Category Archive

Featured

CalABLE: A New Way for Californians On SSI to Save Money

Four years ago, disability advocate Stephen Beck Jr. presented a simple but troubling problem to Congress: his daughter, who had Down Syndrome and received Supplemental Security Income (SSI), was prohibited from saving any money. Any income exceeding the most basic of living expenses would trigger a benefits cut-off –– and in some cases cause her to owe the government money. This is a situation blind people are all too familiar with, wherein the system that is made to support them often holds them back.

In 2014, spurred by Beck’s story, 85% of Congress joined forces to sign the ABLE Act: a federal update to tax law that would allow individuals with disabilities to save up to $100,000 in a designated bank account, to achieve a higher standard of living before their benefits were revoked.

Dozens of states have instituted ABLE Accounts, and this week California announced that it would be the next. On August 8th, California State Treasurer John Chiang announced that California’s ABLE program will launch by the end of the year, allowing all Californians on SSI to finally create a better foundation for their financial futures.

TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, Inc. (TFI) will administer the program, called CalABLE. CalABLE is the California version of the federal ABLE Act.

“The ABLE Act is the most significant law for people who are blind, visually impaired, or disabled since the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed into law,” said Dante Allen, executive director for CalABLE. “We are very excited to be one step closer to launching CalABLE so that Californians can fully benefit from the financial flexibility and independence that this program will inspire.”

Participants can deposit online or by check to their accounts, and can invite family and friends to contribute directly to the account. The program also provides resources for investment options.

TFI was chosen by the CalABLE board vote due to the firm’s “low costs, proposed investment portfolio that offered simple choices for enrollees with clear preferences, and the simplicity of its program for those new to such a savings program,” according to the release.

“TFI’s selection means we’re one step closer to turning on CalABLE’s ‘Open for Business’ sign,” said Chiang in a release. “TFI’s expertise and oversight are a welcome help in reaching Californian’s with disabilities and their families, who will soon be able to save up to $15,000 a year, tax free, without jeopardizing their federal and state assistance.”

Under the current system, people who receive SSI are prohibited from saving more than $2,000 without losing their benefits. This is severely limiting for people throughout CA communities, including the 70 percent of blind adults who are unemployed.

“No one should have to fear losing their disability benefits because they decided to save wisely and invest in their future,” Chiang said in a release. “This program will help ensure no Californian with a disability will be penalized for thinking ahead.”

LightHouse will continue to cover these developments and announce when CalABLE is up and running. To continue to receive updates about these and similar programs, subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

YES Program Teaches Teamwork, Practical Skill, and the Value of Mentorship

This past weekend, we hosted one of the largest Youth Employment Series programs ever, with 23 blind and visually impaired youth from throughout the Bay Area and California. It was a packed couple of days, with students arriving on Friday evening and many staying in our guest residences until the weekend wrapped up on Sunday.

Starting Friday night, the students ventured out into San Francisco to visit this year’s Rainbow World Tree of Hope at San Francisco city hall and get in the holiday spirit. Saturday was a packed day of Construction and Maintenance Basics with Enchanted Hills Construction Manager George Wurtzel, who gave students a detailed run down of household tools from wrenches to screwdrivers to hammers, and how to use them. Many of the students got the thrill of building a piece of furniture for the first time. Later, students delved into hospitality and how to organize and host an event by decorating and preparing food for our YES Mentor Appreciation Dinner, covering the basics of food safety and handling.

Students also had opportunities to practice adaptive techniques, problem-solving skills, independent travel methods, literacy and organizational and household management, with time to socialize and reflect on some of the lessons about teamwork and self sufficiency learned throughout the day.

But it’s not all business: thanks to the fun-loving spirit of Youth Services Coordinator Jamey Gump, YES is full of fun, laughter and experimentation. This weekend, that included students trying their hands at Jamey’s family’s famous fudge recipe, with Jamila mixing in the Marshmallow fluff a little too soon and Andy making it clear that he would be the one licking the spoon when the time came. The students also had a good laugh at the several helium balloons that floated just out of reach while they were trying to prepare for the Mentor Appreciation Dinner. Check out photos from the weekend in the gallery below:

George Wurtzel shows two male students the difference between Phillips-head and slotted head screwdrivers.
George Wurtzel shows two male students the difference between Phillips-head and slotted head screwdrivers.
Students sit on the floor of the Multipurpose Rooms at LightHouse while laughing and working together to fill up balloons from a helium tank.
Students sit on the floor of the Multipurpose Rooms at LightHouse while laughing and working together to fill up balloons from a helium tank.
Jamey and Jamila add Marshmallow fluff to a large vat of fudge.
Jamey and Jamila add Marshmallow fluff to a large vat of fudge.
Sarah leans against Chester laughing, while the two friends work on a meal for the Mentor Appreciation dinner.
Sarah leans against Chester laughing, while the two friends work on a meal for the Mentor Appreciation dinner.
Jamila and Andy mix the fudge in a pot while waiting for it to heat.
Jamila and Andy mix the fudge in a pot while waiting for it to heat.

Each YES workshop offers an array of vocational, transitional and enrichment curricula empowering students to strive toward future employment, post-secondary educational success and full independence. The YES Program provides direct access to successful blind and low vision mentors and incorporates structured lessons in self-advocacy, adaptive technology, career exploration and daily living.

If you know a high school or post-secondary youth who would benefit from joining our YES group, find more information on our Youth Page or contact Youth Services Coordinator Jamey Gump at jgump@lighthouse-sf.org.

Win Two Free Tickets to Tomorrow’s Accessible Pre-Screening of ‘Wonderstruck’ at Mill Valley Film Festival

Following in the footsteps of accessible festivals like Superfest International Disability Film Festival, more mainstream festivals like Mill Valley Film Festival (October 5 – 15) are starting to catch on to the importance of accessible viewing.

In collaboration with our partners at accessible moviegoing app Actiview, we’re offering you (and a plus one) a chance to attend Mill Valley’s VIP accessible pre-screening of the 2017 film ‘Wonderstruck’ (Julianne Moore, Amazon). The screening is tomorrow, Friday, October 13 at 7 p.m. at The Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA 94901). Actiview will be providing Audio Description and Closed Captioning through their app, which you can download online.

There will be press, potentially some of the people that worked on the movie, and more. It’s an opportunity to show filmmakers that access is crucial—and that blind and deaf people want to attend their movies!

The film travels through two different eras — 1927 and 1977 — and follows two deaf children who secretly wish their lives were different. In the earlier time period, Rose (Millicent Simmonds) begins a quest to find her idol, actress Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore). Fifty years later, Ben (Oakes Fegley) searches for his father in New York. “Wonderstruck” is adapted from a novel of the same name by Brian Selznick. In his Cannes Film Festival review, Variety’s Owen Glieberman praised Haynes’ direction, writing, “For a while it plays like two movies in one, and Haynes is so on his game in staging each of them that the audience gets swept right up in the bittersweet mixed-media rapture of his filmmaking.”

To enter to win tickets, contact LightHouse Producer Camilla Sterne at csterne@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7306 before 10 a.m. on Friday, October 13. Please be absolutely certain you can attend the screening before you enter!

Actiview is collaborating with Mill Valley on a number of accessible screenings throughout the weekend, particularly two on Sunday, October 15 that you can still purchase tickets for! It’s a great opportunity to try out the app and see a few well-regarded new films, for only $15 with advanced ticket purchase.

Here’s the info:

Breathe (Andrew Garfield, Bleeker Street)
Watch the trailer.
Sunday 10/15 Century Larkspur Theater at 11:30am.
Tickets available in advance for $15

Last Flag Flying (Steve Carell, Lionsgate)
Watch the trailer.
Sunday 10/15 Century Larkspur Theater at 2pm.
Tickets available in advance for $15

Superfest Filmmaker Reid Davenport Tells the Story of Deaf parents with Hearing Children

Reid Davenport is an award-winning documentarian whose films focus on people with disabilities. Founder and co-director of Through My Lens, Davenport has been creating films and public speaking for five years. As a man with cerebral palsy, his hope is to inspire disabled students to share their personal stories, as he has done. “There is a tremendous space for amateur videos now on YouTube and social media and a few people with disabilities have already grasped that fact and taken back the narrative,” he says. “That’s what we want to encourage, take back and start to chip away at the misrepresentations of disability.”

Reid Davenport speaks onstage to an audience. 

 

Reid’s short film On Beat, co-directed by Cheng Zhang, will be shown on Sunday, November 5 at The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco for 2017’s Superfest International Disability Festival.

On Beat follows Larry and Tanisha Cotton, a Deaf couple with three hearing children. The family uses music to bond and express themselves. Davenport and Zhang discovered the Cotton family with another story in mind, having heard about Uber’s efforts to hire Deaf drivers (Larry is a driver), but once he came across their gospel group, he knew he had a different story to tell.

Davenport and co-director Cheng Zhang collaborated by playing off each other’s strengths. Because “her strength was shooting,” and Davenport “was more involved in the interviewing,” they “balanced each other quite well.” Davenport also brought a disability aesthetic to the film, as he has in other projects as well, by “shying away from medicalization of the disability, trying not to make a portrait a pathological impairment, instead focusing on the social impact of being disabled.”

The main thing Davenport wants other filmmakers to know is that with the proliferation of social media comes a unique opportunity. “The authority over the audience that they have is unprecedented, so they need to tell their stories.” He urges them to embrace stories about disability and not shy away from it.

Watch the trailer to On Beat below and buy your tickets to catch it at Superfest today:

A Blind Baker, Beekeeper and Kayaker Unite in San Francisco

Fourteen months ago, LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin proposed a wild new idea: What if we create a prize to fund a blind person to do something ambitious? What if we fund their dreams ahead of time, to get them out in the world leading, creating, exploring and changing the face of blindness rather than simply rewarding them for past achievement?

Turns out dreaming big sometimes pays off, because in January this year we announced the very first Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, an annual set of awards – three in the first year – of up to $25,000 each financing and supporting blind people worldwide in pursuing an ambitious project of their design.

After a rigorous application process including a social media competition, multiple rounds of judging and a detailed project proposal, we found our inaugural Holman Prizewinners, an unlikely trio from vastly different walks of life. The three winners, kayaker Ahmet Ustunel, baker Penny Melville-Brown and beekeeper Ojok Simon each have one-of-a-kind projects that allow them to build and foster social impact in their immediate community.

Read what the San Francisco Chronicle has to say about the inaugural Holman Prizewinners.

This week, we hosted the prizewinners in San Francisco for a full week of trainings, meetings, skill-sharing and fun before they commence their projects starting October 1. It was a busy week, but was more than we could have ever hoped for.

We started out the week by heading to One Market Restaurant, where Penny baked with some of San Francisco’s top pastry chefs, exchanging tips and tricks, learning new methods, and even teaching them a few non-visual techniques. We want to extend a huge thank you to Michael Dellar for opening the restaurant to us and extending himself to give the blindness community such a warm welcome in the food and hospitality world. Watch this video of Penny and Mac folding a peach galette together.

Penny laughs in the One Market Restaurant kitchen with pastry chef Mac while plating a peach galette.
Penny laughs in the One Market Restaurant kitchen with pastry chef Mac while plating a peach galette.
Penny smiles with One Market pastry chefs Mac and Jan, who she just presented with the pewter medals she will give to all her baking partners along her journey.
Penny smiles with One Market pastry chefs Mac and Jan, who she just presented with the pewter medals she will give to all her baking partners along her journey.

Penny is finishing out her American adventure with three more major cooking stops: China Live in San Francisco, Cheeseboard in Berkeley, and Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland. She’s planning lots of updates and videos, which will be coming out weekly starting next week at Baking Blind.

Ahmet Ustunel, who actually lives in the same bustling SF downtown as LightHouse headquarters, was more of a tour guide than visitor this week. He took us to Lowell High School, where he teaches, and gave his fellow prizewinners a tour. Not only did Ahmet introduce us to some of his blind students, but also let Ojok climb up onto the roof of Lowell’s garden shed to investigate the beehive there!

Ojok and Lowell student Ellie show Ahmet the ropes as he feels a beehive box.
Ojok and Lowell student Ellie show Ahmet the ropes as he feels a beehive box.

We’ll be honest: For a minute there, we were a little worried Ojok almost wasn’t going to make here from Uganda due to a passport snafu, but with a lot of faith and a little luck, we welcomed him with open arms on Wednesday afternoon. He wasted no time – and within 12 hours he was running along Ocean beach and talking bees with fellow blind beekeeper Aerial Gilbert.

On Thursday the Holman crew headed over to the Arkansas Friendship Garden on Connecticut Street in the SF hills, where the journalist and author Meredith May keeps an active colony of bees regularly producing honey. Within minutes, Ojok had his hands in the hives – with no gloves, we might add – gently manipulating all the little worker bees without being stung once. At the end of the afternoon, everyone even got to dig their hands into some honeycomb and taste the sweet stuff right out of the hive.

Aerial Gilbert wears a protective hat and examines a wooden beehive frame.
Aerial Gilbert wears a protective hat and examines a wooden beehive frame.
Ojok holds up a beehive in a wooden frame for everyone to examine.
Ojok holds up a beehive in a wooden frame for everyone to examine.
Ojok smiles with his white bee hat and net catching the light, while bees fly around him.
Ojok smiles with his white bee hat and net catching the light, while bees fly around him.

Ojok then produced a small jar of honey that he had brought with him from Uganda, and the group got to taste the difference between the fruity, nectar-like honey of San Francisco’s Italian bees and the smoky, meaty honey made by Ojok’s Africanized “killer” bees. Ojok will return to Uganda next week and begin expanding the Hive Uganda program, which already has 38 blind and low vision sighted beekeepers, to teach honey farming to dozens more over the course of the next year.

On Friday, Ahmet took us out on the water – which, as he’s told us many times, is “his favorite place in the world.” The prizewinners and some documentary filmmakers hopped on a few sailboats with blind sailor Walt Raineri and the Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors (BAADS), who took them all for a spin around McCovey Cove. Ahmet showed off some prototypes of the system he’ll use to autonomously navigate the Bosphorus Strait in Turkey next year, including directional and depth-sensing tools, all of which provide audible feedback. Learn more about his sonar technology from our livestream. As Ahmet’s project beings, you can follow him on Facebook and Instagram – and keep an eye out for him at your local waterway this fall while he trains for his big crossing, make sure to his page, he is the kind of guy that will buy instagram video views to motivate himself on social media!

Ahmet shows his sonar navigation system to a fellow blind sailor named Ben.
Ahmet shows his sonar navigation system to a fellow blind sailor named Ben.
Ahmet stands up in the boat while preparing to set out to McCovey Cove.
Ahmet stands up in the boat while preparing to set out to McCovey Cove.

If the live-streams, descriptions and photos weren’t enough, don’t worry: We had our cameras and microphones following along with the prizewinners all week long, and we’ll be soon bringing you scenes from the week.

Your Chance to Name a Space at the New LightHouse Headquarters

Several naming opportunities are still available as part of our Campaign to Build a 21st Century LightHouse, a project that has enabled the LightHouse to grow our programs, serve more people and expand our impact. Thank you for being a part of it, and helping us provide transformative services for people who are blind or have low vision.

Every named room is marked by a permanent sign accessible in large print, braille and tactile lettering. These attractive signs are a distinctive hallmark of the new LightHouse and we’d be delighted to honor you, your family or friends with the opportunity.

The new LightHouse welcomes all who are blind or have low vision. From teens looking to meet other blind kids and do some fun weekend activities, to adults adjusting to changing vision and learning the skills they need to go back to work and everything else they want to do. A community of peers and mentors, the LightHouse is for blind people to gain skills, find support and grow. We have also invited hardwood floor installation seattle wa to build the room floors so it can be safe for the guests.

Contributions to the Campaign for a 21st Century LightHouse will provide tangible benefits for the blind kids, teens, adults and seniors that benefit from the joy and learning of the LightHouse for the next century. To learn more about the campaign, naming opportunities or how a gift from your estate can be used to name a space and leave an enduring legacy in you or a loved one’s honor, contact 415-694-7333 or jsachs@lighthouse-sf.org.

Here is our current list of naming opportunities:

Access Technology Demo Room

Adaptations Store

10th Floor Reception

Auditorium-Multi-Purpose Room (capacity 150)

Blindness Skills Training Area

Conference Room 925

Fitness Gym and Yoga Studio

Immersion Student Lounge

Integrating Stairwell

Living Room 11th Floor

Living Room-9th Floor

Volunteer Area

Thank you to our donors who have named rooms:

10th Floor: Herbst 10th Floor Reception and Community Learning Center

Art Room: Dove’s Nest Craft Studio

Board Room: Harold S. Dobbs Board Conference Room

Braille Room: Winifred Downing Braille Room

DPR Conference Toom 955

Enchanted Hills Office: Gena Harper and Mike May Enchanted Hills Camp and Retreat Office

Executive Suite: Michael and Leslye Dellar Executive Office

Finance Offices: US Bank Finance Suite

Ham Radio Room: Bill Gerrey, WA6NPC Amateur Radio Station

MADLab: Jerry Kuns and Theresa Postello MADLab

Pre-function Lounge: Susan O’Sullivan Room in memory of Audrey Baker

Recording Studio: Mike Cole Recording Studio

Staff Lounge: Mutual of America Staff Lounge

STEM Lab: Innovation Lab by Toyota

Student Kitchen: Hilda Angelica Cavagnero Student Kitchen

Student Residence: Erman Vincent Cavagnero Student Residence

Teaching Kitchen: Betty Ruhland Teaching Kitchen

Tech Training Rooms: Kebbel Family Tech Labs #1, #2, #3

UC Berkeley Clinic: Joseph K. Chan Low Vision Clinic

Video Conference Room: Polara Video Conference Center

Help Build New Programs for the Year Ahead

At LightHouse, we’re always dreaming up new recreational and educational programming to offer to our students — right now it’s yoga, qi gong, cooking classes, health workshops, guest speakers, bingo and even game nights.

In the coming year, we want to give the community a chance to  weigh in on programs, so we’ve put together a survey to collect your input so we can continue to design fun and engaging programs that you’ll feel compelled to attend.

Fill out this two-question survey here or in the scroll box below by September 20th and be entered in a drawing to win a Chipotle gift certificate for lunch for two. We value your time and input!

(function(t,e,s,n){var o,c,i;t.SMCX=t.SMCX||[],e.getElementById(n)||(o=e.getElementsByTagName(s),c=o[o.length-1],i=e.createElement(s),i.type=”text/javascript”,i.async=!0,i.id=n,i.src=[“https:”===location.protocol?”https://”:”http://”,”widget.surveymonkey.com/collect/website/js/2gg_2BJCwuDvOIxfx5uYXPbjTuJmdh43lB8UFghBMlPmhfsjUqY8IJN50NvT9xpMEg.js”].join(“”),c.parentNode.insertBefore(i,c))})(window,document,”script”,”smcx-sdk”); Create your survey with SurveyMonkey

Video: Meet Braille Skateboarding’s First Blind Employee

In 2013, Alex Harding moved to the US from Sierra Leone, by himself, with only a $100 bill in his pocket.

Alex was young, but full of curiosity and a desire to learn and grow in the US job market. Still, as a person with low vision, Alex was at a disadvantage. As his vision changed, it became a struggle to show employers that he could work. In 2016, he signed up for the LightHouse’s Employment Immersion Program, and today he manages the facility of one of the web’s most popular skateboarding brands, Braille Skateboarding.

This is his story.

Braille Skateboarding is a tenant of LightHouse for the Blind at the Sirkin Center in San Leandro. We established a rental agreement with Braille Skateboarding because of their commitment to employ blind people like Alex.

If you’re blind, have low vision or have just experienced a change in vision and you want to gain the skills and confidence to jump back into the working world, we have a new four-week program just for you. To sign up, email Angela Denise Davis at adavis@lighthouse-sf.org or contact your local Department of Rehabilitation counselor and ask to be enrolled.

Pick Up Your Back to School Accessibility Kit

A black LightHouse tote with tactile maps, boldline paper and a full page writing guide peeking out.
A black LightHouse tote with tactile maps, bold line paper and a full page writing guide peeking out.

Are you a teacher or educator working with blind and visually impaired students? Or maybe just a parent looking for tools to help your blind child do their homework? If so, the Adaptations Store has you covered for the school year ahead.

Just in time to head back to school, our Premier Kit for Teachers of Blind Students and scar cream is a newly-introduced, premium accessibility kit containing more than 20 hand-picked products you will find yourself reaching for again and again throughout the school year.

With the Premier Kit, you can:

  • Create markings and labels using a Dymo tape labeler, which comes with three rolls of clear, adhesive labeling tape
  • Need to create a label or a sign containing more than one line? No problem. The kit includes clear plastic adhesive sheets that can be cut into any size or shape
  • Bump Dots and Locator Dots can be a great way to add a simple tactile mark wherever you may need one
  • A slate and stylus for brailling, Bold Writer Pens and items like our boldline tablet or a full-page writing guide offer numerous choices to both students and teachers alike
  • Create helpful shapes and diagrams using the included package of Wikki Stix
  • Teach a student about geographic locations in and around the country with our included maps of both the state of California as well as the continental US.
  • Use the pocket-sized contractions guide to refresh students’ knowledge of the Unified English Braille Code
  • Practice reading by playing a game with a set of tactile dice or a pack of playing cards
  • The Braille/large print ruler can be used to teach the concept of measuring, and a talking keychain clock is a great way to show young students about telling time
  • Braille alphabet cards for those beginners who are new to Braille, or for showing the concept of Braille to sighted classmates

All of these helpful items come packaged conveniently in an easy-to-carry LightHouse tote bag.

The Premier Kit for Teachers of Blind Students retails for $125 from the LightHouse for the Blind’s Adaptations Store, and can be shipped anywhere in the US. Give us a call at 415-694-7301 between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, to order yours today!

In a Batch of Blind Hires, Companies Prove Dedication to Inclusivity

Lockheed Martin, App Dynamic, Grove Collective, the San Francisco Public Library and the State of the California—what do these things all have in common?

Each of these companies and institutions hired one of our Employment Immersion Graduates within the last two weeks, representing a step towards improving employment rates in the blind and visually impaired community.

These five hires are a testament to our students’ tenacity and hard work, as well as to companies’ increasing dedication to inclusivity. The batch of prestigious hires also speaks volumes to the commitment of our Employment Immersion Program staff, who work one-on-one with students even after they complete the four-week program and liaise with employers to match them with students, and vice versa.

“We don’t care if you’re young, old, totally blind, low vision, have a college degree or no college degree,” says Employment Program Manager Kate Williams. “It doesn’t matter as long as you have a real desire to go to work. We furnish our Employment Immersion students with the tools to make sure that happens, by building their confidence and giving them the techniques to conduct a successful job search.”

In the blindness community, we know that one size does not fit all, and this is reflected in the curriculum of this four-week workshop. With a combination of short lectures, interactive activities, expert speakers and candid, honest discussions, each blind or low vision student has an opportunity to explore their interests, aptitudes, and think outside the box about which part of the job market holds the highest promise for their talents and ambitions.

Step-by-step training includes:

  • Using personality indicators like Meyers Briggs and Gallup StrengthFinder to identify core strengths as a springboard to build a career
  • Resume and cover letter building
  • Job search techniques, networking and the hidden job market
  • The application process
  • Blindness disclosure and requesting accommodations
  • Interview preparation including self presentation and body language
  • Free professional and online portrait photographs courtesy of LightHouse for the Blind
  • How to approach an interview and role playing
  • Job retention

Williams, who is a Purpose Prize Winner and nationally recognized job coach by the Wall Street Journal, is the driving force behind these achievements. She knows what it takes to get blind jobseekers into positions that suit them and keep them there — and the payoff doesn’t end on payday.

“We spend a great deal of time on encouraging our attendees to connect,” says Williams. “My motto is ‘People hire people.’ We help students make connections during the job search and interview process that are genuine and show their own authenticity. We’re fostering relationship building — which is a lifelong skill.”

With an increase in referrals as LightHouse steps in as the key provider of services in the East Bay, our Employment Immersion Program is growing and evolving to meet higher standards and increasing volume of blind jobseekers. The sky’s the limit, once the skills are there.

Keep chipping away at those employment statistics and sign up for a Employment Job Preparation Workshop this fall. The workshop is open to people who are blind or have low vision, from any background, seeking any job. To sign up, contact Employment Immersion Trainer Angela Denise Davis at adavis@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7353.