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accessible technology

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!