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Posts Tagged ‘Advocacy’
Congratulations LightHouse Employment Immersion Client Lily Esteban, Hired by Diversified Mortgage GroupMay 2, 2013
Lily Wang Esteban grew up in China and Hong Kong and moved to Hawaii at age 17. She finished high school and studied Business Administration and Gerontology at the University of Hawaii before marrying and starting a family. In her 20’s she began working for a bank, and for the next 35 years, which included a move to San Francisco in 1983, she dedicated herself to her work as a mortgage loan officer.
Then everything stopped. It began when she started having trouble reading street signs. “One evening in September 2007, while I was in the car with my husband, I asked him why they had put Christmas lights up so early; I said ‘Look they’re all over the place’. He didn’t know what I was talking about.” Lily realized that what she was seeing was the blurred lights of streetlamps, appearing like holiday lights. She went to see an ophthalmologist who diagnosed her with myopic degeneration and told her it was unlikely she would gain much vision back.
It became harder and harder for her to see, and Lily finally gave up the career she had built for four decades. She was the primary breadwinner in the family and as their finances became more precarious, she became more and more depressed. That’s when her sister encouraged her to come to LightHouse.
She went, and it changed her life.
At first Lily enrolled in the LightHouse’s Changing Vision class where she learned an array of tricks, tools and resources for the visually impaired. A LightHouse social worker connected her with the Department of Rehabilitation counselor John Grote, who introduced her to adaptive equipment such as a CCTV to enlarge printed material and a computer with ZoomText software. “The world began opening up again, and this meant that maybe I could get back to work and improve our financial situation. I enrolled in the LightHouse’s Employment Immersion Program. But I was sure I couldn’t do loans anymore – that I would have to do more simple office work such as answering phones.
“Kate Williams encouraged me not to settle, and to reach up to my dream. Kate is very inspiring – I thought I was too old to change but I look at her, she is also older and low vision. And there were other people in the class my age. I’m actually glad I lost my vision – it led me to a place where I have a brand new perspective on aging. Why be limited? You’re only as old as you feel. Kate showed me how to write a resume, how to put a cover letter together and how to present myself in an interview. But what she really did was teach me how to sell myself to employers while not selling myself short!”
After graduating from the Employment Immersion class, Lily learned that new government regulations required her to be licensed in order to work as a loan officer. Eager to return to the job scene, and with the help of her new adaptive equipment, she crammed several months’ worth of study into an accelerated online course. “I never studied so hard in my life – I finished in two weeks and then took both the state and federal exams in the same day. I wouldn’t advise anyone to do both in one day, but I was impatient. Fortunately I passed the exams and got my license.”
With license in hand, Lily was hired as a loan officer in November 2012 by Diversified Mortgage Group in Fremont, California. She went through a seven-week training and has just begun closing loans. She’s thrilled and says, “If you are interested in going back to work, I strongly encourage you to take the Employment Immersion class. You’ll learn so much about yourself and your capabilities. Kate will point out what you’re really good at, give encouragement and show you how to open doors. Then you just need to get in there and prove you can do it.”
Is it time for you to re-enter the job market? Follow Lily’s lead and join us for the next session of the 2013 Employment Immersion Program which begins Tuesday, May 28 at the LightHouse’s office at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley. For more information, call Kate Williams at 415-694-7324 or email her at email@example.com.
Talking BART maps? Yes, talking BART maps. The technology to produce BART maps that audibly describe BART stations is just around the corner and the LightHouse is helping to make this happen.
The LightHouse, working with Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute, has produced a prototype for the first-ever talking maps that will enable blind or visually impaired people to handily navigate BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) subway stations. Three of the stations are completed, with the other 41 stations on this BART’s 104-mile subway line soon to follow. Muni Metro underground stations are next on the agenda, and the principal designers – who themselves are blind – envision someday bringing similar innovative devices to many sites across the nation and globe.
The talking maps concept was applied to BART by LightHouse staff and Joshua Miele, a scientist at Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco. Miele directs technology research and development at Smith-Kettlewell.
“I dreamed of doing this for years,” Miele says. “A blind person at an unfamiliar station doesn’t know to head left or right, how to find a ticket kiosk, where to go up onto the street to hop on a bus. You needed to budget time for getting lost, asking strangers for assistance, or both. Well, my solution was making maps talk. The key to that was the arrival of the Smartpen.”
Miele solved the BART map problem by adapting the capability of a Livescribe Smartpen. The new LightHouse produced flip books with tactile graphics have pages with raised symbols – easily detected with a fingertip – that indicate staircases and escalators, bathrooms and exits, and brief Braille captions. The paper also has a subtle, swirling matrix of printed dots. When a user sweeps a map page with a Smartpen (basically, a slim computer with a tiny camera that can read that pattern) a richly detailed audio commentary on each location, including all nearby landscape features and assets, will pour into the user’s ear.
Miele blended the technologies that resulted in the map project, but to actually create the maps, he relies on staff at the LightHouse. “They’ve been the lynchpin of this whole project,” Miele says. The LightHouse has a Braille production facility at its headquarters office, where the Access to Information Services team will produce and distribute the maps.
To make talking BART maps a reality, considerable information had to be gathered. Each station required a detailed study to decide what features to represent. LightHouse Board member Chris Downey, a blind architect, called in colleagues from major architectural firms, like HOK and Gensler, and other members of the AIA (American Institute of Architects) to help. Volunteer teams fanned out across the subway system. Downey says necessary data not only streamed into the LightHouse, but flowed back in the other direction. Participating architects grew much more cognizant of how blind and disabled people experience space – which can influence and improve their future designs.
“It’s the first time a project like this has been accomplished anywhere,” says Miele. “But it won’t be the last. This sort of tool can be used everywhere, airports, bus and train stations, malls, schools, libraries, national parks, even your governor’s office.”
It is estimated that the first talking BART maps will get into riders’ hands by Fall 2013. For more information, please contact Greg Kehret, Director of Access to Information Services, at 415-694-7349 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is investigating experiences, both positive and negative, of users of travel aggregation websites such as Priceline.com, Orbitz.com, Kayak.com and other similar websites. In particular, DRA is interested in hearing about any problems that blind or low vision users who reside in California might have experienced regarding barriers when attempting to make hotel arrangements, purchase airline tickets or utilize other services that these websites provide. If you are legally blind and have use these aggregation sites please contact DRA and share your stories. Contact Michael Nunez by phone at 510-665-8644 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
As part of its long-standing commitment to customers with visual impairments, Bank of America announced that it is enhancing the accessibility of its award-winning Online and Mobile Banking security features. To read more about Bank of America’s commitment to the blind and visually impaired click here.
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has a number of programs and services to directly assist blind veterans, including:
- Fast, easy access to services and resources
- A nationwide network of blind mentors
- Thirty scholarships for higher education offered annually, generally ranging from $3,000 to $12,000
- Eligibility for financial assistance to attend the convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Orlando on July 1-6
- NFB-NEWSLINE®, the largest on-demand audio newspaper service in the world
- Free advice on finding the right assistive or mainstream technology to meet your needs
- Training and employment opportunities with the federal government
- Effective advocacy on issues important to blind veterans, including access to the military Space Available program
- The opportunity to join in advocacy and fellowship with like-minded blind veterans through the National Association of Blind Veterans, a division of the National Federation of the Blind (http://www.nabv.org)
- A positive philosophy of blindness emphasizing the normality of the blind and our ability to compete on terms of equality with our sighted peers
For more information on NFB programs for blind veterans, please contact Dr. Joanne Wilson by phone at (410) 659-9314, extension 2335, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Wireless Technologies (Wireless RERC) is asking for individuals to take its new online survey on emergency communications. The survey questions address emergency services, public alerts and warnings, and social media use during emergencies.
The Wireless RERC conducted this survey once before, almost two years ago. Because technology is changing so rapidly and new government rules are being implemented, RERC think it’s the right time to conduct the survey again. The data will be of great interest to regulatory authorities and other professionals working to improve emergency response and disaster relief for people with disabilities.
New to this version of the survey is the inclusion of a question for the respondent to identify if he/she is a caregiver. In this way, the RERC hopes to collect data on the caregiver experience as it relates to emergency communications technologies and behaviors, as well as the experiences of individuals with disabilities.
Applications are now available for the 2013 Youth Leadership Forum for Students with Disabilities (YLF), held July 22–26 in Sacramento. This program is provided to accepted students with disabilities at no cost. YLF is an annual five-day leadership program that provides information and resources about employment, education, independence and assistive technology. For more information or to apply click here.
The mission of the SF LightHouse Youth Advocacy Group is to arm youth and their parents with the tools and resources needed to become more informed, prepared, engaged, and confident in all aspects of scholastic and social life.
This group is designed specifically for parents, middle school students, high school students, and college students (both undergraduate and post-graduate). The SF Youth Advocacy Group will leverage the positive attitudes, philosophy and beliefs of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) as it relates to the abilities of the blind student, and the supportive role it has with parents. The SF Youth Advocacy Group is a proactive collaboration between the NFB San Francisco Chapter and SF LightHouse in order to offer a wide array of community-building and strengthening opportunities for blind and low vision youth and their families.
Some of the topics the advocacy group will cover include:
- College Life: life on the university and community college campus
- Rehabilitation: how to work with your counselor to get to your goals
- IEP 101(for students only): All you need to know about Individual Educational Programs (IEPs). An IEP is a blueprint for a student’s academic goals or educational path.
- Advocating for your child: tips, tricks and resources for parents of blind children
- Self-Advocacy: growing up and fitting in at middle school and high school (focus on developing age-appropriate habits and expectations for one’s self)
- Cane/guide dogs: pros and cons between these two methods of independent travel.
- Getting and staying active: how to get involved in sports and other physical and/or outdoor activities
- Community Service/Civic Engagement: how to become more involved in your community through volunteerism and activism
The LH Youth Advocacy Group will meet every 2nd Saturday of the month from 12 to 1:00 p.m. at the SF LightHouse, beginning on December 8, 2012.
About The Facilitator
San Francisco resident Darian Smith is a former LightHouse client via Enchanted Hills Camp and other LightHouse-related youth recreation/education and employment programs. A community and campus organizer, Darian has held many leadership positions at City College of San Francisco. He is also an active member of the National Federation of the Blind where he currently serves as president of the San Francisco Chapter. A service-oriented person, Darian has served as a camp counselor, mentor, and member of AmeriCorps. Darian is a fervent believer that youth and students who are blind or visually impaired can achieve whatever personal, professional, academic or social goals they set for themselves, and he encourages everyone to set their sights high. When asked to talk about his hopes for the group, Darian said “I want to help answer questions that students have long sought answers for, but did not know where to get those answers. Through finding answers within the group and in the community, I hope we can strengthen ourselves and our belief in what’s possible”.
LightHouse clients and staff have a great time and make a statement at the same time on White Cane Awareness Day.
On October 15th over 30 blind and low-vision San Francisco LightHouse clients joined LightHouse staff and volunteers to celebrate White Cane Awareness Day with a lively walk around City Hall and post-walk party in the “Please Touch Community Garden.” Both participants and onlookers were seen sporting ear-to-ear grins as white cane users took to the sunny streets of San Francisco, canes and signs in hand, as a friendly reminder to the public of just how important the white cane is to a blind person’s independence, equality, and personal safety.
Established in 1964, White Cane Awareness Day is a national observance celebrated each year on October 15. It honors the many achievements of blind and low vision individuals, as well as the symbol of the white cane as a signifier of blindness and as an essential tool for independence. In 2011, White Cane Awareness Day was also named Blind Americans Equality Day by President Barack Obama.
Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is investigating experiences, both positive and negative, of users of Magic Jack, a provider of voice over Internet protocol (“VOIP”) phone services. In particular, DRA is interested in hearing about any problems that blind or low vision users who reside in California might have experienced regarding barriers when attempting to obtain customer service from Magic Jack.
If you are legally blind and use Magic Jack, especially if you have obtained or attempted to obtain customer assistance from Magic Jack, they would very much appreciate speaking with you. To share your experiences, please contact Michael Nunez by phone at 510-665-8644 or by e-mail at email@example.com.