Tag Archives: immersion

Networking, Mentoring, Friendships and Camaraderie – Our Latest Employment Immersion Success, Jessica Phu

Jessica Phu sits at her computer“I worked at the same company for twenty-two years, then they moved to Salt Lake City, and I found myself out of a job. I had no idea what to do. I met with a counselor from the Department of Rehabilitation in Oakland, who told me about LightHouse’s Employment Immersion program. I was reluctant, but I spoke with Kate Williams, [Employment Immersion Coordinator], and she convinced me to give it a try.”
–Jessica Phu

Jessica, LightHouse’s latest Employment Immersion success, came to us with a concern many future students have: is Employment Immersion the right fit? Jessica tells us, “I was the only visually impaired person in my company for over twenty years. I was not connected to the blind community. Though I identified as someone with a visual impairment, it wasn’t a big part of my life, so I wasn’t sure Employment Immersion was right for me.”

Many of our Employment Immersion students are at first reluctant because they don’t yet have many connections to the blindness community. Jessica notes, “Kate reminded me, this is a program for jobseekers who are blind or visually impaired. I fit that bill. She then urged me to give at least one class a try. I agreed, and found myself in Employment Immersion the very next day.”

Jessica regained the job seeking skills that had rusted over twenty-two years of working at the same job. She says, “I hadn’t looked for a job in nearly a quarter of a century. I didn’t know how to look for a job online, what a current resume should look like, and how to build a network in the digital age. Employment Immersion taught me those skills.”

She continues, “But, those skills—I call them ‘on paper’ job seeking skills—aren’t the most important lessons I learned. The best part of Employment Immersion is the network of blind mentors, friends and jobseekers that I gained. Before Employment Immersion, I really didn’t know many blind or visually impaired people. Within one class, I realized that Employment Immersion would give me something I didn’t know I needed: camaraderie. Not only did I gain a network of jobseekers, I also gained a community of blind and visually impaired people who understand my visual impairment. For me, this was huge. Suddenly, I had people I could turn to who could share personal experiences about blindness.”

In the end, it was the combination of job seeking skills and network building that landed Jessica her job. “Kate kept telling us, ‘people hire people.’ She urged us to reach out to our contacts and let them know, ‘hey, I’m looking for a job.’” While Jessica was building her network, a former coworker contacted her. “He told me about a new position in my former company that had just moved to Salt Lake City. It turns out a subsidiary of the company was still located in the Bay Area. With his encouragement, I applied for the Business Process/System Analyst position at OOCL Logistics, and am happy to report that I got the job!” Jessica helps customers with technical concerns. “I love my job and the awesome team I work with every day.”

For jobseekers Jessica urges, “Go out, make connections and get along with people.”

If you’re hesitant to start Employment Immersion, Jessica encourages you to give LightHouse a call. “I wasn’t sure about the program until I spoke with Kate. I am extremely happy that I took the Employment Immersion class, and I’m sure you will be too.”

The LightHouse Employment Immersion program is for people who are blind or have low vision, from any background, seeking any job. To learn more, contact Employment Immersion Coordinator Wanda Pearson at WPearson@lighthouse-sf.org or call 415-694-7359.

Arm Yourself with the Tools and Attitudes to be Successful with Changing Vision

Calvin James

 

Many people are inspired by our Changing Vision Changing Life Session and occasionally a participant is moved to write or even compose some poetry. Here’s a recent example:

Changing Vision Changing Life
Relax, open minds, abandon fears, and trust.
Smell, hear, touch, sense, feel.
Enjoy encouraging, supportive smiles and words.
Watch skills grow as tools empower and calm.
Strategy insures safety and melts frustration.
Senses flood with rich detail, more accurate
Also more vivid than mere sight.

Through his writing, above, Changing Vision Changing Life Immersion participant Calvin James shared his thoughts and experiences of the Fall 2015 Training in Napa.

Our week-long session can truly transform the way you set your goals for effectiveness and bring you closer to knowing what you’ll need to learn so you can live the life you want. During the Immersion, you and up to 13 other students will come together in an intensive and immersive week of learning or re-learning skills, sharing your stories, exchanging solutions, supporting each other. Because learning how to do something different takes time, commitment and development of new skills and sensitivities, this week provides you the opportunity to become acquainted with a range of essential skills that support your journey to independent and confident living. The consequent desire for self-advancement and hunger to learn that participants develop in our retreats will help them dedicate the necessary time and concentration in later learning.

Our next Changing Vision Changing Life Immersion Session is in January 2016.
Where: Enchanted Hills Retreat
When: Sunday, January 31 through Friday, February 5
Full scholarships are available for persons who are not consumers of the Department of Rehabilitation and are 55 or older, living in the counties of Alameda, San Francisco and Marin.

Here’s what Changing Vision Changing Life Immersion is all about:

  • Changing Vision Changing Life is a week committed to YOU. It is the opportunity to learn how to take charge of living your life instead of letting your change of vision hold you and your life hostage.
  • Immersive training exposes you to a myriad of independent living skills and strategies; you will also receive a concentrated dose of orientation and mobility and access technology exposure.
  • You’ll work with our trainers in the full group, in small groups and one-to-one (as much as possible). We encourage students to learn using training shades, giving the experience of focusing on skill development through non-visual learning.
  • Changing Vision Changing Life is a personal commitment to having the desire and taking the time to make a change. The week is full of active participation starting as early as 7:30 in the morning with our optional Yoga class and ending at around 9:00 p.m. The days are full, incorporating time for learning, personal time for reflection and time to connect with fellow students. If you have never met another person who is blind or has low vision, he or she will be your roommate, your fellow student throughout the week, your teacher, your mentor and quite possibly your newest friend.
  • LightHouse staff are professionally trained and the majority of the staff is also blind or has low vision. They understand that each student’s goal in training is unique and that your journey is to be respected. All staff will help guide you toward advances in your blindness that make the most sense for you.
  • Part of the Changing Vision Changing Life framework is that personal acceptance, learning and embracing new skills and renewed skills take time and commitment – we expose you to the possibilities.

Group Photo of Students in the Fall 2015 CVCL Immersion session

If you’d like to attend please contact the following LightHouse staff:

San Francisco Bay Area and Alameda County, contact Debbie Bacon at 415-694-7357 or dbacon@lighthouse-sf.org.
Marin County contact Jeff Carlson at 415-258-8496 or jcarlson@lighthouse-sf.org.
Humboldt or Del Norte Counties, contact Janet Pomerantz at 707-268-5646 or jpomerantz-sf.org.

Getting ‘Real’ About Moving Forward in Your Life

LightHouse Rehabilitation Counselor Debbie Bacon trains Immersion participant Judi Lewis on how to use a video magnifier (Photo Credit: Patti Rose)

Changing Vision Changing Life is a Catalyst for Change, Not a Vacation

Changing Vision Changing Life Immersion Training in Napa can be the jump start to truly transforming the way you experience your vision. During the Immersion, you and up to 13 other students will come together in an intensive and immersive week of learning or re-learning skills, sharing your stories, exchanging solutions, supporting each other. Because learning how to do something different takes time, commitment and development of new skills and sensitivities, this week provides you the opportunity to become acquainted with a “buffet” of skills that support your journey of independent and confident living.

Where: Enchanted Hills Retreat
When: Sunday, November 15 through Friday, November 20.

Here’s what Changing Vision Changing Life Immersion is all about:

  • Changing Vision Changing Life is a week committed to YOU. It is the opportunity to learn how to take charge of living your life instead of letting your change of vision hold you and your life hostage.
  • Immersive training exposes you to a myriad of independent living skills and strategies; you will also receive a concentrated dose of orientation and mobility and access technology exposure.
  • You’ll work with our trainers in the full group, in small groups and one-to-one (as much as possible). We encourage students to learn using training shades, giving the experience of focusing on skill development through tactile learning, listening – incorporating all senses in learning and doing.
  • Changing Vision Changing Life is a personal commitment to having the desire and taking the time to make a change. The week is full of active participation starting as early as 7:30 in the morning with our optional Yoga class and ending at around 9:00 p.m. The days are full, incorporating time for learning, personal time for reflection and time to connect with fellow students. If you have never met another person who is blind or low vision, he or she will be your roommate, your fellow student throughout the week, your teacher, your mentor and quite possibly your new best friend.
  • LightHouse staff are professionally trained and the majority of the staff is also blind or low vision. They understand that everyone’s journey in training is different and that your journey is to be respected.
  • Part of the Changing Vision Changing Life framework is that personal acceptance, learning and embracing new skills and renewed skills take time and commitment – we expose you to the possibilities.

Many of our Immersion Session participants echo this resounding theme: “Now I know I am not alone, I have a community of support.” If you’d like to attend the November 15th session and start making your future ‘happen’, please contact the following LightHouse staff:

San Francisco Bay Area, contact Debbie Bacon at 415-694-7357 or dbacon@lighthouse-sf.org.
Marin County contact Jeff Carlson at 415-258-8496 or jcarlson@lighthouse-sf.org.
Humboldt or Del Norte Counties, contact Janet Pomerantz at 707-268-5646 or jpomerantz-sf.org.

New Sessions for 2016
Making that list of New Year’s resolutions? Resolve to live more independently. The first Changing Vision Changing Life immersion session for 2016 will be Sunday, January 31 through Friday, February 5. Contact our staff to find out more.

What I Learned at Blind Bootcamp, Part 2: Why We Meet

Valli Ferrel, one of the program's first students, leads a tour of Spring Mountain Winery where she directs PR

This is Part 2 in a series. Click here to read Part 1.

by Will Butler

Earlier this week I started writing about what it’s like to immerse yourself in our adult training retreat at Enchanted Hills Camp in Napa. Now that it’s over, you’d think it’d be easier for me to sum up in retrospect, but the truth of the matter is I’m still processing it all. The amount of information that was given to us was immense. The strength of personal connections made between all the students, aged 25-77, was unlike anything I’ve ever seen occur over the course of five days. The disparity between how we behaved when we arrived and how we behaved when we left was remarkable. The skills, tools, and adaptations we learned were all custom-made, personalized little gifts  — in many ways, they won’t mean anything to our spouses or family or friends — and it’s hard to imagine ever describing it to someone who wasn’t there in a way that’s meaningful. But I guarantee that if you stumbled upon the twelve blind folks eating dinner at Gott’s Roadside on Thursday evening, you’d recognize immediately that they had been through something special together.

But enough vagueness; if you’ve read this far I’m sure you actually want to know: what did we spend all our time doing? The truth is, we learned how to live on all levels, from the most mundane to the most abstract and emotionally elusive.

Getting better at everyday tasks (which in these circles is called independent living skills or ILS) was, at least for me and a few others, a priority. For starters, we had an entire session dedicated to helping you find stuff. Boring as it may sound, these are the questions newly blind people find themselves agonizing over: If I drop a pill bottle, what’s the fastest way to find it? Can I wipe down a counter and be sure it’s clean? How do I put in the right batteries? How do I shave? With our training shades over our eyes for anyone who still relied on some eyesight, we were taken step by step through these everyday simplicities and reassured that, yes, there was an easy way to do all of them. Later on, we did this with cooking as well, cleaning, chopping, and preparing dozens of pounds of marinated vegetables for dinner, all the while learning blind-oriented knife skills, measurement and identification techniques. I was surprised to find that my cooking skills were better than I would have thought, and that discovery if nothing else was worth the class. Suddenly, when I get home, I wanted to cook again.

At another session, we went in-depth on labeling and organizing, talking strategies but also getting hands on with solutions. Many blind people eagerly embrace new technology, but simple, low-tech hardware and quick dollar store solutions are still mainstays of everyday adaptation. Stickers, high contrast cutting boards, talking calculators, magnets, velcro, buttons, bumps, signature guides, safety pins, sock locks, knife holders, innovative dishware, extra-thin silicon oven mitts and above all rubber bands (for tagging shampoo/conditioner bottles, etc.); there was a never-ending list of items to add to the efficient-living arsenal. These are things that blend in, seem obvious once suggested, but are also ideas I would never have come up with on my own. We also exchanged advice. How exactly do you deal with the grocery store? What do you do when your husband wants help dressing himself? How do you sort your clothes? We were all at different levels, and yet we could all relate. You’ve never seen a group so eager to talk about their dresser drawers.

This is not to make it sound like it was all low-tech either. Personally, as a Mac person I’d been putting off learning JAWS, the screenreader software which is PC-only and also happens to be the industry standard for word processing. To me it seemed daunting, unnecessary because I am low vision and not totally blind. And yet, put me in front of a PC and I’m admittedly useless. To my surprise, our tech instructor Julianna had me up and running (and surfing Facebook) without any visual cues within an hour. That’s the power of having a human teach you how to do these things. It was about getting advice and giving it. If you knew something someone else didn’t yet, it felt good to share your strategy with them. Though the solution may be simple you could feel that the other person really deeply appreciated it.

Tech solutions were different for different people. Some brought touchscreen devices, iPhones, iPads or laptops that they wanted to get better at using. Others learned how to load up their Victor reader (another portable, more tactile audio player) with documents, podcasts, books and news. For some, it was enough to learn about Wilson, the compact voice memo recorder that could help them keep notes and to-do lists, or the Pen Friend, a smart audio pen that allows to record your own labels. And with the absolute surge in the iPhone’s general popularity in recent years, the motto of the week seemed to be “there’s an app for that.” Nearly every month now an app comes along that can significantly change a blind person’s life. Apps such as KNFB Reader, Tap Tap See, Be My Eyes, and hundreds more have absolutely proliferated, and we couldn’t live in a better time for cool blind tech. This is what Sydney was responding to when she exclaimed with joy and relief in our very first solutions session.

It wasn’t simply about taking down a list of items to buy, either. This was one of the first opportunities some of us had to try stuff out and see if it worked. You could sit down with one technology, play with it for a while, then try an alternative. All of it was at our fingertips, in one room, all week long.

Because of the nature of my vision, mobility has not always been a problem for me, but even so I met with Katt Jones for a one-on-one assessment. We talked about everything to do with cane travel; some things I had picked up naturally but didn’t know the names for. She showed me a more elegant and efficient way to locate doorknobs. She corrected my technique approaching and scaling stairs. We talked about “how to train your human,” or in other words, how to help people help you. She took me to downtown Napa, where we walked back and forth across a massive intersection, analyzed the ins and outs of curb cuts, and then went to Trader Joe’s. Some things were new, and for the things that weren’t, it felt good to have a certified O&M instructor tell me confidently that I was doing things right. Even walking around the grocery store alone, I already felt more comfortable than usual, even if it was just in my head.

There were also the more interpersonal, emotional discussions. What to do when a loved one says something hurtful, how to hold your own in household duties, and how to be honest and expect honesty back were all topics we explored. Then came the embarrassing stories, the stories about humility and moving forward with grace, the stories which will not be published here.

The week really showed the wide range of experience within the blind community. There were those with degenerative conditions, people who had been in accidents, victims of violence, and some with less explicable or diagnosable visual impairments. There were those who had lived full, vibrant lives and those who were just beginning their journeys. There were kids from low-income backgrounds alongside retired college professors. And all of them went through some sort of metamorphosis. For some it was just social, and for others very physical. There were adult students too timid to take one step on their own when they arrived Sunday evening; and within days, even 24 hours for some, they were calmly navigating the hills and paths of Enchanted Hills entirely by themselves.

The big takeaway, for me, was that the best learning comes from peers and role models. Jamey Gump’s teenage counsellors in training were right there along side us most of the week, and it was pretty cool to see their training mirror our own. They looked to each other as everything from mentors to mere curiosities, and above all just people they could feel comfortable around. We all stood in a line on Wednesday night and did the “cookie challenge,” wherein contestants tilt their head back and race to get an Oreo from their forehead to their mouth with no hands. One of Sook Hee Choi’s deafblind students was the winner. Thursday night there was a talent show, which involved jokes, skits, a tap dance, and a no-holes-barred Billy Joel-esque piano ballad from Shane, EHC’s arts and enrichment counsellor for the summer. In the morning, all the kids and adults — each their on their own training program — mingled like happy campers. Kids who I had earlier assumed were completely blind approached and said cheery hellos to me of their own accord. And, kept busy every day from breakfast to sunset it wasn’t until about the time I left that I stopped and realized how much I’d been enjoying the whole week.