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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.

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.

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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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.

Photos: LightHouse’s first-ever ‘Celebration of Blind Ambition’ in San Francisco

Last Thursday, the LightHouse gathered hundreds of friends, supporters and community members at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in downtown San Francisco for the LightHouse Gala: A Celebration of Blind Ambition. At the gala, which was LightHouse’s largest-ever, we honored blind pioneers, role models and citizens for their audacity and ambition. It was a celebration, a fundraiser and an invitation for our community to partner and become more deeply engaged with the work of the LightHouse.

With over 300 people in attendance, it was an evening of community and camaraderie. Emcee Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind person to summit Mount Everest, set the tone for our daring evening. LightHouse student Jorge Ellington and his band started the evening right with live Latin Jazz. We honored seven blind leaders throughout the night, and capped off with presentations from our agency’s Holman Prize for Blind Ambition.

We were proud to present our new LightHouse Awards: to acknowledge longtime leaders from the field of blindness, who have had a great impact on the community. This award honored trailblazers in education, technology and policy. LightHouse Newel Perry Award was presented to Cathy Skivers by Bryan Bashin. The LightHouse Dr. Isabelle Grant Award was presented to George Kerscher for his work to made electronic books accessible. Erin Lauridsen, Director of Access Technology presented the award to Dr. Kerscher. The LightHouse Chris Buckley Award honored Scott LaBarre and Maryanne Diamond for their work advocating for the Marrakesh Treaty to make books accessible to the global blind community without exception. Benentech’s Jim Fruchterman presented the award.

Ceremonial medals were given to the 2017 Holman Prizewinners, who were honored for the completion of their year-long projects which furthered the cause of blindness across six continents in the fields of adventure sports, entrepreneurship and cultural exchange. Holman prizewinner Penny Melville-Brown recounted her perilous, near death car accident and subsequently meeting and marrying the love of her life. Ojok Simon spoke of teaching over 45 blind people the art of beekeeping this year, and brought honey from Uganda to share with all. Ahmet Ustunel imparted his kayaking adventures in Turkey, and the technology he crafted to aid blind kayakers navigate independently.

Julie Cabrera, and Enchanted Hills camper who grew up to be a counselor helped us raise funds to rebuild the Wing Creek Chapel and accessible nature trail at Enchanted Hills, which were destroyed in last year’s Wine Country wildfires. The evening supported the life-changing programs of the LightHouse with a portion supporting to Enchanted Hills Camp for the Blind. The event raised over $180,000. Thank you to our sponsors.

EXPLORATION SPONSORS – Individual

  • Jennifer and Ken Bunt

Corporate

  • Walt Disney Company Employee Matching Gift Program
  • Microsoft

AUDACITY SPONSORS – Individual

  • Drew Kebbel
  • Sharon and Richard Sacks

Corporate

  • Apple
  • Facebook
  • Herbst Foundation
  • Merchant’s Exchange (Julia Morgan Ballroom)
  • Patson & Co
  • Swinerton
  • U.S. Bank

ADVENTURE SPONSORS – Individual

  • Jennison Asuncion
  • Lisa Carvalho and David Mager
  • Gena Harper
  • Jerry Kuns
  • Josh Miele, Liz Ruhland and Fred Ruhland
  • Fred and Kristine Silva

Corporate

  • One Market Restaurant, Michael and Leslye Dellar
  • Google/ Laura Allen
  • HP
  • Humanware
  • Maze & Associates
  • Mutual of America
  • U.S. Bank

OPPORTUNITY SPONSORS – Individuals

  • Barbara Lassen
  • Joan Dove
  • Chris Downey and Rosa Downey
  • Eric and Jacalyn Mah
  • Michael Nuz
  • Alice Wingwall and Donlyn Lyndon
  • Stanley Yarnell and Victor Rowley

Corporate

  • Bauke Family Foundation
  • Disability Rights Advocates
  • Fitness SF
  • Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP
  • Turner Construction

Baking Blind: How Penny Melville-Brown changed perceptions about disability by cooking across six continents

Belgian-born chef and entrepreneur Noam Kostucki summed up 2017 Holman Prizewinner Penny Melville-Brown like this: “She’s bonkers. She’s completely mad.” This from a man running a restaurant in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle — but he meant it as a compliment. And for those who know Penny, it’s pretty much spot on.

Penny has big ideas and the gumption to carry them out — there’s no stopping her once she puts her mind to something. The woman has fortitude, military-learned logistics skills and an uncanny ability to connect with everyone she meets and put them immediately at ease.

From the onset, Penny’s Holman prizewinning project looked to be the one with least risk involved (compared to tending killer bees and solo-kayaking a highly trafficked shipping channel). Her plan was to leave her home in the green, port-side town of Fareham, UK and travel to six continents over the course of one year. Along the way she stopped in Costa Rica, Malawi, Australia, China and the United States, and met with chefs, other blind people and community leaders all over the world. She traveled with her nephew Toby Melville-Brown who documented her whirlwind world tour in a video blog series, Baking Blind.

“Some people were tentative and quite cagey before I showed up,” she says. “As soon as we were cooking together, they forgot I was blind. Then it was just two people sharing an experience together. Usually they had something simple in mind that they wanted to cook and I bullied them into doing something much more interesting.”

The risks of cooking seemed minimal to an experienced baker like herself— a burned wrist here, a nicked finger there — and yet somehow Penny’s project was the one with the most sturm und drang. Penny’s tour was met with much more intrigue than she had planned— coming face-to-face with Tropical Storm Nate in Costa Rica, a visa-related marooning in China, an air-sea rescue in Australia, to name a few. But Penny took it all in stride, and embraced the uncertainties as an unavoidable and rich part of her journey.

“As I crisscrossed continents and connected with people in vastly different cultures, I became even more convinced that something like this needed to be done,” she says. “There is very little media coverage of a blind person interacting with the rest of the world as an equal —  an ordinary person, who is really keen on something, operating as an equal with others around the world.”

Penny has a special connection with the namesake of the Holman Prize, James Holman, a 19th Century world traveler known as the first blind man to circumnavigate the globe. Both became blind while serving in the British Royal Navy (albeit nearly 200 years apart). Penny served for 22 years in the Women’s Royal Naval Service and Royal Navy, reaching the rank of commander. She was also the first woman to hold the position of naval barrister. After being medically discharged from the Royal Navy in 1999, she created her business Disability Dynamics to help other people with disabilities find employment.

“The majority of disabled people acquire their disabilities during their working lives, as they’re growing up or while they’re working,” she says. “If you’ve build yourself the strength of character motivation, optimism, determination, those skills will take you through life’s challenges of any sort, like acquiring a disability or getting a job.”

So much of Penny’s work focuses not only on changing the minds of people with disabilities themselves, but changing widespread public perceptions about disability. And when asked to identify the highlights of her Baking Blind tour, it’s the small human connections that Penny pinpoints — the ones that ripple out into the collective psyche to help evolve peoples’ understanding of what it means to be disabled.

Her favorite moment was cooking with two 20-year-old women in China, who didn’t even know how to hold a knife — and how quickly they formed a bond and began helping each other, growing more confident with each passing moment. Or wending her way through the bush and scrubland of Kiama, Australia with an Aboriginal chef as a guide to show them which plants were edible. Or even cooking deep in the jungle of Costa Rica with Chef Noam during a tropical storm and being forced to improvise due to the ironic lack of running water.

But the end of Penny’s journey around the world didn’t turn out quite as she had expected. During a visit to France just before Christmas to explore new cooking opportunities, Penny almost died in a serious car accident where she fractured several vertebrae in her neck and broke multiple ribs and her sternum. She spent two months in intensive care and was put into an induced coma for five weeks.

Penny says, “The breathing tubes stopped me talking so communicating with the French medical team was a challenge for all of us and even more complicated by my blindness. When you’re blind and in intensive care, and trying to communicate in a foreign language, it’s not easy. I had a whole vocabulary of sound effects that I used to communicate with the nurses.”

It was an incredibly trying time for Penny and her loved ones, but Penny fought hard — facing her rehabilitation head-on, and recovering much faster than her doctors anticipated.

“When you’ve already overcome significant life challenges, you’re an old hand at it,” she says.

And though Penny still has some recovery to do, she’s hard at work producing Baking Blind videos that she and Toby shot while traveling all over the world for the Holman Prize. She’s also working on a cookbook using recipes and ideas from her world travels.

The strange lesson in all of Penny’s adventures is that the most serious mishap occurred not while she was stuck in muddy, pockmarked roads during a downpour in Costa Rica, or eating unfamiliar foods in the villages in Malawi — but while she was driving in a taxi in a major European metropolis. It goes to show that risk is unavoidable, and Penny would tell you there’s no use holding back from the things you want to seek out in the world.

“Life is all about taking risks,” says Penny. “And we survive to tell the tale.”

In little more than a month, Penny will again return to San Francisco to regale attendees at the LightHouse Gala about her accomplishments and discoveries during her year-long adventure funded by the Lighthouse’s Holman Prize.

About the Holman Prize

In 2017, San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind launched the Holman Prize to support the emerging adventurousness and can-do spirit of blind and low vision people worldwide. This endeavor celebrates people who want to shape their own future instead of having it laid out for them. In early July, we announced the 2018 Holman Prizewinners — congratulations to Stacy CervenkaConchita Hernández and Red Szell. Ojok and his fellow 2017 prizewinners will visit San Francisco in November 2017 to speak at the LightHouse Gala.

“We are thrilled to be able to continue the Holman Prize for a second year,” says LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin. “These three new prizewinners represent a wide range of ambitions and life experience: from tackling social obstacles to huge tests of physical and mental fortitude, they reflect the diversity and capability of blind people everywhere.”

Created specifically for legally blind individuals with a penchant for exploration of all types, the Holman Prize provides financial backing – up to $25,000 – for three individuals to explore the world and push their limits. Learn more at holmanprize.org.

LightHouse Gala: A Celebration of Blind Ambition

Text against a starry black background. At right, a blue figure with a cane silhouetted against the sky. In the top right, a white compass rose.

A Celebration of Blind Ambition


On November 29, 2018, we hosted the first-ever LightHouse Gala at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco.

The full gala tickets included access to a pre-dinner cocktail hour, our Gala dinner and awards, and live auction with fabulous packages.

We can’t wait to have you again in 2020.

 

 


Calendar Icon Location Icon Clock Icon Bowtie Icon

November 29, 2018

Julia Morgan Ballroom

   6 p.m. – 10 p.m.

   Cocktail Attire


For 116 years, LightHouse has served California and supported people with blindness or low vision to live full lives. We are the place where blind people come to learn skills and to gain confidence and independence. At the LightHouse people connect with resources, peers and mentors. Every day we prove that with access to information and training, blind people can live as confident and effective employees, students, and community members.

In addition to awards for outstanding members of our community, innovative organizations and our valued sponsors, the evening also featured the stories of our first three winners of the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, who will have just completed their year-long Holman adventures.

We look forward to sharing an exceptional night together in celebration again in 2020. The Gala benefits LightHouse for the Blind’s transformational programs including Vision Rehabilitation, Community Services, Employment, Technology, and Accessible Design, as well as the annual Holman Prize for Blind Ambition and Enchanted Hills Camp for the Blind in Napa.


 

2018 CORPORATE SPONSORS

Microsoft Logo

Facebook Logo Patson Companies Logo US Bank Logo Merchants Exchange, Julia Morgan Ballroom Logo
Mutual of America Logo Maze and Associates Logo One Market Restaurant Logo
Google Logo HP Logo Humanware Logo
Turner Construction Logo Disability Rights Advocates Logo Rosen Bien, Galvan & Grundfeld LLP Logo

 

INDIVIDUAL SPONSORS

Bauke Family Foundation

Jennifer and Ken Bunt

Jennison Asuncion

Jerry Kuns

Josh Miele, Liz Ruhland and Fred Ruhland

Lisa Carvalho and David Mager

Richard and Sharon Sacks

Michael Nunez

 

THANKS TO OUR GALA COMMITTEE

Jennison Asuncion

Bryan Bashin

Jennifer Bunt

Michael Dellar

Gena Harper

Sharon Sacks

Announcing the 2018 Holman Prize Finalists

Grid of photos of the 2018 Holman Prize Finalists

 

Last year, we started the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, a set of annual awards of up to $25,000 each for legally blind individuals with big ideas. In our second year, we received video applications from all over the world – including nine more countries we hadn’t heard from last year – all fascinating and compelling in their own rite. The Holman Team narrowed the pool to 42 semifinalists, all of whom submitted detailed proposals mapping out their dream projects.

This week, we’re proud to announce our elite group of fourteen 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 fourteen finalists are as diverse and dynamic a group as you could imagine, including those who want to give back to their communities, those who seek to push the boundaries of science and tech, and those with infectious enthusiasm for a particular or unexpected craft.

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 TwitterInstagram and head to the LightHouse’s Facebook page for more updates.

Meet our 2018 finalists below: 

Becky Andrews

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

Zeljko Bajic

Sarajevo, Bosnia

Zeljko, 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

Boulder, Colorado, USA

Luanne, a seasoned long-distance runner, would use the Holman Prize to educate visually-impaired communities around the world about the joys and logistics of guided running.

Stacy Cervenka

Sacramento, California, USA

Stacy, 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 helping blind users optimize their trips around the world.

Leona Godin

Castle Rock, Colorado, USA

Leona, 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

Kirtland, New Mexico, USA

Having recently developed a braille code for the Navajo language, Carol would use the Holman Prize to launch a summer program to educate and share the code across the Navajo Nation. Her proposal also includes tactile interpretation of landscapes and critical features of the nation’s geography.

Andrew Hasley

Madison, Wisconsin, USA

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

Conchita Hernandez

Washington, DC, USA

Conchita, 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.

Georgina Hollinshead

Matlock, Derbyshire, UK

Georgina, 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

Banjul, Serrekunda, Gambia

Alieu, 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.

Sandeep Kumar

*People’s Choice Finalist*

Hyderabad, Telangana, India

Sandeep, who has developed a tool called Eye Renk, which allows the visually impaired to easily differentiate between various ocular medications, would use the Holman Prize to build a lab for further development of Eye Rank and other technologies for the visually impaired.

Ambrose Kiplangat Lasoy

Rift Valley Province, Kenya

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

Aishwarya T.V.

Secunderabad, Telangana, India

Aishwarya, 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.

Red Szell

London, UK

Red, an extreme sports enthusiast, would use the Holman Prize to undertake an extreme sports triathlon to conquer Am Buachaille, one of the most remote rock pinnacles at the Northwest tip of the United Kingdom.

Learn more about the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition at www.holmanprize.org.

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.

Video: What it takes to win the Holman Prize

One year ago, we launched the first annual Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, and embarked on a journey to change the public face of blindness and empower people worldwide to challenge the status quo and reject naysaying narratives around blindness. It’s been an incredible year getting to know and following along with our 2017 prizewinners, Penny Melville-Brown, Ahmet Ustunel and Ojok Simon.

Just last week, Holman Prize judging committee member Sheri Well-Jensen wrote a warm and compelling essay about the prize in NFB’s monthly publication, the Braille Monitor, which we are crossposting below. As we approach our second annual Holman Prize application period (January 16 to February 28), we hope the new essay and its accompanying video will get to the very heart of what this prize is all about and set your gears in motion brainstorming possible projects and ways to contribute:

James Holman was not your average nineteenth-century blind explorer. Safe to say, “nineteenth-century blind explorers” is not really a reliable dataset. Traveling the world alone is not unusual for blind people today, so today we view James Holman as an outlier—a sign that we’ve made some progress in these couple hundred years. In the future, the strivings of today’s outliers will seem similarly achievable, and we will thank them for breaking the mold. This year, we saw the launch of The Holman Prize, dedicated to pursuing and promoting the passions of blind people everywhere, and it’s my pleasure to introduce you to the prize’s first three winners. First, though, you need to know a bit about James Holman.

James Holman was born an unremarkable middle-class baby in Exeter, England, in 1786. The second son of a local merchant, he was more or less expected to lead an unsurprising life, making himself a career in the British Navy, and like a dutiful second son of the time, he eventually set about doing just that. That was just about the last unsurprising event of his life. He first surprised himself in 1812 by becoming very ill and later going blind. Later, he surprised the rest of England (and possibly himself again) by ignoring the usual sorts of restrictive expectations placed on blind people and setting out to do marvelous things. After recovering from his illness, he wriggled out of a stultifying religious order for disabled military men (which was supposed to keep him safely at home and out of trouble) and set forth on a series of solo adventures. He began by booking passage for himself on a ship, not worrying much about where it went. From there, in a time before paved roads and reliable vehicles, he traveled alone through Europe, was run out of Russia (suspected of being an international spy), and returned to England to publish his first set of detailed books describing his adventures. He later circumnavigated the globe, noticing everything, restlessly trying to be everywhere and to do all there was to do. Holman’s fame spread; eventually Charles Darwin himself referenced observations of the natural world made by the “blind traveler.”

You can (and should) read about him in the exquisitely detailed biography by Jason Roberts (available on both NLS and BookShare). I sincerely promise that it will reshape your assumptions about what blind people could accomplish in the early nineteenth century.

So when the Lighthouse for the Blind in San Francisco announced a competition for the first annual Holman Prize at the beginning of this year, they must have known they were setting a pretty high bar.

It was a prize clearly intended to reward the doing of splendid things: audacious things that startle, delight, and challenge.

As hoped, the announcement brought forth a glorious deluge of entries literally from around the globe. Asked to submit ninety-second YouTube videos describing an ambitious project on which they would like to spend $25,000, over 200 blind people responded with entries which ranged from the adorable to the impressive and from the truly beautiful to the unapologetically weird.

Once you finish reading the Holman biography, I heartily recommend that you spend a long, fascinating evening streaming some of those videos. We are, it turns out, a pretty audacious group of people.

But, in the end, only three could be chosen: the “Holmanest” of this year’s “Holmanesque” entries, if you will. It is my delight to introduce them to you here:

Penny laughs in the One Market Restaurant kitchen with pastry chef Mac while plating a peach galette.
Penny laughs in the One Market Restaurant kitchen with pastry chef Mac while plating a peach galette.

Let’s begin with Penny Melville-Brown. You would know immediately if you were in a room with Penny, the mastermind behind the “Baking Blind” project, because you would hear her signature laugh. Gregarious and confident, Penny has no doubt about what she wants to do. Like James Holman, she is a native of Great Britain, and like James Holman, Penny went blind while serving in the British Navy. She also shares Holman’s urge to travel. Penny intends to conquer the world kitchen by kitchen, exploring the cuisine from Costa Rica to China and filming cooking shows with local chefs as she goes. But this isn’t only about, maybe isn’t even mostly about, adaptive cooking techniques.

Penny’s project is about community and about the generous and welcoming spaces that open out when people share food. Penny’s positive nature and her humor draw people around the dining table where she presides, and the gastronomic wonders she creates make them sit down and stay put. As people break bread together, (and such bread you have rarely tasted) barriers fall, and they talk. With her recipes in hand, (and perhaps wielding a wooden spoon if necessary) Penny will weave these communities together as she goes. The chefs will learn from the blind cook, the blind cook will learn from the chefs, and everyone at table and watching on the videos will learn to trust one another just a little bit more.

Ojok smiles with his white bee hat and net catching the light, while bees fly around him.
Ojok smiles with his white bee hat and net catching the light, while bees fly around him.

Ojok Simon is a gracious, dignified man from Uganda whose gentleness and soft-spoken demeanor at first seem strangely at odds with his project. Ojok is a bee keeper: not just any keeper . . . Ojok Simon is a keeper of Africanized bees. Where many of us skitter anxiously away at the near approach of even a single honeybee, Ojok regularly sinks his hands and arms into billowing swarms of them, moving them about, adjusting their hives, and deftly making off with quantities of their honey. When I asked (admittedly in some alarm) about how this was done, another blind bee keeper from Northern California, Aerial Gilbert, helped make sense of it for me. Bee keeping, she explained, is a gentle endeavor; the keeper becomes known to his bees and learns to move deliberately and easily among them. It’s not a contest; it’s a dance. Ojok does wear protective gear and he does get stung, but he explains that he is not afraid of his bees because they have no desire to hurt anyone. If approached calmly, they will react calmly. This is remarkable enough, but Ojok’s Holman Prize was not awarded because of how handy he himself is around an apiary.

In a country where jobs are hard for blind people to find, Ojok’s project is to teach other blind Ugandans what he knows. At this writing, he has thirty-eight blind students ready and willing to learn from him, and he has established a small foundation to help purchase the startup gear each will need to become his or her own boss, selling beeswax and honey. Ojok nimbly avoids the problem of convincing Ugandan employers to hire blind people by setting these blind people up as their own bosses. In what has become the Holman tradition, his method is both startling and extraordinarily clever.

Ahmet stands up in the boat while preparing to set out to McCovey Cove.
Ahmet stands up in the boat while preparing to set out to McCovey Cove.

The third Holman prize winner, originally from Turkey but now living in San Francisco, is a special education teacher named Ahmet Ustunel. Ahmet is that high school teacher who wins the kids over with a combination of steady confidence and a touch of playfulness: the kind of teacher who’s cool without making too much of it. He exudes an insuppressible, quiet joyfulness. Still, because he is actually a little bit shy, you might walk right by him at a party without knowing he’s there. If you want to draw him out though, I suggest leaning over and whispering “ocean!” or “fishing boat” or better still “pirate,” and you’ll have his full attention.

He becomes very animated quickly, and will delight you with his stories about his times on, beside, in, and (sometimes temporarily) underneath various kinds of boats. Ahmet happily tells the story that his first career choice as a child was to become a pirate. When his parents described the standard eye-patch-sporting pirate to him, he was delighted; to quote four-year-old Ahmet: “If this is a successful pirate, and he has one blind eye, I’m going to be the best pirate ever . . .because I have two blind eyes!”

Ahmet’s project involves a kayak, a ton of very cool high tech equipment, and the Bosphorus Strait: a narrow body of water that separates Europe (on the west) from Asia, on the east. Ahmet plans to paddle his kayak solo across the strait: no mean feat when you consider the currents, the wildlife, the traffic buoys and, not to put too fine a point on it, but also the merchant ships (which are larger than most houses) that thunder along the Bosphorus on their way to the Black Sea. Ninety percent of his project, he says, undaunted, is in the preparation: the physical training, the testing of the technology, and working out logistics.

His kayak will be outfitted with all the cool gear a geek could dream of: GPS, radio, and all manner of obstacle detectors. That along with his sense of the sea, his hands in the current, and his knowledge of the wind direction will guide him safely across. And, if our own cool tech doesn’t let us down, we’ll get to follow along when he makes the crossing in July 2018.

The thing that distinguishes this first set of Holman Prizewinners is not their jobs or mastery of blindness techniques or their eloquence in discussing philosophy of blindness. Like all the rest of us, they sometimes drop things or come up short when a stranger on the street asks them some ridiculous blindness-related question. The spark that they all share is their conscious, enduring belief in blind people and their willingness to share that belief as part of their community, offering and accepting strength along the way. They reminded me that we all have a bit of James Holman in us. Over the next few months, we’ll cheer them on as they embark on their adventures. Next time, it will be someone else.

So, heads up, all blind adventurers, inventors, dreamers, artists, musicians, scientists, builders, healers, troublemakers, and all the rest of you daring, merry, audacious believers: it’s not too early to start thinking about next year. Applications for the 2018 Holman Prize open on January 16, 2018. Visit www.holmanprize.org to learn how to apply.

Sheri Wells-Jensen is a linguistics professor at Bowling Green State University, a curious connoisseur of insuppressible blind living, who served on the judging committee for the inaugural Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, held in San Francisco in June 2017. The Holman Award is granted to those who have an idea that, if funded, will expand the possibilities for blind people. Submit your pitch video starting January 16

Start Dreaming: Holman Prize Applications Open in January

We’re thrilled to announce the return of the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, our annual $25,000 award for blind adventurers and creators.

In 2017, the Prize’s inaugural year, we received more than 200 applications from two dozen countries. We couldn’t be prouder of our three winners, who encompass a wide range of ambition, daring and creativity:

Ahmet Ustunel is training to kayak Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait, completely solo; Penny Melville-Brown is taking her YouTube baking show to six continents; Ojok Simon is teaching his fellow Ugandans to become self-sustaining beekeepers.

Named after the 19th century blind world traveler James Holman, the Holman Prize empowers blind men and women from around the world to complete the journeys and projects of their dreams.

The 2017 Holman Prizewinners smile with the Holman Team on Ocean Beach during Welcome Week.

 

What would you do as a Holman Prizewinner?

Applications for the prize open on January 16, 2018.

We encourage you to start planning ahead! The initial application is a quirky one: we ask that you send us a 90-second YouTube video explaining what you would accomplish as a Holman Prizewinner (as well as a brief written questionnaire). Once applications close, a select group of semifinalists will be chosen to submit in-depth written proposals, and later, finalists will be interviewed by LightHouse staff. Check out last year’s finalists’ video proposals to get acquainted with the types of projects you can pitch.

To learn more about the prize, and whether your idea qualifies, please visit our website.

You can read more about the Holman Prize in the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle and KQED’s California Report

If our FAQ page doesn’t answer your questions, feel free to get in touch with Max Levenson, Holman Prize Coordinator, at mlevenson@lighthouse-sf.org.