Category Archives: Open Call

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.

Meet Actiview, the Ultimate App for Movie Theater Accessibility

If you’ve been to one of the LightHouse’s film festivals, our party at Pixar, or even just watched a movie in one of the living rooms at the New LightHouse, you’ll know that we care about making films as accessible as possible, no matter what kind of vision you have. That’s one of the big reasons why, when a new company called Actiview showed up at the doors of our old office this spring, we knew it was something great.

Fast forward six months, and Actiview now runs their operation out of the LightHouse’s new Toyota Robotics Innovation Lab, building the next big thing in entertainment technology. We’ll post more about the tech behind Actiview soon – but first, we’d like to give you an exclusive preview.

Bay Area residents can try out Actiview for the first time this Saturday, September 10th. To request an invite, send Actiview an email by Thursday, September 8th.

Founded on the basic principle that everyone deserves easy access to entertainment, Actiview is a San Francisco-based startup that promises to set a new standard for moviegoing. With close captions and any available secondary audio tracks (descriptive and amplified) bundled into one clean, easy-to-use app, Actiview aims to do what DMA did for Pixar films, for all movies in any theater across the world. And they need your help.

Actiview has put together its first version of its audio description and closed captioning tools and wants to show theaters and studios how powerful this new tech can be for audiences. They’ve set up a special user testing opportunity this weekend for kids, families, and individuals with an interest in the app to come, watch Pixar’s “Up”, never before seen with audio description on the big screen, and have feedback recorded to further the app’s development. It’s your opportunity to tell Hollywood what accessible movies mean to you.

If you’d like to attend the (free) event on the morning of Saturday, September 10, email alex@actiview.co with your name, age, and the number of family members or friends you’d like to bring along while you test the app. If there’s enough space, we’ll put you on the list. Meet you at the movies!

LightHouse Issues RFP for Strategic Planning Consultant

The LightHouse is seeking a consultant to assist in devising a multi-year strategic plan for the organization, beginning this fall. The main objective is to create the best plan of future action for the LightHouse, with particular consideration given to this exciting transitional phase of our organization’s growth.

Qualified individuals or firms are invited to draft and submit a proposal according to the guidelines found in our Request for Proposal document provided below. The deadline for proposal submission is July 30, 2016 at 12 pm PDT. For additional information and questions regarding the application process, please contact Charles Goodwin at cgoodwin@lighthouse-sf.org or (415) 694-7348.

Available Documents:

Promising candidates will be notified by mid-August.

Scholarships for Grads and Undergrads Now Available through CCB

The California Council of the Blind has extended their scholarship deadline for this summer’s new and prospective students. More info below:

The California Council of the Blind is offering scholarships to college, university, and vocational school students who are legally blind and are either residents of California, regardless of where they attend school, or non-residents of California attending school in this state. Scholarships are for entering freshman, undergraduates, and graduate students. The date by which scholarship applications and all documentation must be submitted has been extended from July 1 to July 15, 2016. The application can be found online at www.ccbnet.org/scholar_intro.htm.

LightHouse Hosts Bay Area Blind Community’s 4th Annual Day of Giving Blood Drive is on Tuesday, June 14

The LightHouse is proud to continue our tradition of serving the Bay Area by holding our 4th annual blood drive and the first in our beautiful new Headquarters offices at 1155 Market Street in San Francisco.

The World Health Organization tells us, “Blood is the most precious gift that anyone can give to another person — the gift of life. A decision to donate your blood can save a life, or even several if your blood is separated into its components — red cells, platelets and plasma — which can be used individually for patients with specific conditions.”

We are calling out to our blind students, supporters and their families and friends to give the gift of life at this very special gathering.

When: Tuesday, June 14, 2016, 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Where: LightHouse for the Blind, 1155 Market Street, 10th floor, San Francisco, California 94103

Although you are welcome to walk in the day of the blood drive, we encourage you to schedule an appointment so that you will be seen more quickly. To schedule your appointment or for more information visit redcrossblood.org and enter sponsor code: DayOfGiving or call 1-800 RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767)

Lisamaria Martinez, LightHouse Director of Community Services, is coordinating the drive and told us, “Blind people are often on the receiving end of philanthropy. At the LightHouse, we actively strive toward changing the perceptions the public has of the abilities of blind people. We have a volunteer corps of youth and adults who regularly give back in a multitude of ways. Our fourth annual blood drive is just one way, we, the LightHouse community, can give back. There’s something quite rewarding about donating blood and knowing that you are possibly saving a life. Why can’t we be a part of saving a life too?”

Available public parking garages for donors: SOMA Grand at 1160 Mission St.; California Parking at 1266 Market St.

By using RapidPass, you can reduce the time you spend at the blood drive by up to 15 minutes. Learn more by visiting redcrossblood.org/RapidPass.

If you have questions regarding your eligibility to donate blood, please call 1-866-236-3276.

Next Week: Jump Into the Job Market with LightHouse Link

LightHouse Link Close-up of handshake of business partners

Next week, LightHouse for the Blind will kick off a new partnership series called LightHouse Link. If you’re blind or have low vision and you’re ready to work, get your resume ready.

Of all the challenges facing blind Americans, arguably the number one issue is employment, or the lack thereof. With an unemployment rate hovering above sixty percent, most people who become blind would be forgiven for thinking there’s no place in the job market for them — but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

That’s why, as part of the next step in our growing Employment program, we’re now facilitating real, face-to-face job interviews for blind jobseekers, linking them up directly with prominent employers in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond.

LightHouse Link is a foot in the door for people with skills, enthusiasm, and a desire to work who also happen to be blind or have low vision. With each new LightHouse Link opportunity, we will put qualified applicants in a room with hiring managers, and start chipping away at that unpleasant statistic, one hire at a time.

 

What’s the Job?

Our first Link opportunity is with a large local customer service and sales contact center right here in the heart of the Bay Area, only a few minutes from BART and public transit. The company’s leadership, all the way up to the VP of HR, understands that employees who are blind or have low vision are not only competent and capable, but are creative, loyal and reliable.

This job opportunity is not about “closing” sales, but rather is about following up with interested parties, educating customers on benefits of various products, and walking them through their options. Hirees will be thoroughly trained for the position and accommodations for various vision levels can be made.

The job will start at an hourly wage with potential for commission and raises in pay over time. The position includes full medical benefits as well as dental and vision at reduced premiums. Anyone with a high school diploma or GED is welcome to apply.

A consumer-friendly attitude is the most important qualification for this position; direct customer service experience is not necessarily required. After the LightHouse has pre-qualified candidates, they will be taken through a formal interview process conducted by the company.

How do I apply for this job?

To be considered for a LightHouse Link interview, email your resume to kwilliams@lighthouse-sf.org. Interviews begin next week (first week of March), so don’t hesitate if you think this opportunity might be right for you. Though an interview is not guaranteed to all who apply, sending your resumé  to our employment program manager Kate Williams is the crucial first step.

What if I’m not quite ready to work?

That’s quite alright — and we might be able to help. As part of our core services at LightHouse for the Blind, we offer Employment Immersion, a multi-week small-group intensive course designed to help people who are blind or have low vision figure out what they want to do and how to get there. Contact kwilliams@lighthouse-sf.org and we will get you set up for success.

Like the rest of the job market, LightHouse Link will move fast; so when we post a new link opportunity, expect a quick turn-around time. This first program will continue into next week, but we can’t guarantee consideration for this specific position unless you respond by March 2 to kwilliams@lighthouse-sf.org and express your desire to interview.

Good luck, and see you after the interview!