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LightHouse YES (Youth Employment Series) – Final Session on May 21: Interviews and Disclosure

Our final YES workshop will be held on May 21 in our new headquarters. Students that attend this YES workshop will discuss and gain valuable insight and practice in how to conduct an interview, make a good first impression and network with others. During the afternoon, students will participate in an in-depth discussion and interactive activities that will help them be more comfortable and confident in disclosing information about their disability.

Who: Youth and transition-aged students (recommended age range: 14 to 24 years old) who are blind or who have low vision.
When: Saturday, May 21, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Where: Our new headquarters at 1155 Market Street, 10th Floor, San Francisco
Cost: The cost to attend one of the LightHouse Youth Employment Series workshops is $150 per student, which may be covered by Department of Rehabilitation. In addition to the day’s activities and curriculum, students will receive a light breakfast, lunch and refreshments throughout the day.

Please note that the session will begin promptly at 9:00 a.m. We must ask that all parents and guardians leave no later than 15 minutes after dropping off their child participant.

If you would like more information or to register for the workshop please contact Jamey Gump, Youth Services Coordinator, at 415-694-7372 or by email at jgump@lighthouse-sf.org.


What is LightHouse YES: Youth Employment Series?
LightHouse YES: Youth Employment Series is an informative series of monthly workshops providing transition-aged youth who are blind or have low vision vital skills and practices that will help them become more successful in higher education and their chosen career path.

In January, 2016 we began this series of day long workshops designed to help youth and transition-aged students (recommended age: 14 to 24 years old) who are blind or have low vision to be prepared to become successfully employed. Through a variety of speakers and collaborative activities led by successful blind professionals, students will gain invaluable wisdom that can help them grow and shape themselves into competent blind adults.

These workshops will teach students to:

  • Effectively navigate through any system to ensure you receive necessary accommodations.
  • Learn about accommodations available to college students and those entering the workforce.
  • Acquire access technology skills which can be applied to real world situations, and test how effective these technologies might be for yourself.
  • Acquire and use blindness skills that will enrich your life and help you achieve your goals, be more confident and learn how to advocate for your needs.
  • How to transition smoothly into college from high school or from college to a career.
  • Develop Effective cover letters and resumes.
  • Practice networking, participate in mock interviews, and understand how to make a strong and positive first impression.
  • Learn how to develop, enhance and utilize your network and your relationship with peers and mentors.


Join us for Birding by Sound: A Day in the Park for the Entire Family

On the Saturday, May 7 (Mother’s Day weekend) the LightHouse Youth Program invites youth, mothers and any other family members who wish to join us for our second Birding by Sound hike and picnic.

The morning’s activity will start with a hike around the San Francisco Botanical Garden, where we will use the Merlin Bird ID app to identify as many of the local birds as we can, as well as enjoy the other attractions the garden has to offer. After our stroll we’ll find a nice place in Golden Gate Park for a picnic and have an informative discussion about accessible activities the entire family can enjoy.

Who: Families with at least one individual (parent or child) who is blind or has low vision.
What: Bird Identification Hike and Picnic at the San Francisco Botanical Garden
When: Saturday May 7, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Where: The Botanical Garden is located at 1199 9th Ave, San Francisco
Cost: $17.00 per family
Waiver: Each participant must complete a LightHouse Youth Program Application, if you have not done so already.
What to bring: Good walking shoes, a Smartphone loaded with the Merlin Bird ID App, bag lunch, water bottle, warm layers of clothing and sunscreen.

Here’s more information about the Merlin Bird ID App. Please note that this app has some features that are not accessible with voice over.

If you would like more information or to RSVP for this event please contact Jamey Gump, Youth Services Coordinator, at 415-694-7372 or by email at jgump@lighthouse-sf.org.

Blind at SXSW 2016: Join Us to Talk Movies, Music, Voices and More

LightHouse's SXSW 2016 flyer with date, time, location, and logos of companies

Above is a flyer for our event, “Mainstreaming Accessibility” at SXSW 2016. Click here to download the flyer as text. We’ll be in Austin all week; Come hang out with blind innovators at our Access House by getting in touch at sxsw@lighthouse-sf.org.

In 2016, the LightHouse is branching out in lots of new directions, not just with our new SF headquarters but in taking our contributions to parts of the world that may have not heard of the LightHouse. One of the most important parts of our expansion is an emphasis on current and cutting edge technology. As such, we have been asked to program a dedicated event at the mecca of all things tech, art, and media: South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. SXSW is where every industry leader wants to premiere films, perform music, and get people excited about the next big tech advancement. Finally, due to our efforts this year with the help of the good folks at SXgood and SXSW Eco, the blindness community will have a strong and exciting presence.

That’s right — next week, we’re coming to Texas for SXSW. We’ve worked hard over the past few months to assemble a dynamic group of speakers and innovators who are thinking about accessibility from a new perspective — a mainstream perspective that includes rather than excludes. At our event, there will be something for everyone: Professional recording studios and audio engineers, film buffs and producers alike, and of course the passionate advocates for accessibility who want to see both personalized and mainstream technology merge into one seamless integration.

This is a major first for SXSW — a forum on disability hosted, moderated, and programmed solely by blind individuals and joined by others who think daily about mainstream accessibility — diving deep into nuanced discussions of a mainstream future for accessible tech. We’ll have a hands-on lab session where conference-goers can actually touch and experience the great stuff we’re building. When we’re not at our event, we won’t just melt into the crowd, either: We’ll be roaming the streets of Austin and hosting gatherings at our very own Access House, a hub we’ve built specifically for those with similar interests to meet, get to know each other, and exchange ideas.

Join us at Palm Door on Sixth this Tuesday, March 15 for one of the most diverse and unusual panels SXSW has to offer. As part of the SXgood Hub (or ‘social good hub’) our event is open to anyone with festival credentials of any kind (Music, Film, Interactive, wristbands), and we promise a grip of engaging, never-before-told stories about what goes into truly great design. What’s more — after the panel we have an hour-long dedicated lab portion where you can get hands on with the tech we’re talking about.

Here’s a bit more about each speaker:

Jonas Rivera and Paul Cichocki and the Academy Award-winning production staff at Disney•Pixar have been working tirelessly for years now to make audio description for blind moviegoers better — not just in quality, but in the tech that delivers this important audio track for those who can’t see the screen. They’ll tell us the origin story of their brand new feature from Disney Movies Anywhere, and why it’s so important.

Ed Gray has been working at Avid for more than twenty years, and never imagined he’d be an accessibility leader until he became blind later on as an adult. Now, he has helped take ProTools, the industry standard for recording, to a peak of accessibility, making sure that once again, blind people can be audio engineers.

Christian Erfurt is the CEO of Be My Eyes, the video assistant app that first launched just sixteen months ago out of Denmark. Now living in San Francisco and pushing Be My Eyes’ technology to the next level, Christian and founder Hans Jørgen Wiberg will share how their technology helps not only blind people, but everyone else, too.

Rupal Patel is the founder and CEO of VocaliD, Inc., an east coast based company with a big goal: To create a million voices, literally. If Be My Eyes crowdsources eyesight for those who need it, VocaliD does the same for those with speech disorders. The winner of an innovation award at SXSW Interactive last year, Rupal is back again this year to share how VocaliD can make custom voices to fit any human, and why that’s important to society.

Will Butler is the Media and Communications Officer at LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco, and has worked with all of these companies in some capacity over the past few years, whether it’s as a journalist, critic, or collaborator. He will be moderating the panel discussion.

Every Pixar Film Is Now Accessible with Mobile Audio Description from Disney

Sixteen Disney Pixar titles now available with mobile audio description for the blind

Audio Description — the extra audio track that narrates film action for people who are blind or have low vision — has been around for decades, but even if you’re blind, you might not use it. Why? Ironically, often the problem with audio description is not really the audio description. The problem is in how AD is delivered — or rather, not delivered. For years, the LightHouse has heard and advocated for blind filmgoers who simply aren’t able to pay for their movie and enjoy it in the format of their choice. If you’re blind at the movies, you know about the broken receivers, the strange formats, poor public education and training, and the many other intervening factors that have continually stymied AD availability across movie theaters and in-home systems, ultimately stonewalling the blind film-watching experience.

Starting today, that’s changing. With a new, major update to the Disney Movies Anywhere app, you can now take control of your own personal audio descriptive track, on your own smartphone, on your own terms.

This brand new, free, mobile audio description from Disney Movies Anywhere is smart and user-friendly; it listens and syncs automatically with their films (starting with the sixteen classic Disney•Pixar titles), including today’s home release of The Good Dinosaur. In accomplishing this, Disney•Pixar is leading the way for accessible films; and soon, we at the LightHouse are confident that this mobile Audio Description experience will be possible for all movies, everywhere.

Disney Movies Anywhere - click to download from iTunesA project that originated at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville and was taken on by the engineers at Disney, this new accessibility system using an app and a smartphone to access audio description is not only a passion project for the good folks at these companies, but Pixar and Disney have seen to it that key members of the blindness community have been given a chance to provide early and influential developmental feedback every step of the way. In this regard, the LightHouse has contributed feedback, tested for quality assurance, and now we’re proud to help spread the word.

At an event at Pixar in December, part of an unprecedented and ongoing collaboration between LightHouse for the Blind, the Blind Babies Foundation and Guide Dogs for the Blind, we invited nearly 200 blind people from organizations all around the Bay Area to download the app to their iPhones and iPads and test out the technology at a private, red carpet screening of The Good Dinosaur. The response was universal acclaim. The app’s beta version worked seamlessly. People both blind and sighted left the event joyously; celebrating the idea of being able to go back to the movie theater or watch a movie in their homes exactly the way they want.

How Does It Work?

It’s incredibly simple. If you already have a Pixar film that you’d like to watch with audio description, all you have to do is go to the app store and download the Disney Movies Anywhere app. When your movie starts playing (on a separate device or television), open up the app and locate the film. Then click “sync and play audio,” and the rest is done for you. Note that currently this works only for those running iOS 7 or later, with more platforms to come.

For more detailed instructions, visit Disney’s website, or download this special fact sheet to get you started.

What’s Next

More access audio description! This not only means Disney•Pixar is making their movies more personally accessible, but will require the participation of other film studios and distributors to help the blindness community promote accessible movie systems that work and are controlled by the user.

Just because Disney is the first movie studio to take the delivery method of audio description seriously, doesn’t mean it’ll be the only one. There are 285 million visually impaired people in the world — that’s 285 million people who, if given an accessible way to enjoy great movies, would be fans and customers for life.

This spring, we’ll be introducing mainstream audiences to this and other great new accessible technologies at a number of conferences, starting with a special LightHouse panel at SXSW on March 15. More on that soon, so stay tuned.

How Can I Help?

The best thing you can do is spread the word and send us feedback. There are lots of blind people out there who don’t think audio description is for them, many because they’ve never had a positive, easy experience getting it set up and calibrated. With these barriers gone, Pixar’s sixteen world-class titles are now accessible in a whole new way.

The LightHouse knows that nothing comes out perfectly the first time, and we’re already hard at work identifying new kinks and challenges in this brand new technology to make sure that the next version of the app is even better. To this tune, our friends at Pixar have set up a special feedback email address so that you can sound off with your comments, observations and helpful feedback. Just send an email to dmaappfeedback@pixar.com.

To contact us for inquiries about this or any of LightHouse for the Blind’s many technology initiatives, email press@lighthouse-sf.org.

LightHouse Transitions to Unified English Braille

LightHouse Accessible Media Specialist Julie Sadlier holds UEB braille reference books in braille and braille/large print.As of January 4, Unified English Braille (UEB) became the official braille code in the United States. Therefore, going forward, the LightHouse will complete all new braille translation projects in UEB, unless specifically requested to do otherwise. This includes braille labels on any tactile graphics and maps.

Though accessible signage is not currently required to be in UEB, the LightHouse is recommending to the state that this change be made and included in any upcoming revisions to accessibility codes. We will keep our clients apprised of the progress of this recommendation.

To help with the new code, Access to Information Services (AIS) has created a helpful reference book – Unified English Braille: Contractions, Signs, and Indicators. The book is available in a braille version (BR410, $5), or a combined braille and large print version (BR412, $25) from our store, Adaptations.

You can also find the UEB Rulebook, Second Edition, in both PDF and BRF.

If you have any questions regarding the transition, or about UEB, please feel free to contact us at MADLab@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7349.

Adaptations, the LightHouse Store is located at 214 Van Ness in San Francisco, open Monday through Friday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Call us at (415) 694-7301 or email us at adaptations@lighthouse-sf.org with any questions.

February Specials at Adaptations

Stella Desk LampThe Stella desk lamp is making waves in the low vision community and is now available at Adaptations in both black and white. It’s a very dynamic lamp with a total of fifteen different lighting intensities. You can choose from three primary light levels – bright white light, soft white light and a softer orange. You can also toggle through five different brightness modes within each of these three light levels. The Stella retails for $180.00, but during February, if you enter the store yelling “Stella!” (à la Marlon Brando in Streetcar Named Desire), we will give you 5% off your purchase of this lamp. You’ll save some money and we’ll share a laugh together.

Special Valentine’s Day Promotion – 10% off select red products
Save 10% on most red and red-packaged items at Adaptations. This includes red wallets, red liquid level indicators, red touch-dots, red magnifiers, redline flashlights, red low vision playing cards, Braille Uno, Wikki Stix, red sunglasses and more. Come by Adaptations to check out our deals for yourself. This sale does not include canes and digital video magnifiers.

Adaptations is located at 214 Van Ness in San Francisco, open Monday through Friday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Call us at (415) 694-7301 or email us at adaptations@lighthouse-sf.org with any questions.

Feb 18 Registration Deadline Looms for Braille Challenge

When: February 27, 2016
Where: The California School for the Blind
Deadline to register is February 18, 2016

Registration is well under way for the Northern California Braille Challenge which will be held and hosted by the California School for the Blind, in collaboration of LightHouse for the Blind, Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Junior Blind-Northern California and Lions Center for the Blind.

The day will include speakers who are past Braille Challenge national winners, workshops for parents and teachers and a wonderful day of braille focused events.

Parents and teachers need to complete the 2016 Permission form and return it by February 18, 2016 to CSB, Attn: Sharon Sacks, 500 Walnut Ave., Fremont, CA 94536.

If you have questions feel free to contact Alice McGrath, Community Relations Manager at amcgrath@vistacenter.org or call 650 858-0202, ext. 130.

New LightHouse Board President Chris Downey – Imagining the Future of Blindness

Chris Downey and Hans Bogdanos on the Golden Gate Bridge during his 2011 Blind Cycle Challenge for the LightHouseAt the beginning of January we warmly welcomed LightHouse board member Chris Downey as he stepped up to begin a term as LightHouse Board president. Chris’s background and skills could not be more synergistic with the year ahead as we complete the design and construction of our new San Francisco headquarters. An architect with more than 20 years’ experience in the field, Chris became fully blind in 2008. Chris went on to use his experiences to consult on building design for the blind and visually impaired. Recent projects include a new Department of Veterans Affairs blind rehabilitation center, a remodeler job to the housing for the blind in New York City, and the new Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco. As one of the few practicing blind architects in the world, Chris has been featured in local, national and international media stories and speaks regularly about architecture and blindness. He also teaches accessibility and universal design at UC Berkeley. LightHouse sat down to chat about his journey with blindness and our strong connection.

LightHouse (LH): “Your situation is a little unusual in that you went from full vision to no vision. How has that played out for you?”

Chris: “It is unusual. I had a benign brain tumor in the optic nerve area. I underwent surgery to have the tumor removed. When I woke up from the procedure, I was completely blind. Most people experience diminishing vision over time, so they have time to adjust. I had to learn how to do everything differently very quickly”

LH: “How did you first connect with the LightHouse?”

Chris: “A hospital social worker connected me to the LightHouse. It’s funny, I had a visual memory of the San Francisco building with the braille façade, and so as an architect, I already had a connection with the building. I started by learning O&M skills and braille through the East Bay office.

Many people take six months to a year to go to intensive blind skills-learning programs. I was 45-years-old, in my mid-career years. I had a family, a young son. It was not an option for me to drop out of my life for that long. I was fortunate to be able to go to Enchanted Hills Camp in Napa and participate in an intensive week-long learning session. Connecting with highly productive blind people in this kind of learning environment is very effective. Had there been a San Francisco location with a short, live-in immersive program, that would have been even more ideal. The new LightHouse headquarters will allow us to offer that experience in San Francisco.”

LH: “How did you come to join the LightHouse Board?”

Chris: “Through cycling! I had been an avid cyclist before the surgery. Within 4 months after, I started riding tandem with some of my old cycling buddies. I was cycling again before I could walk the streets. I had been active at my son’s school in Piedmont. Some of the dads from the school got together and bought me a tandem bike from a local bike shop in Piedmont. Well, it so happened that then-LightHouse Executive Director Anita Aaron stopped into the same shop that week to buy a tandem bike as well. The shop owner told her that he had just sold a tandem bike to another blind person. I had returned to work as soon as I could after the surgery and was learning how to do architecture without sight, and had started consulting. Anita was aware of my work as a blind architect and she got the conversation about joining the board started. I joined in 2010.”

LH: “How have things evolved at the LightHouse since then?”

Chris: “Bryan Bashin came on as CEO soon after I joined. The first big change that Bryan made was at Enchanted Hills Camp. We had been contracting out the operations of the camp. Bryan brought the camp management in-house. He hired more blind counselors and blind leadership, and added more camp sessions and types of sessions, including expanding intensive, immersive learning programs. Even at that time, there was a desire bring this immersive programing to San Francisco, but we were limited by our small space. The question of how we could offer week-long sessions in San Francisco arose. The answer was that we had to increase our space. We realized we needed to buy a new property. Things came together beautifully – we had the phenomenal luck of finding a building that was central and that already housed organizations whose work was in line with ours (including the Mayor’s Office on Disability).”

LH: “Can you talk about your personal journey learning to live as a blind person?”

Chris: “I had been an architect for 20 years, and had two university degrees in architecture. I knew I wanted to continue working, but I could not find any blind architects to help me figure it out. There are no self-help books. I went back to my old office. They were incredibly optimistic that I could do it and wanted to help me figure it out. Scott Blanks (now LightHouse’s Senior Director of Programs) had been a mentor of mine and taught me blind tech skills early on. He started coming to the office to train me. Scott is so functional, the office staff insisted that Scott was not blind. Scott raised the expectation at my workplace as to what I could do. They expected that I would be as seamless as Scott. I started to get excited about what I could do.

I was trained to really focus on the environment as an architect, visually, of course. But now I started to focus on the environment through a multi-modality sensory experience – sound, airflow and tactile elements gave me a whole new palette to design with. I got really excited and started to work in a whole new way. Now, I say, if you’re going to lose your sight, get into architecture. You will learn to value other ways of doing things, and free your creativity and problem solve in new ways.” (Check out Chris’ TED Talk on designing for the blind.)

LH: “What’s your vision for your role as LightHouse Board president?”

Chris: “First, I am focused on making the new space our home, as well as taking our new program ideas and making them into a living form, which is exciting and a lot of work. Working as a consultant with the incredibly creative Mark Cavagnero Associates Architects has been amazing. In the process of designing a space for the blind, questions have been asked that have never been asked before. My role is to help nurture the creative process between blind LightHouse staff and volunteers and the architects.

Though the space will be exceptionally advanced, a lot of what is great won’t be noticed. For example, people with low vision can navigate much easier in high contrast, well-lit environments. We worked together to design a space that looks normal, but uses contrast and specialized lighting. Acoustics is another area that is innovative in our new space. Acoustic design is typically not much more than reducing outside noise or separating mechanical spaces to reduce noise. For people who are blind, sound can be used for wayfinding, so we looked at whether there were opportunities to use sound to facilitate navigation. We have worked with our acoustic designers to create a sound environment that helps guide people through the space, so sound does not overwhelm, but instead assists. We are doing more than functional design however. We are asking, how can we make the space delightful to someone without sight? The grip of hand rail, what you feel when you touch the reception desk are things we have considered that are not typically thought about in architecture.

Secondly, we have been incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity of our recent bequest.” (Learn about the LightHouse bequest.) “We are ready to dive into our next strategic plan in 2016. It is the dawn of new day, and it is thrilling to plan for a very exciting future for the LightHouse.”

250 Blind People Celebrate the Latest in Audio Description at Pixar Red Carpet Event

dozens of blind people stand in the atrium of Pixar Animation Studios
(all photos courtesy Morry Angell/Guide Dogs for the Blind)

On Thursday, December 10, 250 blind people and their pals gathered together at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville for a very special evening.

two men in navy suits with canes walk down the red carpet, one wearing a fedora

The event, which both celebrated audio description and showed the enthusiastic audience a sneak preview of a new mobile technology for delivering perfect, uninterrupted audio description in theaters and at home, was also an unprecedented gathering of blindness organizations from around the Bay Area. Dressed to impress, in cocktail attire and rolling down the 150-foot red carpet through the atrium of Pixar, we couldn’t have been more proud to see all the white canes, dogs and, most of all, a blind community dedicated to improving video description throughout mainstream culture.

A special thanks to the Blind Babies Foundation and Guide Dogs for the Blind for collaborating with the LightHouse on this first-ever gala video description event. Here’s to many more great movie-going experiences to come. Look for more details about the new technology in a future issue of the LightHouse eNews.

Check out some highlights below and check out all the photos from the event here.
several prominent female members of the blidnness community pose for the cameraa little girl hugs a dinosaur plush doll next to the red carpeta woman and her dog inspect a dinosaur plush dolla well-dressed boy with a white cane walks with his friends and family