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LightHouse Issues RFP for Comprehensive Program Evaluation

The front facade of The Lighthouse Building, our new headquarters at 1155 Market Street

Request for Proposals

LightHouse Program Evaluation RFP (.docx)

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco is soliciting proposals to evaluate the efficacy of the organization’s student-facing programs.

The LightHouse embarked upon a three year strategic plan in 2017, and one of the core focus areas of the final plan is establishing an ongoing methodology for program effectiveness and evaluation. The LightHouse has more than 80 unique programs, spanning the breadth of the blindness experience, including skills training, community service and integration, innovation, and technology and employment services. We also offer robust programs at our Enchanted Hills Camp in Napa, three satellite training centers, and a direct-employment light manufacturing facility. Altogether we serve approximately 3,000 people who are blind or have low vision every year.  Our goal is to determine how effective our programs are and how to evaluate their scope and impact going forward.

The successful proposal will address two key needs. The first is to measure the impact and effectiveness of several dozen key LightHouse programs. The second is to develop an ongoing system for staff to continue internal program measurement and evaluation going forward.

The LightHouse seeks to work with an outside consultant to build a flexible mechanism for evaluating program effectiveness, both in the program development process and while programs are active. We wish to build a mechanism so that program directors and management will quickly know when programs are succeeding, and also help determine how we might wish to change or eliminate programs that exhibit limited effectiveness.

Download: LightHouse Program Evaluation RFP (.docx)

SUBMISSION DEADLINE AND PROCESS

Proposals are due no later than 5:00 pm PDT on Friday June 1st. Please see full RFP for submission guidelines and contact information.

An Enchanted Hills Camp Update: Get ready for Summer 2018

At the beginning of April, our AmeriCorps Blue2 completed their 12 week service at Enchanted Hills Camp, leaving it in much better shape than they found it! This bright, talented, caring, energetic group left their mark — they renovated and cleaned all the Lakeside Cabins, dining hall, and kitchen, installed new windows in the Gathering House, removed Azola from the lake, worked on fire abatement, repaired smoke and heat damage, helped resurrect the pool area, mowed, raked, lifted, fixed, painted, hauled, polished and cared for Enchanted Hills in every way possible. We’re so thankful to Blue2 for serving with us and we salute them as they embark on their next assignment in Puerto Rico!

But the work’s not finished yet — so earlier this week we welcomed a brand new AmeriCorps Green4 team, who will finish what Blue2 started as we get ready for our campers to arrive in June! We’ll be constructing platforms for eight state-of-the-art Sweetwater Bungalows starting on May 5, which will house campers after our lower camp cabins were destroyed.

Meanwhile, our friends at the Napa Kiwanis Club helped seal the hand-carved benches in the Redwood Grove Theater and stopped by with some ‘Bat Hotels’ for our resident EHC bats. We also have two new furry camp residents: meet our new donkeys Citizen and Quill, who are seem to be getting along just swimmingly with the goats. And all the necessary tree work is happening as we speak!

EHC is coming back to life with the help of an entire community, and we’re so thankful for the care and support of our volunteers, donors, camp staff and many more. A huge thank you to Access Ingenuity, Miner Family Winery, the Yale Alumni Association, Salesforce, Sterling Vineyards, Wells Fargo, Osprey, XL Construction, BPM Accounting and Consulting Firm, and the Northern CA Association of the Deaf-Blind. If you’d like to join the EHC family, check out our current job openings; we’re still looking for summer camp counselors. You can also support us by donating to our Rebuild EHC fund or joining us in Napa on April 21 for our largest annual fundraiser, Cycle for Sight. Learn more at cycle4sight.com.  

Americorps Blue2 team builds a new foundation at Enchanted Hills Camp.
Americorps Blue2 team builds a new foundation at Enchanted Hills Camp.
Our friends from the Napa Kiwanis Club put a protective coating on the benches in the Redwood Grove Theater to prevent rot. Some of the benches are charred, a reminder of the October fires in Napa.
Our friends from the Napa Kiwanis Club put a protective coating on the benches in the Redwood Grove Theater to prevent rot. Some of the benches are charred, a reminder of the October fires in Napa.
The two goats and two donkey stand beside the barn at EHC.
Meet our new donkeys Citizen and Quill, who are seem to be getting along just swimmingly with the goats.
EHC Construction Manager George Wurtzel installs new windows in the Gathering House.
EHC Construction Manager George Wurtzel installs new windows in the Gathering House.
EHC Site Staff Janet Lay smiles with the donkeys, Citizen and Quill.
EHC Site Staff Janet Lay smiles with the donkeys, Citizen and Quill.

 

LightHouse Listenings presents blind author Stephen Kuusisto

Earlier this spring, accomplished blind author, poet and music lover Stephen Kuusisto published his memoir Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey. The book is a love poem in prose to his guide dog Corky, a yellow Labrador who helped him discover a newfound appreciation for travel and independence.

On May 17 at 7 p.m., Kuusisto will join us at LightHouse headquarters for our latest episode of LightHouse Listenings: Cover to Covers with Stephen Kuusisto. He’ll talk about his new book, accompanied by live braille readings of passages and live musical performances of a selection of songs mentioned in the memoir. Tickets to LightHouse Listenings: Cover to Covers are $10 for students and seniors and $15 to the general public. Snacks and libations will be served.

Buy Tickets

Kuusisto says of his book:

“It’s a book about focus. About giving myself and my precious ego over to something that’s decidedly not me. In this way it’s a sixties book—spiritually optimistic without the irritable reach of staid determinism or contemporary vexation about using the word soul.

Learning to go places in the company of a superb dog was like writing poems: I had to open my head and heart.This is a book for readers who like to walk, who love animals, and who still have Walt Whitman on their bookshelves. Corky allowed me to walk in New York. She took me back to my childhood home in Helsinki. She walked on the Golden Gate Bridge. She drifted in a Gondola past Mozart’s apartment in Venice.

Corky changed my life so thoroughly that I wanted her to have a book of her very own.”

About the Author

Stephen Kuusisto was born legally blind—but he was also raised in the 1950s and taught to deny his blindness in order to “pass” as sighted. Stephen attended public school, rode a bike, and read books pressed right up against his nose. As an adult, he coped with his limited vision by becoming a professor in a small college town, memorizing routes for all of the places he needed to be. Then, at the age of 38, he was laid off. With no other job opportunities in his vicinity, he would have to travel to find work.

This is how he found himself at Guiding Eyes paired with a labrador named Corky. In this vivid and lyrical memoir, Stephen Kuusisto recounts how an incredible partnership with a guide dog changed his life and the heart-stopping, wondrous adventure that began for him in midlife. Profound and deeply moving, Have Dog, Will Travel is a spiritual journey, the story of discovering that life with a guide dog is both a method and a state of mind.

He is also of Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”), and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and The Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

LightHouse is featured in the Cooper Hewitt Museum’s new exhibition, The Senses: Design Beyond Vision

This month, The Senses: Design Beyond Vision launches at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York, to explore how multi-sensory design amplifies everyone’s ability to learn, explore and satisfy essential human needs and experiences.

The exhibition, which runs from 13 April until 28 October, explores design through all the senses with interactive installations, created in collaboration with more than 65 contemporary designers in the fields of product, interior, graphic, and interaction design, data visualization, scent design.

Many of the designs were created to promote independence for people with disabilities. The diverse lineup includes several designs by the LightHouse’s MAD Lab including TMAPs of the area surrounding the Cooper Hewitt Museum, our Talking BART Maps and two DCS printed floor plans of LightHouse to showcase how tactile design contributed to Chris Downey’s architectural process.

The exhibition was organized by Andrea Lipps, Cooper Hewitt’s Assistant Curator of Contemporary Design, and Ellen Lupton, Cooper Hewitt’s Senior Curator of Contemporary Design around several key concepts:

  • Design is multisensory, engaging the whole body
  • Senses interact and transform each other
  • Materials have sound, temperature, weight, and other tactile qualities
  • Sound is a vibration that can be felt on the body and skin and trigger mental images
  • Language and past experiences influence perception making each person’s sensory experience unique

“Across all industries and disciplines, designers are avidly seeking ways to stimulate our sensory responses to solve problems of access and enrich our interactions with the world,” says Cooper Hewitt’s Director Caroline Baumann. “The Senses shares their discoveries and invites personal revelation of the extraordinary capacity of the senses to inform and delight.

“Within the inclusive environment created for the exhibition, there will be over 40 touchable objects, as well as services, such as audio and visual descriptions of the works on view, to ensure the exhibition will be welcoming to visitors of all abilities, an important step forward in our ongoing commitment to making Cooper Hewitt accessible to everyone.”

The Senses: Design Beyond Vision will launch at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York on 13 April and run until 28 October 2018.

To contract for custom tactile maps of your neighborhood, workplace or university or propose a project, visit http://lighthouse-sf.org/braille-and-accessible-design/.

Safe Streets: Our new campaign strives to educate about cane laws, eliminate traffic deaths

Did you know? Pedestrians using guide dogs or white canes with or without a red tip must be given the right-of-way at all times.

This spring, we’ll be out in the streets wearing bright orange shirts and teaching drivers and pedestrians about traffic laws and best practices when it comes to blind or low vision pedestrians. Thanks to a Vision Zero SF Safe Streets For Seniors grant, we’re joining the community effort led by the City and County to eliminate all San Francisco traffic fatalities by 2024.

On March 28, we’ll kick off our efforts in Civic Center Plaza from 11 to 1 p.m. Our senior ambassadors will be out in the streets demonstrating safe pedestrian practices including street crossing and human guide. We have several events scheduled throughout the spring, so be sure to mark your calendars for April 25, May 9 and May 30 if you can’t make the kickoff.

Attention drivers and cyclists! Blind pedestrians using white canes or dogs guides have the right-of-way AT ALL TIMES, according to law. Please follow the California DMV rules below to keep pedestrians safe:

  1. White cane users have the right-of-way – always.
  2. Stay off the crosswalk, but don’t stop more than 5 feet away. We listen for cars.
  3. Don’t shout, honk or yell instructions to blind pedestrians. It’s confusing!
  4. Don’t block sidewalks, alleys or park across driveways with your cars.
  5. Stop at ALL crosswalks where pedestrians are waiting.
  6. Quiet cars: keep a safe distance from all pedestrians.
  7. When you turn right, always watch for blind pedestrians.
  8. Trust our mobility skills. We’ll stay in our crosswalk as long as you stay in your lane!

Vision Zero SF is the City’s road safety policy that will build safety and livability into our streets, protecting the one million people who move about the City every day.

Why do we need it? Every year in San Francisco, about 30 people lose their lives and over 200 more are seriously injured while traveling on city streets. These deaths and injuries are unacceptable and preventable, and San Francisco is committed to stopping further loss of life.

What does it mean? The City and County of San Francisco adopted Vision Zero as a policy in 2014, committing to build better and safer streets, educate the public on traffic safety, enforce traffic laws, and adopt policy changes that save lives. The goal is to create a culture that prioritizes traffic safety and to ensure that mistakes on our roadways don’t result in serious injuries or death. The result of this collaborative, citywide effort will be safer, more livable streets as we work to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024.

Announcing the 2018 Holman Prize Semifinalists

Our 2018 Holman Prize applicants were met with a challenge in the first round: to create a 90-second video pitching a dream project, and giving us a taste of their motivations and personality. We received applications from every continent (except Antarctica), and have narrowed the field down to 42 worthy applicants.

The most important thing about the Holman Prize, though, is the entire group of applicants and the impressions they make on the world. Our 2018 candidates pitches were viewed thousands of times on YouTube: that’s thousands of people watching videos that chip away at stereotypes of blindness and offer a multifaceted view into the wide ranging and one-of-a-kind ambitions of blind people worldwide.

Below is the list of semifinalists for the 2018 Holman Prize. In June, their proposals will be reviewed by the 2018 Holman Committee — a fresh group of highly accomplished blind women and men from around the world, comprised of some returning judges and some new to the committee.

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

The 42 Semifinalists, in alphabetical order:

Becky Andrews, a marathon runner and cyclist, would use the Holman Prize to implement a series of empowerment retreats for blind and visually-impaired women.

Manuel Aregullin, an assistive technology instructor who has also studied music in Cuba for more than twenty years, would use the Holman Prize to teach Cuban music to large groups of students, as well as upgrading the assistive technology he uses in his lessons and purchasing more instruments.

Michael Armstrong would use the Holman Prize to train for a triathlon, which he would complete using a non-visual technique called Vibravision that would enable him to compete without the aid of technology or a sighted companion.

Edward Babin, a songwriter, producer and entrepreneur who performs as Eddy Echo, would use the Holman Prize to organize a showcase for blind and visually impaired musicians in New York City.

Zeljko Bajic, a radio producer and host, would use the Holman Prize to create a podcast “for and about blind people living all over the world.”

Luanne Burke, a seasoned long-distance runner, would use the Holman Prize to educate rural visually-impaired communities around the world – including countries like Scotland, China and New Zealand – about the joys, and logistics, of guided running.

Stacy Cervenka, who works in the disability employment field, would use the Holman Prize to launch an accessible travel forum similar to Yelp or TripAdvisor, geared specifically towards blind users.

Peggy Chong, the “Blind History Lady,” would use the Holman Prize to conduct research into the Blinded Veterans of WWI through the Maryland Historical Society, Library of Congress, and more.

Jean Elston would use the Holman Prize to travel North America, creating small paintings and sketches that she will turn into larger pieces when she returns home. Jean would also create a video blog of her journey, to give her audience more insight into her process and challenges.

Matt Formston, a longtime surfer, would use the Holman Prize to teach his blind and low-vision community how to become surfers themselves and to “share the feeling of freedom” that surfing can provide.

Divyanshu Ganatra, an entrepreneur and avid paraglider, would use the Holman Prize to facilitate mountaineering, rock climbing, scuba diving, paragliding and more for both his visually-impaired and sighted peers, with the hope of creating a larger dialogue around disability.

Nathan Gibbs, a tech consultant and web developer, would use the Holman Prize to continue his “As Alexa Sees It” project, which is intended to make Amazon’s Echo technology even more useful for blind and low-vision consumers.

Leona Godin, an actor and writer, would use the Holman Prize to expand her magazine “Aromatica Poetica,” which is “dedicated to the arts and sciences” of smell. Furthermore, she would use the prize money to fund her own prize, geared in part towards visually-impaired writers.

Carol Green, a teacher of the visually impaired, would use the Holman Prize to teach Braille, in the Navajo language, to blind children and adults in the Navajo Nation during a summer program that would also include life skills training.

Andrew Hasley, a biologist and geneticist, would use the Holman Prize to facilitate a conference for blind scientists and students from across the globe, called “Scienc’ing While Blind,” where participants could network and exchange tips and tools.

Markus Hawkins, a long time practitioner of the healing arts, would use the Holman Prize to travel to China to study the healing art of chilel, and then incorporate it into his practice upon returning home.

Conchita Hernandez, who is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in Special Education, would use the Holman Prize to create a workshop in her native Mexico for professionals in the blindness field, and blind people of all ages.

Andrew Hesser, would use the Holman Prize to travel throughout the UK producing nature documentaries to facilitate the blind and low-vision community’s connection to the great outdoors, all in character, using an alter ego named “Bryan.”

Justin Holland, a bodybuilder and video blogger, would use the Holman Prize to travel the world and engage with blind and low-vision communities, encouraging them to get involved in adventures and athletic activities.

Georgina Hollinshead, who says she was “born a crafter,” would use the Holman Prize to launch a social enterprise called Hook and Eye Crafts, geared toward teaching blind and visually impaired people the joys of knitting, crochet and cross-stitch.

Alieu Jaiteh, the founder of the blindness advocacy organization Start Now, would use the Holman Prize to provide various skills, including computer literacy, cane travel and Braille, to blind and low-vision participants in rural Gambia.

Ambrose Lasoy would use the Holman Prize to develop a program to enable his fellow blind and low-vision Kenyans to become dairy farmers and entrepreneurs.

Rachel Longan, a psychotherapist and singer, would use the Holman Prize to travel both the United States, and around the world to countries like Russia and Tanzania, teaching pre-existing vocal choirs how to make their organizations more accessible and accommodating for blind and low-vision participants.

Rachel Magario, a seasoned traveler and video blogger, would use the Holman Prize to retrace the footsteps of James Holman’s first travels across Europe, for a video series called “In the Footsteps.”

Zahra Majid, who is currently pursuing a degree in media studies, would use the Holman Prize to travel and meet with visually impaired students around the world, in countries including Canada, the United States and Scandinavia, in order to gather a wealth of information for a database project she is calling VIAdvisor.

Dr. Sakui Malakpa, a university professor originally from Liberia, would use the Holman Prize to purchase laptops and other training tools for blind and low-vision communities in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Michael McCulloch, a retired aerospace engineer, would use the Holman Prize to produce an audio described documentary film about his upcoming hiking trek to Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. He would also write a book entitled “The Blind Man’s Guide to Machu Picchu,” containing hiking instruction, tips and more.

Louie McGee, an athlete and current high school senior, would use the Holman Prize to fund his training for the Iron Man competition, with a speaking tour to follow.

Francis Okello Oloya, a psychologist, would use the Holman Prize to create a guide dog program for his blind and low-vision community.

Joshua Pearson, an accessibility specialist and folk singer, would use the Holman Prize to record under-the-radar musicians around the world, in countries including the United Kingdom, Thailand, Vietnam and more.

Kellsea Phillips, a passionate athlete and aspiring competitor in the TV show American Ninja Warrior, would use the Holman Prize to train for, and attend, more competitions and auditions for the show.

Sandeep Kumar (People’s Choice Finalist), who has developed a tool called Eye Renk that allows the visually impaired to easily differentiate between various ocular medications, would use the Holman Prize to travel and teach underserved communities about Eye Renk.

Mariano Reynoso would use the Holman Prize to bring the sport of Beep Baseball to his home country of Argentina.

Maria Saavedra, a dance instructor originally from Colombia, would use the Holman Prize to launch a dance academy designed specifically for the visually-impaired community.

Marco Salsiccia, an accessibility specialist and self-proclaimed “hockey nut,” would use the Holman Prize to  travel for a full year with the San Jose Sharks hockey team, attending at least one game at each arena, in order to assess the accessibility of each rink and promote hockey to blind and visually-impaired athletes.

Nicole Schultz-Kass, a vocational rehabilitation counselor and YouTube blogger, would use the Holman Prize to interview and adventure with blind and low-vision people in 25 different locations around the United States, compiling the experiences on her YouTube channel,  “CraftyBlindChick.”

Matthew Shifrin, an actor and composer, would develop a multi-sensory comic book experience called “Hapticomix,” based on the Daredevil series, that incorporates surround sound, original music, a full cast, motion-simulation, and smell.

Red Szell, a writer and broadcaster, would use the Holman Prize to undertake an extreme sports triathlon to conquer Am Buachaille, one of the most remote rock pinnacles in the UK.

Aishwarya T.V., a filmmaker and rehabilitation counselor, would use the Holman Prize to create a training center for the blind and low-vision community to study elements of filmmaking like script writing, film editing, sound mixing, production and more.

Johnny Tai, a Martial Arts trainer, would use the Holman Prize to provide martial arts courses for the blind and visually-impaired community in his native Taiwan.

Danny Thomas Vang and Jeshua Gilbert Aveno would construct a multi-sensory “escape room” that enables visitors, and visually-impaired users in particular, to gather information and instructions from their environment.

Antyenette Walker, who performs under the name Young Ant, is a hip-hop MC who would use the Holman Prize to create more music and share it with her fans around the world.

Find the Holman Prize on Facebook + Instagram + Twitter

Join the Holman Prize community and make a tax-deductible donation to help fuel the dreams of blind adventurers and creators for years to come.

New in our store: Make raised line drawings instantly with the Sensational BlackBoard

It’s not every day that you have access to a swell printer when you want to create tactile images or reference materials. But with the lightweight and portable Sensational BlackBoard you can instantly create raised-line drawings whenever, and wherever. All you need is the BlackBoard, a sheet of printer paper, and a ballpoint pen. Place the paper against the rubberized side of the blackboard and push down when you draw to perforate the paper. You can feel your drawing as you go, so there’s no need to flip your paper over or draw in reverse.

It’s a great way to make tactile images quickly, and a great tool for teachers interested in tracing copies from text book or reference materials. The Sensational Blackboard is:

  • Lightweight, at just 7 oz.
  • Flexible enough not to break in your backpack but rigid enough to draw on your lap.
  • Uses inexpensive materials: all you need is standard copy paper and medium ballpoint pen.
  • Smooth surface holds the paper in place. No clamps makes it easy to tuck into a briefcase or binder 11.25” x 9”.

It’s an elegant design that is simply sensational. Want to try it out? Stop by the Adaptations Store in person and we’ll give you a demo. Available now for $65.00!

10 Tips for Aspiring Blind Yogis

Yoga is a rewarding form of mental and physical exercise that can lead to less stress, better sleep, and an increase in overall health. Have you ever wanted to give yoga a try, but feel a little intimidated by crowded yoga classes and people bending themselves into pretzels? Have you ever wanted to know the exact yoga poses but didn’t have a non-visual way to find out?

We have yoga classes for students of all levels at the LightHouse. Join our regularly scheduled yoga classes with Kimm Ropicky on Mondays and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. in the Fitness Studio. We also have a new monthly Saturday workshop with Health and Wellness Coordinator Amber Sherrard, with each session focusing on a different aspect of practicing yoga. This month on March 24, join Amber for “The Art of Inversion: Getting Upside Down.”

Here are ten tips from Amber’s own experience as a blind yoga lover to get you started. She is a registered yoga teacher and loves teaching new students!

Be open to trying something new.

It was once said that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Sometimes our biggest blessings in this life come from trying something we’ve never done before.

Simple does not mean easy.

Yoga is a simple practice. However, its simplicity is often mistaken for easy. Yoga is a challenging practice in many ways, but its benefits are limitless.

No need for fancy clothes. 

You don’t need fancy, name-brand clothes to practice yoga. It’s all about comfort. Wear clothes that make you feel comfortable and confident. You should also be able to sweat in your yoga clothes, so moisture-wicking material is recommended.

Be honest with your teacher.

Your teacher’s job is to make sure that you are practicing safely.  Be honest with them about how certain poses feel, how long you’ve been practicing yoga, and what previous injuries you may have. Your yoga teacher is trained to modify your yoga practice accordingly. Another great tip is to speak with your instructor before class. Let them know that you are blind and that you will need them to be very descriptive. Yoga teachers are naturally descriptive, however, letting them know your are blind will give them an extra reminder to choose their words wisely. Also, if you are okay with hands-on adjustments, let your teacher know.  Hands-on adjustments are a great way to understand how the pose should look and feel in your body.

Discomfort is good, pain is not.

Discomfort is good, pain is not: yoga is designed to drive us right past the place of comfort, which strengthens us physically and mentally.  Its apart of the challenge, charm, and, appeal of a consistent yoga practice. However, if you ever ever feel pain, always back out and let your instructor know. The good thing about yoga postures is that they can be modified in a variety of ways to make the benefits accessible to everyone.

Yoga teachers love questions.

People often feel afraid to ask questions before or after a yoga class. It’s perfectly fine to ask your teachers questions about anything that was covered in class. They will gladly give you clarification on anything that seems fuzzy or unclear, so ask away!

Give it another try.

Many people try yoga one time and make a decision right away to either continue their practice or never try it again. With the vast array of yoga types, styles, and teachers, its always worth giving it another try.

Resist the urge to compare.

Yoga is not a competition. Every practitioner is on their own journey. The more you practice, the more you evolve. A wise yogi once said, “Practice and all is coming.”

Be kind to yourself.

Yoga is different from any other type of exercise. It strengthens more than just the physical body. With that being said, it’s easy to forget that in yoga, pain is not gain. Be kind to yourself and take your practice one breath at a time. Which leads to my final tip…

Don’t forget to breathe.

Let’s be honest.  Sometimes not being able to see can be frustrating and sometimes trying something new can seem scary, but “without breath, there is no yoga” so just remember to breathe.

Questions? Feel free to send Amber an email at asherrard@lighthouse-sf.org. She would love the hear from you!

Mark Your Calendars for San Francisco PRIDE 2018

We are excited to announce that LightHouse will march in the 48th annual San Francisco Pride Parade on Sunday, June 24th! The San Francisco Pride Parade’s mission is to educate the world, commemorate LGBT+ heritage, celebrate LGBT+ culture, and liberate LGBT+ people. This aligns with LightHouse’s mission to promote equality and self-reliance for people who are blind or visually impaired, and promotes the visibility of LGBT+ blind and disabled people.

The LightHouse is committed to inclusivity. Blindness intersects with every single identity, and we recognize the need to amplify the voices of disabled LGBT+ people and our community members. LightHouse is proud to open our doors and extend an invitation to all disabled LGBT+ community members, their families, friends, allies and the organizations that serve them. Join us as we celebrate the intersectionality of people who are blind, have low vision, have other disabilities, and the many community members who identify with both communities or actively want to support LGBT+ visibility. It’s a central part of our blind experience to be seen, be heard and to be proud of who we are!

Find out the many ways individuals can participate by visiting our Eventbrite page and signing up today. The first 100 people who sign up will receive a free Be Seen PRIDE 2018 t-shirt, to be handed out the day of PRIDE. We would like to extend an invitation to community partners to join us to make this a collaborative cross disability experience. For community based organizations interested in partnering with LightHouse’s cross disability contingent, individual questions, or help signing up on Eventbrite, please contact Laura Millar, Sexual Health Services Program Coordinator at lmillar@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7345.

For all volunteer related questions contact Allyson Ferrari, Volunteer Engagement Specialist at aferrari@lighthouse-sf.org or call 415-694-7320.

Make sure you sign up today on our Eventbrite page and #beseen with us, as we celebrate diversity at this year’s 48th annual PRIDE parade!

Microsoft Soundscape is a new way to navigate

“What is overwhelming about being a blind traveler? It’s not always what people think.” LightHouse Director of Access Technology Erin Lauridsen is passionate about this point: “Obstacle avoidance is not the problem, we have a dog, a cane and our blindness skills for that, The gap is knowing where things are and being able to decide what’s of interest.”

In her daily work, Lauridsen often has to shake her head at technology that misses the mark, but today is different. Today, Microsoft unveils a new free app designed not just for blind people – but by blind people.

In the video below, Erin Lauridsen explains the design thinking behind Microsoft’s new app. Click here to download Soundscape from the US App Store.

Lauridsen is one of the design minds behind Soundscape, a new Microsoft product which aims to empower blind people to not just get where they’re going, but to explore and learn their environment actively.

Read more on the Microsoft Accessibility Blog

Hired last year to start LightHouse’s Access Technology department in San Francisco, Lauridsen has built up a research and design consulting shop that leverages the blind experience to help mainstream companies optimize their products. One day it may be face recognition; another day, it’s designing a more intuitive interface or an advancement in ergonomics. In all cases, though, designing with the blind in mind yields a more competitive product.

Last fall Microsoft approached Lauridsen’s team with a product built upon an ambitious concept: a navigation app not based on turn-by-turn directions, but on dynamic, proximity-based landmarks and 3D audio beacons.

For Lauridsen, an app that promoted spatial engagement instead of rigid instructions and prescribed routes was a breath of fresh air. “The idea of having spatial and directional information floating on top, and taking some of that process load off of the traveler, that was intriguing,” she says. The next step was to find out if this technology would work in practice.

Download Soundscape from the app store

Microsoft brought the idea to a small group at a meeting of LightHouse Labs, Lauridsen’s monthly blind-tech meetup at LightHouse’s Market Street headquarters. Each month, Labs provides a venue for companies and individuals in the blindness and accessibility sphere to explore product-market fit, compare notes on emerging tech and express passionate, at times controversial opinions. It was agreed that the next phase of research and design was to get Soundscape into the pockets of real users, to turn the app from a good idea into an invaluable tool.

Today, Soundscape launches in the US and UK app stores on iOS for iPhones, and with it Microsoft has introduced a new 3D audio experience crafted specifically for exploration.

Soundscape, Lauridsen says, offers freedom for blind users: “It takes out the assumption that you’re following a proscribed route, fills in the information access gap, and allows for discovery and exploration. It’s not oversimplified or over complicated, as so much tech ‘for’ us often is.”

An image of a phone showing the Microsoft Soundscape app reads: "Set a Beacon and make your way there. Heading somewhere? Place an audio beacon on your destination and Soundscape will keep you informed of its location and your surroundings along the way. Use Soundscape in conjunction with your way finding skills and even your favorite navigation app to find your way to your destination."

Featuring an unobtrusive, roaming narrator reading the names of businesses, intersections, and points of interest in stereo, Soundscape is much more like browsing a neighborhood than any audio navigator that has come before. The Around Me and Ahead of Me features allow for more focused “looking around,” and audible beacons can be set to guide users gently toward a destination with intuitive auditory cues.

For Lauridsen and her department, this early stage design work is equally as important in making products both elegant and useful. “Our network at LightHouse is considerable – we have blind engineers, blind architects, blind coders – and what we like to build is ‘of’ those people, not ‘for’ them.”

Over the winter, Lauridsen’s team began putting the app through its paces, quite literally, with a score of blind user testers taking the app up and down Market Street and through the neighborhoods of San Francisco. Taking their feedback and synthesizing it, and delivering it in a series of intense meetings with Microsoft’s developers, Soundscape began to feel ready.

“Inventors often want to design things for us to be safer; I get that, but that’s design from a fear point of view. Microsoft designed this product out of an enthusiasm for learning, exploring, and finding joy in your environment. That’s the kind of technology that we like to see.”