Category Archives: LightHouse News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start Dreaming: Holman Prize Applications Open in January

We’re thrilled to announce the return of the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, our annual $25,000 award for blind adventurers and creators.

In 2017, the Prize’s inaugural year, we received more than 200 applications from two dozen countries. We couldn’t be prouder of our three winners, who encompass a wide range of ambition, daring and creativity:

Ahmet Ustunel is training to kayak Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait, completely solo; Penny Melville-Brown is taking her YouTube baking show to six continents; Ojok Simon is teaching his fellow Ugandans to become self-sustaining beekeepers.

Named after the 19th century blind world traveler James Holman, the Holman Prize empowers blind men and women from around the world to complete the journeys and projects of their dreams.

The 2017 Holman Prizewinners smile with the Holman Team on Ocean Beach during Welcome Week.

 

What would you do as a Holman Prizewinner?

Applications for the prize open on January 16, 2018.

We encourage you to start planning ahead! The initial application is a quirky one: we ask that you send us a 90-second YouTube video explaining what you would accomplish as a Holman Prizewinner (as well as a brief written questionnaire). Once applications close, a select group of semifinalists will be chosen to submit in-depth written proposals, and later, finalists will be interviewed by LightHouse staff. Check out last year’s finalists’ video proposals to get acquainted with the types of projects you can pitch.

To learn more about the prize, and whether your idea qualifies, please visit our website.

You can read more about the Holman Prize in the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle and KQED’s California Report

If our FAQ page doesn’t answer your questions, feel free to get in touch with Max Levenson, Holman Prize Coordinator, at mlevenson@lighthouse-sf.org.

San Joaquin RTD Introduces Accessible Transit Maps in Collaboration with LightHouse’s MAD Lab and CCBVI

Just last week, San Joaquin Regional Transit District (RTD) launched Talk to Me Maps, a set of audio and tactile maps of transit boarding areas, in hopes of increasing access to the local transit system for people who are blind and low vision.

With money from a state grant, San Joaquin RTD collaborated with Community Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CCBVI) and LightHouse’s Media and Accessible Design Lab to produce large map books that not only share details of the region’s major bus stations in braille, but can be read by a “smart pen.” When moved around the tactile map, the pen speaks to the user to audibly share information about the physical layout of each station and which buses are going where.

The program will be yet another tool in the toolbox for people who are blind or low vision to easily get around town on RTD. It’s a step toward independence and self-reliance for thousands of San Joaquin County residents who are blind or have low vision.

“I’m just unbelievably grateful,” says Joni Bauer, a mobility specialist at CCBVI and a board member at the San Joaquin Regional Transit District. “I’ve been around a long time, and none of this was in anybody’s vision 40 years ago. It’s really amazing.”

The “Talk To Me Maps,” as they’re known, have been in the works for a couple of years. Bauer had heard about our accessible maps for BART stations in the Bay Area, so she met with experts from our Media and Accessible Design Lab, who put their heads together to create the maps over the course of nine months.

“For those with low or no sight, taking steps into new areas requires a high degree of confidence and is often daunting,” says MAD Lab Director Greg Kehret. “Access to information about the streets and paths around public transportation hubs is exceptionally useful. One methodology that has proven useful are tactile maps.”

For braille readers, the talking aspect of the map is extra, but serves as a helpful tool for non-braille readers who are blind or have low vision. Manufactured by Oakland-based Livescribe, the pens include cameras that capture information from the books and share it out loud through a speaker. It’s just a matter of holding the pen at an angle over the book and tapping.

“Everyone at RTD is thrilled to work with our friends at CCBVI, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and our sister transit agencies to make life a little easier for those traveling throughout San Joaquin County,” says RTD CEO Donna DeMartino. “This program will make ‘The Places You Can Go on RTD!’ even more accessible than before.”

RTD Talk to Me Maps are available for checkout at multiple transit hubs in San Joaquin County, including:

Development of RTD Talk to Me Maps was a collaboration among the following: Community Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CCBVI) proposed the project. RTD Director Joni Bauer spearheaded the project. San Joaquin Regional Transit District developed and implemented the project. The LightHouse MAD Lab is available to produce similar maps for governments, transit districts, schools or any other place where tactile maps would help the blind traveler. Click here to learn more about our MAD Lab’s braille and accessible design services or contact our specialists at madlab@lighthouse-sf.org.

For additional information regarding Talk to Me Maps, including a video of a map in use, please visit www.sjRTD.com/TalktoMeMaps.

Check out this video to see the map in use:

Need Some Kitchen Confidence? Now Offering One-on-Ones with Cooking Instructor Sydney Ferrario

If you walk into the LightHouse teaching kitchen on any given day, you’ll find our Cooking Instructor Sydney Ferrario cheerfully bustling around the kitchen, hoisting giant tubs of flour or dicing mounds of plump vegetables. We’ve seen a lot of gourmet concoctions from the LightHouse kitchen thanks to Sydney’s patient guidance.

Not only is she lively, informative, and knows her way around a stand mixer, but she also has plenty of adaptive techniques for cooking and baking to share with her students. She’ll show you that there’s nothing to fear about the kitchen, the oven, or even chopping unwieldy apples with a very sharp knife (hint: it’s all about curling the fingers away from the sharp blade).

Sydney is now offering one-on-one lessons and ongoing by appointment. If you’re connected with the CA Department of Rehabilitation and looking to develop skills in the kitchen (from labeling and organization to knife, stove top and oven techniques) individual trainings in our kitchen and final lessons in your home kitchen are available. These trainings will help you shop and prep healthy meals that work with a busy schedule and independent lifestyle.

If interested, please contact your counselor immediately to get the ball rolling! All interested students can call Sydney at 415-694-7612 or email sferrario@lighthouse.org to schedule a preliminary phone appointment and lesson times. Bon Apetit!

Maps, at Your Fingertips: The LightHouse Store Announces On-Demand Tactile Maps

Have you ever wanted to get to know the lay of the land before heading to a new city, campus or neighborhood? Wish you could just generate a quick, raised-line aerial map the way others do with Google? Whether it’s the blocks around your kid’s new school or a conference in San Diego — it’s not always easy to get a quick overview of a neighborhood before visiting. And unfortunately, mobile web mapping systems like Google or Apple Maps tend to fall short for blind users when it comes to getting the “big picture.”

Thanks to a collaboration between the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute and our Media and Accessible Design Lab, we’re pleased to announce that you can now order on-demand tactile maps of the area of your choosing for just $19 (plus shipping and handling) from our Adaptations Store. The tactile street maps depict the area around a user-specified address or intersection, using raised lines along with a circle marking the point of interest in the center of the map. Braille and large print labels indicate street names and other critical area information like cardinal directions, scale, and main streets. For those who are new to tactile maps, this is a great way to get started with this invaluable, always dependable tool for blind and low vision travelers. And for O&M teachers, or those learning how to travel with a dog or cane, this new instant service will make a tremendous difference.

To order a map, just call our product specialists at the Adaptations Store at 1-888-400-8933 and specify the destination of the map you’re interested in. Within two business days we’ll place your order, ship it or make it available for pick up at the store.

What’s in the package?

  • 3 signature Tactile and ink-printed Maps, generated by the MAD Lab at LightHouse for the Blind, of the area surrounding your point of interest: printed at simple, moderate and dense map scale ratios
  • A tactile map key
  • An explainer page
  • All materials are printed on 11” X 11.5” sheets of embossed paper and include ink / large print labels in addition to braille

Never used a tactile map before? Stop by the Adaptations Store in person and take a look at our pre-printed maps of the area around LightHouse Headquarters at 1155 Market St. We’ll help you get a feel for using tactile maps and you can even take a pre-printed tactile map with you for $19.

This Thanksgiving, the Actiview App Brings Video Description to Five New Theatrical Releases

This week, LightHouse partner Actiview is delighting blind and low vision movie fans across the United States with the announcement that the app will provide audio description tracks for Thanksgiving’s biggest theatrical releases. The app is now supporting five current theatrical releases, both for independent and major Hollywood films.

Actiview put out word this week that the platform will carry description, amplified audio and foreign language support for Disney•Pixar’s new musical adventure Coco and Bleecker Street films’ Dickensian origin story, The Man Who Saved Christmas, in addition to more late-2017 studio releases such as Dealt, Breathe and Wonderstruck.

Starting with this summer’s theatrical release of Cars 3, Actiview has been pushing theaters and consumers alike to think differently about what movie theater accessibility looks like. Calling it “a broader platform” for movie access, TechCrunch profiled the startup back in July, noting that it may be an uphill battle to convince a very established industry to accept a new, smartphone-based system, despite the obvious advantages for blind and hard of hearing moviegoers.

“The accessibility content already exists for all these movies,” says Paul Cichocki, who left Pixar last year and now works at Actiview, ”most people just don’t know how to deliver it to the audiences who need it. We’re the platform that simplifies access, so that everyone can pay for movies knowing they’ll get their money’s worth.”

In 2015 the LightHouse partnered with Actiview as they started their venture, incubating the company in our Market Street and Ed Roberts offices. The partnership continues, as we are dedicated to full video description for all. Here’s why LightHouse community member Aerial Gilbert uses Actiview:

See below for full details about this Thanksgiving’s new films, and stay tuned for more information about local December screenings of Dealt, co-presented by the Roxie Theater in San Francisco!

DOWNLOAD THE APP: Actiview (App Store)

LEARN MORE: ActiviewApp.com

SUPPORT: team@actiview.co

——————

New Films

COCO

Rated: PG (Trailer)

Release: November 22

Studio: Pixar Animation Studios

Actiview will provide:

  • Audio Description
  • Amplified Audio / Hard of Hearing track

——————

THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS

Rated: PG (Trailer)

Release: November 22

Studio:  Bleecker Street

Actiview will provide:

  • Audio Description
  • Captions in English and Spanish
  • Amplified Audio / Hard of Hearing track

WANT YOUR FILM ON ACTIVIEW?

http://activiewapp.com/studio

FOR MORE INFO, CONTACT:

team@actiview.co

O6: Get the ‘Eyes-Free’ Portable Smart Remote in our Adaptations Store

New in our Adaptations Store, the O6 is here to keep you connected to your devices “eyes-free.” This small, circular remote can be by your side throughout your day so you can use your phone without looking at or touching the screen.

A close up of man's hand turning the dial on a blue O6 clipped to his backpack.The O6 features an all-metal, tactile, rotary bezel dial, with textured touchpad buttons and motion-sensors that allows you to remotely control your devices. The lightweight and rechargeable device is only an inch and a half wide and supports more than 30 international languages, and works with iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch. It balances design with intuitive function to allow complete non-visual and one-handed control. The mechanical architecture enables the rotary dial to double as a tactile button that supports single-click, double-click, triple-click and press & hold operation.

Learn more about accessibility features here, and buy it now in our Adaptations Store for $99. We’re also selling the custom belt clip or mount for $19.

With the O6, you can:

  • Scroll & listen to text messages, notifications, news articles, and more. Rich vibration and audio alerts streamed through earbuds or Bluetooth speakers

  • Remotely control Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, or Podcasts.

  • Listen to texts, Facebook Messages, & notifications while listening to music or podcasts.

  • Use O6 with O6 Camera App to remotely zoom in/out, switch cameras, adjust exposure, take videos and more.

  • With O6, you can not only listen but also respond to messages, get directions, make calls on the go and more.

With new technology comes a learning curve and the LightHouse is here to help out. You can now schedule free weekday or weekend AT Training on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. or Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

The beauty of these trainings it that they’re one-on-one, so if the tech talk intimidates you, you can start slow. We have staff that can meet you where you’re at. To sign up, contact Access Technology Coordinator Shen Kuan at skuan@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7312.

Join the #GivingTuesday Movement on November 28 to Rebuild EHC

Join the #GivingTuesday movement on November 28 and donate to rebuild Enchanted Hills. Help us reach our $10,000 goal to rebuild one of the 10 cabins lost.

The holiday season is about giving, and this year we’re participating in Giving Tuesday, a one-day annual movement to spread the spirit to charitable organizations like LightHouse.

A view through the gutted staff house at Napa County's Enchanted Hills Camp.
A view through the gutted staff house at Napa County’s Enchanted Hills Camp.

In 2017, more than ever, we need your year-end charitable contributions. As many of you know, LightHouse suffered the greatest loss of our history this past year to our beloved Enchanted Hills Camp in the wake of the California wildfires. This year, we turn our Giving Tuesday efforts toward rebuilding EHC. Join the #RebuildEHC movement and make a tax-deductible donation to help us reach our goal of raising $10,000 on November 28, to contribute to the material cost of each of the 10 cabins we lost in the fire.

Over 40,000 organizations including small businesses, nonprofits, government agencies and major corporations in 98 countries have joined the #GivingTuesday movement over the last four years. Mark your calendars for the Tuesday after Thanksgiving to help us reach our goal.

Donate to #RebuildEHC

You can also support our fundraising efforts by sharing our Rebuild EHC page on Twitter or Facebook with the hashtags #GivingTuesday and #RebuildEHC. In your post, tell why YOU decided to support our efforts to Rebuild EHC better and stronger.

Thank you so much for your support.

The Baby Saints: The Story of a Heroic Rescue at Enchanted Hills Camp

This past week, EHC Site Managers Don and Janet Lay returned to their home at Enchanted Hills to resume their role of onsite staff. Enchanted Hills has a long road to rebuilding, but in celebration of this little victory, we bring you one of our favorite stories from the fire, as a tribute.

It was nearing midnight on Sunday, October 8. Smoke rolled over the mountain towards Enchanted Hills Camp. Staff stumbled out of their homes and glanced eastward and to find the entire range of hills ablaze in the distance from the nearing Nuns fire. Seeing the rising torrent of flames and high winds, the group decided on the spot to evacuate.

There were 14 people, three dogs and years of history and personal belongings to bring with them. The group packed everything and everyone into the cars they got from allcarleasing ( Click here to find out more about it), except for two little creatures who would not fit. The goats.

Janet had to think on her feet. She grabbed the hose and left it trickling into the bathtub nearby, thinking that at the very least, the goats would have water until they could escape. They patted the goats on the head, and opened the door to the stables, offering the animals their freedom if they wanted it. They said goodbye to Saint Nicholas and Saint Christopher.

Loved by campers, guide dogs and horses alike, “The Baby Saints” were a welcome addition to camp when they joined the EHC family in April 2017. Camp site staff Janet and Donny Lay rescued the two pristinely white baby goats, dubbed Saint Christopher and Saint Nicholas, from the Goat Rescue of Sonoma County. The companion goats were the latest in a series of goat herds dating back nearly ten years, who contributed to our fire abatement efforts by keep the grassy fuel load down to keep camp safe and intact. They soon became much more, and our Enchanted Hills Facebook fans and hundreds of campers came to know them as unofficial mascots.

The Baby Saints in a bright green field after arriving at EHC.
The Baby Saints in a bright green field after arriving at EHC.
Janet and Saint Christopher on the goats’ first day at EHC.
Janet and Saint Christopher on the goats’ first day at EHC.

The four-month-old goats quickly found a routine and became highly socialized, hanging with the horses from the Thacher School in the summer months and learning how to graze. They’d call out to campers walking up the road, begging for some love and attention, or frolic with camp counselor Analisa’s guide dog Walten in the stable while she worked in the pasture with the horses. They came to love people so much that they sometimes needed to be shooed away from trying to enter the dining hall.

When the horses left at the end of the summer, the goats were forlorn — but took to their jobs of grazing through the property and clearing away dense brambles and thickets.

***

After evacuating, site staff hoped to return to gather more of their personal belongings after evacuation, but it was too late. Throughout the week, they watched from temporary lodgings throughout the Bay Area as satellite imagery showed a red patchwork moving closer and closer to camp, so that soon it was right on top of the property. Janet and the team panicked, worried about the loss of their beloved home, but also for the gnawing sensation that there were two living, loving creatures still stuck up on the mountain.

On Thursday morning the fires had seemingly slackened and cooled and Janet woke up early, with new resolve. Frustrated by the road closures that blocked any entry for miles around our camp, she jumped online to see if anyone in the Napa area could get into EHC and help the goats. She discovered the Napa Community Animal Response Team (Napa CART) on Facebook and was relieved to discover that they were busy rescuing animals in the Napa area. She immediately started an email conversation that led to a few phone calls. She sent them a map of the property that indicated where the goats were likely to be found.

An hour later, Janet’s phone rang. A man on the other end said, “I’m going up to get your goats.”

Map of Enchanted Hills Camp with the stable circled in red.
Map of Enchanted Hills Camp with the stable circled in red.

Five hours later, NAPA Cart uploaded a post to Facebook:

“We have been very fortunate to help evacuate so many wonderful animals over the past few days and evacuations are continuing. Just now Saint Nicholas and Saint Christopher, these adorable 9 month old twin goats, were rescued from Mount Veeder and are now on their way to safe shelter.”

The Baby Saints were safe.

***

But where had they been? How had they managed to stay alive as flames tore through camp and across Mount Veeder, destroying dozens of EHC structures and leveling countless houses in the surrounding area?

With a little sleuthing, the pieces started coming together. The man on the phone was Sergeant Jeremy, a local Napa Animal Control worker and volunteer with the Napa CART organization.

He had set out to EHC with Janet’s map in hand, unsure if the goats would be there when he arrived. But when Sergeant Jeremy got to camp, the Baby Saints were right where Janet thought they’d be: huddled together in the bathtub near the stable, where Janet had left them a vital water source. They came running when called, relieved to find a human companion after days of fending for themselves.

The goats huddled together in the bathtub.
The goats huddled together in the bathtub.

When our photographers finally returned to camp, though, we discovered that the goats hadn’t stayed put the whole time — in fact they had had their run of Enchanted Hills in the absence of their caretakers. The stone dining hall had always been the neighborhood’s shelter-in-place structure, and the new fire-resistant roof kept it safe. The hardy pair somehow managed to force their way into the structure to take refuge, roving into the kitchen and nurse’s office, before finding their way back to their water source, where Sergeant Jeremy found them. Evidence below:

The telltale evidence of how the goats survived: goat droppings in our dining hall.
The telltale evidence of how the goats survived: goat droppings in our dining hall.

Despite having been through a lot, the goats were still frisky, Sergeant Jeremy said, recounting how he had to wrestle the little saints into a dog catcher truck, and after a brief tussle, carted them safely away from the property. No rescue mission would be complete without a tussle.

The Baby Saints spent the last few weeks on a leisurely staycation at a farm in Napa ever since, and with Janet and Donny back at camp as the site caretakers, the Baby Saints are now back home at EHC.

***

Goats may seem like odd pets to keep, but our appreciation for these little creatures goes much deeper than companionship. Between 2008 and 2013 we brought hundreds of goats to Enchanted Hills as part of an overarching fire abatement plan, to munch and maintain the underbrush and flammable wilderness that surrounds us on all sides. It is thanks to this planning that so many of the central structures in camp are still standing — including the fire-safe dining hall — where the crafty little survivors took refuge during the worst of the fire.

In some ways, we owe these humble (and insatiable) creatures a big thank you for the things that survived the fire. May they graze peacefully and heartily for years to come. A giant thank you to Napa CART, Sergeant Jeremy and the handful of EHC friends and staff who helped to complete a successful goat rescue mission.

We’re immensely grateful for the safety of our EHC site staff and the furry creatures they cohabitate with. But in order to get them back in business, there’s work to be done. Please help us Rebuild EHC after the devastating fires that led to the destruction of 29 of our structures, including the 10 cabins that have housed hundreds of summer campers and counselors every year since 1950.

Now, more than ever, Enchanted Hills needs your support and donations.

Superfest 2017 Was Our Best Yet

Superfest was a blast this year, thanks to the participation and support of our community. What a beautiful weekend! All of our film screenings sold out and everyone seems to agree: it was the best Superfest yet.

LightHouse Director of Communications Will Butler speaks with Superfest attendees.
LightHouse Director of Communications Will Butler speaks with Superfest attendees.
Sonja Ohldag laughs with friends and holds her guide dog Chief, who was the focus of a short documentary shown on Saturday.
Sonja Ohldag laughs with friends and holds her guide dog Chief, who was the focus of a short documentary shown on Saturday.

At Superfest 2017, more people with disabilities told their stories through film than ever before. Nine of our filmmakers came to participate in panels, and we screened films shot and produced in Myanmar, Colombia, Germany, Vietnam, Australia, Japan, Canada, Italy and the United States. It was a unique experience to welcome these storytellers into our local community in conversations that deepened the global understanding around disability and its portrayal in film.

Two women, one standing and one in a wheelchair, laugh and talk at Sunday Superfest screening.
Two women, one standing and one in a wheelchair, laugh and talk at Sunday Superfest screening.

But there’s more! Chief, the protagonist of his short eponymous documentary, has a message for you: now you can celebrate Superfest International Disability Film Festival year round — as a Superfest Showcase host. Contact us to find out how you can support and host screenings in your city, thanks to a generous grant from the Neda Nobari Foundation.

Interested in sponsoring Superfest next year? Check out our Sponsorship packages and help support cutting-edge disability film for years to come.

Thank you to this year’s sponsors and foundation support!

Sponsors

Image: Images of sponsor logos including the following: Shauna Farabaugh, Kawakami Barron and Lam LLP, Guide Dogs for the Blind, Telecare Corporation, jetBlue, Gatepath, Contemporary Jewish Museum.

Foundation Support

Image: Logos of foundation support including: George Lucas Family Foundation, Zellerbach Family Foundation, Golden Gate Regional Foundation.