On Sunday, January 13, 2013, 60 Minutes featured LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, showing off our offices, our programs and our core mission in a story called “A Different Kind of Vision.” A profile of LightHouse board president Chris Downey, who just celebrated 10 years since he first became blind, the story is not only about taking on and moving past life’s challenges, but a testament to the power of blindness skills training and vocational rehabilitation.
The 13-minute piece, which is hosted by CBS News’ longtime anchor Lesley Stahl and produced by Shari Finkelstein and Jaime Woods, follows Chris’ journey through brain cancer, blindness and regaining his confidence and status as a working architect. The LightHouse’s new headquarters, designed with Downey as a consultant, plays a major role in the piece as do the LightHouse’s training programs and an interview with our CEO, Bryan Bashin.
The best part? Chris is unequivocal about every individual’s ability to continue doing what they love, regardless of eyesight. Stahl closes out CBS’ legendary Sunday evening news magazine by asking Chris one of the toughest questions for a confident blind person to answer: Don’t you still want to be able to see?
Chris pauses, thinking deeply about the question, and then finally responds, humbly offering: “I don’t really think about having my sight restored. There’d be some logistical liberation to it. But will it make my life better? I don’t think so.”
A distinguished longtime board member and pioneer of rehabilitation services at the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco, there are few denizens of our community more respected and knowledgeable than Gil Johnson. Growing up as a confident, free-thinking young blind man and coming to the LightHouse during a pivotal moment for blindness in the late seventies, Johnson changed the course of our training services and defined the future of the then somewhat fractured LightHouse organization.
In honor of Johnson’s 80th birthday, LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin set out to record an oral history: to capture the nuances of Johnson’s early life, career, and ongoing journey after LightHouse. The result is nearly six hours of humorous, thoughtful reflections on the past, present and future of what it means to be or become blind.
The podcast series was recorded on three separate days and is broken into seven total parts below. Mp3s are available for download or to stream directly.
Part 1 (recorded November 2017, 2 segments): Gil talks about his childhood, development as a young blind man and the early career moves that brought him to the blindness field.
Part 2 (recorded December 2017, 3 segments): Gil discusses the state of LightHouse when he arrived in the late 70s, and goes in depth into the challenges and opportunities as he took on the task of innovating in rehabilitative training through the 1980s.
Part 3 (recorded August 2018): Gil discusses his transition away from LightHouse, taking on services for the blind in Illinois and the new era for the LightHouse and its community as the 1990s approached.