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Meet Kit Lau, the Blind 67-Year-Old Who’ll Put Your Fitness Regimen to Shame

Eclipse viewing at LightHouseLightHouse veteran and National Fitness Challenge participant Kit Lau wasn’t big on fitness, until she decided to sign up for the nine-month challenge, she started going to the Fitness Classes New York and she was able to get into serious fitness pretty quickly. 

Kit Lau smiles with her guide dog Alisa in front of a colorful background.

“‘Fitness? I’m not too fit,’” the 67-year-old said to herself when she heard about the NFC in the LightHouse weekly newsletter. She wasn’t willing to change her lifestyle for “a little toy”, as she good-naturedly describes the Fitbit that is provided to each of the 25 participants, and use different weight lost programs from this Thomas DeLauer’s review.

But after a girlfriend prodded her about it, she figured she could just wear the Fitbit and go about her everyday life. But her competitive spirit got her tracking her steps and comparing her numbers to the other NFC challengers—and getting out and about regularly. She had a foot problem, but that didn´t stop her, she just visited this physical therapist in Manhattan to get rid of her pain and she was able to get out there without a problem.

We kicked off the National Fitness Challenge in March this year, and participants like Kit have worked hard to step up their fitness and reach the recommended 10,000 steps and 30 active minutes per day. The NFC is put on by the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) and the Anthem Foundation in a national effort to get the low vision community out and about.

Since March, Kit has been one of our most involved and improved participants, riding in Cycle for Sight, signing up for a number of 10Ks throughout the Bay Area, faithfully attending our Summer Run Club at Lake Merritt, walking miles with her guide dog Alisa along the Bay Trail, and regularly riding more than 30 miles a week on a tandem bicycle with her fitness partner Nancy.

“People always ask me, ‘Are you training for something?’” she says, laughing incredulously. “No, I’m training for fun.”

And somehow, despite her initial objections, Kit has found fitness integrated into her life in a big way.

“I’m happier,” she says. “I’m enjoying it. Sometimes it makes me laugh because [the Fitbit] is so ridiculous, I work out for an hour and it says I only did 8 minutes. But exercising regularly is much easier than I thought.”

When Kit isn’t getting her steps in or reckoning with her temperamental Fitbit, she takes iPhone classes with our Access Tech specialists. She’s been in contact with the LightHouse community for approximately 40 years, since she first moved to the US from China in her early 20s. She has become a regular at the LightHouse since her retirement.

“You can never stop learning,” she says. “You think you know everything but there’s always something else you don’t know.”

And it’s true that Kit’s tenacity isn’t reserved to fitness. Growing up blind in China, she didn’t have access to education until Macau finally got a school for the blind when she was 12 years old. After learning Chinese braille she skipped ahead to 6th grade in just four years, and transitioned to an English school where she was integrated with her sighted peers.

“I was so freaked out, but I was also so happy,” she says. “I was scared because I didn’t know how to interact with sighted people because I was so shut in when I was a kid. I didn’t know how they’d treat me, but I was happy because I finally got to go to real school.”

But the teachers taught mainly by writing characters on the chalkboard—so Kit asked the girl sitting next to her to read what was on the board to her while she took notes with a slate and stylus.

“I learned to write really fast in braille because you have to catch up with the sighted people,” she says. “She’d whisper to me and I couldn’t ask her to repeat because the teacher keeps going and I don’t want to stop her. So I learned how to write fast, not because I’m talented, but out of necessity.”

After moving to the US, Kit got a degree in psychology at a community college and worked in social security, but found it wasn’t for her. She wanted something more. So took her entrant exam and started school at UC Berkeley, where she got a four year Computer Science degree. But even with a prestigious degree, Kit found it extremely difficult to find a job. After months of interviews she took matters into her own hands.

She approached the civilian division at the Alameda Military Base, and said “I’m going to volunteer to be a computer programmer for one to three months, if you don’t like it I’ll leave. If I do a good job, you hire me.”

They hired her after a month. The job kickstarted her career in computer programming and she moved on to Pacific Bell (now AT&T) and then the US forest service where she worked until taking early retirement in 2005.

And all along, Kit has been a vibrant and friendly fixture in the LightHouse community, as well as a generous donor.

Kit and her fitness partner Nancy ride along a winding rode in Napa during Cycle for Sight.“I like to meet new friends and especially happy friends,” she says, with an infectious laugh. “The LightHouse is very good for the community. They have good programs and kind people.”

Her only wish? That more of the National Fitness Challenge participants would come to the group runs and get in the competitive community spirit before the NFC ends in November:

“I think getting out and moving with a big crowd gives you a sense of excitement,” she says about why she keeps attending NFC events. “It’s different than doing it yourself. I would like to ask, all you young kids to come meet this energetic lady, because I can challenge you to walk faster than me. I want to shake your hand, give each other encouragement and we can work as a group so we can do more steps, and meet as a big family.”

Learn more about the National Fitness Challenge and our fitness offerings at the LightHouse, and contact Serena Olsen at solsen@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7316 to join Kit in getting involved with our upcoming fitness events.

“Fear kept me away”: Our Sexual Health Coordinator on Why Her Department Exists

When Sexual Health Services Program Coordinator Laura Millar plans a new sexuality workshop or spends months gathering a LightHouse contingent to march in Pride, she does it from the perspective of someone who needed a strong community around blindness and sexuality when there wasn’t one.

“I do it for the isolated me,” says Laura, strong in her vulnerability. She does it for her former self who wasn’t yet ready to accept her blindness but needed resources, community and a place to share and ask questions.

Legally blind herself, Laura conducts research that examines how individuals who are blind or low vision learn about and navigate the world of dating, sex and intimate relationships. She offers workshops, trainings and in-services for adults and teens who are blind or have low vision, their family members and the organizations that serve them, ensuring that sexual health information and services are comprehensive, inclusive and accessible for everyone.

But the work Laura does is mostly uncharted territory. The main researcher on sex education for the visually impaired, Gaylen Kapperman, acknowledges in a 2013 Sex Education Instruction, that “little information has been reported in the literature on all aspects of sexuality as it pertains to those who are visually impaired.”

“If no one’s showing you these things or talking about these things, where do you go?” says Laura.

Studies show that 61% of blind adults or those with low vision say their vision status had a negative impact on the way they were able to participate in sex education. With mainstream sex education barely covering the bases (only 24 states mandate sex ed at all; 20 require it to be medically accurate) where does that leave people who are blind or have low vision? And for people who lose their sight later in life, many are confronted with identity issues and questions about dating and exploring sexuality without sight.

This was the case for Laura. Throughout her Master of Public Health and Masters in Sexuality Studies, she was losing her sight to RP and found that when she explored different communities or took workshops around sexual health, she was always the token blind person or disabled person in attendance. This also meant that the courses were geared towards the “able-bodied” and rarely were familiar with the needs of individuals with disabilities.

She was also new to the Bay Area, pregnant and coming to terms with becoming a single mother. She had just relocated to start graduate school and didn’t know anyone other than the acquaintances in her new cohort, most of whom didn’t even know she was blind.

She first took out her cane when she was pregnant, after she fell trying to catch the bus. But she says it was out of necessity and not because she was ready to “be seen”. Throughout her pregnancy, she spent her time at school or in bed, online. In her isolation, she turned to adult blogging and sought solace in an online relationship.

“The whole world was at my fingertips, in a computer,” she says. “If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have had a lot of meaningful human connection during that time. But it’s not the same as being in community.”

And as far as reaching out to the blindness community, Laura says, “Fear kept me away.” She was holding out hope for a cure for her blindness, and still lived life as if she were fully sighted, without learning any adaptive skills. When she finally sought services at LightHouse, a whole world of resources opened up to her.

As Laura reaches just over a year as the Sexual Health Services Program Coordinator at LightHouse, she’s heard countless stories similar to her own from other blind people. Stories about internet connections and online relationships, but also the dark side of isolation that involves self harm, self mutilation and self deprecation.

Laura acknowledges that a lot of people have similar feelings when it comes to understanding their sexuality. She finds this to be especially true in the blind community and disability spaces. “As a society we are incredibly uncomfortable talking about sex and disability, and that is without even getting into anything too taboo,” she says.

Laura’s programming is helping to change all of that. Over the next couple of weeks World of Sex will explore the kink community with Society of Janus presenters to demystify the kink community. “This is a wonderful opportunity for those who are curious to explore in a safe and supportive community” she says. For more information about those events visit the LightHouse Calendar.

“Each class, each workshop, normalizes the pieces of us,” says Laura. “I think every person that comes to something I do or is brave enough to show up, walks away with a little piece of them feeling seen. Even if it’s only themselves, seeing themselves. It’s healing. Being seen is as much about the outward being seen as the inward.”

Like her students, part of Laura’s journey with coming to terms with her own blindness and becoming a leader has been about unpacking her fear and embracing discomfort.

“Just by trusting myself and getting plugged in with other people on the same journey, I’ve finally been able to step out and be ‘blind and proud’,” she says.

A mentor once told her “‘You have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.’ Without those words, I don’t actually know that I’d be here,” she says. “I can’t tell you the number of times, I’ve been so uncomfortable. But no one else is doing this, and it needs to be done.”

Read the Bay Area Reporter’s recent write-up about the LightHouse Sexual Health Services Department.

A New Gathering Place: EHC’s Redwood Grove Theater

Over the weekend, Enchanted Hills Construction Manager George Wurtzel placed the last screw in the final hand-constructed and carved redwood benches that are the signature seating of Enchanted Hills’ new 120-person Redwood Grove Theater. It’s a project that has come to fruition over the last 10 years through patience, perseverance and unrivaled community support. And it’s ready just in time for our annual Music Academy Concert on August 12.

RSVP for our Summer Music BBQ this Saturday, 4 p.m. at Enchanted Hills in Napa.

The idea for the theater was born out of a piece of Enchanted Hills’ history relayed to us by longtime Enchanted Hills friend, counselor and historian Hope Sinclair. Hope’s father, Philip Webster, bought the land in 1927 and operated a boy’s camp there for more than 20 years. Hope herself spent much of her childhood at camp in the 1930s and 1940s and developed a detailed love for the nature and history of the place.

From conversations with Hope about the site’s history, Camp Director Tony Fletcher learned that a section of lower camp was often used for meetings and talent shows during its time as a boys camp, due to its natural acoustics. When new CEO Bryan Bashin toured camp in 2010 he instantly saw the potential to restore the disused and junk-filled natural bowl into an outdoor space of unparalleled beauty and usefulness: an outdoor theater area to host concerts, movie nights and large gatherings that would be shady in the summertime and make the most of the area’s fantastic acoustics.

Listen to this video from an impromptu performance in the theater to hear the breathtaking natural acoustics.

It was in keeping with EHC’s mission and the spirit instilled in camp by founder Rose Resnick, who was a talented musician and former concert pianist who helped make music and performance the part of everyday life at EHC that it remains today.

Starting in 2007 with the EHC fire abatement plan, a bowl started to appear as  a troupe of goats hired to clear brush in lower camp. EHC then wrangled various volunteer groups including California Conservation Core, 4H Club and the Greater Napa Kiwanis Club to help clear the area even more, and over the next 10 years the project was brought to completion with the care and collaboration of Bill Cinquini, Alan Butler, Tim Gregory Construction and George Wurtzel, EHC staff and a successful 2015 Indiegogo campaign.

“Getting the Redwood Grove built was a little bit like the LightHouse in microcosm,” says LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin. “Waves of volunteers, AmeriCorps, metal recyclers, architects, the Kiwanis club, donations from Adobe Lumber, and of course our blind  camp construction manager, George Wurtzel, who built the benches with his own hands—this is the community and cooperation I find as beautiful and harmonious as the music you’ll hear on Saturday.”

And Tony doesn’t see the project as totally complete—yet. “This project took the creativity and commitment of many many people. I’m most satisfied to think about all the different folks who have had something to do with this. And I don’t see it as done. The theater could ultimately hold as many as 499 people, so I see it as an evolving process. Hopefully it will continually grow and develop over decades to follow.”

Thank you to the many organizations and individuals who helped bring the Redwood Grove Theater into being. We hope you’ll visit us up at camp on August 12 to witness the beautiful and one-of-a-kind fruits of our labors. Learn more and RSVP for the Music Academy Concert here.

The terraced seating and stage of the Redwood Grove Theater surrounded by lush redwoods.
The terraced seating and stage of the Redwood Grove Theater surrounded by lush redwoods. Photo by Marilyn Bogerd.
A view from behind the stage of the Redwood Grove Theater.
A view from behind the stage of the Redwood Grove Theater. Photo by Marilyn Bogerd.
A side view of a crowd listening to music in the Redwood Grove Theater.
A side view of a crowd listening to music in the Redwood Grove Theater. Photo by Marilyn Bogerd.
A closeup of the redwood benches, which were individually designed and hand carved by EHC Construction Manager George Wurtzel.
A closeup of the redwood benches, which were individually designed and carved by EHC Construction Manager George Wurtzel. Photo by Marilyn Bogerd.
A detail ivy pattern carved into the back of one of the benches.
A detail ivy pattern carved into the back of one of the benches. Photo by Marilyn Bogerd.

Are you up to the LightHouse 5K Challenge?

Recently, our Community Services Department asked our community of blind individuals some questions about how they live their lives and get exercise. One question was: Do you think you’d be able to run a 5k race?

Most respondents said no. Surprised?

Whether it’s a normal response – many folks just don’t have an interest in distance running – or a testament to misconceptions about blindness, we decided a 5k was a goal worth taking on, and a realistic one, to boot.

Running 5 kilometers sounds like a lot of work, and maybe the letter “k” turns people off of making the effort. Also, a common misconception about running a race is that you must run the entire time, which is not necessarily true. Many people who participate may walk for the majority of the race. Another reason blind people may shy away from a 5K is the fear of losing their way or not being able to keep up. Well, with a bit of training and help from LightHouse’s fitness partners resource many blind people may be unaware of–such problems can easily be solved.

The LightHouse’s own Serena Olsen set out this year on a mission to change fitness goals for blind people around the Bay Area. It’s called the National Fitness Challenge, put on by the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) and the Anthem Foundation to celebrate fitness goals for the wider blindness community.

August is the NFC’s halfway point, and we’ve already seen a ton of progress from our 25 participants, who were all given complimentary Fitbits to help them track their progress through the year – and it’s all part of a national effort to get the low vision community out and about. Here’s some data on all the blind people exercising their way through the summer:

“Through the first 5 months of the 2017 National Fitness Challenge, our 342 participants and 13 cities have gone over 320,000,000 steps and 141,000 miles, surpassing the number of steps from the entire 2016 Fitness Challenge.
Even during the warm weather of summer, cities have increased their activity levels on an individual and group level. Groups like Memphis and Fort Wayne showed their desire to participate in the different sports available to the blind and visually impaired with Paralympic Day events, while other groups like St Louis and Knoxville continued increasing their steps through monthly walking meetups.”

With the challenge running until November, there’s still a lot of ground to cover, so in the spirit of setting new goals and mixing things up, Serena has set the group’s sights on the 5K.

“Your muscles and vital organs benefit from the increased bloodflow,” Serena sounds like a doctor when she rattles off the reasons, adding. “There is a feeling of accomplishment and a sense of community.” To prepare her NFC team, Serena also holds weekly running (and walking and jogging) club every Saturday morning at Lake Merritt in Oakland. It’s a perfect opportunity to prepare.

Email solsen@lighthouse-sf.org to find your fitness partner and start running.

To really up the ante, Serena takes the challenge, too—she will personally register for and participate in every event where another NFC participant signs up.

“As the coordinator, it is important for me to be a good role model,” she says.

Pasted below is a list of local 5 & 10K run/walks happening all over the Bay Area throughout summer and well into fall.  The National Fitness challenge will reimburse you for your registration fees (conditions apply. Be sure to click through and read more details about specific events).

10K on the Bay

August 27, Hayward

Alameda Running Festival

September 16, Alameda

East Bay Front Runner’s Pride Run & Walk

October 14, Oakland

Night Nation Run, San Francisco

October 14, Berkeley

 

Forward a copy of your registration to Serena at solsen@lighthouse-sf.org and she will join you in your efforts, matching whatever you register for-5K, 10K, you drive it and I will see you at the starting line at the event!

And a 5K isn’t the only way to stay fit. While it is a great challenge to get people out there, socializing and exercising, there are simple ways to increase your steps every day that Serena mentioned. “Tooth brushing is one of those things where you’re brain can focus on something else. This is the perfect opportunity to pace,” she revealed. “Sometimes I will even march in place while I’m washing my hands.”

Contact Serena Olsen at solsen@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7316 for more info or to get involved.

Take Instant Audio Notes with the MicroSpeak Digital Recorder

Need to capture some quick reminders on the fly? Want to record important information like phone numbers, prescription numbers, up-coming appointments, etc.? This pocket-sized and easy-to-use digital recorder has you covered, and it’s now available in our Adaptations Store.

Incorporating a high-quality microphone and and high-output speaker into a small, lightweight and compact design, this recorder is the perfect travel companion for those hoping to save info with the touch of a button. The MicroSpeak is rechargeable and offers 12 hours of playback time, so there’s no need to worry about changing batteries. This recorder also includes an on-board user guide, which explains the four-button layout. The also uses clear audible beeps and voice prompts to make operating the device a snap. Simply slide the two-position power switch to the “on” position to hear the battery status and begin using your recorder.

The MicroSpeak has 4GB of space to store your audio files, which can either be played back on the recorder via its internal speaker, or copied to a computer via the USB port located on the bottom of the recorder next to the power switch. The MicroSpeak has buttons on the left side to control volume, which can be liberally turned up without incurring distortion — we call it the tiny recorder with a big sound!

The MicroSpeak Digital Recorder sells for only $54.95 in the Adaptations Store. Stop by and pick one up today!

Our Burning Man Maps for the Blind are Back

Burning Man has ten tenets — perhaps the first and foremost being “radical inclusion”. On their website, the first principle reads, “Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.”

It’s a philosophy that we share at LightHouse, and one that led MAD Lab designer and longtime Burner Julie Sadlier to debut a one-of-a-kind tactile Burning Man map two years ago. In other words, a Burning Man map for blind people .

This year, we’ve updated and improved the hybrid tactile-visual map for Burning Man 2017. Thanks to the business loans we got, we were able to complete the maps without a problem. The maps, with updated art placement, will be available at several locations in Black Rock City, including the Playa Information Booth, Mobility Camp and the CBT Project (at 7 and Fire), and here at the LightHouse headquarters starting August 23. To pre-order a map, contact our Adaptations Store at 1-888-400-8933 or adaptations@lighthouse-sf.org.

Calling it “awesome, no matter your level of sight,” The Atlantic’s CityLab aptly pointed out that you don’t have to be blind to use our map. Complete with braille, visual, and tactile representations of the event’s streets, information booths, first aid tents, restrooms, bus stops, camping, parking, and notable attractions such as artwork, Mobility Camp, The Temple and of course, The Man, the map is a great tool for anybody getting to know the festival – and one that is equally accessible to those with no vision. Now that’s radical inclusivity.

The map’s creator Julie Sadlier, said the response at Black Rock City over the last two years has been incredible, so much so that the leader of Mobility Camp, “Rat Lady”, contacted her way back in February to make sure she would be designing an updated version of the map for 2017.

“I had multiple people coming to my camp, even when I wasn’t there people were dropping off brailled business cards so they could talk more about the map,” says Julie. “Someone at Playa Information dismantled one copy and hung it on the wall to spread the word.”

It’s this type of openness and inclusivity, we’ve found, that opens unexpected doors and embodies the spirit of the LightHouse for the Blind as well as Burning Man. We look forward to printing even more than last year and to hearing your stories when you get back from the playa!

To get a copy of our map, call the Adaptations Store (1155 Market St., 10th Floor, San Francisco) at 1-888-400-8933, or email adaptations@lighthouse-sf.org. If you or your organization would like to design a fully accessible, inclusive map of, well – anything – email madlab@lighthouse-sf.org.

LightHouse Life Hacks: 7 Ways the Bump Dot Can Make Your Life Easier

Ever wonder how someone with low or no eyesight turns their washing machine to the perfect setting? Yes, there’s an app for that, but as it turns out, the answer is way simpler: this week we’d like to tell you about the small but mighty sticker called the Bump Dot.

Bump dots are a low-profile, low-cost way to strategically make your home or office space more accessible and increase your effectiveness and independence. What is a bump dot, you ask? These small, raised dots come in all shapes, sizes and textures and can be put on everything from home appliances to school work. It may seem simple, but it’ll save you from selecting the wrong wash cycle or always playing the squint-and-guess game, so you can spend more time and energy on the important stuff.

To help you get started with Bump Dots, we put together seven highly effective use cases, and hope you’ll come by the Adaptations Store during business hours to pick up a handful of these handy little stickers soon.

  1. Accessorize your home appliances

You can stick bump dots on microwaves, washing machines, dishwashers, ovens and more to mark buttons or setting you use most often. They can help make sense of a touch stovetop so you can stop avoiding the kitchen and get back to cooking your grandma’s recipes or the latest recipe from the LightHouse kitchen.

  1. Enhance your classroom experience

Bump dots can also create a representation of a figure on board or can be employed to plot points on a graph. Students can benefit from translation services with some extra assistance, no longer feeling lost or bored in school.


  1. Stick ‘em on a computer keyboard

When first learning the layout of a keyboard without sight, sticking a bump dot on a specific key so it is easy to find it.

  1. Identify different colors

Now and then, it may be important for a blind person to be able to identify different colored objects, perhaps for class or work. This daunting task can be accomplished through the combination of different types or numbers of bump dots.

  1. Increase the accessibility of your electronics

Maybe your home phone has no tactile way of identifying the numbers or other buttons, or your cell phone has an inaccessible touch screen. Adding a bump dot will solve that problem in no time.

  1. Label bottles or other containers

The strategic placement of some bump dots on bottles in the medicine cabinet or shower can save you from a load of trouble — so you can stop accidentally using the conditioner as body wash or make sure you’re taking the right daily supplement or prescription medicine without any guess work.

  1. Use different sizes and colors to suit your changing vision

For totally blind individuals, clear dots may work great if you are marking a device that may be used by someone with sight, whereas people with low vision can used brightly colored dots to provide a contrast.

Bump Dot packages range in price from $2 to $10 at the LightHouse’s Adaptations store. Pick some up next time you’re here!

Visit the Adaptations Store.

Adaptations Store Hours

Monday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Tuesday: 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Wednesday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Thursdays: 10 am – 5 p.m.

Fridays: 10 am – 5 p.m.

 

YES Academy Week One: Cane skills, cooking and mock interviews

It’s been a lively week at LightHouse headquarters with our three-week Summer Youth Employment Series (YES) underway. The 10th and 11th floors have been warm with the chatter of blind and visually impaired youth attending four classes a day including orientation & mobility, technology, living skills and job readiness trainings.

Many of the students at YES Academy are getting their first introductions to life skills like using a white cane, cooking, doing laundry, interviewing for jobs and volunteering. But it isn’t all work and no play. They also explored the city of San Francisco, including a ghost tour of Chinatown and a scavenger hunt at Fisherman’s Wharf.

This week they’re headed to camp and kayak in Tomales Bay, and then they’re off to Enchanted Hills Camp to spend a few days breathing the fresh air and learning the fundamentals of woodworking with blind woodworker George Wurtzel. The final week, a select group will attend the National Federation of the Blind Convention in Orlando, Florida. Here, students will meet thousands of blind role models from across the country, network with the National Association of Blind Students, peruse the aisles of the exhibition hall, participate in a nation-wide accessible job-fair and attend informative seminars.

“When we picked up the students at the airport not a single one of them was using a cane,” says Youth Services Coordinator Jamey Gump when we asked him about the most gratifying aspect of leading the program. “Now many of them feel confident to use their canes. It’s an important landmark for them to be comfortable with themselves and be able to identify as blind to allow the public to understand their needs.”

Romesha Laird is one of the YES students who started off the week having never used a cane before. She’s quickly taken to the mobility training and has found it an incredibly useful tool as she goes through this busy week of fun and self discovery.

“I’m just learning to use a cane,” she says. “I used to trip a lot and the cane makes me feel more confident. After this week, I feel a lot more motivated to use my cane when I’m walking around.”

Romesha is a high school student from San Bernardino, and when she’s not learning to making quick biscuits in the teaching kitchen or learning skills that will help her toward her goal of attending a four year college, she’s an avid cheerleader.

This week she discovered a mentor in YES Academy Counselor Danielle Fernandez.

“I really look up to Danielle,” she says. “She taught me a lot and showed me around. She also has the same condition as me, so we relate and understand each other.”

Romesha has already made up her mind that she’ll be headed back to YES next year.

“I am going to come back next year to learn more and get more experience and visit everyone at the LightHouse,” she says smiling.

Here are a few photos of Romesha practicing mobility in downtown San Francisco and volunteering to braille business cards in the MAD Lab.

Romesha smiles as she walks down Market Street with her white cane.
Romesha smiles as she walks down Market Street with her white cane.
Romesha helps emboss business cards with fellow YES Academy students in one of the LightHouse volunteer rooms.
Romesha helps emboss business cards with fellow YES Academy students in one of the LightHouse volunteer rooms.

Stay posted for more YES Academy updates in the coming weeks!

New Movie Tech for the Blind and Deaf, Actiview, Launches with Disney’s Cars 3

If you’re blind or visually impaired, you know that going to the movies isn’t as simple as smothering your popcorn in butter and leaning back in a cushy chair. While you wait thirty minutes for the manager to locate and set up assistive devices, you’ve already missed the beginning of the movie — if the device even functions properly.

But over the last year, LightHouse partner Actiview designed and prototyped a mobile solution to this problem within the walls of the LightHouse headquarters, and even 3D printed their streaming devices in our Toyota Innovation Tech Lab as part of our startup accelerator. They have since moved their base to our Berkeley satellite location.

On June 16, Actiview launched in the App Store to offer widespread accessibility for the summer Pixar release of Cars 3.

The team and their direction were influenced by many hours of feedback from LightHouse blind staff. We supported Actiview through their beta version because we think it is a huge step in the right direction towards accessibility for all moviegoers.

There is a strong buzz about this new technology as the wider community understands that Actiview will be able to provide affordable access to thousands of movie screens. Last week, industry reporter TechCrunch wrote a fascinating feature on this LightHouse-supported technology. You can read the whole story here. 

The newest release from Disney•Pixar, Cars 3, will be fully supported by the Actiview app, delivering both amplified audio and audio description, free of charge, to anyone who downloads the app and shows up at the theater. Audio description is for blind users, with a voiceover track describing what is happening on screen. Amplified audio takes the audio of the movie and makes the dialogue clearer and louder, for hard of hearing attendees.

Here’s what to know:

  • Available on the App Store (http://appstore.com/activiewempoweredentertainment)
  • Audio Description for Blind and Low Vision
  • Amplified audio for Hard of Hearing
  • Captions and Languages coming soon
  • Works with Cars 3 in all US theaters
  • Assistive services are free

How to use Actiview:

  1. Download the Actiview App from the App Store.
  2. On June 16, Cars 3 assistive audio (assistive tracks will be available to for download in advance. Download over Wi-Fi before getting to the theater if you want to save on data use)
  3. Go to the Cars 3 screening of your choice, open the app, and choose either Audio Description, Amplified Audio or the two tracks combined.
  4. Give us your feedback by emailing comments to team@actiview.co or by calling our hotline at 1(844)-399-2789 to sound off!

Please note: The first time a user opens the app, there is a 30-second tutorial helping the user to understand how to navigate the app which requires headphones to go through.

Camper Spotlight: Billy Lei

Nineteen-year-old Enchanted Hills camper Billy Lei bubbles with enthusiasm as he describes his first session at EHC, saying, “I loved Enchanted Hills from the first moment I got there. I loved the space, the trees, the people, all of it!”

Billy moved with his family from China to Sacramento eight years ago. They moved in part to give Billy the education he couldn’t get in China, where children with disabilities are often shuttered away. It was a big change. He says, “I was just eleven when I came here. I didn’t know the language and remember having to adjust to the hotter weather and different food.” Despite these challenges, Billy began to sharpen his English, dig into academics and learn how to relate to his American peers.

And Billy wanted to do more than that. At first, he might have been mistaken for shy, but he explains, “…that’s not really my nature. I learned a lot in school, but I wanted to become more confident and push myself even more.” That is exactly what he did at Enchanted Hills.

Since 1950, Enchanted Hills Camp, sprawling across 311 idyllic acres in the redwoods of Napa, is the place where children and adults who are blind or have low vision try new things, experience the grandeur of wilderness and make lifelong friends. Each year Enchanted Hills offers more than 550 campers the chance to enjoy nature while learning all kinds of skills, from archery to tactile crafts, from campfire-building to horseback riding.

Billy jumped at the chance to go to camp. Once there he learned to navigate the undulating campus and enjoy all that the camp had to offer. He tells us, “There’s so much that I love about Enchanted Hills. I love nature – I love hiking and the feeling of open space, the sound of the birds – it’s a happy place to be and I can really relax my mind. I love all kinds of physical activity and I took my very first martial arts class there. I liked it so much that I continue to take classes here at home.”

Camp Director Tony Fletcher says, “Billy is a great role model for the younger campers and he always takes advantage of the opportunities offered to him. We’ve seen how EHC can be a gateway to the deep learning of the rest of the LightHouse. Billy has run with this. He really threw himself into camp life. Now he’s getting ready to take on the working world as an active member of LightHouse’s Youth programs. He is learning how to do a great job interview.”

This summer, hundreds of young campers will set up their cabins and meet blind friends, old and new. Together they will gain confidence and a sense of pride in who they are. Please donate to help us continue to make camp a place for blind kids to discover themselves.

View the full list of our camp sessions here. We still have spaces at our STEAM Camp, the special tech track in our youth camp session, from July 12 to 15 — learn more about this dynamic and educational session on our website.