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Announcing the 2019 Holman Prizewinners


San Francisco, CA, Thursday, July 11

All inquiries and interview requests to:

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 

Applications or the 2020 Holman Prize will open in January 2020. Please consult 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

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 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 

LightHouse’s Taxi Vouchers program

We can provide free taxi rides for people with disabilities. With the support from the San Francisco Department of Aging and Adult Services eligible San Francisco residents can request up to two vouchers for round trip fare per month.

Eligibility Criteria:

  • Must be a San Francisco Resident
  • Must have certification by a physician that applicant is permanently disabled and unable to use public transit.

These vouchers may be used to go to:

  • Medical appointments
  • Therapy appointments
  • Rehabilitation
  • Legal appointments
  • Food Pantries
  • Benefit counseling
  • Programs and meals at community centers

Request an Application:

Call 415 694-7321 to request an application. Please provide your name and complete mailing address.


Student Profile: Marie Vuong

On Monday mornings, adults gather at the LightHouse for The Business of Blindness: Coffee With Mike Cole. Mike, who is blind himself and retired after a long career in the field of blindness, chats with attendees over different issues related to blindness from daily living, to dealing with getting benefits to blindness philosophy.

One of the regular attendees of Mike’s class is Marie Vuong, who has been coming to the adult daytime programs at the LightHouse since 2011. In 2009, Marie’s optometrist noticed something unusual in her left eye and urged Marie to see an ophthalmologist. Marie found out that her retina had detached. She soon developed cataracts on both eyes.

With her vision changing, Marie decided to research various senior centers, most of which offered medical services and support groups for seniors with changing vision. But Marie was looking for something different: She was drawn to the LightHouse because of its recreational activities. “I came to the LightHouse because I wanted to learn things,” she said firmly.

Serena Olson, Adult Program Coordinator at Lighthouse, explains that when people first come to the LightHouse for services, some are ready to jump right in to intensive one-on-one training offered by Rehabilitation Services or Accessible Technology. Others are looking for social interaction, to form relationships with other blind adults. Serena works hard to ensure that social recreational programs “put learning and growth in the context of something fun.”

One of the programs is Stronger Seniors, an exercise class that is taught by LightHouse Health and Wellness Program Coordinator Amber Sherrard. Amber leads a class that leaves her students energized no matter their fitness level. Says Marie of the class, “A lot of good things come from Amber’s class. The exercise is very helpful.”  

Marie’s participation in LightHouse classes motivated her to become a more involved community member. She is a regular at LightHouse’s Thursday knitting class. She and other students have knitted beanies and blankets for premature babies at Kaiser Permanente. Marie enjoyed her visits to Kaiser to drop off the beanies and blankets so much that she was motivated to volunteer at Kaiser’s information desk. Marie feels fortunate that the city she once dreamed about visiting is now her home, though her path to San Francisco was not easy. 

Marie grew up in what was formerly South Vietnam. She was working in Saigon when North Vietnam won the Vietnam War and Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. After several years, she made the decision to leave the country as tensions in the region remained high after the war. 

Marie and her four year-old son tried to leave Vietnam three times. In September 1981, they were finally successful in walking hundreds of miles across Vietnam, staying in a series of safe houses along the way. They boarded a riverboat not meant for the open seas. With only a few pounds of rice for the 28 people onboard and mostly rain water to drink, they made the perilous journey to a Malaysian island. On the way they encountered pirates who took personal possessions from the passengers including money they had hidden in their clothing. When Marie and her son finally reached a refugee camp, she had a medical examination and found out she was pregnant. 

After five and a half months, a Canadian immigration official was able to get her in touch with her brother who was already in America, and Marie and her family were able to emigrate soon after.  

Marie’s vision has changed over the last nine years, but she puts it in perspective when she reflects on fleeing Vietnam. “I’m happy with what I have done,” she says.  “When I have to face a problem, I always look back at leaving my home in Vietnam behind and coming to the United States. If I can do that, with my eyes, why do I have to worry?”

 For more information on the weekly schedule of LightHouse programs, check out the online calendar, call the Events Hotline at 415-694-7325, or pick up a Braille or large print schedule in the LightHouse reception area. 

A YES Summer student reflects on their first week

The following is a reflection from Amber, a YES Student from LightHouse’s Summer Academy. For more information about YES’ Summer Academy, check out our round-up and photos from last year.

“In my short time of being at the LightHouse, I have had an exceptional time with many different learning experiences including work/living skills and also self-discovery.

Before coming to LightHouse, I had never met another visually impaired person. I have always been insecure about my vision, but here I’ve heard many inspiring stories about self acceptance.  One mentor who I identified with was Tim Elder, who spoke of hiding his vision loss by sitting in the back of the class and not acknowledging his vision. He then spoke of the gradual process of self-acceptance, and that was inspiring. Hearing about his accomplishments, like going to law school, being an attorney and helping others, was motivating and I aspire to have that level of self-acceptance someday.

There were other talks of self acceptance such as Lisamaria from Be Confident, Be You. She spoke of her method called “BAANG” which stands for blindness skills, advocacy, academics, networking and getting involved. This method was important and definitely something I will incorporate into my own journey of self acceptance. Her quote, “Tell yourself there are no such things as mistakes, only room for growth” is something I will think about every time I have to do something out of my comfort zone. It is very true each mistake we make can be a learning tool. Her last step of getting involved to not only benefit ourselves but to change the perception of blindness to the general public. That is great perspective that I had never thought of.

I am looking forward to spending the next four weeks at the LightHouse!”

Blind Adventurer Successfully Completes Extreme Triathlon

On June 22, Blind adventurer Red Szell, age 49, successfully completed an extreme triathlon which included a 10-mile off-road tandem ride through bogland, an ocean swim and a 213-foot climb up Scotland’s most dramatic oceanic rock formation, Am Buachaille, in 12 hours. 

More than just a triathlon, Red documented the whole endeavor, working closely with action-sports adventure videographer Keith Partridge to turn the project into a message to other blind people: that one should never give up their passions because they are blind or have low vision.

“It was the longest, hardest, most physically challenging day I’ve ever lived,” Red says. “From when we got on the bike to when we got off the bike for the last time, it was 12 hours.” 

After receiving his Retinitis Pigmentosa diagnosis at 19, Red says he spent two decades extinguishing his athletic dreams and spent most of the time on the couch in a cloud of depression. When his nine year-old daughter celebrated her birthday at a climbing wall in 2009, he gave the wall a try, and his dreams were reignited.

Red says that he feels that conquering the extreme triathlon is an emblem which represents the capacity and capability of all people who are blind or who have low vision.

“I think the fact that it’s three different, challenging feats, each of which, actually, I fully admit to having given up because I thought that a blind person shouldn’t be doing that kind of thing,” he says. “And, I’ve come back in an extreme setting and I’ve proved that these challenges are open to us, too. We might not be able to do them solo, but I’ve learned that it can actually be more fun to take on these things on with other people.”

Red stands at the top of the summit, and smiles as he is being filmed and photographed.

Red’s current daring climb was made possible when he was chosen in 2018 to receive the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition. The international prize, offered by the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco, annually gives three blind adventurers up to $25,000 to support their ambitious dreams.

“The Holman Prize gives me the platform to stand up in front of the world and say: ‘This is doable.’ Don’t think that because you can’t see you can’t push life to its extremes,” Red says.

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

For more background information about Red and his daring climb, watch this brand-new, two-minute video about Red and his Extreme Blind Triathlon. 

PRESS CONTACT: Caroline Hart, (978)-870-9763 or

“In The Dark”: Is This New Show Cutting Edge, Or Are We In The Dark?

This spring, the CW network launched a show titled “In The Dark” which focuses on a woman named Murphy who is blind. She has lived a rough life and made many questionable choices. Murphy’s life has narrowed down to a job she hates at a guide dog school her parents created for her, two friends she relies on—her roommate and a teenager—in order to function, and a reckless, partying lifestyle. So, when she stumbles upon a dead body she believes to her friend, Tyson, and the case does  not receive the attention it deserves from the police, Murphy takes the investigation into her own hands.

Since before the first episode aired, critics who are sighted and blind have been speaking out about this series. Given its controversy, I thought the staff at LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco might find it interesting to view the pilot episode together. Thirty of us gathered over lunch to watch it with audio description and closed captioning and then entered into a lively discussion about how the show affects the stereotypes of blindness both in a positive and negative light, and how it may shape our work at LightHouse.

In Hollywood, people who are blind are portrayed as one-dimensional in the entertainment industry; their lives are wrapped up in a pretty bow by the end of the story. This pattern is part of the appeal of the show. In the beginning, Murphy is far from likable. She has no drive and uses everyone in her life to her advantage without returning the favor, including her guide dog Pretzel. When she loses one cane, then her spare breaks, she finally gives in and calls her dog over to her to come work.

The writers have a unique way of addressing the stereotypes in a way that is humorous and actually educational without being patronizing. For example, on one of Murphy’s benders, she left a bar with a married man and when his wife came home early, the man told Murphy to hide. Murphy crawled away and found a table to crouch under but when the wife came in that room, she immediately saw Murphy. “This is a glass table, isn’t it?”, Murphy says before she is thrown out. This brought a chuckle to the room when we watched together. It’s a typical scenario in movies, yet anyone who is blind can relate. Thus it makes it alright for sighted people to laugh along with people who are blind. 

There were some quirks we noticed as we watched. An accessible technology expert at LightHouse knows the tech vendor the show producers consulted about technology used by people who are blind. The cell phones used in the show make iPhone sounds but are Android phones. Another quirk is that the audio description does not mention that Murphy’s mom is white and her dad is black. It does come up in the episode that Murphy is adopted but we wondered if this is common for audio description to not mention race?

I am legally blind with limited sight, and this was one of the first times I have used audio description. I liked it, and found that I wanted all the information from audio description that a sighted person has, even if that might mean needing to pause the show while audio description catches us up.

The other issues we noticed revolved around the education of the writers in terms of blind travel and guide dog schools, or the lack thereof. Murphy’s sighted guide technique was terrible. It is hard to know whether that was due to her lack of wanting to be seen as blind or the writers’ lack of education? Also, Murphy seemed to use her cane and guide dog interchangeably. We discussed whether some of us do that as well, and asked each other when we use a dog versus a cane. Is one option preferable based on a situation, our mood or how we want to be perceived?

Ridiculously, Murphy’s parents opened up a guide dog school for Murphy. They thought it would be somewhere that she could thrive by working and being around other blind people. However, Murphy seems to despise the place. It is unclear whether that is due to her parents making her be there, that she doesn’t actually like the work and has other ideas for her life or that she wants to escape her blindness? Either way, I think we all can relate to people wanting to shelter us or swoop in and protect us at some point in our lives.

I originally watched the pilot episode in April to prepare to lead the discussion when the staff watched the episode together in May. It was hard not to go ahead and watch more episodes immediately! People have asked me if I liked the show. I’m not sure if “like” is the right word? It was intriguing, entertaining and thought-provoking. I will watch at least another episode or so to see how things develop. If the show becomes canned and predictable in its stereotypes, I will pass. I am left wondering, and will ask you as well, what is better: to have a white-washed version of blindness, or a nitty-gritty version of someone with ninety nine problems and blindness isn’t the first one?

A LightHouse Staffer on Re-Visioning Enchanted Hills Camp

LightHouse staffer Erin Horne reflects on Enchanted Hills’ legacy and provides an update from camp.

Over the past couple of years, much of the West Coast has been ravaged by wildfires. Many have lost their lives or their livelihoods. Unfortunately, our beloved Enchanted Hills Camp did not escape the flames. But since the fires, the Lighthouse has committed to build back camp better and stronger than ever.

In the weeks, months and years to follow, so many of our friends, community members and large companies which support LightHouse for the Blind and Enchanted Hills Camp have continued to lend their support. LightHouse has been lucky to have so many individuals and groups put out their hand to help us off the ground and rebuild. In addition to countless individuals, people from AmeriCorps, Volkswagen America, The Kiwanis Club of Greater Napa, XL Construction, Napa Rotary and so many others have donated their time and dollars. The annual Rotary Cycle for Sight bike ride and food and wine festival has continued to support Enchanted Hills. Donations large and small continue to roll in as a reminder that EHC is always in the hearts of many around the world. Any dollar amount of donation is as important as the gesture, which can be made at our website.

Founded in 1950 by Rose Resnick, Enchanted Hills was the first camp of its kind on the West Coast, to fill a void as there was not one recreational facility for blind children to explore, thrive and gain confidence. Owned and managed by the LightHouse, Enchanted Hills retains much of its original character while we make structural improvements to the layout and design of Camp.

Since 2017, our staff has begun working with a team of architects to re-envision Enchanted Hills Camp for the next 70 plus years. How can we preserve the legacy of what EHC has been while also preparing for future generations? What can we dream up for this space for people who are blind to explore their freedom and ambitions? Even though the fires were a tragedy, how can we turn it around as an opportunity? As this planning with architects will continue over the coming years, rebuilding has been happening ever since the firefighters approved re-entry on Mount Veeder after the fires were out in the fall of 2017. Our crews put blood, sweat and tears into ensuring that camp sessions could run in the summer of 2018. Even though we were short ten cabins and other facilities, returning campers hardly noticed; the joyful spirit of a typical summer at camp remained.

Between the summer session of 2018 and 2019, even more crews came to give their time and heart to continue bringing Enchanted Hills back to its shining glory. Thanks to the staff at EHC and LightHouse Headquarters, we have an almost endless rotation of volunteer groups who want to come smell the fresh air of the redwoods and dig in to get dirty for the sake of so many campers whose lives will be changed.

By the time our first summer session of 2019 starts on June 9, we will see a new shade structure by the pool and storage barn complete. The poolside shade structure will surely be a relief to our campers who enjoy the wide variety of outdoor activities all summer long. Having a storage barn will allow our staff to finally have an office again, and provide necessary storage. This summer, Enchanted Hills will be able to offer nine sessions for blind and low vision youth and adults focused on all different areas from two sessions of Family Camp to Woodworking.

Stay tuned as our beloved camp continues to grow over the coming years. Updates on the architectural progress will be forthcoming and there will be countless ways for everyone who has a place in their heart for EHC to participate in its future. Together, we will continue to rise from the ashes because, as we all know, EHC is the place to be!

Holman Prizewinner launches website to connect blind travelers

On June 3, 2019, Holman Prizewinner Stacy Cervenka launched the Blind Travelers’ Network, an online platform to connect blind and visually impaired people with information and resources for non-visual accessibility in countries around the world. The platform hosts blog posts, reviews, discussion boards and event listings to help users expand their horizons, leave their comfort zone behind and explore new places.

Never before has there been a website exclusively dedicated to the global travel opportunities for blind people; the Blind Travelers’ Network underscores the growing ability of blind people worldwide to explore independently.

Cervenka, who is blind, birthed the idea for the platform after she and her husband Greg, who is also blind, sought to enjoy a leisurely horseback riding lesson at a ranch, only to encounter obstacles and disrespect in response to their blindness. The staff infantilized the couple and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act; Cervenka took legal action and wanted to share her experience with other blind people.

“I wanted to post about our experience on Yelp, but I knew that it could be months or years before another blind person wanted to go horseback riding at this stable and, by then, my review would likely be hundreds of reviews down the page,” Cervenka said. “I wished there was a centralized place where I could post a review of this stable where other blind people who needed to see it could do so.”

With the creation of the Blind Travelers’ Network, there now is, and it contains information about traveling with a cane in China, paragliding in Torrey Pines and beach-going in Sydney.

The platform was also influenced by Cervenka’s experience planning a cruise for her honeymoon, where the largest online aggregate of cruise information provided her ample detail about various cruise lines, cruise ships, and ports of call, but none about non-visual accessibility.

She realized that there was a need for a central platform with this information. Cervenka has also used social media to share her travel experiences with other blind people, who have historically contacted her directly with questions. Now, she hopes to scale this level of communication and community-building with the Blind Travelers’ Network, and also to make this information publicly available.

The Holman Prize, of The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco, selects three winners a year to challenge conventions of blind ambition and perceptions of blind ability. Created specifically for legally blind individuals with a penchant for exploration, the Prize provides financial backing – up to $25,000 – for three individuals to explore the world and push their limits. To visit the Blind Travelers’ Network, go to

For all inquiries, please contact Holman Prize coordinator Christina Daniels at or 415-694-7315. Contact Cervenka at

A Fond Farewell to a Beacon of Support in the Blindness Community

by Ali O. Lee, Vision Rehabilitation Therapist, formerly of the LightHouse of the North Coast

Guest author Ali O. Lee reflects on the life of Lois Willson, a LightHouse volunteer and leader in the blindness community since the 90s.

A black and white portrait of Lois Willson.
A black and white portrait of Lois Willson.

Lois Willson brought sunshine, humor, and positivity to any room. When she was newly diagnosed with Age-related Macular Degeneration, she and her husband Howard were integral to the LightHouse’s satellite operations on the North Coast. She helped facilitate low vision support groups in both Humboldt and Del Norte counties. In particular, they grew the Lighthouse’s Eureka Low Vision Support Group and renamed it “The Eyes Have It.”

Lois not only honestly shared her journey—adjusting to changes in her vision as she simultaneously adjusted to changes in her body due to aging and diabetes—but also connected people to community.

Together, Lois and Howard were a force, introducing people to the Humboldt Council of the Blind, making sensory toys with church members for babies who were blind and participating in LightHouse’s first “Changing Vision Changing Life” workshops on the North Coast. Lois believed in the potential of others, including creatures.

Later in life, she and Howard adopted a dog whose first act was to chew holes in the Styrofoam that comprised the back seat of their car when it wasn’t otherwise trying to escape. But, they continued to bring that darn dog in the car, anyway, as they reached out over many miles to support community members. To support the LightHouse’s low vision support groups, Lois and Howard traveled to remote Redway, Willow Creek, Fortuna, McKinleyville and Crescent City. They delivered radio receivers for the Reading Service of the Redwoods and local Lions Service Clubs.

Lois made herself available by phone and she referred people to services she herself used.

Lois received magnification training, sensory skills training, braille training, and Orientation and Mobility training from the LightHouse of the North Coast and the California Department of Rehabilitation. When she could benefit from it in her 80s, she readily adopted a white cane for independently navigating Eureka where she and Howard raised their children and volunteered for the Redwood Jazz Festival and adopted an elementary school classroom. She was rich in relationships, family and anecdotes.

From her cheerful yellow, Henderson Center house, Lois greeted neighbors and invited loved ones to join them in watching the annual Christmas Truckers Parade from their lawn. Rain or shine, Lois was vibrant and modeled resiliency in rural Humboldt County, California—where both she and Howard (but not the dog) are already missed.

An Enchanted Hills Camper On Community

17-year-old Karl, who hails from Maui, Hawaii, attended Enchanted Hills Camp for the Blind’s Teen Session for the first time in 2017. Growing up as the only visually impaired person in his community, Karl didn’t have any blind role models. But when he made the choice to hop on a plane from Hawaii and wind his way up Mount Veeder, he found an abundance of people to learn from.

Camper Karl sits outside at Enchanted Hills Camp.
Camper Karl sits outside at Enchanted Hills Camp on a sunny summer day.

Like Karl, almost all Enchanted Hills counselors are blind themselves, a real rarity among camps for the blind. In 2018, Karl returned to Enchanted Hills as a counselor-in-training. What brought him back, he says, was the warm community and the chance to be a leader.

Karl says his journey with his vision hasn’t always been easy, but the Enchanted Hills community helped him find himself as a young adult.

“If you’re the only visually impaired person in your social group, it’s so new for you to talk to other blind people,” Karl says. “This community helps us say to each other and ourselves, ‘This is how strong we are.’”

With the guidance of our dedicated team, campers try things they might never have an opportunity to do anywhere else, like archery, woodworking, and climbing trees. Enchanted Hills is a refuge away from well-meaning but overprotective parents and teachers, where blind kids learn their true abilities and grow a sense of self-worth. 

For 70 years, all of this has been made possible by the support of community members like you.

Enchanted Hills was hit hard by the 2017 Napa wildfires. Our lower camp cabins were leveled, the stage at the Redwood Grove Theater melted, and 600 trees were lost. Yet, thanks to the contributions of donors like you, we built temporary bungalows to house campers for a successful summer 2018. 

Still, our work is nowhere close to done. In addition to rebuilding from the fire, just this March, tempestuous winds and torrential downpours damaged the camp facilities further. The site became flooded, and now requires about $100,000 in repairs.

We still need support to rebuild Enchanted Hills to be a resource for the blind community year-round. Donate today.

You can also support camp by joining the LightHouse community for an evening of rock and opera in Martinez on June 12. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit the concert event page.