Last 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.
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.
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.
“Blind people are makers. Since 1917 LightHouse blind workers under the Blindcraft label have made everything from fine rattan furniture to advanced basketry and even chains and rope for the US Navy. Today, blind people solder, build robots and do advanced woodworking,” says Dr. Joshua Miele, Associate Director of the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute, organizer of the local Blind Arduino Meetup and LightHouse Board Member. “We might use slightly different techniques, but the outcome is the same. The LightHouse is all about teaching these alternative techniques so that people can engage in the activities they love, whether they’re sighted or not.”
At LightHouse, we know a lot of accomplished blind makers, which is why we offer blind soldering workshops, science and craft courses both in San Francisco and Enchanted Hills Camp in Napa. This spring, we’re looking for up to 20 young makers to attend the very first “Maker Faire, Made Accessible”: May 18 – 22.
The new LightHouse Maker Faire Made Accessible will be a packed weekend of hands-on experience for blind young adults interested in the maker movement. The weekend will include an overnight stay at LightHouse with a series of events and a daylong trip to the Maker Faire in San Mateo. Expect hands-on learning, guided tours of Bay Area’s Maker Faire facilitated by Oracle volunteers, and demonstrations by blind makers eager to show other blind makers the tricks of their trade. Thanks to a generous grant from Oracle we’ll be offering full scholarships to cover fees and travel expenses for a few lucky participants — so sign up early! The deadline to register is May 5.
Maker Faire is a celebration of the Maker Movement, a showcase of invention, creativity and resourcefulness. The Bay Area’s Maker Faire is the largest Maker Faire in the nation, right in the heart of Silicon Valley in Northern California. Part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new, Maker Faire is a gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students and commercial exhibitors. “Makers” come to Maker Faire to show and share what they have made and what they have learned.
The weekend will use LightHouse headquarters as a home base to expand upon and explore all that Maker Faire has to offer. Our core group will consist of blind makers age 14-30, but we encourage those outside the age range to apply.
Starting on Thursday, May 18 we’ll welcome 20 blind participants from across the country and the region to the LightHouse Headquarters in San Francisco. Students will stay at the new LightHouse student residences, which houses up to 29 students.
On Friday, May 19, students will participate in tutorials, workshops and presentations with blind mentors who are makers themselves. They will offer hands-on demonstrations, exhibit their own work, and provide tailored guidance and consultation.
On Saturday, May 20 students will travel as a group to the Maker Faire for guided tours with Oracle volunteers. Volunteers will accompany students one-on-one to describe the projects showcased at the various booths, and stop off at a few booths of blind makers.
And finally, on Sunday May, 21, former LightHouse Board Member Jerry Kuns will lead participants on a guided walking tour of San Francisco.
To sign up for Maker Faire 2017, receive an application, and determine your eligibility for full scholarship, including travel, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 415-694-7372.
March is a huge month for Access Tech at LightHouse. Not only are we now running free tech trainings as often as three times a week (Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays), but we’ll also be holding a daylong open house for those who want to really try out everything our department has to offer. And even better, we’ve lined it up to correspond with the Giant’s Opening Day!
What: AT Opening Day Open House
When: March 23, 2017, 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Where: LightHouse Headquarters, 1155 Market St, 10th Floor, San Francisco
It’s quite a batting line-up: Siri, Victor, Sara, Ruby, Candy, the Beetle, Divinci, Alex and his gal Alexa. All of these devices and a myriad of others have the purpose of enhancing your tech independence. The LightHouse AT Specialists, Trainers and AT Vendors will be providing hands on equipment demonstrations and hosting 30 minute product and software workshops throughout the day. Please RSVP to email@example.com or 415-694-7312. All those who RSVP and show up will automatically be entered to have the chance to win an Amazon Gift Card.
Viruses, strange phone calls, unwanted pop-ups and ads – there are a myriad of ways your computer could be attacked. The LightHouse is pleased to offer a free workshop on how to keep your computer safe and keep you up and running. Come and join our one-day workshop and ask those nagging questions about viruses, pop-ups, ads, email attachments, and unwanted phone calls. Our knowledgeable staff will show you the steps on how to keep you and your computer safe from harm, especially if you are a screen reader or zoom user with additional considerations for security.
Do you have Windows 10? Did you recently upgrade your computer to Windows 10? Do you find it hard to navigate and difficult to understand? The LightHouse is offering a 2-day free workshop to get you up to speed.
We’ll offer tips, tricks and best practices — whether you are a beginner or an expert, come join us and explore the many features Windows 10 has to offer. Space is limited. For more information or to signup, contact Shen Kuan at 415-694-7312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On November 6, the LightHouse held its first-ever soldering workshop for people who are blind or have low vision. It was a huge success, and we have the photographs to prove it! Scroll down for more.
Soldering is a fundamental skill in electronics work that involves using a hot iron to fuse metal to form a permanent connection between electronic components. The aim of the workshop was to help students make their own accessible continuity testers – one of the most fundamental tools for students working in electronics without vision.
While most continuity testers use lights to indicate the strength of electric currents, accessible continuity testers emit a range of tones — high for a free path and low for an impeded path. Unfortunately, accessible continuity testers cannot be purchased, and previous manufacturers have ceased production. Each student left the workshop with a fully-functioning accessible continuity tester for use in their future work; and the skills to solder it themselves.
“Blind people are makers. We can do things like soldering and building robots and woodworking,” says Dr. Miele. “We might use slightly different techniques, but the outcome is the same. The LightHouse is all about teaching these alternative techniques so that people can engage in the activities they love, whether they’re sighted or not.”
Here are a few lovely shots from the workshop, by photographer Erin Conger:
The LightHouse’s Innovation Lab will continue to offer workshops in STEM fields, so stay tuned. It is part of our mission to strengthen the representation of people who are blind or have low vision in the tech industry and other STEM fields.
For more information about future workshops visit the LightHouse Calendar or contact Director of Community Services Lisamaria Martinez via email at email@example.com or by phone at 415.694.7350.
Photo: Class Picture of the September CVCL Immersion Training Session 2 Class
Fall is a time for harvest and abundance. Over the past four years, 250 students have harvested their skills and received an abundance of support, opportunities to connect and a rich introduction to skills ranging from accessing print, learning about technology to organizing their households and traveling independently.
Holli Clark of Santa Cruz County has participated in both sessions and had this to say about her experience:
“Just a note to share my big thanks for the wonderful Immersion experience! One of my big reasons for wanting to go for Immersion training was because I just didn’t know what I didn’t know. I figured there were better ways of doing things than I had made up over the years. I was certainly correct in that, and am delighted to be learning many new skills. This translates to being more productive, efficient, confident, independent and safer. [The] week was packed with immeasurable value. I learned so much from each trainer and really appreciated your focus on scheduling us according to individual needs…Your staff are both exceptional trainers in their fields as well as wonderful, caring people.”
Photo: Cooking Instructor Sydney Ferrario and CVCL student Holli Clark stand together in the Betty Ruhland Teaching Kitchen at the LightHouse
We’re offering one last CVCL session before year’s end, and another in February. Details on both follow:
December Changing Vision Changing Life (CVCL) Immersion Training Session 2
This session is facilitated from the new LightHouse Building in the heart of San Francisco. The focus of this week’s training is “boots hit the ground in training”. Students participating in this week must have already received basic skills training in orientation and mobility, access technology or independent living and must be committed to focusing intently in all three of these skill areas in a small group and individual learning environment. (Please note: students do not need to have attended a previous CVCL session to attend CVCL 2 in San Francisco.)
This five day session is designed for students who are committed to full days of instruction, homework and practice in the evening and will take full advantage of the professional training time, mentoring and peer support and self-study that will be available.
Students will participate in a minimum of three of the following areas:
Access Technology, including:
Computer training (Mac or PC) – using the software you are currently learning
Smart Phone Training – Apple or Android
Tablet Training – Apple or Android
Orientation and Mobility Training 1:1
Introduction to Braille
Smart Cooking for Independence
Low Vision Training – Using your Tools to Your Benefit
Independent living skills
When: CVCL 2 will run from Monday, December 5th (arrival at 9:30 a.m. – training starts at 10:00 a.m.) through Friday, December 9 (leave at 11:00 a.m.)
Where: The session will be held in our headquarters building at 1155 Market St., 10th Floor in San Francisco. Participants will stay overnight throughout the week in our Student Residences.
Cost: There is a $1,300 fee for this training but you may qualify for partial or full scholarship if you are not already working with the Department of Rehabilitation or the Veterans Administration. It is highly recommended that all students have a solution for taking notes, such as the Victor Reader Stream (training will be provided in how to use this recording device)
February Changing Vision Changing Life Immersion Training Session 1
This session is held at Enchanted Hills Retreat in Napa and is specifically geared for students new to blindness and low vision. For five days, up to 14 adult students have the opportunity to develop basic skills in a range of areas – access technology; orientation and mobility; organization and labeling; magnification and lighting; cooking; braille and community, state and national resources.
The week is full, active, emotional and supportive and students are given the opportunity to meet others, to harvest their own skills and determine the direction of the quality of their lives. There are three scholarship openings for persons 55 and better living in Humboldt, Del Norte, San Francisco, Marin or Alameda County who are not consumers of the Department of Rehabilitation or the VA. For those who are consumers of the Department of Rehabilitation, we encourage you to discuss this opportunity with your counselor.
When: CVCL I will run from February 6th – 10th.
Where: The session will be held in at Enchanted Hills Retreat in Napa. Participants will stay overnight throughout the week in our lakeside lodgings. Transportation is available from San Francisco, Berkeley and Marin County.
Cost: There is a $1,300 fee for this training but you may qualify for partial or full scholarship if you are not already working with the Department of Rehabilitation or the Veterans Administration.
Photo: Adaptations sales associate Starrly Winchester holds up an EZ2See Weekly Planner.
The President of the United States annually recognizes White Cane Day by the Blind Americans Equality Day Proclamation on October 15 to acknowledge the abilities and to promote equal opportunity for those who are blind .
In honor of White Cane Safety Day we invite you to save 10% on all cane and cane accessory purchases at the Adaptations Store during the entire month of October. This includes canes, tips, and cane holsters.
Refresh your Cane at Adaptations
Did you know? Adaptations can apply new white and/or red reflective tape to your cane for less than five dollars. Be sure to refresh your cane with us.
Now available at Adaptations: 2017 Calendars
Photo: Double page from the EZ2See Weekly Planner
We are excited to announce that in addition to the usual calendars we carry we have a new calendar to offer for 2017 – the EZ2See Weekly Planner. The EZ2See Planner features 8 and 1/2 by 11 inch large-print pages (one set of pages for every week in the year), large daily cells that are 3 and 1/4 by 11 inches, a cover that is laminated to protect it from moisture, black page edges, and more. We are selling the EZ2See Calendar for $20.00.
We also have large print wall calendars, large print desk calendars and a free braille calendar produced by the American Action Fund (AAF).
Stop by the Adaptations Store to check out our calendar selection and start your year off right.
Please Note: New Store Hours for Adaptations!
We’ve increased our store hours to better serve you.
Monday: Store hours may vary. Please call 415-694-7301 to confirm.
Tuesday: 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Thursday: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Friday: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
We are also open every 2nd Saturday of the month, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. In 2016, these Saturdays are October 8, November 12 and December 10.
Adaptations is located at the new LightHouse Building, 1155 Market St., 10th floor, San Francisco, 94103. Call us at 415-694-7301 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Do you own an iPhone? Would you like to do more than make phone calls or ask Siri for today’s weather report?
Join us for a 2-day workshop in December for beginning iPhone users using VoiceOver (speech feedback). Our highly skilled instructors will provide hands-on instruction to make your iPhone use more complete. Learn to tap, flick and rotate your way through your phone for maximum efficiency.
When: December 15 and 16, 2016, 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (Bring your lunch) Where: the LightHouse Building, 1155 Market St., 10th floor, San Francisco, 94103 Cost: $150.00. Scholarships may be available to persons 55 and over living in the counties of San Francisco, Alameda and Marin.
To participate you must own an iPhone. Space is limited, so sign up now.
Over the two-day workshop you will learn to take advantage of the following features of your iPhone:
Effective Use of Siri
Using your Calendar and reminder features
Setting alarms using your clock and your timer when cooking
Join the many LightHouse students who have found work through the LightHouse Employment Immersion Program. The program is for people who are blind or have low vision, from any background, seeking any job.
“Blind people forget that employers need them. We—the blind—have vast skill sets. We are scientists, artists, journalists, you name it. Often our blindness has nothing to do with our careers, except that it can make us stronger, and hiring us adds a diverse voice in the workplace. I remind my students that they truly are assets to any company. It’s not just a line we feed the students; it’s a reality Employment Immersion helps them discover.”
—Employment Immersion Program Leader Kate Williams
The next Employment Immersion sessions are scheduled as follows:
Where: The LightHouse Building, 1155 Market St., 10th Floor, 94103
October 11 through November 10, 2016
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
January 10 through February 9, 2017
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
LightHouse’s 5-week Keyboarding Class teaches students how to use the computer keyboard correctly for effective AT (Assistive Technology) Computing using the latest screen reader and/or magnification software.
This keyboarding class will focus on touch typing techniques, listening skills and the accuracy and speed that are necessary for competitive employment and academic advancement. Students will attend weekly classes and instructor-guided lab practices.
Where: the LightHouse Building, 1155 Market St., 10th floor, San Francisco, 94103 When: 15 classes from October 3 through November 4, 2016 Dates of classes: Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on the following dates: October 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 14, 17, 19, 21, 24, 26, 28 and 31 and November 2 and 4 LightHouse Instructors: Christina Daniels, Shen Kuan and Jeff Buckwalter Cost: $1,125.00 per student. You may qualify for partial or full scholarship if you are 55 or older and not currently working with the Department of Rehabilitation or the Veterans Administration.