Tag Archives: LightHouse for the Blind

Photos from a Day of Braille Literacy: 2017 Northern California Regional Braille Challenge

On February 25, we welcomed 22 students and their families to the 2017 Northern California Regional Braille Challenge at the LightHouse headquarters. It was a lively day packed with speeches by keynote speakers, testing for students, parent workshops, games and a final award ceremony (complete with a surprise musical performance by a group of contestants).

Hosted in collaboration with Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, California School for the Blind and Braille Institute of America, the Regional Braille Challenge is the first leg of a two-part contest for K-12 youth who read braille. It is designed to encourage and reward students for fine-tuning their braille reading and writing skills.

Any parent or student on Saturday would tell you that Braille Challenge is an unparalleled platform for promoting braille literacy and bringing braille readers of all ages into one space — whether as contestants or judges. It’s also a chance for kids to connect with their blind friends, chuckle about inside jokes, and for parents to learn more about having a child with vision loss and how best to support them (hint from one of our college panelists: “Don’t shelter them!”)

Braille Challenge is not about winning (though we don’t mind a little friendly competition) but we’d like to recognize the students who placed!

Here are the winners of each level of competition. Once all of the Braille Challenge regionals are complete the Braille Institute will invite the top 10% of all of the students that competed in all of the various regionals to the national Braille Challenge later this year.

2017 Northern California Regional Braille Challenge Winners

Apprentice 1. Miles Lima 2. Darren Ou 3. Mikey Diaz

Freshman – 1. Teresa Liu 2. Logon Maschke 3. Melina Mendoza

Sophomore – 1. Luke Pilar 2. Rasheed Ali 3. Alejandro Cervantes

Junior Varsity – 1. Ethan Fung 2. Kaitlyn Austin 3. Rocco Romeo

Varsity – 1. Alexia Arriola

Find a selection of photos from the day-long event below!

 

Four children stand in line before the 2017 Northern California Regional Braille Challenge opening procession.
Four children stand in line before the 2017 Northern California Regional Braille Challenge opening procession.
The young competitors wait in line before the festivities start.
The young competitors wait in line before the festivities start.
A closeup of a student's festive and sparkly red high-tops, with canes visible in the background.
A closeup of a student’s festive and sparkly red high-tops, with canes visible in the background.
Braille Challenge competitors Avery and Darren sit in the front row listening to opening remarks.
Braille Challenge competitors Avery and Darren sit in the front row listening to opening remarks.
Braille challenge competitors Darren and Mikey sit together before the competition begins.
Braille challenge competitors Darren and Mikey sit together before the competition begins.
A shot of the audience shows the kids laughing and one competitor playfully covering her face.
A shot of the audience shows the kids laughing and one competitor playfully covering her face.
Competitor Kaitlyn Austin holds her little sister's hand and leads her to her seat in the LightHouse multipurpose rooms.
Competitor Kaitlyn holds her little sister’s hand and leads her to her seat in the LightHouse multipurpose rooms.
Competitors Rasheed and Teresa sit listening to the day's opening remarks.
Competitors Rasheed and Teresa sit listening to the day’s opening remarks.
 Senior Director of Programs Scott Blanks claps as competitor Nikki enters the main events room (smiling, as usual).
Senior Director of Programs Scott Blanks claps as competitor Nikki enters the main events room (smiling, as usual).
92-year-old Cathy Skivers gives her opening remarks about the importance of braille literacy.
92-year-old Cathy Skivers gives her opening remarks about the importance of braille literacy.
Competitor Miles gets some last minute moral support from his mom before heading into the testing rooms.
Competitor Miles gets some last minute moral support from his mom before heading into the testing rooms.
A close-up of Cathy Skivers' braille notes perched in her lap.
A close-up of Cathy Skivers’ braille notes perched in her lap.
Youth services coordinator Jamey Gump stands in the LightHouse pre-function area speaking to a parent.
Youth services coordinator Jamey Gump stands in the LightHouse pre-function area speaking to a parent.
The apprentice sit in front of their braillers in the 11th Floor Kitchen getting ready for testing to start.
The apprentice sit in front of their braillers in the 11th Floor Kitchen getting ready for testing to start.
The Freshman competitors and their proctors sit at a table together in the LightHouse fitness studio.
The Freshman competitors and their proctors sit at a table together in the LightHouse fitness studio.
College-age students Sergio Lopez-Hernandez, Julie J Bird, Nasir Iqbal and Iman Award offer advice to parents during a panel at Braille Challenge. The main takeaway? "Don't shelter your kids."
College-age students Sergio Lopez-Hernandez, Julie J Bird, Nasir Iqbal and Iman Award offer advice to parents during a panel at Braille Challenge. The main takeaway? “Don’t shelter your kids.”
Competitor Rasheed sits typing at his brailler with headphones in. He is silhouetted against large windows that show the buildings of San Francisco in the background.
Competitor Rasheed sits typing at his brailler with headphones in. He is silhouetted against large windows that show the buildings of San Francisco in the background.
Sophomore competitor Luke wears headphones while completing the speed and accuracy portion of the Braille Challenge.
Sophomore competitor Luke wears headphones while completing the speed and accuracy portion of the Braille Challenge.
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A pink-cheeked Teresa Liu types away at her Perkins Brailler during the spelling portion of the 2017 Braille Challenge. She competed at the Freshman level.
A closeup of the brailled Braille Challenge medals.
A closeup of the brailled Braille Challenge medals.
LightHouse employee BJ Epstein helps check the kids' tests behind the scenes.
LightHouse employee BJ Epstein helps check the kids’ tests behind the scenes.
A stack of freshly brailled tests.
A stack of freshly brailled tests.
Apprentice competitor Avery leans closer to her brailler and furrows her brow intently.
Apprentice competitor Avery leans closer to her brailler and furrows her brow intently.
Junior Varsity competitor Ethan works on the graphs and charts portion of the test.
Junior Varsity competitor Ethan works on the graphs and charts portion of the test.
Junior Varsity competitor Kaitlyn reads a braille chart. She is wearing a royal blue tracksuit that nicely matches her royal blue brailler.
Junior Varsity competitor Kaitlyn reads a braille chart. She is wearing a royal blue tracksuit that nicely matches her royal blue brailler.
Another Junior Varsity tester is deep in concentration during the test.
Another Junior Varsity tester is deep in concentration during the test.
Sophomore competitors in the 11th floor conference room at the LightHouse. Natural light streams onto them through the large window.
Sophomore competitors in the 11th floor conference room at the LightHouse. Natural light streams onto them through the large window.
Friends and family wait on the 11th floor couches for testers to finish up.
Friends and family wait on the 11th floor couches for testers to finish up.
Sophomore competitors are hard at work in the 11th Floor Craft Room.
Sophomore competitors are hard at work in the 11th Floor Craft Room.
Competitor Avery poses with her smiling family, who made shirts that say "Team Avery Bravery" in braille on the front and in text on the back.
Competitor Avery poses with her smiling family, who made shirts that say “Team Avery Bravery” in braille on the front and in text on the back.
Youth Services Coordinator Richie Flores and guest speaker Caitlin Hernandez works with Sophomore competitor Alejandro in the craft room before testing.
Youth Services Coordinator Richie Flores and guest speaker Caitlin Hernandez works with Sophomore competitor Alejandro in the craft room before testing.
Apprentice competitor Miles feels proctor Donna's braille embossed bracelet.
Apprentice competitor Miles feels proctor Donna’s braille embossed bracelet.
Competitor Rasheed sits next to his dad, who rests a loving hand on his head while speaking to him.
Competitor Rasheed sits next to his dad, who rests a loving hand on his head while speaking to him.
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A crowd of students, parents and community members play a game after the testing is over.
Junior Varsity Competitor Monse smiles while holding her cane and a braille notetaker.
Junior Varsity Competitor Monse smiles while holding her cane and a braille notetaker.
A shot of the crowd in their seats — with two students chatting up front.
A shot of the crowd in their seats — with two students chatting up front.
Stuart (formerly of California School for the Blind) and proctor Donna sit close while listening to closing remarks.
Stuart (formerly of California School for the Blind) and proctor Donna sit close while listening to closing remarks.
Sisters Maryam and Mariyah giggle while playing a game after the competition is over.
Sisters Maryam and Mariyah giggle while playing a game after the competition is over.
A competitor's little sister walks holding her dad's hand.
A competitor’s little sister walks holding her dad’s hand.
Sophomore competitor Alejandro sits next to his little sister in the multipurpose rooms.
Sophomore competitor Alejandro sits next to his little sister in the multipurpose rooms.
IMG_5649A yellow lab on duty lays on the floor and turns its head to look directly into the camera.
A yellow lab on duty lays on the floor and turns its head to look directly into the camera.
Varsity competitor Alexia sits up front in the LightHouse multipurpose rooms, holding her braille notetaker
Varsity competitor Alexia sits up front in the LightHouse multipurpose rooms, holding her braille notetaker
College-age panelist Nasir grabs a handful of braille fortune cookies.
College-age panelist Nasir grabs a handful of braille fortune cookies.
Competitor Darren sits on a piano bench with his dad and little sister reading his braille fortune from a fortune cookie. The message? "Never give up."
Competitor Darren sits on a piano bench with his dad and little sister reading his braille fortune from a fortune cookie. The message? “Never give up.”

LightHouse Announces the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition

“The Holman Prize is not meant to save the world or congratulate someone for leaving the house. This prize will spark unanticipated accomplishments in the blindness community. You will see blind people doing things that surprise and perhaps even confuse you. These new LightHouse prizes will change perceptions about what blind people are capable of doing.”

— Bryan Bashin, CEO at LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Meet The Holman Prize for Blind Ambition – LightHouse’s new initiative to support the ambitions of blind and low vision people worldwide. Beginning in 2017, The Holman Prize will announce an annual set of awards funding projects in a range of amounts – up to $25,000 per project – that will finance and support blind adventurers worldwide in pursuing their most ambitious projects.

Chronicled in a 2006 novel by Jason Roberts, the explorer James Holman became the first blind person to circumnavigate the globe in 1832. In his spirit, The Holman Prize celebrates people who want to shape their own future instead of having it laid out for them.

The Holman Prize is specifically for legally blind individuals with a penchant for exploration of all types. LightHouse’s initial 2017 prizes will provide financial backing for a as many as three individuals to explore the world and push their limits through travel, connections, construction and communication. 

The ideal candidate is someone who is willing to probe their environment and eager to savor the richness of a world that is so often thought of as inaccessible to the blind. This exploration may involve travel, community organizing, scholarship, daring art or projects we haven’t even considered. We’re looking for intrepid travelers, creative problem solvers, effective communicators, natural ambassadors, passionate advocates, joyful builders, active boundary-pushers and experience seekers.

In January 2017, The Holman Prize application process kicks off with a challenge: blind applicants must submit a first-round pitch in the form of a 90-second YouTube video. The deadline for these phase one applications is February 28, 2017 at 12 noon PST. All pitch videos will be compiled into the LightHouse Media playlist below. As an extra incentive, the blind applicant who creates the most popular YouTube video, will secure themselves a spot as a coveted spot as a Holman Prize finalist, to be interviewed this spring by our esteemed committee. Learn more about the submissions process here, and watch our intro video below:

“We recognize that asking a blind person to upload a video may challenge some people’s ideas of what blind people are capable of — of what blind people can or should do,“ says LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin, “The video uploading and later public speaking will certainly require creativity, and these are the qualities we seek to encourage with the Holman Prize. These are the types of people we want to apply.” 

Semifinalists will be notified in March and go through a formal application process, after which finalists will be notified and a winner will be selected by a committee of leaders, thinkers and explorers from throughout the blind world. We expect the Holman Prizewinners to start their projects in Fall 2017 and they will be recognized at the Holman Prize Gala in 2018.

Follow the Holman Prize on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Visit holmanprize.org for more information.

30 Years of Service: LightHouse’s Kathy Abrahamson Honored by the City of San Francisco

“It’s easy to find Kathy; just follow her laugh,” Bryan Bashin, LightHouse’s CEO, jokes when reflecting on what makes Kathy Abrahamson, our Director of Rehabilitation Services, so special. Kathy’s laugh, which travels through our office like a whippoorwill’s song, is always a welcome greeting to her many admiring colleagues.

On October 6th, 2016, Kathy celebrated her 30-year anniversary at the LightHouse, making her both a veteran at our agency and a role model for blindness professionals across her field. Here at the LightHouse, we all gathered to applaud Kathy, as she was presented with a certificate of honor from the City of San Francisco.

Kathy’s journey at the LightHouse started in 1986, when she was hired as Recreation Coordinator at the LightHouse’s Western Addition location on Buchanan Street. Former board member Gil Johnson knew Kathy from several years as a camp counselor at Enchanted Hills, where she had already proven her abilities as a teacher. Gil tells us, “You know how it is with Kathy, once you meet her, you never forget her vibrancy and passion. When we had a position open up, I knew we needed to hire her.”

“Enchanted Hills Camp was a natural place for me to start because of my background in Therapeutic Recreation and my values of equal access to recreation and play – a perfect fit with the goals of Enchanted Hills Camp,” says Kathy. “Working as the Aquatics Area Leader drew on my strengths in teaching swimming and water aerobics. My years at Enchanted Hills Camp including being the Assistant Director; summer volunteer, then back to Director when I came to the LightHouse full time in 1986. Enchanted Hills has been a reoccurring theme for me and the team I work with in providing training and connection to community.”

“She has such enthusiasm for helping people,” Gil Johnson continues. “She also has a positive view of people. Kathy makes everyone feel welcome, important, valuable, and worthy of living the life they dream about living.”

Anita Aaron, LightHouse’s Executive Director from 1990 to 2010, tells us: “Kathy is committed to good leadership and stewardship.  She never loses track of the fact that the mission of the LightHouse is to serve people experiencing vision loss and other disabilities.” Kathy had been at LightHouse for four years prior to Anita becoming the Executive Director. Kathy’s laugh made an impression on Anita, too. “I used Kathy’s wonderful, infectious laugh to orient myself when at EHC or LightHouse,” she says. “I’d stand still for a moment wondering where she was, and as expected, I’d hear that laugh. Like a beacon, I’d head towards it.”

Kathy is used to being known for her laugh. “I have been fortunate to work with students and colleagues who find pure enjoyment in their success and work,” she says. “Humor is a connector.”

Over the years, Kathy has influenced the very ethos of LightHouse’s mission to effectuate the equality and self-reliance of people who are blind or visually impaired. Anita notes, “Over the years Kathy has been a camp counselor, taken groups of individuals who are blind on every kind of trip imaginable, coordinated camp sessions for individuals who were both deaf and visually impaired, planned and directed job development and placement programs at the LightHouse funded by DOR, and assisted in the design of two new locations for the LightHouse.” Though Kathy maintains that all of her successful projects were collaborations with others, it’s nonetheless clear how many lives she has affected.

Kathy has been involved with the development of dozens of programs at LightHouse, something she could never have done without the amazing team of teachers we have assembled at the LightHouse.  Some of those programs included: Access to the Environment, providing a Guide and a Ride to hiking, camping and travel, bay area wide training in Fairfield, Dixon and Santa Rosa in the mid 90’s, an evolution of Cohort style classroom training for persons who are blind and low vision, introducing adults new to blindness and the possibilities of independence and meeting peers (now called Changing Vision, Changing Lives immersion training).

As the needs in blindness changed, Kathy helped ensure that evolving needs were met. She was part of the team that provided acceptance, support and training to San Franciscans who were losing vision due to HIV/AIDS. In the early ‘90s the LightHouse and the Resnick Center were both supporting a need that was not being addressed. With the merge of LightHouse and the Resnick Center in 1993, Kathy and her team developed a comprehensive blindness-centered response to HIV/AIDS, securing funding from the City of San Francisco to ensure timely and compassionate access to emotional support and training in orientation and mobility and independent living skills.

As a zealous problem solver, Kathy continued to lead the LightHouse down paths few agencies are willing or able to travel. In 1992, Kathy re-started a deaf-blind program that had been strong (especially at Enchanted Hills Camp), in the early ‘80s. Through collaboration with the Helen Keller National Center, the LightHouse became an Affiliate which enabled us to reach a small segment of our community, one that often finds it incredibly difficult to receive the specialized services they require, namely dual access methods that consider both deafness and blindness. With Kathy’s guidance and the support of Deaf-Blind Specialist Sook Hee Choi, our deaf-blind program has grown to cover the entire state of California, providing Californians who are deaf-blind with communications technology that keeps them connected to their communities. “Never did I think that a basic sign language connection during my first summer at Enchanted Hills camp would provide me the opportunity to not only improve my ASL, but more importantly, work with forward thinking colleagues, most of whom are deaf, to develop such a program,” says Kathy. Today, that program has grown into a $1 million operation giving deaf-blind Californians free access equipment and technology training.

“Kathy may be our biggest ally in trying to establish additional deaf-blind services on this coast, from statewide Support Service Provider (SSP) services to residential training,” said Cathy Kirscher, Hellen Keller National Center regional representative for California, who awarded Kathy the 2015 National Robert J. Smithdas Deaf-blind Advocacy Award.

In addition to starting the deaf-blind program, Kathy is proud of being a being a part of the team that is responsible for collaborating with Dr. Robert Greer and the UC Berkeley Low Vision Clinic over ten years ago, which continues now under the direction of Dr. Marlena Chu in San Francisco. This collaboration established a connection between low vision and acquisition of essential blindness and low vision training. In 1999, Kathy spearheaded the  the LightHouse Older Individuals Who Are Blind Program, a program funded by the California State Department of Rehabilitation. Some of the initial funding established our San Rafael, Berkeley and Eureka offices. “Kathy put her whole heart into establishing LightHouse satellites because she knew we could reach more people who need our services,” says Gil. “Because of her hard efforts, we are able to serve people in Humboldt, Del Norte, Solano County and other far-flung and rural areas where few services exist.”

Kathy has also spearheaded an increase in our services to the Spanish-speaking blind community. Since the program’s beginning, it has adapted to meet the needs of persons 55 and older who are new to blindness and low vision. “While I am so proud of the work I have been involved in at the LightHouse, seeing the OIB program flourish, and seeing our team connect older students to continued independence (especially during the beginning of this century with increased numbers of persons with Age-Related Macular Degeneration) has been truly satisfying,” says Kathy. ” While the OIB program continues in San Francisco, Marin, Humboldt and Del Norte counties, the increased services to Alameda county will make a difference in connecting with new students.”

In recent years, Kathy and her team conceived our impactful “Changing Vision Changing Lives” (CVCL) blindness skills immersion program when she noticed a gap in services. “If you need to learn blindness skills you have two options: 1) you can take classes here and there in one-hour increments, or 2) you can steal away to a blindness skills center for many months and learn everything at once,” she says. “For some people, option one isn’t the right fit because it can take many months to learn several basic blindness skills. Similarly, option two is wonderful if you have the time and resources, but many people can’t put their life and family’s life on hold for several months.”

‘Changing Vision Changing Lives’ is a one week overnight intensive blindness skills training session with the goal of rapidly teaching people the critical skills they need to be safe, be confident, and develop their independence. Learn more about our Nov/December Changing Visions Changing Lives classes here. At CVCL, Kathy has ensured instruction in the skills people could learn in a supportive and professional environment: from receiving mobility training upon arrival to effectively operating an iPhone.

Kathy has made an enormous and lasting impact in the blindness community, especially in California, which is why it’s of little surprise to us that San Francisco’s Mayor Ed Lee, on behalf of the City and County of San Francisco, recognized Kathy with a Certificate of Honor “for a distinguished thirty year career as a skills teacher and Director of Rehabilitation Services.” We all agree with Gil when he says, “The best decision I ever made was hiring Kathy.” And Tony Fletcher, Director of Enchanted Hills Camp, tells us: “In many ways, when the community comments about the display of teamwork, passion and humor that our staff demonstrates in our services, I think of Kathy setting that tone for all of us.”

Kathy, from all of us at the LightHouse, thank you for your constant dedication to serving others, and for always reminding us to share a hearty, knee-slapping laugh, every chance we get.