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LightHouse News

Employment Immersion Students Make Their Mark at Federal Job Fair

On September 4, 26 blind and low vision jobseekers who are part of LightHouse’s Employment Immersion Program, assembled at LightHouse Headquarters and walked as a group to the Federal Building in San Francisco for a job fair.

The jobseekers, dressed in business attire and armed with resumes and cover letters, spoke with representatives from twenty Federal agencies including the Department of Veterans Affairs, Social Security Administration, Transportation Security Administration, Department of Labor and more.

LightHouse’s Employment Immersion Program provides individualized training in job seeking skills to adults who are blind or have low vision. This includes resume and cover letter writing, interviewing, disclosing disability and more. With the unemployment rate for blind people in the United States at 70%, the Employment Immersion Program is dedicated to lowering that rate by providing students with the essential tools they need to be competitive in the job market.

Edward Wong, LightHouse Employment Specialist, remarked that other attendees at the job fair took note of the large group of blind people who sought the same employment opportunities as their sighted peers. “People noticed how many blind people were there. We were the white cane brigade.”

Are you a blind or low vision jobseeker? Visit our Employment Immersion webpage, call 415-694-7359 or email eiteam@lighthouse-sf.org to learn more.

New local tactile maps at Adaptations

Photo: Sarika Dagar

Our Mad Lab designers have been hard at work producing a set of new maps of our region. Never before have curious blind travelers had these tactile maps, and they can be acquired immediately from LightHouse’s Adaptations Store.

Here is a list of the available maps:

• San Francisco Bay Area Cities: Ever wonder where the heck Piedmont actually is? This map shows the major cities in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. $15

• San Francisco Bay Area Counties: This map shows the counties in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Now you can see, for example, why Contra Costa County is actually north of Albany. $15

• San Francisco Bay Area Highways: You’ve heard of highway 13, or 237, or 92. Now you can see exactly where they are and how they connect. This map shows the main highways of the greater San Francisco Bay Area. $20

• San Francisco Neighborhoods: Just where does the Western Addition end and the Richmond District begin? Now you can find out. This map shows the neighborhoods in the city of San Francisco. $15

• California: Sacramento is actually more north than people commonly think. This map shows the state of California and its major cities. $20

Each map comes with braille and large print labels and is available for pickup. Get yours today by visiting our Adaptations store on the 10th floor at LightHouse Headquarters, 1155 Market Street in San Francisco. Or for extra convenience, just phone in your order and we’ll mail it to you. For more information call Adaptations at 1-888-400-8933 or email our store staff at adaptations@lighthouse-sf.org.

Red Szell reflects on how the Holman Prize got him to the top of the rock

Each year, the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, funded by LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco, provides three blind people up to $25,000 each to carry out an ambitious idea. On June 22, 2019, Holman Prize winner Red Szell successfully completed his extreme blind triathlon, which included a 10-mile off-road tandem bike ride, an open-water swim and a 213-foot climb up Am Buachaille, a vertical rock formation off the coast of Scotland. We interviewed Red shortly after his successful climb to get his reflections on training for his Holman Prize adventure.

Red’s triathlon training began in earnest last October. “I had a pretty high level of fitness from climbing and swimming,” Red, age 49, says, “but I had to ramp it up because I would be outside for twelve hours.” Red began incorporating running on a treadmill into his training regimen but injured his right Achilles tendon in January. With the help of twice-weekly physiotherapy sessions and some modifications to his training techniques, Red was able to continue preparing to climb Am Buachaille. Despite the ordeal, Red’s injury ultimately provided some benefits. “It actually helped my climbing because we worked on ankle stability and stretching,” he explained.

Besides the physical training required to successfully complete his Holman Prize goal, Red also had to navigate logistics, such as planning a practice climbing trip to Sardinia, finding a videographer to film the triathlon, getting the tandem bike from London to Scotland and more. “Being the CEO of my own project is something that I never really expected to do,” he admits. “That is a very difficult challenge but also immensely enjoyable and character-building. I feel a genuine sense of achievement and personal growth that has resulted from being awarded a Holman Prize.”

Red has always loved climbing, spending his teenage years climbing in the Welsh mountains in Wales. When he was 20, he was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a progressive condition that eventually causes blindness. As Red’s vision continued changing, he became depressed and stopped climbing. More than twenty years later, Red, now a father and journalist, had learned blindness skills. His passion for climbing was reignited at a birthday party for his daughter at a climbing gym. He decided it was time to learn to climb as a blind man.

In 2013, Red became the first blind man to climb the Old Man of Hoy, another sea stack in Scotland. Red declares that was “a personal achievement.” Successfully climbing Am Buachaille was different, however, because of the scope of the Holman Prize as a worldwide competition. Red remarks that the Holman Prize demonstrates to everyone “what blind people can achieve with the right support and determination.”

Red sitting on a rocky beach at Sandwood Bay, on the far north-west coast of mainland Scotland, with Am Buachaille towering behind him.
Red sitting on a rocky beach at Sandwood Bay, on the far north-west coast of mainland Scotland, with Am Buachaille towering behind him.

Going forward, Red will include his Holman Prize experience in the presentations he gives about being a blind climber, but more importantly, he will encourage other blind people to apply for the Holman Prize. From applying for the prize, to winning it, to carrying it out, Red views the Holman Prize as “a journey of self-discovery.” Listen to Red talk about his harrowing adventure here. Red’s experience will be documented in a forthcoming audio-described documentary of his “Extreme Triathlon” full of Red’s humor and outrageous Scottish scenery, called Shared Vision.

Do you have Holman Prize aspirations? Holman Prize submissions open in January 2020. For more information about the Holman Prize, visit HolmanPrize.org.

Meet LightHouse Access Technology Specialist Amy Mason

The Lighthouse Access Technology Department offers up-to-date training in the latest accessible methods. Meet Amy Mason, one of our Access Technology Specialists, who trains students who are blind or have low vision on ways to make their phone, computer or other devices easier and more comfortable to use.

Amy began her journey with access technology while in high school in Cedar Bluffs, Nebraska, when her vision was changing. At first, she learned to use a rudimentary screen magnifier, then she moved on to using the popular screen reader, JAWS. But in college, although she used a computer, she had no idea how to set one up and did not keep up with newer versions of Microsoft Windows.

After getting her Bachelor’s degree, she continued her education at South East Community College in Lincoln, Nebraska, focusing on computer networking. She also taught computers to kids during the summer. It was important to her that her students learn not just how to use a computer but how to problem solve when their computer didn’t work. One of her teaching tricks was to unplug all the computers and disconnect the cables in the classroom. Her students were required to put them together before class, including troubleshooting if something wasn’t working. For example, if their computer wasn’t making sound, even with the cable for sound plugged in, Amy would prompt them with questions like, “Did you plug the auxiliary cable back into the right place?”

Amy has brought her sound techniques for getting students to problem-solve and explore to LightHouse. “It’s okay to try things,” she says. “It’s a lot like exploring a new neighborhood or cooking a new dish. You have to learn new skills, new information, and new landmarks, but a lot of your key concepts stay the same.” When students encounter something unfamiliar while using technology, Amy encourages them to apply the skills they’ve already learned and problem-solve.

Amy’s experiences have informed her teaching strategies. She relates how when she was growing up, her father brought a computer home with several tutorials, including one that taught computer basics. One sentence really stood out as she was going through the tutorial: “The computer is no more intelligent than a toaster.” Now, in explaining her approach to teaching, Amy uses the metaphor of a toaster to help her students understand the basic functions of a computer. “What you’re doing with a computer at its most basic level is no more complex than what you’re doing with a toaster,” she states, with amusement. “With a computer, you’re giving input, with a toaster, you’re giving it bread. Then you add in variables, such as ‘I want this input to be put out in this format’, or ‘I want the bread to be medium dark’. Then you execute the program. If you’re using the computer, you might get a spreadsheet. If you’re using a toaster, you get toast.”

During the course of training our students learn how to use a number of technologies. Among the things Amy can teach you are how to use a screen magnifier such as ZoomText, screen readers such as JAWS, your smartphone, email and other programs on your computer, and for braille users, how to use refreshable braille.

Amy is concerned with accessibility, but also has expertise in the user experience. Besides technology training, the LightHouse Access Technology Department works with developers to evaluate websites and mobile applications for accessibility. Amy likes to educate developers on the impact poor accessibility or a poor user experience has on a blind person. For instance, developers may not realize that many blind people do not use a mouse at all though the software they use assumes they do. As Amy explains, “if a someone has to press tab 52 times on a keyboard to get to where a mouse user can get with one click, well that is not a great user experience.”

Amy trains her students to become their own teachers, so that when they finish their training program at LightHouse, they are confident enough to problem-solve when their technology downloads an update. With her help she hopes they will be able to work through any changes the update brings because “they’ll have the tools they would need to explore.”

When Amy is not training you may find her hard at work on hobbies such as drawing and crocheting. Amy is owned by two especially opinionated cats.

Let LightHouse get you connected with access tech. If you are interested in Access Technology Training at LightHouse, visit our access technology webpage or email skuan@lighthouse-sf.org.

Coming soon – LightHouse East Bay expands services

LightHouse East Bay, our office at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, is growing, and along with it, our commitment to providing a continuum of programs and services. The LightHouse has welcomed students from the East Bay into our programs for many years, but recognizes that establishment of a consistent presence in the area will ensure we more effectively reach the large and diverse population of Alameda, Contra Costa, and Solano counties.

Blind and visually impaired residents in the East Bay can look forward to a warm and welcoming location just steps above the Ashby BART station. Our attentive staff will be available five days a week to connect you with an abundance of services, including skills training and community events. LightHouse delivers individualized training in Orientation & Mobility, Access Technology, employment readiness, Braille, Independent Living skills, as well as hosting events to bring blind people together with one another and the wider Bay Area community.

This expansion coincides with the exciting news that we’ve been awarded a grant by the Senior Assistance Foundation Eastbay to provide training free of charge to residents of Alameda County over the age of 55. If you know of someone who qualifies, please contact LightHouse concierge Esmeralda Soto, at esoto@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7323.

We’ll have more to share on our progress at LightHouse East Bay throughout the coming months. If you have questions about LightHouse programs, contact Esmeralda Soto at 415-694-7323 or info@lighthouse-sf.org.

The best part about blind camp

By Annalisa DiLeonardo, Assistant Director, Enchanted Hills Camp

I’ve been attending Enchanted Hills Camp for nine summers now, seven as part of the staff. I have low vision, but prior to my first summer attending EHC, I’d never really met another person with low vision, except one gentleman in high school.

I owe a lot to EHC for making me into who I am today. In the sighted community I sometimes feel like a fish out of water. At Enchanted Hills I’m with people just like me. Everyone deals with the same challenges and we can share our stories, tips and tricks. We don’t have to worry about what people think of us.

Campers with white canes walk in front of peaceful Lake Lokoya.
Campers with white canes walk in front of peaceful Lake Lokoya.

Each summer, I make a point of taking a step back mentally when we all gather at the campfire together. This year I did my thinking during the dance competition campers have come to enjoy every year. While I could sing many praises to EHC and take many pages to tell you about the great things there, what really blows my mind is how we all come from so many different walks of life but are connected at camp through this one special thing – our blindness. For example, at this year’s Teen Camp session, campers and staff came from parts of the world as diverse as Australia, China and Poland, plus all over the USA. It was so amazing to see the dining hall filled with at least 100 people who are all immersed in the world of blindness in their own special way.

Yes, there are cultural differences between us, but that doesn’t matter at EHC. Language barriers don’t seem to matter either – we all come together to enjoy each other and the wonderful activities camp has to offer. We all “get” each other. This is truly the best part about Enchanted Hills Camp.

As our community knows, in a single afternoon in October 2017, half of Enchanted Hills burned to the ground or experienced fire and smoke damage. You can help us rebuild Enchanted Hills Camp better than ever. Thank you for your support!

Meet Alieu Jaiteh: Holman Prizewinner and Social Entrepreneur

Alieu Jaiteh is one of three recipients of the 2019 Holman Prize for Blind Ambition. The Holman Prize is awarded annually by LightHouse for the Blind to three blind individuals with ambitious ideas. With his award of $25,000, Alieu will provide blindness skills training to eighty people in rural Gambia.

Born and raised in The Gambia, Alieu became blind shortly after graduating high school. He was interested in being an accountant, but as he explains, “In The Gambia, when you are blind, you have two options: to become a teacher or a beggar. Well, I didn’t want to be a beggar, so I chose to become a teacher.”

After graduating from The Gambia College, Alieu applied and won a scholarship to kanthari international, an institute which provides leadership training for people who want to make social change. His instructors at kanthari were impressed with his work and leadership skills and secured funding to send him to the Louisiana Center for the Blind in the United States. At the Louisiana Center, Alieu learned rehabilitation and technology skills. “I had never cooked for myself before,” he explains.

After experiencing the services and opportunities available to blind people firsthand, Alieu knew that he wanted those same things for blind people in his country. “I said to myself, I have to change the system. I started dreaming and wondering what I could do for myself and all the visually impaired people in The Gambia. That is where the dream of Start Now began.”

Start Now Gambia, founded by Alieu, provides rehabilitation and technology training to blind Gambians. Start Now’s mission is to provide blind people with the training they need to work in a variety of fields. As word spread about his organization, Alieu was met with skepticism. “People said this won’t work. It’s a waste of time,” Alieu explains. Alieu’s response was frank. “This is about changing lives. These are services that are not available here.” Start Now Gambia has continued with the hard work of Alieu and other liked-minded people in The Gambia.

Alieu learned about the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition in 2017. He realized the prize would provide him an opportunity to expand his training outside of the capital of Banjul and into rural Gambia. He applied in 2018 and became a finalist but did not win. In 2019, Alieu considered applying again, but was skeptical about his chance for winning because of the caliber of the competition. Finally, with only two weeks left of the submission period, he applied. When asked what he did differently from the first time he applied, Alieu says, “I wrote a more focused, creative and detailed proposal.”

The Holman Prize is named for James Holman, a blind explorer who was the most prolific traveler of anyone, blind or sighted, before the era of modern transportation. The prize is about shattering misconceptions and changing expectations about what blind people can do. On winning the Holman Prize, Alieu says, “This is an opportunity to transform the lives of blind and partially sighted people in rural Gambia to become confident and independent. This award is a dream come true and obviously a motivating spirit for all my future activities.”

Alieu’s Holman Prize journey begins in October. Follow along at HolmanPrize.org or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Subscribe to the Holman Prize email newsletter by sending a message to holman@lighthouse-sf.org.

Reflections from the YES Academy Class of 2019

Each year, LightHouse offers an intensive summer program for youth ages 16-24, which includes time spent away from home. The Youth Employment Series (YES) Academy is a four-week immersive experience held at LightHouse Headquarters in San Francisco to gain first-hand knowledge about building confidence, being a “team player,” identifying strengths and interests, and finding direction through interactive work-based learning experiences designed to develop job-readiness skills.

In June, this year’s group tackled a blindness skills boot camp, met with blind mentors, visited college campuses, attended a blindness convention and completed work experience, which they traveled to independently.

Here are reflections from a few of the students from the YES Academy Class of 2019:

Jenn, who interned at the Exploratorium, a science museum, explained, “I got to oversee prototypes for a biology exhibit. As a Molecular Biology major, this was absolutely perfect! I got so excited reviewing the 3D models of cheek cells and giving my recommendations. The exhibit designer, Denise, was so enthusiastic and I loved engaging in discussion with her. We were really trying to take biological concepts and make them physical, tangible objects for the public to understand and interact with. The new exhibit will be displayed in October and will represent how cells ‘fit’ together to form tissues via a puzzle visitors must put together using the 3D printed models.”

Matt discussed the impact YES Academy mentors had on him. “After breakfast every morning, we had a “mentor spotlight.” These spotlights were my favorite aspect of the Summer Academy. I enjoyed how the mentors explained their stories about going blind, and also being successful. I learned extremely valuable information on individuals who have become blind later in life, which I can apply directly to my own life.”

Nikki talked about the independence he got to experience. “This was my first time doing the YES Academy. This summer, I decided to take the jump and sign up. I was really looking forward to the living skills component. My favorite thing over the last four weeks has been the amount of responsibility and the room to grow that you receive. You’re responsible for going to your work location on your own, without assistance. You’re responsible for buying your own food to make lunches. You’re responsible for reporting to your employers on time, in a professional manner and you’re responsible for completing all the assignments that your employer gives you. I had never traveled on my own before. There was true independence in this program.”

For more information about Youth programs at LightHouse visit the Youth Programs page or email youth@lighthouse-sf.org.

A Blindness Conference in Mexico Becomes a Catalyst for Change

From July 26-28, 2019, Holman Prizewinner Conchita Hernandez convened the first-ever blindness conference in Mexico led by blind people for blind kids and their families.

Conchita convened a team of fellow blindness professionals to host the conference she called Cambiando Vidas, or “Changing Lives.”

Held in Guadalajara, the Cambiando Vidas conference included breakout sessions on a variety of topics, including daily living skills, low-cost technology, employment expectations, an introduction to braille and more. 120 people attended the conference, including blind people of all ages, parents of blind children and educational and rehabilitation professionals.

“Many of the people who attended the conference hadn’t been exposed to training techniques and a blindness-positive philosophy,” says Conchita. Conchita describes witnessing the impact that this conference had on attendees. “One parent said she was anxious and upset when her daughter was born blind.” The mother’s views changed during the course of the conference. “Now, she sees the possibilities that there are for her daughter,” Conchita concludes.

Conchita shows a little girl how to use a long white cane at a school in Mexico.]
Conchita shows a little girl how to use a long white cane at a school in Mexico.

Conchita is the chair of Mentoring Engaging and Teaching All Students, or METAS, an organization that works to spread blindness training and advocacy in Mexico. Conchita and her fellow METAS staff hosted the conference this year and are working to secure funding to host the conference again. Conchita, however, has a long-term dream for the conference: “The conference needs to be run by people who live in Mexico.”

The first steps to achieve that goal have already taken place. “The conference was attended by people from all over Mexico,” Conchita explains. “At the end of the conference, people from different regions in Mexico formed a committee, to fight for change and legislation,” she continues.

Conchita was one of three winners of LightHouse for the Blind’s Holman Prize for Blind Ambition in 2018. The Holman Prize for Blind Ambition is about changing the perception of blindness around the world. Conchita’s Cambiando Vidas conference clearly did just that. By bringing people together, the conference helps to raise the bar for people who are blind. This has led to attendees advocating for more opportunities for blind people in Mexico. “When people come together,” Conchita says, “they can make a big change.”

Read about the rest of the 2018 Holman Prize winners here and learn about the newly crowned 2019 winners and their projects changing perceptions of people who are blind globally.

 

Announcing the 2019 Holman Prizewinners

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

San Francisco, CA, Thursday, July 11

All inquiries and interview requests to: press@lighthouse-sf.org.

LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired’s Holman Prizewinners will each use their $25,000 awards to promote blind empowerment by building a tool for blind people to find exoplanets, taking a plunge into public transit in six cities around the world and developing a network of blind mentors for the first time in rural Gambia.

In just a few months, three intrepid blind individuals will set off around the world in a daring series of groundbreaking adventures as the 2019 winners of the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition.

We announce the three 2019 Holman Prize winners: Yuma Decaux, Alieu Jaiteh and Mona Minkara after a rigorous, multifaceted judging process. Each winning project embodies its own sense of adventure and ambition – Yuma plans to give blind citizens advanced tools to participate in astronomical research, Alieu will create a network of blind mentors in his home country of The Gambia, where this is unheard of, and Mona will immerse herself in an adventure on mass transit systems worldwide, documenting the experience on film.

Created to change perceptions and popularize the concept of “blind ambition”, the San Francisco LightHouse’s Holman Prize Holman Prize annually awards three blind adventurers up to $25,000 to support their ambitious dreams.

Now in its third year, the prize is named for James Holman (1786-1857), a Victorian-era adventurer and author. As the first blind person to circumnavigate the globe, he holds the further distinction of being the most prolific traveler in history, sighted or blind, prior to the invention of modern transportation.

“While many awards in the blindness field look toward past accomplishment, the LightHouse is determined to spark new initiatives for future growth by some of the world’s most ambitious blind people,” said LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin.

The LightHouse was first introduced to the three applicants through their 90-second video pitches. You can see their original pitches here:

Yuma Decaux

Alieu Jaiteh

Mona Minkara

Yuma Decaux, Alieu Jaiteh and Mona Minkara were part of a competitive pool of 111 applicants from six continents.

View all 15 Holman finalists’ video pitches.

The three Holman Prizewinners will fly to San Francisco in September 2019 for a week-long orientation before starting their project year on October 1. Once they land in San Francisco, the winners will not only meet and learn from each other, but they will engage with other blind teachers, technologists and leaders from LightHouse’s extended network. The winners will also create comprehensive plans to document and share their experiences along the way through video, audio, writing and other media. 

Our 2018 prizewinners are each in the final stages of their Holman projects. Stacy Cervenka launched the Blind Travelers’ Network last month, Red Szell successfully completed his extreme blind triathlon and Conchita Hernandez will soon host a blindness workshop in Mexico. 

LightHouse is still interested in finding corporate or philanthropic supporters for the 12 finalists who we found irresistible but simply couldn’t fund this year.  For possible support please contact Jennifer Sachs at jsachs@lighthouse-sf.org 

Applications or the 2020 Holman Prize will open in January 2020. Please consult www.holmanprize.org for details.

 The Holman Prize is determined by a prestigious international group of judges, all of whom are blind.  

The prize is a flagship  program of the LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco, who will salute each winner in an annual gala now set for the fall of 2020 in San Francisco.

Meet the blind judges who picked the winners. 

About the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition

In 2017, LightHouse for the Blind, headquartered in San Francisco, launched the Holman Prize to support the emerging adventurousness and can-do spirit of blind and low vision people worldwide. This endeavor celebrates people who want to shape their own future instead of having it laid out for them.

Created specifically for legally blind individuals with a penchant for exploration of all types, the Prize provides financial backing – up to $25,000 – for three individuals to explore the world and push their limits. Learn more at holmanprize.org.

About the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. To offer your support, contact holman@lighthouse-sf.org. Individuals may donate any amount using LightHouse’s secure form. For sponsorship inquiries, email us or call +1 (415) 694-7333.

For press inquiries, contact press@lighthouse-sf.org.