Leah hasn’t participated in Pride in about 15 years — since she was a young poet in New Hampshire and Vermont — but when she heard about our blind and visually impaired contingent from our weekly newsletter, she decided it was time to march again. In her late 20s, marching in Pride offered her a lot of hope, along with a sense acceptance and celebration in who she was and what she offered to a community. After a tough couple of years, Leah is ready to feel that hope again.
“There’s a lot of excitement building for me, just in terms of being part of this,” she says. “Every time that I participated in the New Hampshire and Vermont marches, it was with wonderful friends but they were all sighted. It was not part of a visually impaired community, as key to me as that was in my life. This year carries this newness to it. It will be a completely original experience of sharing this day with people who are also blind and GLBTQ. So I’m really energized.”
“I think a lot of people are very comfortable with talking about sexuality but the vision loss and the reality of that creates a lot of shame,” says Leah. “And in my case I also deal with severe depression, which adds some challenges in finding a way to form bonds with other people. We all have some shame about something, some facet of our personality. This ‘Being Seen’ concept to me has become about saying no to that shame.”
And Leah is no stranger to thinking about the intersection of blindness and sexuality. One of the poems she has performed most over the years is a poem called “Vision” about a gay friend who was losing his sight. The poem unpacks the shame and fear that often accompanies both sexuality and disability, and is a testament to the courage it takes to go through a world that isn’t always kind to people it deems outside of the norm. In advance of San Francisco Pride, we asked Leah to perform “Vision” in the LightHouse studio. Watch the video below.
May 18th is the 6th Annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day, and today we’re hosting architects, engineers, educators and designers for a very special “Virtual Reality Tour of Blindness.” The UK-based startup Theia Immersive has developed a robust, nuanced set of virtual and augmented reality filters to simulate all types of visual impairment, from color blindness to glaucoma and more. Today, they present from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. in a mini-conference held at LightHouse’s headquarters in San Francisco. You can watch live, here:
Last week, LightHouse Staff spent the day with Aira, one of the leading startups to emerge in the remote sighted assistant space. Equipped with a wearable camera or mobile app, blind users can use Aira’s platform to receive on-demand sight assistance from trained professionals – privately and discreetly. The “agent,” who uses Aira’s dashboard software to keep notes on your preferences, track your surroundings through GPS and zoom in on far-away visuals. The result is a highly proficient “expert” who can efficiently identify, explain and Google anything your heart desires, opening up the blind user to a more accessible, frictionless environment.
Aira’s agents are the backbone of their operation, and it’s safe to say these paid professionals have some of the coolest jobs you could imagine. Aira has put out an announcement that they are hiring agents in the San Francisco Bay Area, to work from home or from the co-working spaces available at LightHouse.
At Aira, we are giving increased freedom and independence to individuals who are blind or visually impaired. But we need your help as the star of our service!
As an Aira Agent you simply log onto our dashboard from your computer at home and begin answering video calls from our customers who reside across the United States – you will help them to shop, read their mail or computer screen, cook meals or even describe individuals in social settings – the scenarios are varied and unique. You will join a small but growing team of Aira Agents who, along with training, will help you hone your skills and share your calls.
Through a live video stream, you are able to see what they would be seeing, and provide the information they need to make decisions or explore their world.
Hours are flexible. We offer a range of hours per day between the times of 4 a.m PST to 10pm PST.
When Abby Cochran first found the LightHouse three years ago, she came asking for help – but she wasn’t blind.
Abby, who is fully sighted, had just moved to Berkeley for her Masters degree and was working at a startup in the city called TransitScreen. The company was using bluetooth beacons to send transit data to users phones – particularly useful for blind users at inaccessible signs. She needed user testers though, and someone told her LightHouse was the obvious choice.
“I met a lot of really friendly people who expressed interest in my work and welcomed me,” she says. “They said, ‘Wait, that’s actually a really interesting thing. Can we talk about doing this? It was really welcoming and nice.”
As Abby transitioned into her PhD in Urban Planning at UC Berkeley, LightHouse stuck in the back of her mind. Her social circumstances were changing, her time circumstances were changing, and she was looking for new people and activities to fill her time.
“At the time it was in the middle of a beautiful week and I was like man, if I’m going out running anyway, I might as well have a buddy,” she says. “That would be the best.”
Abby signed up for a Volunteer Training and Volunteer Coordinator Justine Harris-Richburgh connected her to her new fitness partner who, like Abby, lived in Berkeley and was excited to spend time every weekend getting out and about. The two quickly fell into a rhythm with hikes all around the Bay Area. Abby says they still hike about once a week, usually for half a day.
“Within the first few weeks we were exercising together, he invited me to an event,” she says. “We were doing introductions and meeting people, and he said this is Abby. And they were like ‘Oh, how do you two know each other?’ And we hesitated for a second and looked in each other’s direction and said, ‘Well, we’re… friends.’”
Despite morphing into a supportive friendship, Abby says the fitness outings are both regular and casual. “We might go to see a particular section of the Bay trail,” she says, “or one of us — I won’t say which — might want to go shoe shopping. We’re flexible.”
Abby continues to volunteer at numerous LightHouse events, assisted in our Sexual Health workshop series, connected with other fitness partners, and will work as an Orienteering instructor for STEAM Camp at Enchanted Hills this summer.
So what keeps Abby coming back to LightHouse, time and time again?
“I love the people first,” she says. “I like hanging out with my friends and my friends are now here. I have a really wonderful confluence in the LightHouse. There is a mission that I also think that I’d like to forward, and that is to increase opportunities for those who are blind and low vision, but also everyone with different capabilities to reach the potential and quality of life that they desire. I want to help people do whatever they want. I’m in a privileged position to do so, and I think it would be remiss not to take advantage of that.”
“So that’s the do-gooder response. But I’m also very selfish and everyone is super nice to me and they invite me to fun things and sometimes we go get beers. They’re very supportive.”
Abby found a home at LightHouse, but she also found a valuable network and wealth of information for her research and work. She’ll be writing her dissertation on disability responsive planning, and critically examining accessibility in cities and to show how we define, perceive and measure access determines qualities of the built environment that hinder or enable people in particular ways.
“It evolved as a direct result of my work here,” she says. “This place runs deep. It’s been hugely influential and meeting the network of people here that also have a network in fields that i’m interested in, in city planning, transportation. You cannot remove people from place.”
On May 18th, LightHouse for the Blind presents Eyeware, So You Can See Your Designs Through Someone Else’s Eyes
“Looking through the eyes” of another is a nice empathetic metaphor, but it can quite literally be a valuable exercise. Next month, a mini-conference at LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco spotlights a new real-time, immersive ocular simulation that allows individuals to experience how people with low vision, color blindness or a variety of eye conditions navigate built environments.
LightHouse invites architects, developers, educators, designers and anyone who strives to build accessible environments – including transport systems, urban spaces, buildings, automotive design, interiors, software interfaces and prototyping – to explore a new opportunity in inclusive design: Join us to try on Eyeware.
On May 18, we’re inviting designers and planners to move beyond metaphors and look at the world a little differently. For years, vision professionals have simulated various eye conditions through goggles, plastic filters and other low tech solutions. Here, users are invited to try on a more efficient solution. The first demonstration of its kind, Eyeware will demo new virtual and augmented reality technology developed by Theia Immersive Systems that allows designers and consumers to step into a real-time simulation of someone else’s eyesight.
LightHouse welcomes Theia in their first North American presentation and workshop at 1155 Market St. (10th Floor) in San Francisco. Co-presented by Yahoo and welcoming a host of other companies dedicated to universal design, this event will take place in two sessions, with one morning presentation geared toward physical space, and an afternoon session focused on interface design. All are invited to a complimentary lunchtime event with two active simulation rooms. The event will likely sell out, so RSVP now.
More about the Eyeware App
Utilizing a robust set of proprietary visual filters (“like Instagram for your eyeballs”), Theia Immersive Systems’ Eyeware App is the gateway to a software suite that allows design professionals to see the world with a variety of eye conditions including color blindness, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and even certain rare conditions that cumulatively affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
Eyeware can be used with a cardboard or custom headset to deliver a combination VR + AR experience, giving anyone with so-called “normal” vision a new level of insight. The Eyeware filters, when applied, give designers additional tools to audit, manipulate and run wayfinding routes in both preexisting and newly rendered environments. Theia’s design tools can be deployed anywhere in the design process to facilitate collaboration, design review and visual accessibility for professionals, clients and users both sighted and blind – moving designers beyond simple notions of brightness and contrast into nuanced aesthetic palettes that work for all types of vision. The Eyeware App, available now for iOS and Android, sets the stage for a comprehensive design suite from Theia, now in Beta.
Why would I want to experience a Visual Impairment?
From the subtle, gauzy effects of cataracts to the more dramatic challenges of tunnel vision or retinopathy, changes in vision are incredibly hard to convey in words, photographs or standard-ratio video. Fully sighted designers can guess, but rarely know exactly how to optimize their products for low vision.
Developed by the UK Transport Systems Catapult’s spinoff – now called Theia Immersive Systems – to tackle the challenges of public transit, the new virtual and augmented reality software will join the toolkit of accessibility best practices observed by agencies such as the LightHouse and Arch4Blind in communicating the nuances of various eye conditions and their implications for design. With Theia’s tools, the designer now has a direct connection to the experience of a variety of clients and users.
From testing out physical interfaces for low lighting conditions, to evaluating for effective color contrast in side-by-side comparison, to actually strapping on the gear and diving into your CAD model or environment design, these tools give designers an edge on ensuring the project’s visual accessibility from the outset.
Try it for the first time
Join us at the LightHouse to hear Theia’s creators discuss concepts, applications and exciting emerging use cases, including integrations with 3D audio and force-feedback synthetic touch. There will be ample time to try out the technology in custom simulations generated specifically for the LightHouse facility.
The Theia and LightHouse teams will also be available for meetings to share more information about product rollout, support and partnerships for maximizing the potential of these exciting new tools.
In 2014, Erik Weihenmayer, the first and only blind person to ever reach the summit of Mount Everest, attempted a new and daunting challenge: to ride 277 miles of thunderous, wild rapids down the Colorado River in a solo kayak. Why would he take such a gamble? How exactly did he pull it off? Discover the answers to these questions, and more, when Erik joins us at LightHouse on May 2 for a far-reaching and candid conversation with Davia Nelson, of NPR’s award-winning production team TheKitchen Sisters.
The event is the latest installment in our ongoing series LightHouse Listenings and follows, most recently, a live production of the podcast The World According to Sound. A “listening party for ears only,” the LightHouse Listenings series is a celebration of the aural medium, and is designed to create a space for conversation, creativity, and sound that connects blind and sighted audiences over a shared experience. At each event, we provide sleep shades in order to give you the option to focus solely on what you’re hearing.
This unique event is an opportunity to meet Erik during his national No Barriers tour and to hear the blind adventurer in conversation with one of the world’s finest radio journalists, Davia Nelson.
Davia’s work has taken her all over the world, from interviewing hummus chefs in Ramallah, to wine physicists in France and “kitchen botanists” in India. We can’t imagine anyone better suited to interview Erik about imagination, non-visual exploration and what drives him along his incredible journeys.
We’re proud to program and host this one-of-a-kind event, which will include braille passages from Erik’s book, read aloud, a meet-and-greet reception with attendees and an open bar. Books will be available onsite for purchase.
About LightHouse Listenings
This year, we began putting on regular listening parties for ears only – from live podcast recordings to pre-recorded material. To bring your sound experience to a live audience in San Francisco, contact email@example.com.
About Erik Weihenmayer
Over the past two decades, Erik Weihenmayer’s name has become synonymous with determination and ambition. In 2008, when he reached the top of Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia, he completed his quest to climb all of the Seven Summits-the tallest peak on each of the seven continents.
Erik is the author of the best-selling memoir Touch the Top of the World, which was made into a feature film, as well as The Adversity Advantage, which shows readers how to turn everyday struggles into everyday greatness. His latest book, No Barriers: A Blind Man’s Journey to Kayak the Grand Canyon is more than an adventure story, it illuminates how we overcome the barriers that get in our way. He is an internationally recognized speaker and brings his message of living a No Barriers Life to audiences around the world.
About Davia Nelson
Davia Nelson is one half of The Kitchen Sisters, producers of the du-Pont Columbia and James Beard Award-winning series Hidden Kitchens, as heard on NPR’s Morning Edition, and two Peabody Award-winning NPR series, Lost & Found Sound and The Sonic Memorial Project.
The Kitchen Sisters are also the producers of The Hidden World of Girls, heard on NPR andhosted by Tina Fey. Their first book Hidden Kitchens: Stories, Recipes & MoreFrom NPR’s Kitchen Sisters was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
On February 25, we welcomed 22 students and their families to the 2017 Northern California Regional Braille Challenge at the LightHouse headquarters. It was a lively day packed with speeches by keynote speakers, testing for students, parent workshops, games and a final award ceremony (complete with a surprise musical performance by a group of contestants).
Hosted in collaboration with Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, California School for the Blind and Braille Institute of America, the Regional Braille Challenge is the first leg of a two-part contest for K-12 youth who read braille. It is designed to encourage and reward students for fine-tuning their braille reading and writing skills.
Any parent or student on Saturday would tell you that Braille Challenge is an unparalleled platform for promoting braille literacy and bringing braille readers of all ages into one space — whether as contestants or judges. It’s also a chance for kids to connect with their blind friends, chuckle about inside jokes, and for parents to learn more about having a child with vision loss and how best to support them (hint from one of our college panelists: “Don’t shelter them!”)
Braille Challenge is not about winning (though we don’t mind a little friendly competition) but we’d like to recognize the students who placed!
Here are the winners of each level of competition. Once all of the Braille Challenge regionals are complete the Braille Institute will invite the top 10% of all of the students that competed in all of the various regionals to the national Braille Challenge later this year.
2017 Northern California Regional Braille Challenge Winners
Apprentice 1. Miles Lima 2. Darren Ou 3. Mikey Diaz
REPORTS TO: Director, Enchanted Hills Camp and Retreat
WC CLASS: Camp
As a residential camp for the blind, counselors are responsible for the overall provision of a traditional camp experience to all blind and visually impaired campers. This includes but is not limited to: inventing new blind-friendly programming, motivating campers to use non-visual techniques, adapting all activities so that all campers can participate fully regardless of their level of vision. Counselors should encourage active participation in camp meals, clean-up and other daily functions through fun activities. Counselors provide supervision to recreational activities, create educational experiences, promote independence and supervise the health and safety of children and adults. Applicants must also have the ability to work with campers that have secondary disabilities (developmental, hearing impairments and/or mobility restrictions).
Must be 18 years of age or older
High School graduate
Some college education preferred
Current First Aid and CPR certifications
Previous work in a camp, school, or community service setting
Experience working with individuals who are blind/visually impaired preferred
Knowledge of Braille and/or sign language preferred
Must be willing to live on camp premises
Must be able to lift 70 pounds
Ability to enforce safety and emergency procedures
Ability to identify and respond to environmental and other hazards related to the activity
Physical ability to respond appropriately to situation requiring first aid
Must be able to assist campers in an emergency (fire, evacuation, illness or injury)
Possess the endurance required to maintain constant supervision of campers
Assist in the direction, supervision, and organization of campers in their living unit, within activities and throughout the camp in order to meet the intended camper outcomes
Apply basic youth and blindness development principles in working with campers through communication, relationship development, respect for diversity, involvement and empowerment of youth
Assure campers are properly supervised at all times
Be aware of and implement safety guidelines
Participate in the development and implementation of program activities for campers within the mission and outcomes.
Responsible for leading and assisting with the teaching of activities.
Actively participate in all program areas as assigned.
Provide for the progression of activities within the framework of individual and group interests and abilities.
Assist in program areas such as waterfront, nature, all camp activities, and arts and crafts as directed.
Maintain high standards of health and safety in all activities for campers and staff.
Provide the daily care of each camper within your supervision including recognition of personal health needs.
Ensure that campers receive their medications as directed by health care manager.
Be alert to campers and staff needs and assist them with personal and/or health problems, and discuss with camp health manager and/or resident camp director when appropriate.
Be alert to equipment and facilities to ensure utilization, proper care, and maintenance is adhered to; report repairs needed promptly to camp director.
Be a role model to campers and staff in your attitude and behavior.
Follow and uphold all safety and security rules and procedures.
Set a good example to campers and others in regard to general camp procedures and practices including sanitation, schedule, and sportsmanship
Contribute to verbal and written evaluations and communication as requested
Participate enthusiastically in all camp activities, planning, and leading those as assigned
Participate as a member of the camp staff team to deliver and supervise evening programs, special events, overnights, and other all-camp activities and camp functions
Stay current on best practices by reading/viewing instructional media and active participation before and during camp
Attend and participate in weekly staff meetings
Other Duties: Please note this job description is not designed to cover or contain a comprehensive listing of activities, duties or responsibilities that are required of the employee for this job. Duties, responsibilities and activities may change at any time with or without notice.
LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired is an equal opportunity employer to all. We strive to maintain a scent-free environment and a drug-free workplace. We also operate under a mutual “employment at will” policy.
Please submit a cover letter and résumé as Word attachments (no .PDFs please), to firstname.lastname@example.org, including the job title in the subject line. Please include a link to any relevant clips or portfolio pieces. Due to time constraints we will only respond to complete submissions in which there is serious interest; thanks for your understanding.
“We don’t care if you’re young, old, totally blind, low vision, have a college degree or no college degree,” says Employment Program Manager Kate Williams. “It doesn’t matter as long as you have a real desire to go to work. We furnish our Employment Immersion students with the tools to make sure that happens, by building their confidence and giving them the techniques to conduct a successful job search.”
Everyone in the blindness community knows the statistics: At least 60 — possibly even as many as 70 percent — of legally blind people remain unemployed. That’s why back in 2011 we established a program to give blind job seekers the practical skills they need to get the jobs they want.
Since then, our Employment Immersion program alumni have reached more than $2.8m in annual salaries and achieved an exemplary 43% placement average for alumni, which far exceeds the national average in job placement of people who are blind or visually impaired (the statewide average is 14%). Our programming is constantly evolving to meet changes in technology and the job market.
On March 13, we’ll kick off our all new Employment Immersion Job Preparation Workshop at the LightHouse headquarters, which runs until April 7 and meets every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The workshop’s robust and proven curriculum emphasizes confidence building to ensure job readiness — and features our tried and true lineup of classes that walk students through every step of the job application process.
In the blindness community, we know that one size does not fit all, and this is reflected in the curriculum of this four-week workshop. With a combination of short lectures, interactive activities, expert speakers and candid, honest discussions, each blind or low vision student has an opportunity to explore their interests, aptitudes, and think outside the box about which part of the job market holds the highest promise for their talents and ambitions.
Step-by-step training includes:
Using personality indicators like Meyers Briggs and Gallup StrengthFinder to identify core strengths as a springboard to build a career
Resume and cover letter building
Job search techniques, networking and the hidden job market
The application process
Blindness disclosure and requesting accommodations
Interview preparation including self presentation and body language
Free professional and online portrait photographs courtesy of LightHouse for the Blind
“We spend a great deal of time on encouraging our attendees to connect,” says Williams. “My motto is ‘People hire people.’ We help students make connections during the job search and interview process that are genuine and show their own authenticity. We’re fostering relationship building — which is a lifelong skill.”
With an increase in referrals as LightHouse steps in as the key provider of services in the East Bay, our Employment Immersion Program is growing and evolving to meet higher standards and increasing volume of blind jobseekers. We’re proud to bring on our new dedicated trainer Angela Denise Davis, who will add new levels of depth and expertise to our classes. This year alone we saw our alumni land jobs in major tech startups, media companies, athletic brands and more. The sky’s the limit, once the skills are there.
Keep chipping away at those employment statistics and sign up for the Employment Job Preparation Workshop this spring. The workshop is open to people who are blind or have low vision, from any background, seeking any job. To sign up, contact Employment Immersion Program Manager Kate Williams at email@example.com or 415-694-7324, or Employment Immersion Trainer Angela Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The Holman Prize is not meant to save the world or congratulate someone for leaving the house. This prize will spark unanticipated accomplishments in the blindness community. You will see blind people doing things that surprise and perhaps even confuse you. These new LightHouse prizes will change perceptions about what blind people are capable of doing.”
— Bryan Bashin, CEO at LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Meet The Holman Prize for Blind Ambition – LightHouse’s new initiative to support the ambitions of blind and low vision people worldwide. Beginning in 2017, The Holman Prize will announce an annual set of awards funding projects in a range of amounts – up to $25,000 per project – that will finance and support blind adventurers worldwide in pursuing their most ambitious projects.
Chronicled in a 2006 novel by Jason Roberts, the explorer James Holman became the first blind person to circumnavigate the globe in 1832. In his spirit, The Holman Prize celebrates people who want to shape their own future instead of having it laid out for them.
The Holman Prize is specifically for legally blind individuals with a penchant for exploration of all types. LightHouse’s initial 2017 prizes will provide financial backing for a as many as three individuals to explore the world and push their limits through travel, connections, construction and communication.
The ideal candidate is someone who is willing to probe their environment and eager to savor the richness of a world that is so often thought of as inaccessible to the blind. This exploration may involve travel, community organizing, scholarship, daring art or projects we haven’t even considered. We’re looking for intrepid travelers, creative problem solvers, effective communicators, natural ambassadors, passionate advocates, joyful builders, active boundary-pushers and experience seekers.
In January 2017, The Holman Prize application process kicks off with a challenge: blind applicants must submit a first-round pitch in the form of a 90-second YouTube video. The deadline for these phase one applications is February 28, 2017 at 12 noon PST. All pitch videos will be compiled into the LightHouse Media playlist below. As an extra incentive, the blind applicant who creates the most popular YouTube video, will secure themselves a spot as a coveted spot as a Holman Prize finalist, to be interviewed this spring by our esteemed committee. Learn more about the submissions process here, and watch our intro video below:
“We recognize that asking a blind person to upload a video may challenge some people’s ideas of what blind people are capable of — of what blind people can or should do,“ says LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin, “The video uploading and later public speaking will certainly require creativity, and these are the qualities we seek to encourage with the Holman Prize. These are the types of people we want to apply.”
Semifinalists will be notified in March and go through a formal application process, after which finalists will be notified and a winner will be selected by a committee of leaders, thinkers and explorers from throughout the blind world. We expect the Holman Prizewinners to start their projects in Fall 2017 and they will be recognized at the Holman Prize Gala in 2018.