Category Archives: LightHouse News

Everything EHC Podcast: A Peek into our Camp’s Day-to-Day

Enchanted Hills Camp’s Enrichment Area Leader Masceo Williams is putting a fresh spin on Enchanted Hills Camp in Napa, California through his new podcast, Everything EHC.

“Years from now, I want people to be able to look back and see what we were doing in the past. There are so many interesting people here, and I want to be able to capture their stories through the podcast,” says Masceo (pronounced May-cee-o).

Masceo, who is blind, got involved with camp in 2014 as the nature area leader and has continued being an active member of the EHC community. He started the podcast to raise awareness about the camp within the blind community, and show what camp has done for the diverse group of both blind and sighted individuals who come back year after year.

Though LightHouse can’t take any credit for producing the podcast, LightHouse and EHC employees have featured in numerous episodes. As Masceo said in his first episode, the podcast is “recorded at EHC, by EHC, and for EHC.” The 30 episodes recorded so far, with the promise of many more to come over the summer, cover everything from camp history to band and movie reviews. In each episode, Masceo interviews a featured guest and collects a wide variety of perspectives on camp. He has featured camp director Tony Fletcher, camp counselors and other leaders, and both campers and parents during the summer’s first session of family camp.

By speaking to so many individuals, some who are new to camp and others who are very familiar with EHC’s charm, he conveys the true enchantment and beauty found there. EHC is a place where blind campers—adults and children—can find independence and lifelong friends all in the space of a few days. The property is also rented out during the off-season, allowing others to partake in its mystique while simultaneously benefitting the blind community.

Listen to a few of our favorites:

Episode 1: Get to know Camp Director Tony Fletcher

Episode 12: Chilling with Camp Counselor Nasir & Volunteer Vinay

Episode 18: With Camp regular Ken Rossi

LightHouse’s MAD Lab Receives the Robert S. Bray Award for Innovation in Tactile Graphics

Last week, the American Council of the Blind awarded LightHouse’s Media and Accessible Design Lab with the Robert S. Bray Award for Media Excellence at the annual conference in Reno, Nevada. The Bray Award is given to a person or a company that has improved communication technology or devices, or expanded access to such devices for all blind people.

Last year, the award was presented to LightHouse partner Apple for the company’s strides in accessibility and continued dedication to inclusion-based innovation for blind users.

MAD Lab Alternative Media Specialist Frank Welte attended the conference and accepted the award on behalf of MAD Lab.

“It was exciting to see MAD Lab recognized at a national level for the cutting edge work we’re doing in making high quality tactile graphics available to the blind community,” he says. “It’s an indication that we’re coming into a golden age in the creation of and availability of tactile graphics that are accessible to blind people. We’re seeing that greater attention is being paid to effective use of tactile graphics to communicate visual information to blind people.”

The MAD Lab has earned a reputation for producing fabulous tactile media of all kinds, including raised line drawings, tactile graphics and tactile maps like this one for Alcatraz or this one of California, and other GGRNA maps – for everything from Burning Man to BART. We are thrilled to be on the forefront of tactile innovation, education and literacy.

For a rate sheet or an informal quote on a business project, contact MADLab@lighthouse-sf.org or call 415-694-7349.

Our Blind Music Academy is Going on Tour in August and You’re Invited

In its fourth year, LightHouse’s summer Music Academy continues to grow and expand, literally. Each year, Music Academy culminates with a performance by blind students from all over the world. This time around the group will take the stage at Enchanted Hills’ brand new Redwood Grove Theater, which was completed this summer and features redwood benches made at camp by blind woodworker George Wurtzel. The students will also hit the road to perform at our headquarters in San Francisco. 

A view of the new redwood amphitheater dappled in sunlight at EHC.

Experience the power of Music Academy by joining us at one of these free concerts:

About Music Academy

Enchanted Hills Camp has paired up with Bill McCann, founder and president of Dancing Dots Braille Music Technology to craft a Music Academy for blind musicians ages 16 to 24 years old who are serious about music or might be thinking of entering the profession. Bill McCann pioneered this specialized music academy model both in Canada and the United States. The academy introduces students to using non-visual techniques to compose music, read the works of others, learn performance skills and gain the capacity to compete for and win employment in the music field.

With its specialized emphasis, our talent pool and ambition continues to grow. This year we’re excited to host students from all over the world, who will spend a week focused on not only becoming better performers but achieving fluency in braille music and other accessible forms of musical notation.

Musicians ages 18 and over who are participating in the Music Academy are invited to stay on for the extended section of our Music Academy program. The extended program starts August 13 and ends August 16 and will be held in San Francisco at LightHouse for the Blind. We will shuttle those qualifying participants to LightHouse for the Blind from the Enchanted Hills Camp. We will also provide a shuttle service to the SFO airport at the end of the program on August 16.

We still have openings in this year’s Music Academy! If you have questions about the session please contact Taccarra Burrell at tburrell@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7318.

YES Academy Week One: Cane skills, cooking and mock interviews

It’s been a lively week at LightHouse headquarters with our three-week Summer Youth Employment Series (YES) underway. The 10th and 11th floors have been warm with the chatter of blind and visually impaired youth attending four classes a day including orientation & mobility, technology, living skills and job readiness trainings.

Many of the students at YES Academy are getting their first introductions to life skills like using a white cane, cooking, doing laundry, interviewing for jobs and volunteering. But it isn’t all work and no play. They also explored the city of San Francisco, including a ghost tour of Chinatown and a scavenger hunt at Fisherman’s Wharf.

This week they’re headed to camp and kayak in Tomales Bay, and then they’re off to Enchanted Hills Camp to spend a few days breathing the fresh air and learning the fundamentals of woodworking with blind woodworker George Wurtzel. The final week, a select group will attend the National Federation of the Blind Convention in Orlando, Florida. Here, students will meet thousands of blind role models from across the country, network with the National Association of Blind Students, peruse the aisles of the exhibition hall, participate in a nation-wide accessible job-fair and attend informative seminars.

“When we picked up the students at the airport not a single one of them was using a cane,” says Youth Services Coordinator Jamey Gump when we asked him about the most gratifying aspect of leading the program. “Now many of them feel confident to use their canes. It’s an important landmark for them to be comfortable with themselves and be able to identify as blind to allow the public to understand their needs.”

Romesha Laird is one of the YES students who started off the week having never used a cane before. She’s quickly taken to the mobility training and has found it an incredibly useful tool as she goes through this busy week of fun and self discovery.

“I’m just learning to use a cane,” she says. “I used to trip a lot and the cane makes me feel more confident. After this week, I feel a lot more motivated to use my cane when I’m walking around.”

Romesha is a high school student from San Bernardino, and when she’s not learning to making quick biscuits in the teaching kitchen or learning skills that will help her toward her goal of attending a four year college, she’s an avid cheerleader.

This week she discovered a mentor in YES Academy Counselor Danielle Fernandez.

“I really look up to Danielle,” she says. “She taught me a lot and showed me around. She also has the same condition as me, so we relate and understand each other.”

Romesha has already made up her mind that she’ll be headed back to YES next year.

“I am going to come back next year to learn more and get more experience and visit everyone at the LightHouse,” she says smiling.

Here are a few photos of Romesha practicing mobility in downtown San Francisco and volunteering to braille business cards in the MAD Lab.

Romesha smiles as she walks down Market Street with her white cane.
Romesha smiles as she walks down Market Street with her white cane.
Romesha helps emboss business cards with fellow YES Academy students in one of the LightHouse volunteer rooms.
Romesha helps emboss business cards with fellow YES Academy students in one of the LightHouse volunteer rooms.

Stay posted for more YES Academy updates in the coming weeks!

Meet Penny Melville-Brown: Blind Baker and Holman Prizewinner

The LightHouse for the Blind announces Penny Melville-Brown of “Baking Blind” as one of the first three winners of the Holman Prize.

British Royal Navy veteran Penny Melville-Brown is not your average chef. First of all, she is, in fact, blind. But beyond that, Penny has a deep and unique understanding of food’s ability to break down cultural barriers and to connect people – blind and sighted alike – across the globe.

Today, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco announces Penny as one of three winners of the 2017 Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, a brand-new award for blind adventurers of all kinds.

Penny preps food wearing an apron in the kitchen

“While food is a mainstay across the media and popular culture, it is almost impossible to find any inclusion of visually impaired people,” Penny says.  With her Holman Prize project, Penny hopes to change that.

With the $25,000 Holman Prize, Penny will travel to Costa Rica, Malawi, Australia, China and the United States, all over the course of a year. Along the way, she will meet chefs, teach blind people and community leaders the techniques and panache of blind baking, and film these encounters to ensure that people change their assumptions about the capabilities of blind chefs.

Equal parts travelogue and instructional video series, Penny’s video blog will teach all of us, sighted or otherwise, something new about the art of cooking.

Penny dishes up some food in the kitchen, smilingPenny also has a special connection with the namesake of the Holman Prize, James Holman, a 19th Century world traveler known as the first blind man to circumnavigate the globe. Both became blind while serving in the British Royal Navy (albeit nearly 200 years apart). Now, like Holman, Penny will take off around the world, crossing multiple continents to teach others about the capabilities of those with disabilities.

Penny is one of three inaugural winners of the Holman Prize. Her fellow prizewinners, Ahmet Ustunel and Ojok Simon, hail from the US and Uganda respectively, and also have ambitious adventures planned over a range of geographies and subjects. Ustunel is planning a solo kayak journey from Europe to Asia, while Simon is planning to build out a blind-led social enterprise for beekeepers in Uganda.

They will all meet at the Lighthouse in San Francisco in September.

Penny began hosting and producing regular video segments this year for a program she calls “Baking Blind”. She takes pride in her collaborations, which will only grow with the help of The Holman Prize. A YouTube original, she can be seen in her videos making everything from apple tarts to lamb tajines and quail eggs in soy sauce.

Read about all three Holman Prize winners in-depth.

Holman Honorees: Meet the 2017 finalists.

Meet the blind judges who picked the winners.

Support The Holman Prize

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the 2018 Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. To offer your support, contact holman@lighthouse-sf.org. Individuals may donate any amount using LightHouse’s secure form. For sponsorship inquiries, email us or call +1 (415) 694-7333.

 

For press inquiries, email press@lighthouse-sf.org.

 

Meet Ojok Simon: Blind Beekeeper and Holman Prizewinner

‘Hive Uganda’ Founder plans to bring honey production and beekeeping training to blind and low vision communities of Uganda.

Imagine tending a beehive – or a whole farm of bees – with hundreds of thousands of buzzing, pollen-loving insects crawling all over you, stingers at the ready. Now imagine doing it blind. Unimaginable for most, this is just a normal day for Ojok Simon.

Today, Ojok became one of the three inaugural winners of the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition – an unprecedented $25,000 award for blind and low vision adventurers offered by the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco.

Ojok, who is in his mid-thirties, lost his vision more than 20 years ago when Ugandan rebels beat him severely and he incurred serious head injuries. Due to a lack of medical attention, his vision quickly deteriorated. Yet he didn’t stop pursuing his education, or later, his passion for beekeeping.

Ojok works outdoors on his bee farm

“I was walking in the bush close to our home, when I found a clay pot with bees and honey inside,” says Ojok. “That became a turning point for me.” Now with more than 100 colonized hives, Ojok has become somewhat of a celebrity in his community – even more so now that he can call himself one of the three first-ever recipients of The Holman Prize.

Intriguingly, centuries before Ojok began cultivating honey, the scientific understanding of beekeeping biology was first worked out by a blind scientist, François Huber, who met blind adventurer James Holman during his world travels in the 19th century.

Ojok’s name was announced today along with two others, Penny Melville-Brown (UK) and Ahmet Ustunel (US by way of Turkey), who represent a wide variety of ambitions and geographical areas, with blindness being the unifying factor. Ojok will use the $25,000 Holman Prize to teach blind and low vision Ugandans to become beekeepers and entrepreneurs as part of his HIVE Uganda program. “I always feel a lot of pain when I see blind and partially sighted people living below the poverty line with limited employment opportunities,” he says.

Ojok siphons honey from a drum into a jar

The award will provide Ojok’s trainees with 60 high quality beehives and the necessary honey extraction equipment, as well as honey harvesting suits, gloves and boots, for a new generation of blind and low vision beekeepers. “I will prove to the whole world that being ‘out of sight’ does not mean ‘out of mind,” says Ojok.

Get to know the other two prizewinners, Penny and Ahmet.

Holman Honorees: Meet the 2017 finalists.

Meet the blind judges who picked the winners.

Support The Holman Prize

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the 2018 Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. To offer your support, contact holman@lighthouse-sf.org. Individuals may donate any amount using LightHouse’s secure form. For sponsorship inquiries, email us or call +1 (415) 694-7333.

For press inquiries, contact press@lighthouse-sf.org.

Meet Ahmet Ustunel: Blind Kayaker and Holman Prizewinner

The Holman Prize will fund Ahmet Ustunel’s kayak training and the development of a non-visual guidance system for navigating the waters of the Bosphorus Strait.

Today Ahmet Ustunel, 37, a blind kayaker from San Francisco, was announced as one of the three inaugural winners of the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition – an unprecedented award for blind and low vision adventurers. The other winners are Penny Melville-Brown, an avid baker from the UK, and Ojok Simon, who is planning to build out a blind-led social enterprise for beekeepers in Uganda.

Ahmet, who is fully blind, is not a professional adventurer. A full-time teacher of the visually impaired, he began journeying into San Francisco Bay in a solo kayak shortly after moving to the United States from Turkey a decade ago. Yet with the $25,000 Holman Prize, he has a more ambitious goal: to paddle across the Bosphorus Strait, which divides the European region of Turkey from its Asian counterpart, completely alone.

Ahmet stands on the beach next to his kayak

In the months leading up to this daring crossing, Ahmet will practice regularly around the Bay Area, clocking in over 500 miles and building both physical endurance and mastering the technology that is a crucial element of his journey, demonstrating the autonomy and capability of blind people along the way. He will also develop of a non-visual guidance system for crossing the Strait.

In order to ensure a safe passage, Ahmet will use a wide variety of technology on-board his kayak, including ultrasonic sensors, a talking compass, an accessible depth finder and a tracking device that will guide him to his destination. “[My project] will educate the public about how blind people can operate a vehicle in an uncontrolled environment safely and independently,” he says.

The Bosphorus holds special significance for Ahmet, who grew up in Turkey: “It’s where I used to sit on a ferry dreaming about a time in the future when Blind captains and crew will roam through the Strait, and nobody will be surprised,” he says.

Ahmet Ustunel smiles holding a fishing pole

A risky and ambitious adventure, Ahmet’s crossing has the potential to change lives around the world, proving that with the right tools and a blind-positive attitude many adventures once thought impossible for blind people are well within their grasp.

Read about all three Holman Prizewinners in-depth.

Holman Honorees: Meet this year’s finalists.

Meet the blind judges who picked the winners.

Support The Holman Prize

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the 2018 Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. To offer your support, contact holman@lighthouse-sf.org. Individuals may donate any amount using LightHouse’s secure form. For sponsorship inquiries, email us or call +1 (415) 694-7333.

For press inquiries, contact press@lighthouse-sf.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

LightHouse Announces Three Inaugural Holman Prizewinners

This fall, three exceptional blind individuals will set off around the world on adventures they never imagined possible as winners of The Holman Prize for Blind Ambition. Today, we are pleased to share their names with the world.

The three winners, Ahmet Ustunel, Penny Melville-Brown, and Ojok Simon, were announced Thursday, June 29, 2017 after a rigorous judging process that narrowed down the applicants to eleven highly competitive finalists. Each winning project embodies its own sense of adventure and ambition – whether it takes the winners around the world or allows them to build and foster social impact in their immediate community.

Created to honor “blind ambition” in all its forms, the annual $25,000 awards will spring-board future generations of entrepreneurs, adventurers and ambassadors in the blindness community.

With over 200 applicants from 27 countries, The Holman Prize saw stiff competition in its first year. All applicants were required to upload 90-second YouTube videos to pitch their idea for a dream project with a $25,000 budget, and later asked to submit formal proposals.

Named after the 19th century explorer James Holman (known around the world as “the blind traveler”) The Holman Prize aims to launch worthy projects that will change the public perception of blindness for years to come.

“We are thrilled to support these three individuals,” LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin noted Thursday with the announcement. “They are all incredibly ambitious in different ways, and their projects will have a real effect on the way blindness is perceived globally. I think about Ahmet’s determination, Penny’s cultural savvy, and Ojok’s entrepreneurial spirit – this is what blindness looks like today. These three will change minds about what blind people can accomplish.”

The 2017 Holman Prize Winners

The Three Holman Prizewinners will fly to San Francisco in September 2017 for a week-long orientation before starting their projects on October 1. Once they land in San Francisco, the winners will not only meet and learn from each other, but they will engage with other blind teachers, technologists and leaders from LightHouse’s extended network. The winners will also create comprehensive plans to document and share their experiences along the way through video, audio, writing and other storytelling mediums.

Ahmet Ustunel’s project has a clear, unprecedented goal: to kayak solo, without eyesight, from Europe to Asia. With potential for a dramatic climax and high stakes, Ustunel’s proposal to cross the 3-mile Bosphorus Strait caught the attention of the Holman Prize Committee and proved to be a compelling and unprecedented undertaking. By training in California and working to develop a suite of non-visual guidance technology to thrive on his own in the water, Ustunel hopes to join the ranks of other great blind outdoor heroes such as Erik Weihenmayer, Lonnie Bedwell and others.

Get to know Ahmet.

Penny Melville-Brown has a project with a universal focus: food. With a deep belief in the power of food to connect people, Penny’s project is a bid to claim a place at the stove for blind chefs everywhere. Penny’s intentions are less about competition and perfection and more about connecting with others through culture and shared experience. Maybe she’s the blind Julia Child – or the blind Anthony Bourdain – either way, as Penny documents her travels and successes in her series, “Baking Blind,” the world will follow along with her.

Get to know Penny.

Ojok Simon will take on a drastically different kind of project than his fellow winners. Simon seeks to raise employment rates for blind and partially sighted individuals in rural regions of his home country of Uganda. His method? Teach them a very specialized and somewhat unlikely skill: beekeeping. For decades, Simon has been a passionate beekeeper finding ways to tend bees in nontraditional and non visual ways. Simon wants to impart his warm attitude and entrepreneurial spirit on other blind individuals in Africa and abroad, rather than seeing them relegated to poverty and reliance on charity.

Get to know Ojok.

Holman Honorees: Meet the 2017 finalists.

Meet the blind judges who picked the winners. 

Support The Holman Prize.

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the 2018 Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. To offer your support, contact holman@lighthouse-sf.org. Individuals may donate any amount using LightHouse’s secure form. For sponsorship inquiries, email us or call +1 (415) 694-7333.

For press inquiries, contact press@lighthouse-sf.org.

 

#BeSeen in the Streets: Photos from Pride 2017

We’d like to express our gratitude to everyone who marched with us in San Francisco Pride on Sunday. Our contingent added up to more than 100 people. It was an empowering and joyful day and we’ve got the photos to show for it!

Serena Olsen wears a Rosie the Riveter headscarf and raises her hand proudly above her head as she marches with her white cane. Photo by Sarahbeth Maney.
Renae Davidson, Jordan Castor, and Ashley Butala smile and  laugh as they march together. Photo by Sarahbeth Maney.
Volunteers Rochelle Quinney and her friends and family hold the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired banner. Photo by Sarahbeth Maney.
Kate Williams smiles and high-fives spectators along the parade route.
Vanessa Brash and Philip Berg march together. Vanessa holds a large with sign that says “Love” in text and braille. Photo by Sarahbeth Maney.
Melissa Hadiyanto and Robert Alminana walk arm in arm. Photo by Sarahbeth Maney.
Robert Alminana smiles and holds a sign that says “The first Pride was a riot”.
A black lab guide dog sits at the feet of his owner, who wears neon rainbow knee-high socks.
A girl wearing a Pikachu hat jumps into the air in front of the LightHouse banner while bubbles float around her.
Lisamaria Martinez carries her infant daughter while holding a “Blind and Proud” sign in one hand and her white cane in the other. Her husband Joe Bakker pushes a stroller in the background.
The LightHouse group marches down Market Street holding rainbow signs that say “Blind and Proud”.
Serena Garcia and Gaby Leal walk together down Market Street. Serena holds her hand high.
Joshua York and Laura Millar smile while marching alongside the LightHouse van. Laura holds a sign that reads “Blind and Proud”.

Moving at the Speed of Light: LightHouse is in a NASCAR Race This Weekend

There’s plenty of hubbub happening this weekend at Sonoma Raceway, and LightHouse will be right there in the thick of it as an associate sponsor on board the No. 23 EarthWater Limited Toyota Camry of Alon Day, thanks to the generous support of NASCAR’s BK Racing team.

Day’s Toyota Camry will be repping the LightHouse logo on the right and left back quarter panels, complete with the “L” and “H” braille dots that will no doubt turn heads both on television and from the stands as the 200-mile per hour vehicle pulls in to refuel. Thanks to BK Racing, we’ll also have a few NASCAR enthusiasts from the LightHouse community behind the scenes for VIP pre-race garage and pit tours, as well as a meet and greet with Alon Day. They’ll also be sitting with his crew chief atop the pit box during the race, so whether you’re watching from the grandstands or the ESPN telecast, look out for those white canes.

“Blind people aspire to participate in all aspects of culture, including NASCAR,” says LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin. “We love the drive, energy and daring along lines of excellence and our community is thrilled to be a part of it as a sponsor for Alon Day’s debut.”

“I’m very proud to have a great organization like Lighthouse for the Blind on the car for my Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut,” says Day. “The work that they do for blind individuals in California and around the world is truly inspiring.”

“I am excited to have Lighthouse for the Blind on our car this weekend,” said Team Owner, Ron Devine. “The work they do is special, and it’s an honor to have them join us for the race. If you’d like to donate, you can visit their donate page at lighthouse-sf.org/donate/form/.”

About BK Racing

BK Racing is a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Racing team headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina. The team was founded in 2012 after owners Ron Devine and Wayne Press acquired Red Bull Racing. BK Racing’s staff of highly skilled mechanics and engineers fields the No. 23 & 83 entries in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series as a Toyota Racing team. The 2017 season will be BK Racing’s 6th consecutive full-time season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Follow us on Twitter @BKRacing_2383, Facebook, and Instagram @bkracing_2383. Visit us at BKRacingTeam.com.

And speaking of cars…

Are you looking for potential write-offs to reduce your tax burden for 2017? One way to get a tax write-off is to donate a vehicle to benefit the LightHouse. Donating your car, truck, van, SUV, boat, motorcycle, ATV, RV, trailer or airplane is as simple as can be, with the help of our trusted partner CARS (Charitable Adult Rides and Services). CARS has been serving the LightHouse as our car donation processor for many years and you can count on them to handle your car donation with ease.

If you have any questions about the donation process or you are ready to donate a vehicle to benefit LightHouse programs and services, call CARS toll-free at 844-740-4483, seven days a week. Thank you from the LightHouse!