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accessible technology

From yacht-rock to pop-ballads: Our first Audio Academy broke new ground

On Sunday afternoon, the halls of LightHouse reverberated with the deep, breezy sounds of yacht rock. “Sailing takes me away to where I’ve always heard it could be,” crooned DJ Dan’s tune “Sailing” by Christopher Cross. A San Francisco State student with an interest in all things aquatic, Dan’s final performance on Sunday transported the audience to a tranquil expanse and back again, reflecting Dan’s personality with quirky, upbeat folk and country tunes perfectly suited for the sailing life.

Each student entered the weekend with no knowledge of DJing, and left equipped with sufficient knowledge to assemble a twenty minute set. Our blind instructors Byron Harden and Clarence Griffin from Chicago-based I See Music introduced students to the software Deejay Pro and taught them the basics of a fully accessible and non-visual DJ method. Their program, designed by blind people for blind people, is the only in the nation that offers a comprehensive audio education curriculum for blind and low vision learners.

The workshop participants performed sets that were each as unique in tone and style as the students themselves. We heard an uplifting, pop-centric set by Maycie, a thumping, rhythmic set from Jenna and hip hop and R&B tunes from Juan. Traveling from all around Northern California, the students came from as far as Sonora and Sacramento, taking full advantage of the LightHouse’s cozy residential facilities for the 3-day workshop.

Audio Academy student Maycie sits grinning in front of her DJ equipment in the LightHouse board room.
Audio Academy student Maycie sits grinning in front of her DJ equipment in the LightHouse board room.

Maycie, 20, was thrilled to find out about Audio Academy because it marked a departure from many other inaccessible or antiquated audio workshops. She had researched a variety of music schools, but none could provide appropriate accommodations. As a vocalist, producer of her own songs and aspiring DJ, Maycie sought an educational avenue for audio skills.

“Blind people kind of get stereotyped a lot as musicians,” she says. “Not every blind person is musical, but for those of us that are, there need to be more opportunities.”

She says that the workshop provided a comprehensive basic understanding of the DJ software, DJ methodology and tools, adding that the workshop solidified her interest in DJing professionally.

“It was a pretty amazing feeling, to be honest: I had this picture in my head of actually performing a DJ set, and no one would have to help me — I could do it fully by myself.”

Audio Academy student Jenna smiles, seated, with one hand on her laptop and the other on her DJ equipment.
Audio Academy student Jenna smiles, seated, with one hand on her laptop and the other on her DJ equipment.

Jenna, 21, says that although she wasn’t certain what to expect for the weekend, she was glad to have participated and introduced herself to a set of skills to enhance both her recreational and vocational interests.

“This has opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for me with my pursuit of a career in music and I’m excited to attend more Audio Academy Workshops in the future,” she says.

Juan, 23, says that the workshop was fulfilling as an opportunity to learn new skills in a new environment, and add another skill to his musical toolbox of piano, guitar and percussion instruments. Over the weekend, he learned to mix and edit a set of songs using DJay Pro in conjunction with accessible technology, including VoiceOver.

Audio Academy students, instructor Clarence and LightHouse Board member Josh Miele assemble in the Board Room around DJ equipment to listen to music.
Audio Academy students, instructor Clarence and LightHouse Board member Josh Miele assemble in the Board Room around DJ equipment to listen to music.

“I like to listen to music, so DJing seems like a possibility, and I felt like the teachers were putting good emphasis in the stuff they taught us,” he says. “I want to buy the DJ equipment and start practicing at home. And, I want to actually do what the instructors do. They get gigs and stuff like that, and I want to actually DJ professionally.”

Byron and Clarence collectively have a wealth of knowledge and experience in audio production, DJing and music. Byron created I See Music to foster independence, equality and opportunity through their instruction and example of professional success.

Daniel, 22, says that having blind instructors was a defining part of the workshop. He was pleased that their knowledge of both the DJ and accessibility softwares rendered the workflow relatively seamless.

At left, Blind DJ Ryan Dour performs a set using an iPad and DJ equipment, while Audio Academy student Daniel listens with delight at right.
At left, Blind DJ Ryan Dour performs a set using an iPad and DJ equipment, while Audio Academy student Daniel listens with delight at right.

“I felt the program was really good. I really learned a lot, and I think that it was a good opportunity for people,” he says. “You could get hands-on experience there with somebody that really knew the software. I might use the knowledge as a radio DJ, or might just do some DJing on the side just for fun.”

LightHouse and the World According to Sound present the sounds of California

Radio journalists partner with LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco for an unprecedented experiment on the art and science of sound.

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired is partnering with The World According to Sound to create a podcast, radio and touring performance series that will take listeners on an audio exploration of California from the acoustic perspective of the blind. This non-visual, surround-sound performance, which began with a grant from California Humanities, and is augmented by direct support from the LightHouse, continues with its goal of pushing the boundaries of audio storytelling and furthering LightHouse’s mission both in-person and over the airwaves.

The WATS producers place speakers around a room before their immersive sounds performance.
The WATS producers place speakers around a room before their immersive sounds performance.

Each radio and podcast episode will focus on one sound or story that captures what it’s like to live in California as someone who is blind or visually impaired. We will hear from wanderers and winemakers, commuters and hikers, teenagers and those who are retired. Using the latest in 3D sound recording technology, the World According to Sound’s producers will work to faithfully capture environments, stories and observations from all corners of California.

For the live shows, these ambisonic recordings and stories will be projected on a ring of speakers, engulfing the audience in sound 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.

For more information about this collaboration and the performance, please contact thewatsound@gmail.com or press@lighthouse-sf.org.

The World According to Sounds co-producers Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett stand in a parking lot with their recording equipment.
The World According to Sounds co-producers Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett stand in a parking lot with their recording equipment.

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.

To get to the other side: The Blind Captain makes his mark

If you picked up a newspaper, turned on the TV or navigated any Istanbul-based news site last weekend, you probably came across the story of 2017 Holman Prizewinner Ahmet Ustunel. It took two technical failures, three last-minute schedule changes, and a whole lot of training and improvisation – but we are pleased to share that, at just before 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 21, Ahmet The Blind Captain successfully navigated a hardshell ocean kayak solo, across the Bosphorus Strait, crossing from Asia to Europe without any visual cues.

A clipping of a Turkish newspaper shows Ahmet paddling out on the water with a headline in the Turkish language.
A clipping of a Turkish newspaper shows Ahmet paddling out on the water with a headline in the Turkish language.

For those who tried to view the historic event online: reality and ingenuity caused Ahmet to scrap the anticipated webcast in order to take advantage of an unanticipated time window.

Ahmet jumped into his kayak ahead of schedule, at 9:45 a.m. on Saturday, July 21. Ditching the original plan on the advice of the coast guard, Ahmet aimed to take advantage of a window when shipping traffic was calm. He was told that the window was only a half an hour; a bit of a shock considering that he was originally planning on taking 90 minutes to make the 3-mile crossing. Suddenly, he had one third of the time he expected to get across the 3-mile expanse.

In the lead-up to the crossing, things had become more and more hectic. Ahmet had a few crucial bits of tech bite the dust just fifteen minutes before getting in the boat – the result of water damage from a capsizing during one of Ahmet’s training sessions earlier in the week. So when the time came, Ahmet reached for old standby tools: namely the Ariadne GPS app, a Victor Stream Reader, and good ol’ Mister Beep, outfitted to give him vibrating compass feedback as he worked furiously to hit each waypoint across the daunting mid-Bosphorus shipping highway.

Ahmet embraces his wife, Dilara, after reaching the other side of the Bosphorus.
Ahmet embraces his wife, Dilara, after reaching the other side of the Bosphorus.

“The only thing I was thinking was about paddling,” he said last Sunday, still a little buzzed from the day. And it’s remarkable that he was able to focus. It was all he could do to keep coast guard, friends and journalists from crowding him on all sides, indicating for them to hang back as they eagerly trailed his progress at every turn. It wasn’t hard to know he had reached the other side, either:,100 meters from his destination, he heard the sounds of cheering: friends, family and TV news cameras, welcoming him back with an audible beacon that made it easy to find his final waypoint.

As he celebrated on the shore, overheated and overwhelmed, Ahmet rebelled, jumping back off the dock and into the water – to cool off – but maybe also to show one last display of independence and remind everyone that he was entirely at ease on his home shores.

The beautiful thing about Ahmet’s achievement is not so much one feat of strength or bravery: it’s the consistency, the team work, the flexible and improvisatory way that he adapted to the challenges that inevitably presented themselves, his insistence on staying the course and doing things on his own steam when everyone else would gladly step in to help.

This isn’t the end for Ahmet. His newfound confidence as a blind sailor and the support of the Holman Prize now make him feel able to take on yet more adventures. He assures us that he plans to cross the strait again next year – this time, when no one is paying attention. “If in 20 years, it’s still amazing for a blind person to navigate a kayak solo,” he always reminds us, “then we haven’t done our job.”

Ahmet will be on one of three Holman Prizewinners to present on his year-long adventures at the first-ever LightHouse Gala: A Celebration of Blind Ambition, on November 29, 2018. Get your gala tickets today.

For more updates about our other five Holman Prizewinners, follow us on Facebook and visit holmanprize.org.

Take Instant Audio Notes with the MicroSpeak Digital Recorder

Need to capture some quick reminders on the fly? Want to record important information like phone numbers, prescription numbers, up-coming appointments, etc.? This pocket-sized and easy-to-use digital recorder has you covered, and it’s now available in our Adaptations Store.

Incorporating a high-quality microphone and and high-output speaker into a small, lightweight and compact design, this recorder is the perfect travel companion for those hoping to save info with the touch of a button. The MicroSpeak is rechargeable and offers 12 hours of playback time, so there’s no need to worry about changing batteries. This recorder also includes an on-board user guide, which explains the four-button layout. The also uses clear audible beeps and voice prompts to make operating the device a snap. Simply slide the two-position power switch to the “on” position to hear the battery status and begin using your recorder.

The MicroSpeak has 4GB of space to store your audio files, which can either be played back on the recorder via its internal speaker, or copied to a computer via the USB port located on the bottom of the recorder next to the power switch. The MicroSpeak has buttons on the left side to control volume, which can be liberally turned up without incurring distortion — we call it the tiny recorder with a big sound!

The MicroSpeak Digital Recorder sells for only $54.95 in the Adaptations Store. Stop by and pick one up today!