly.ca.gov

Capitol Office, Room 6026

P.O. Box 942849, Sacramento, CA 94249-0019; (916) 319-2019