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blind award

Meet the blind judges who will select the 2018 Holman Prizewinners

In its second year, the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition received almost one hundred applications from 19 countries and 22 American states. The semifinalists’ proposed projects are extraordinary – including bringing beep baseball to Argentina, creating the world’s first tactile Escape Room, launching a magazine dedicated to the art and science of smell and empowering people who are blind in rural Gambia. It won’t be an easy task to choose he three 2018 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 semifinalists’ Holman Prize submission videos to experience the diversity of people and proposals in the field.

In just a few weeks, we’ll welcome our judges in San Francisco to review the finalists’ proposals and select the 2018 Holman prizewinners. Learn more about the judges below and stay tuned for a forthcoming announcement of our elite group of Holman Prize Finalists.

Bryan Bashin Headshot

Bryan Bashin, CEO at the LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco since 2010.

Don Brown Headshot

Don Brown, CEO of Access Work Systems, a HR compliance Management consulting firm, which he founded in 2000.

Dr. Wendy David headshot

Dr. Wendy David, licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Seattle and published author of books including, “Sites Unseen: Traveling the World without Sight.”

Chancey Fleet Headshot

Chancey Fleet, assistive technology coordinator at the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library at New York Public Library.

Aerial Gilbert headshot

Aerial Gilbert, former outreach manager for Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael. She is also an avid rower and has competed in the adaptive division of the World Rowing Championships.

Rosa Gomez, assistant deputy director of the Specialized Services Division of the California State Department of Rehabilitation.

Anil Lewis headshot

Anil Lewis, executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, MD.

Dr. Brian Miller Headshot

Dr. Brian Miller, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in Washington D.C.

Dr. Sile O'Modhrain Headshot

Dr. Sile O’Modhrain, professor in performing arts technology at the school of Music, Theatre and Dance at the University of Michigan.

Jason Roberts Headshot

Jason Roberts, an accomplished author, Roberts’ wrote “A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler,” about the intrepid blind traveler (and namesake of this prize) James Holman.

Dr. Sharon Sacks headshot

Dr. Sharon Sacks, former superintendent of the California School for the Blind. Sacks recently retired.

Victor Tsaran headshot

Victor Tsaran, technical program manager at Google, helping to make Android accessible for all.

Dr. Sheri Wells-Jensen

Dr. Sheri Wells-Jensen, associate professor in the Department of English at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio.

Gary Wunder Headshot

Gary Wunder, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri and the editor of the Braille Monitor.

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.

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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.

LightHouse Announces Three Inaugural Holman Prizewinners

This fall, three exceptional blind individuals will set off around the world on adventures they never imagined possible as winners of The Holman Prize for Blind Ambition. Today, we are pleased to share their names with the world.

The three winners, Ahmet Ustunel, Penny Melville-Brown, and Ojok Simon, were announced Thursday, June 29, 2017 after a rigorous judging process that narrowed down the applicants to eleven highly competitive finalists. Each winning project embodies its own sense of adventure and ambition – whether it takes the winners around the world or allows them to build and foster social impact in their immediate community.

Created to honor “blind ambition” in all its forms, the annual $25,000 awards will spring-board future generations of entrepreneurs, adventurers and ambassadors in the blindness community.

With over 200 applicants from 27 countries, The Holman Prize saw stiff competition in its first year. All applicants were required to upload 90-second YouTube videos to pitch their idea for a dream project with a $25,000 budget, and later asked to submit formal proposals.

Named after the 19th century explorer James Holman (known around the world as “the blind traveler”) The Holman Prize aims to launch worthy projects that will change the public perception of blindness for years to come.

“We are thrilled to support these three individuals,” LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin noted Thursday with the announcement. “They are all incredibly ambitious in different ways, and their projects will have a real effect on the way blindness is perceived globally. I think about Ahmet’s determination, Penny’s cultural savvy, and Ojok’s entrepreneurial spirit – this is what blindness looks like today. These three will change minds about what blind people can accomplish.”

The 2017 Holman Prize Winners

The Three Holman Prizewinners will fly to San Francisco in September 2017 for a week-long orientation before starting their projects on October 1. Once they land in San Francisco, the winners will not only meet and learn from each other, but they will engage with other blind teachers, technologists and leaders from LightHouse’s extended network. The winners will also create comprehensive plans to document and share their experiences along the way through video, audio, writing and other storytelling mediums.

Ahmet Ustunel’s project has a clear, unprecedented goal: to kayak solo, without eyesight, from Europe to Asia. With potential for a dramatic climax and high stakes, Ustunel’s proposal to cross the 3-mile Bosphorus Strait caught the attention of the Holman Prize Committee and proved to be a compelling and unprecedented undertaking. By training in California and working to develop a suite of non-visual guidance technology to thrive on his own in the water, Ustunel hopes to join the ranks of other great blind outdoor heroes such as Erik Weihenmayer, Lonnie Bedwell and others.

Get to know Ahmet.

Penny Melville-Brown has a project with a universal focus: food. With a deep belief in the power of food to connect people, Penny’s project is a bid to claim a place at the stove for blind chefs everywhere. Penny’s intentions are less about competition and perfection and more about connecting with others through culture and shared experience. Maybe she’s the blind Julia Child – or the blind Anthony Bourdain – either way, as Penny documents her travels and successes in her series, “Baking Blind,” the world will follow along with her.

Get to know Penny.

Ojok Simon will take on a drastically different kind of project than his fellow winners. Simon seeks to raise employment rates for blind and partially sighted individuals in rural regions of his home country of Uganda. His method? Teach them a very specialized and somewhat unlikely skill: beekeeping. For decades, Simon has been a passionate beekeeper finding ways to tend bees in nontraditional and non visual ways. Simon wants to impart his warm attitude and entrepreneurial spirit on other blind individuals in Africa and abroad, rather than seeing them relegated to poverty and reliance on charity. So not only are you supporting here, but also through the purchases you would have already been making, you are also receiving a tax benefit come tax time.

Get to know Ojok.

Holman Honorees: Meet the 2017 finalists.

Meet the blind judges who picked the winners. 

Support The Holman Prize.

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the 2018 Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. To offer your support, contact holman@lighthouse-sf.org. Individuals may donate any amount using LightHouse’s secure form. For sponsorship inquiries, email us or call +1 (415) 694-7333.

For press inquiries, contact press@lighthouse-sf.org.