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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.

Announcing the 2019 Holman Prize Finalists

A photo collage of the 2019 Holman Prize Finalists.
A photo collage of the 2019 Holman Prize Finalists.

The Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, a set of annual awards of up to $25,000 each for legally blind individuals with big ideas, is proud to announce its 2019 finalists. We received 111 applications from six continents, and narrowed down the field to 41 semifinalists. The semifinalists’ proposed projects were incredible, and highlight advocates, artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, and more; that made it a tall order to narrow it down to just fifteen finalists.

This week, we’re proud to announce our elite group of fifteen finalists, including a “People’s Choice” finalist who we honor for receiving the highest number of YouTube ‘likes’ for his ambitious idea. These finalists will all be in the running to make their ambitions a reality when our Holman Committee meets in San Francisco this June.

The fifteen finalists include an activist, a pole dancer, a bird expert, a snowboarder, a few sailors and more. Over the next month, we hope you’ll sound off on which Holman Prize candidate you want to see take their ambitions on the road. Feel free to tag Holman Prize on Twitter, Instagram and head to the LightHouse’s Facebook page for more updates.

Meet the 2019 Finalists

Abdullah Aljuaid (People’s Choice)

Abdullah is interested in e-commerce. With the Holman Prize, he would create a global consultation app for blind people to find information on learning, mobility, fitness and e-commerce.

Krystle Allen

Krystle, who once advocated for people with disabilities in Tokyo, would use the Holman Prize to pay for fifteen blind women to participate in the Miss Blind Diva Empowerment Fellowship Program. This is a sixteen-week program that provides personal and professional development and ends with the Miss Blind Diva Empowerment Pageant.

Trevor Attenberg

Trevor loves science and the outdoors. With the Holman Prize, he would travel and teach blind people to identify birds by sound and explore other natural soundscapes.

Natalie Devora

Natalie is an author and activist. With the Holman Prize, she would travel and collect stories from people of color with albinism around the world and share these stories in an anthology and documentary.

Yuma Decaux

Yuma loves hiking and surfing. With the Holman Prize, he would build an online community to make astronomy more accessible to blind people, with the hopes of a blind person discovering an exoplanet.

Deniz, Yunus, Utku and Mina

Deniz, Yunus, Utku and Mina are from Turkey. With the Holman Prize, they would take the Trans-Siberian Express from Moscow to Beijing and create a documentary about it to inspire blind children to travel independently.

Pauline Dowell

Pauline and her guide dog live on a sailboat on the Boston Harbor. She would use the Holman Prize to form an all-female crew of blind sailors to compete in the 2020 Newport to Bermuda Race, which goes from Newport, Rhode Island to the island of Bermuda.

Stephanie Campbell

Stephanie is a newlywed whose wedding received media coverage when she requested her guests wear blindfolds during the vows. With the Holman Prize, Stephanie would film the pilot for a sensory travel show, that explores destinations non-visually through the senses of sound, smell, touch and taste. She would then shop this pilot to television executives with hopes for a series pickup.

Dennis Gallant

Dennis worked as a teacher ranger with the National Park service. With the Holman Prize, he would create a podcast to highlight the specific sounds from various national park locations, which would help blind people learn about the natural world in an accessible way.

Alieu Jaiteh

Alieu is the founder of Start Now, a training program for blind people in The Gambia. With the Holman Prize, he would provide eighty blind people with rehabilitation training in rural Gambia.

Lisamaria Martinez

Lisamaria has been active in sports all her life. Recently, she’s discovered pole dance. With the Holman Prize, she would use workshops, training and audio description to make pole dance accessible to blind people across the United States.

Bonface Massah

Bonface is a human rights activist. With the Holman Prize, he would create parent circles, so parents could discuss how to raise children with albinism and change the perception of children with albinism in Malawi.

Mona Minkara

Mona is working on postdoctoral research in computational chemistry. With the Holman Prize, she would film a documentary series called Planes, Trains and Canes, where she would navigate and access the public transportation systems of five cities around the world.

Kris Scheppe

Kris is the North American representative for Blind Sailing International and would use the Holman Prize to form a crew of blind sailors to complete in the Race to Alaska, a 750-mile race from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska.

Pamela Thistle

Pamela, an extreme sports enthusiast, enjoys many sports but her favorites are mountain biking and snowboarding. She would use the Holman Prize to train to heli-snowboard off the mountains of Whistler, British Columbia, Canada.

Meet blind textile artist Claire Spector at the LightHouse on June 7

Claire Spector is a legally blind contemporary textile artist. She sews by feel.

On June 7 at 5 p.m., join us in the LightHouse for the Blind Gallery to celebrate the opening of Claire’s textile show, Blind Stitching: Vis-AbilityTM. The exhibition explores different textile techniques and follows Claire’s journey of stepping out into a wider world after becoming blind suddenly and without warning. Through the medium of contemporary textile art, the exhibition highlights everything from Claire’s first collaborative touch sewing projects in 2005 to more recent independent explorations.

The event begins at 5 p.m. in the LightHouse for the Blind Gallery (in the first floor lobby) showcasing Claire Spector’s work, and ends with a reception (starting at 6 p.m., on the 10th floor) with refreshments. Claire will speak about her work, as well as offer a guided tactile experience of the art.

This event is also an opportunity to meet the esteemed blind judges who will determine the 2019 Holman Prize winners.

Read Claire’s artist statement below:

“I am a legally blind contemporary textile artist. Since 2005, my near vision is multiple, misaligned and unstable. I am very sensitive to light, motion and geometric patterns. I walk with a red and white cane and use assistive technology.

When I was quite young, my artist mother Barbara taught me to sew by hand, to knit, draw and make prints. Hand-sewing teaches patience. Piecing-by-hand is a meditation…a sense memory of visual close work now guided by touch. My fingers reference edges, seams and tactile embroidery spirals I sew following a flow. Work progresses organically, a bit at a time.

I sew with cotton, linen, wool and silk scraps, remnants and deconstructed clothing using good cotton thread, short #10 quilting and big-eyed Sashiko needles, Perle cotton 8 embroidery thread, sharp cuticle scissors, glass-head pins and a treasured Japanese pin cushion.

The reassuring click of a Clover needle threader and the quiet of hand-sewing is a welcome break from synthesized assistive technology voices and the sewing machine. Sharing art created in this fashion opens dialogues and opportunities to explore new possibilities, learn about resources and discover creative workarounds for a more vibrant life.

This work, like all of my work made by feel, flows one piece at a time.

There is no initial design or visual plan.

It’s associative.

One piece follows another in the moment.

It is an exercise in patience, humility, and a willingness to deconstruct, revisit and discover.

It’s a lesson in balance, taking a break, and awaiting fresh directions.

It’s a creative journey beyond adversity, frustration and an opening to happiness.”

The show is inspired by conversations about blind identity, art-making, and accessibility, with Anthony Tusler, Georgina Kleege, Karen Berniker, Cecile Puretz, Dr. Stanley Yarnell, MD, Jennifer Sachs, Greg Kehret.

This art show is supported in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Arts and Disability Center at the University of California Los Angeles.

The show is dedicated to the memory Claire’s dear friend, the artist Reese Thornton.

Photos from Cycle for Sight: Cycling with a side of fun and fundraising

As usual, Cycle for Sight was a day full of sunshine, good food, fitness and a key source of fundraising for Enchanted Hills Camp as we rebuild!

For over a decade, this event, co-presented with the Rotary Club of Napa, has brought together blind community members, blind athletes and family and friends alike. Thank you to all the members of Team Enchanted Hills, volunteers and donors for making this year a success!

Announcing the 2019 Holman Prize Judges

In its third year, the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition received 111 applications from six continents. The semifinalists’ proposed projects are incredible, and highlight advocates, artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, and more. It won’t be an easy task to choose the three 2019 prizewinners from such a strong and diverse group.

The Holman Team is in the process of selecting finalists for the judging committee to select from, but in the meantime, we invite you to peruse the whole group of semifinalist submission videos to experience the diversity of people and proposals in the field.

This week, all semi-finalists have submitted their complete application packets, hundreds of pages of ambitious detail which will help them change the world’s perception of blindness. In just a few weeks, we’ll welcome our judges at LightHouse in San Francisco to review the finalists’ proposals and select the 2019 Holman prizewinners.

As always, the prestigious Holman judge panel represents a leading cross-section of blind talent and experience, a group devoted to the highest ideal of blindness, both personally and professionally.

Meet the Holman Committee:

 A headshot of Jennison Asuncion.

Jennison Asuncion, Engineering Manager, LinkedIn

“I lost my sight before I was two. So to me, being blind has always felt normal. It is part of me but does not define who I am.”

Jennison Asuncion moved to the Bay Area in November 2013 to lead LinkedIn’s digital accessibility efforts. Originally from Montreal, he has been working in digital accessibility for over ten years. In 2012, Jennison co-founded the annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). Held annually on the third Thursday of May, GAAD is dedicated to raising awareness of digital access and inclusion by and for the more than one billion people with disabilities. Jennison sits on the Board of Directors for the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired San Francisco, AMI (Accessible Media Inc.), and Knowbility. 

A headshot of Bryan Bashin.

Bryan Bashin, CEO LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Bryan Bashin has led a diverse life since he graduated UC Berkeley in history and journalism. Mr. Bashin first spent 15 years as a journalist in television, radio and print, specializing in science news. In 1998 he was hired as Executive Director of the Sacramento Society for the Blind, where he quintupled the number of hours of teaching and developed innovative programs such as the Senior Intensive Retreat and summer immersion camps. In 2004, Mr. Bashin was hired as the Region IX assistant regional commissioner for the US Department of Education’s west coast branch of RSA, overseeing funding for $500 million in federal disability programs. In 2010 he was hired to lead the LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco, where he works today with a staff of 140. Mr. Bashin is a relentless innovator, working with a remarkable idealistic staff. Throughout his career, Mr. Bashin has worked in the confluence of high technology, social advocacy and governmental partnerships.

A portrait of Eric Bridges.

Eric Bridges, Executive Director, American Council of the Blind

“I believe that people who are blind or visually impaired should strive to be the best they can be, and I believe that each blind or visually impaired person has the right and responsibility to define success on his or her own terms.”

Eric joined the staff of the American Council of the Blind in 2007. In 2013, he became the Director of External Relations and Policy, cultivating many key relationships with business, industry, government officials, and agency staff. Two years later, the Board appointed him executive director. He is responsible for overseeing the daily operations of both of ACB’s offices. 

A portrait of Kerryann Ifill.

Kerryann Ifill, President of the Senate, Barbados

“The art of living with blindness demands absolute creativity; creativity in attaining and maintaining your own independence, creativity in charting a path that encourages others to emulate your example, creativity in ensuring that others value and recognise your individuality and the right to be the whole person you were designed to be.”

Kerryann’s life continues to be characterized by landmarks. As the first totally blind student completing mainstream education to post graduate level; becoming the first female to hold the office of President of the Senate, the only person with a disability and the youngest person. She has served both professionally and personally in various organizations for persons with disabilities, both locally and regionally and currently hold the office of President of both my the National United Society of the Blind Barbados and the Caribbean Council for the Blind. She represented her country and at several local, regional and international fora on a cadre of issues related to disabilities. The Holman Prize embodies her belief that blindness is not a burden, but an exciting opportunity.

A portrait of Anil Lewis.

Anil Lewis, Executive Director, National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute

“Blindness is a paradigm shift.”

A passionate advocate for the rights, education and employment of blind people everywhere, Anil currently serves as the executive director of Blindness Initiatives for the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, MD, where he leads a dynamic team of individuals responsible for the creation, development, implementation, and replication of innovative projects and programs throughout a nationwide network of affiliates that work to positively affect the education, employment, and quality of life of all blind people.

A portrait of Sile O’Modhrain.

Dr. Sile O’Modhrain, Professor, University of Michigan

A professor in performing arts technology at the school of Music, Theatre and Dance at the University of Michigan, O’Modhrain brings a wide breadth of personal and professional skill to the Holman Prize committee. With past careers in sound engineering, technology, music and more – and passionate study in the fields of arts, assistive technology, and haptics – O’Modhrain is constantly in search of better ways for blind people to access information and work in the world. 

A portrait of Sassy Outwater-Wright.

Sassy Outwater-Wright, Executive Director, Massachusetts Association of the Blind

“There is no one right way to do vision loss. There is your way, and individuality is essential to accessibility. We’re writing history now, deciding how to combine technology and our own humanity to redefine what independence means to us as individuals who are part of the same community. Dignity, opportunity, innovation and accessibility feed off each other.”

Sassy is the executive director of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually impaired (MABVI). She lost her sight at 3 due to retinoblastoma, and has had several rounds of cancer since then. She is a passionate digital accessibility advocate, specializing in technology for people with multiple disabilities, and studying how intersectionality, artificial intelligence, and intersecting marginalizing factors affect people. She lives in the infamous Salem, Massachusetts, and it fits her perfectly.

A portrait of Britt Raubenheimer.

Dr. Britt Raubenheimer, Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

“Losing vision was a hurdle, but it forced me to grow. When I lost my sight I thought I would need to discontinue my work and many of my activities. But instead, overcoming my inability to see taught me self-confidence and encouraged me to explore.”

Britt is a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, MA. Working with a team of other scientists, students, and engineers, she collects and analyzes measurements to understand interactions among coastal waves and surge, beach and dune evolution, groundwater, and winds and precipitation during extreme storms. When others evacuate before a hurricane, Britt often is on her way to the beach. Deploying her instruments in the ocean requires SCUBA, and Britt is the only legally blind, certified, university research diver. Britt resides in northern Idaho, where she serves on the board of the Idaho Commission for the Blind, and enjoys skiing, hiking, and knitting.

A portrait of Jason Roberts.

Jason Roberts, Author, ‘A Sense of the World’

An accomplished author, Roberts’ acclaimed work, about the intrepid blind traveler (and namesake of this prize) James Holman, “A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler,” was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award, long-listed for the international Guardian First Book Award, and named a Best Book of the Year by the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle and Kirkus Reviews. Born in Southern California, Roberts earned his high school diploma at fourteen, then took a five-year hiatus from education. He worked as a day laborer, dishwasher and late-night disc jockey before matriculating at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He lives in Sausalito, California, with his wife, a chemical engineer, and their two young children.

A portrait of Sharon Sacks.

Dr. Sharon Sacks, Retired Superintendent, California School for the Blind

Dr. Sacks is recently retired from her post as Superintendent of the California School for the Blind. During her tenure, Dr. Sacks led a staff of 150 and promoted education excellence for students served on campus and through outreach programs throughout the state. Prior to her role as superintendent, Dr. Sacks was the Director of Curriculum, Assessment, & Staff Development at CSB. After receiving her doctorate, Sharon coordinated programs, and was a university professor in moderate/severe disabilities at San Jose State University, and programs in visual impairments at California State University, Los Angeles. Dr. Sacks worked as a TVI for eight years as a resource and itinerant teacher prior to assuming leadership positions.

Dr. Sacks is a strong advocate for ensuring quality services for children and adults who are blind or visually impaired through her direct work with families, consumer organizations, and professional organizations. She is the recipient of the Mary K. Bauman Award for Distinguished Service in Education, and a past president of AERBVI. Dr. Sacks currently serves on the Lighthouse’s Board of Directors.

A portrait of Zack Shore.

Dr. Zach Shore, Historian

A historian of international conflict, Dr. Shore is the author of five books, including “A Sense of the Enemy.” Shore is Associate Professor of History at the Naval Postgraduate School and Senior Fellow at the Institute of European Studies, University of California, Berkeley. He earned his doctorate in modern history at Oxford, performed postdoctoral research at Harvard, and held a fellowship at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.

A portrait of Kathryn Webster.

Kathryn Webster, President, National Association of Blind Students

“Though a single inconvenience, blindness has the power to ignite strength, resilience, and confidence. We may grow exhausted of educating society of our abilities, but who more qualified than blind communities to shatter the glass ceiling that eternally perpetuates negative misconceptions?”

Kathryn graduated from Wake Forest University with high honors, receiving Bachelor of Science degrees in Statistics and Computer Science in 2017. Her scholastic achievements propelled her into a career with Deloitte & Touché, LLP where she specializes in strategic transformation and data analytics. Kathryn recognizes the value in intertwining corporate prowess with civic engagement, thus jumpstarting a statewide transition program for blind and low vision youth, designed to ignite confidence and independence, demonstrate the value of mentorship, and encourage Virginia’s youth to shoot for the stars. Kathryn proudly serves as President of the National Association of Blind Students (NABS), Kathryn lives each day with true authenticity, bringing difficult conversations to the table and engaging in a persistent challenge to be the best version of herself. 

Holly Scott-Gardner stands outdoors on a lawn, in front of a tree and a potted plant.

Holly Scott-Gardner, Blindness Advocate and Blogger

“I view my blindness as an integral part of who I am. It has shaped my experiences and more often than not presented me with opportunities I don’t believe I would have had if I could see. The so-called difficulties of blindness more often than not result from a world that is not built with blindness in mind. Whether I’m faced with an inaccessible payment terminal, or a stranger who insists I shouldn’t cross the street alone, I am wrestling with an inaccessible world and the misinformed views many hold on blindness. My blindness isn’t the thing that needs to be changed.”

Holly is a public speaker, blindness advocate and Youtube creator in the U.K. When Holly was still a teenager in school, she realized that she could use her voice and experiences to change how blindness is viewed. Eight years after setting up her blog she has spoken in Parliament, lobbying the government to alter its provisions for disabled students, advocated for the rights of disabled survivors of domestic abuse at the European Parliament in Brussels and represented disabled students at her university by winning the seat of disabled students counsellor. She aims to ramp up her advocacy work after graduation, with an outlook on international blindness movements. Read Holly’s essay about her experience as a camp counselor at Enchanted Hills Camp.

Ahmet Ustunel stands in a park with red rock craters, holding his white cane.

Ahmet Ustunel, Teacher of the Blind and Visually Impaired and 2017 Holman Prizewinner

“As a blind person to educate the public about blindness and as an educator to inspire my Blind students, I am trying to foster the same qualities Holman demonstrated: immense courage and passion, persistence, a curious and adventurous spirit, strength of purpose, and belief in one’s self. As a blind teacher of blind students, I tell my students that being blind should never prevent them from achieving their goals, although they might need to deal with prejudices, discrimination, and an inaccessible physical and educational environment. I let them know that limits and barriers they encounter are not results of blindness itself; they are just products of prejudice and discrimination in society. Even worse, sometimes they are our own mind’s products. I want my students to understand blindness as a characteristic of a person rather than a limitation.”

Ahmet is a full-time teacher of the visually impaired in San Francisco. He is also an avid outdoorsman and one of the inaugural recipients of the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition. He began solo kayaking in San Francisco Bay shortly after moving to the United States from Turkey a decade ago. With the Holman Prize, Ahmet achieved his ambitious goal in July 2018 by paddling across the Bosphorus Strait, which divides the European region of Turkey from its Asian counterpart, completely alone. Read about his solo kayaking journey from Europe to Asia.

All summer, tune into KQED on Fridays for a blind tour of California

Every Friday starting April 26, The World According to Sound’s new radio series will take listeners on an audio exploration of California from the acoustic perspective of the blind.

Over the last year, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired has partnered with Bay Area podcast The World According to Sound as they collected footage to take listeners on an audio exploration of California from the acoustic perspective of the blind. Starting this Friday, the radio series will begin airing on KQED during The California Report Magazine at 4:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m. or 11 p.m. PST. Tune in live or visit this link to listen at your leisure.

Each radio episode focuses on one sound or story that captures what it’s like to live in California as someone who is blind or visually impaired. You will hear from wanderers, beekeepers, commuters, hikers, teenagers and retirees. Using the latest in binaural 3D sound recording, the World According to Sound’s producers, Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett, capture vivid sonic environments, stories and observations from all corners of our beautiful state.

Since the experience is all about the audio, and we know our sound-savvy audience, here are several tips for getting the best out of the strange sounds you are about to hear:
  1. Put on headphones. This way, you’ll be able to experience the binaural sound in all its eery depth.
  2. If you have vision, remove as much visual stimulation as possible. Dim the lights, close your eyes, or put on a sleep mask if you have one!
  3. Don’t multitask. Stop what you’re doing for 5 to 7 minutes and just listen.
  4. Tell your friends. Okay… we admit this one has nothing to do with the listening experience. However, we’re hoping this series will get people thinking more critically about the sounds they hear every day. What’s your favorite sound? Tweet your answer with the hashtag #myworldaccordingtosound.

What’s next? A live tour!

In the fall, The World According to Sound will kick off a tour of live shows, like this one we collaborated on a while back. During these live shows, ambisonic recordings and stories are projected on a ring of speakers. Surround sound engulfs the audience to give both sighted and blind listeners, seated in total darkness, a new appreciation of their environment through the rich and often-overlooked world of sound. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to receive event announcements in the fall.

The series is a partnership with LightHouse, with additional support from California Humanities. The goal of these episodes is to push the boundaries of audio storytelling and further LightHouse’s mission both in-person and over the airwaves. For more information about this collaboration and the performance, please contact thewatsound@gmail.com or press@lighthouse-sf.org.

About the World According to Sound

The World According to Sound is a podcast, radio program, and live performance. 90-second episodes of the radio program have aired on NPR, The California Report, and public radio stations across the country. The Washington Post wrote that “each episode contains a neat little story about an evocative, unusual sound rendered in intense aural detail.” WBEZ featured the show’s innovative approach to radio on Morning Shift, and the podcast HowSound dedicated an episode to the philosophy behind the program’s minimally-narrated, sound-dependent audio. Show producers Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett have taken the live version of their program on tour and have played at over 40 locations, including colleges like Cornell and Brown; performing arts venues like WNYC’s Greene Space and PRX’s Podcast Garage; and galleries like the Lab and the Whitebox.

Maps for the blind: How the MAD Lab is challenging designers’ hyper-visual assumptions

For the experienced blind traveler, obstacle avoidance is not the overwhelming part—that’s why we have canes, dog guide and blindness skills. The challenging part is getting familiar with the lay of the land in order to make the spontaneous choices of everyday life, like which quirky cafe to duck into or how to get to the canal everyone keeps telling you to wander along.

And if you’re a sighted traveler, it’s easy to take mapping tools for granted with GPS apps at your fingers. Most people don’t realize that blind people don’t have easy access to non-visual or ‘tactile’ maps. (You might be asking: what’s a tactile map? It’s pretty simple—it’s a map with raised lines and braille markers that you can feel.)

That’s why the LightHouse Media and Accessible Design Lab hosted a Maptime SF/Oakland meetup last month: to teach multidisciplinary designers about accessible methods to use when creating maps and encourage them to incorporate tactile information into their work.

Attendees came from a wide swath of industries and design disciplines. The MAD Lab team hosted designers from Apple, architects from Arup, graphic designers, transportation specialists, programmers, students in interactive design, occupational therapists, special ed teachers, ocean mapping specialists, and highly skilled cartographers.

After comparing and contrasting examples of different design methods and discussing their effectiveness, Maptimers used these precepts to make their own maps. The group also discussed Tactile Maps Automated Production, and how this automated mapping system is a game changer for tactile map production.

“There’s such a lack of tactile graphics in the world,” says MAD Lab Senior Designer Naomi Rosenberg. “The only way to increase tactile graphic production is to teach more people how to incorporate tactile information into their designs. Sharing our expertise in tactile graphics empowers specialists in other fields to step outside of their normal design process, and design better for their audience and underrepresented audiences.”

Photos from the workshop

Take a little tour of their design process below. And if you’re sighted, next time you walk down the street or hop on Google maps, start to consider the lack of non-visual information that is available to tell you how to get around. If you’re a designer, it might just change how you approach your own designs.

Workshops like this support the MAD Lab’s goal of making visual information accessible to people who are blind and visually impaired. Ready to get your hands on your own tactile map? We can quickly create an inexpensive personalized map for you centered on a square mile anywhere in the US – visit or call the Adaptations Store to order! Stop by  at 1155 Market St. or give our specialists a call at 1-888-400-8933.

Announcing the 2019 Holman Prize Semifinalists

A compilation of photos of 41 Holman Semifinalists.

This year, we had 111 candidates from six continents for our third annual Holman Prize for Blind Ambition. We received ideas in 90-second pitch videos from advocates, artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, and more. It wasn’t easy, but we’ve narrowed it down to 41 semifinalists, including one People’s Choice Semifinalist.

We’re already proud of the impact our applicants have had on the world. Our 2019 candidates pitches have been viewed thousands of times on YouTube—that’s thousands of people whose expectations of blind ambition and ability have been challenged. This is an impactful feature of the Holman Prize, but the best is yet to come.

Below, we present the full list of 2019 Semifinalists. Each will send a detailed proposal and budget to be reviewed by the 2019 Holman Team in May. This year, we will select a People’s Choice Finalist from this group—that means the semifinalist with the most YouTube likes by May 10 will automatically become a Finalist. Help them out and like your favorite pitch videos! Final judging will take place in June, when the winners will be determined by an esteemed panel of blind judges who themselves are role models of blind ambition.

Click on each name to watch their original pitch video, share, and spread the word: This is what blind ambition really looks like.

Meet the 2019 Holman Prize Semifinalists:

Michael Aguilar 

who is passionate about inclusivity in the beauty industry, would use the Holman Prize to develop his accessible makeup brand Visionary Cosmetics, which uses braille labels and vivid color descriptions.

Chad Allen

who’s been a performing magician for over twenty years, would use the Holman Prize to digitize notable magic books and make them accessible to blind people  for the first time.

Krystle Allen

a disability rights advocate, would use the Holman Prize to pay for fifteen blind women to participate in the Miss Blind Diva Empowerment Fellowship Program that provides personal and professional development.

Abdullah Aljuaid

the People’s Choice Semifinalist, would use the Holman Prize to create a global consultation app for blind people to find information on learning, mobility, fitness and e-commerce.

Trevor Attenberg

who loves science and the outdoors, would use the Holman Prize to travel and teach blind people to identify birds by sound and explore other natural soundscapes.

Alexandria Brito

a powerlifter, would use the Holman Prize to train and compete in powerlifting competitions with the hopes of qualifying for the 2020 Paralympics.

Fernando Botelho

who works in social services, would use the Holman Prize to teach blind people how to build accessible, low-cost computers.

Stephanie Campbell

a newlywed who requested her wedding guests wear blindfolds during the vows, would use the Holman Prize to film the pilot for a sensory travel show, that explores destinations non-visually through the senses of sound, smell, touch and taste.

Yuma Decaux

who loves hiking and surfing, would use the Holman Prize to build an online community to make astronomy more accessible to blind people, with the hopes of a blind person discovering an exoplanet.

Deniz, Yunus, Utku and Mina

who are from Turkey, would use the Holman Prize to take the Trans-Siberian Express from Moscow to Beijing and create a documentary about it to inspire blind children to travel independently.

Natalie Devora

who is an author and activist, would use the Holman Prize to travel and collect stories from people of color with albinism around the world, to share these stories in an anthology and documentary.

Nicolas Dewalque

an athlete who hopes to qualify for the 2020 Paralympics, would use the Holman Prize to train and complete in the Coolangatta Gold race in Australia, which involves kayaking, swimming, running and paddling a surfboard.

Pauline Dowell

who lives on a sailboat on the Boston Harbor with her guide dog, would use the Holman Prize to form an all-female crew of blind sailors to compete in the Marblehead to Halifax Race.

Jesse Dufton

who’s an experienced winter mountaineer, would use the Holman Prize to lead an expedition on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic. If successful in ascending a peak that hasn’t been climbed, he would propose the peak be named “Blind Ambition”.

Craig Faris

who loves hiking, camping, traveling and sailing, would use the  Holman Prize to train and purchase assistive technology to sail a 7000-mile course from North America to New Zealand.

Matt Formston

who’s a two-time world champion in para-surfing, would use the Holman Prize to run surfing workshops for blind children and youth all over  the world.

Dennis Gallant

who has worked as a teacher ranger with the National Park service, would use the Holman Prize to create a podcast to highlight the specific sounds from various national park locations to help blind people learn about the natural world in an accessible way.

Reem Hamodi

who grew up in Iraq where she didn’t have access to books in an accessible format, would use the Holman Prize to set up a system to record audiobooks and distribute them online to blind students in Iraq.

Finn Hellmann

a Brazilian jiu-jitsu enthusiast, would use the Holman Prize to travel and train with blind Brazilian jiu-jitsu experts worldwide, and then teach other blind people this accessible martial art.

Zackery Hurtz

a musician, would use the Holman Prize to develop Reference Point Navigation, which provides accessible indoor and outdoor access to information and navigation on mobile phones.

Alieu Jaiteh

who runs a training program for blind people in The Gambia. would use the Holman Prize to provide eighty blind people with rehabilitation training.

Larry Johnson

who’s worked as a radio and television broadcaster in the United States and Mexico, would use the Holman Prize to travel to Cuba to teach a motivational workshop in English and Spanish to empower blind people.

Jennifer Lavarnway

a former music teacher who loves to cook, would use the Holman Prize to travel to Naples, Italy to train in the art of pizza making and open her own pizzeria back home.

Paul Lemm

who taught himself to program, along with other blind developers, would use the Holman Prize, to develop their prototype software Sable to allow blind people to create audio games without coding or scripting.

Joshua Loya

who is an athlete and martial arts enthusiast, would use the Holman Prize to train and seek setting the world record for distance traveled on a wave by a blind surfer.

Shon Mackey

who’s competed in dancing competitions and talent shows, would use the Holman Prize to open Blind Rhythm Dance Studio to teach dance to blind and low vision individuals.

Lisamaria Martinez

who has recently discovered pole dance would use the Holman Prize to develop workshops, training and audio description to make pole dance accessible to blind people across the United States.

Bonface Massah

a human rights activist, would use the Holman Prize to create parent circles, so parents could discuss how to raise children with albinism and change the perception albinism in Malawi.

Marx Vergel Melencio

who plays acoustic and electric bass, would use the Holman Prize, to develop a device he created called VIsION, a wearable AI device for the blind, with the goal of mass production.

Mona Minkara

who is working on postdoctoral research in computational chemistry, would use the Holman Prize to film a documentary series called Planes, Trains and Canes, where she navigates and accesses the public transportation of five cities around the world.

Natalie Minnema and Sarina Cormier

who are from Canada, would use the Holman Prize to create an online platform that focuses on blindness awareness and accessibility training for employers and organizations.

Shawn Prak

who has a passion for electronics, building and repairing, would use the Holman Prize and his many skills to renovate his home.

Terri Rupp

who’s a writer, disability rights advocate and a marathon runner, would use the Holman Prize to form Project Runstoppable, a program that empowers blind children through a running curriculum.

Kris Scheppe

is the North American representative for Blind Sailing International and would use the Holman Prize to form a crew of blind sailors to complete in the Race to Alaska, a 750-mile race from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska.

Brian Malvin Sithole

who co-founded Alive Albinism Initiative Trust, would use the Holman Prize to open a manufacturing plant in Zimbabwe that produces sunscreen for people with albinism.

Claire Spector

a textile artist, would use the Holman Prize to bring together blind weavers and blind textile artists to create new art, develop online and traveling exhibitions, and strengthen confidence in art-making.

Joshua Tatman

a motocross racer, along with his friend Pat, who is also blind, would use the Holman Prize to travel the country to motivate blind people to try different sports like snowboarding, jet skiing, sailing and more.

Johnny Tai 

who has a bachelor’s degree in social work, would use Holman Prize to film a series of professionally audio-described self-defense videos that blind people could access online.

Pamela Thistle

 an extreme sports enthusiast, would use the Holman Prize to train and heli-snowboard off the mountains of Whistler, British Columbia, Canada.

Ness Vlajkovic

who’s finishing up her degree in journalism, would use the Holman Prize to open a braille bookstore in Perth, for blind and Deafblind people to have easy access to hard copy braille books.

Michelle Young

 who’s worked with blind people on structured discovery in Qatar, the United States, and Australia would use the Holman Prize to hold residential workshops on structured discovery and echolocation orientation and mobility techniques.

Email holman@lighthouse-sf.org to be added to the Holman Prize mailing list.

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Our makeup workshop put its best face forward

At LightHouse, we’re excited to provide educational workshops on everything from cane use, to cooking to putting your best face forward with makeup. Applying makeup is a learned skill that requires practice and attention to detail, and can involve artistry or light, casual application.

The LightHouse Rehabilitation Department, in partnership with Employment Immersion, hosted a new class called “Putting Your Best Face Forward: Using Makeup to Enhance Your Professional Appearance.” LightHouse Independent Living Skills Specialists Bobbi Pompey and Dawn Leeflang, along with Kate Williams, Manager of Employment Immersion teamed up with beauty industry professionals from Benefit Cosmetics.

Kate Williams, who is blind, says she believes makeup can be a tool for self-care and empowerment.

“Frequently, blind women have said, ‘I’m afraid to wear makeup…I just don’t know how to do it,’” Kate remarks.

When Kate’s vision started changing, a manager at Benefit gave her brushes and taught her how to apply makeup non-visually. This experience helped her maintain the self-presentation that had always been part of her appearance and routine.

“I’ve always worn makeup,” she says.

Kate adds that she was excited to use this workshop to pass on makeup skills to blind people who may not have sought it out otherwise.

Bobbi says that this workshop did indeed give one student who was initially trepidatious about wearing makeup the push to incorporate it into her routine.

“We let blind people know that the barrier to wearing makeup is more of an imagined barrier, and that if you want to enhance your appearance for work, or fun or going on a date or whatever, you can do it and there are ways to do it.”

Kate says that she feels makeup is good for building confidence, and that she believes it is important for people to do what they can to make themselves feel attractive and presentable.

At the workshop, students received hands-on instruction on how to apply eye and face makeup and also label and organize their products and tools. Makeup artists also demonstrated application on students. Check out our photos from the event!

If this workshop interests you, check out our monthly calendar which if full of exciting, rotating programs and events.