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Mentorship

From yacht-rock to pop-ballads: Our first Audio Academy broke new ground

On Sunday afternoon, the halls of LightHouse reverberated with the deep, breezy sounds of yacht rock. “Sailing takes me away to where I’ve always heard it could be,” crooned DJ Dan’s tune “Sailing” by Christopher Cross. A San Francisco State student with an interest in all things aquatic, Dan’s final performance on Sunday transported the audience to a tranquil expanse and back again, reflecting Dan’s personality with quirky, upbeat folk and country tunes perfectly suited for the sailing life.

Each student entered the weekend with no knowledge of DJing, and left equipped with sufficient knowledge to assemble a twenty minute set. Our blind instructors Byron Harden and Clarence Griffin from Chicago-based I See Music introduced students to the software Deejay Pro and taught them the basics of a fully accessible and non-visual DJ method. Their program, designed by blind people for blind people, is the only in the nation that offers a comprehensive audio education curriculum for blind and low vision learners.

The workshop participants performed sets that were each as unique in tone and style as the students themselves. We heard an uplifting, pop-centric set by Maycie, a thumping, rhythmic set from Jenna and hip hop and R&B tunes from Juan. Traveling from all around Northern California, the students came from as far as Sonora and Sacramento, taking full advantage of the LightHouse’s cozy residential facilities for the 3-day workshop.

Audio Academy student Maycie sits grinning in front of her DJ equipment in the LightHouse board room.
Audio Academy student Maycie sits grinning in front of her DJ equipment in the LightHouse board room.

Maycie, 20, was thrilled to find out about Audio Academy because it marked a departure from many other inaccessible or antiquated audio workshops. She had researched a variety of music schools, but none could provide appropriate accommodations. As a vocalist, producer of her own songs and aspiring DJ, Maycie sought an educational avenue for audio skills.

“Blind people kind of get stereotyped a lot as musicians,” she says. “Not every blind person is musical, but for those of us that are, there need to be more opportunities.”

She says that the workshop provided a comprehensive basic understanding of the DJ software, DJ methodology and tools, adding that the workshop solidified her interest in DJing professionally.

“It was a pretty amazing feeling, to be honest: I had this picture in my head of actually performing a DJ set, and no one would have to help me — I could do it fully by myself.”

Audio Academy student Jenna smiles, seated, with one hand on her laptop and the other on her DJ equipment.
Audio Academy student Jenna smiles, seated, with one hand on her laptop and the other on her DJ equipment.

Jenna, 21, says that although she wasn’t certain what to expect for the weekend, she was glad to have participated and introduced herself to a set of skills to enhance both her recreational and vocational interests.

“This has opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for me with my pursuit of a career in music and I’m excited to attend more Audio Academy Workshops in the future,” she says.

Juan, 23, says that the workshop was fulfilling as an opportunity to learn new skills in a new environment, and add another skill to his musical toolbox of piano, guitar and percussion instruments. Over the weekend, he learned to mix and edit a set of songs using DJay Pro in conjunction with accessible technology, including VoiceOver.

Audio Academy students, instructor Clarence and LightHouse Board member Josh Miele assemble in the Board Room around DJ equipment to listen to music.
Audio Academy students, instructor Clarence and LightHouse Board member Josh Miele assemble in the Board Room around DJ equipment to listen to music.

“I like to listen to music, so DJing seems like a possibility, and I felt like the teachers were putting good emphasis in the stuff they taught us,” he says. “I want to buy the DJ equipment and start practicing at home. And, I want to actually do what the instructors do. They get gigs and stuff like that, and I want to actually DJ professionally.”

Byron and Clarence collectively have a wealth of knowledge and experience in audio production, DJing and music. Byron created I See Music to foster independence, equality and opportunity through their instruction and example of professional success.

Daniel, 22, says that having blind instructors was a defining part of the workshop. He was pleased that their knowledge of both the DJ and accessibility softwares rendered the workflow relatively seamless.

At left, Blind DJ Ryan Dour performs a set using an iPad and DJ equipment, while Audio Academy student Daniel listens with delight at right.
At left, Blind DJ Ryan Dour performs a set using an iPad and DJ equipment, while Audio Academy student Daniel listens with delight at right.

“I felt the program was really good. I really learned a lot, and I think that it was a good opportunity for people,” he says. “You could get hands-on experience there with somebody that really knew the software. I might use the knowledge as a radio DJ, or might just do some DJing on the side just for fun.”

LightHouse Youth Program – Blind Kids are Doing it for Themselves

Students in our Cooking 101 class, mixing bowls at the ready, stand at their counters waiting to put a recipe together.What are a handful of motivated young blind people doing at the LightHouse early on a Saturday? The LightHouse Youth Program provides programming all year for energized youth who are blind or have low vision. One Saturday last month, the day went something like this:

Starting in the morning, LightHouse Volunteer Robin Patche led that week’s edition of Cooking 101. In this class we aim to teach young blind people how to be competent and confident in the kitchen. On the day’s agenda – how to make simple snacks such as smoothies, trail mix and cheese crackers, using accessible measuring cups, spoons and other cooking tools. Kitchen safety and sanitation were also incorporated into the discussion.

Next up, artist Ruthie Campbell Miller led the young people in an art project that had them using tissue paper to create tactile “paintings”. Why do young blind people benefit from art classes? Youth Program Coordinator Jamey Gump, who has low vision himself, told us, “We’re glad to have been able to offer an art class to the Youth Program and plan to reboot it in the fall. The more exposure students have to experience art their own way, the more they extend this sense of space to exploring and learning about their environment. Creating art can improve a blind person’s spatial acuity which in turn helps improve their ability to travel and to organize their environment.”

In the afternoon, Wells Fargo Personal Banker Nina Toia gave a presentation on how to successfully manage one’s money, including how to create a budget, what a credit score is and how to build credit. She answered both basic and complex questions and led a lively discussion on how the way in which we value the things we purchase can affect our budget.

An important aspect of our classes is introducing our younger blind students to blind college-aged mentors. This particular Saturday ended with a training session for the mentors. Jamey led a discussion about the best ways to make activities enjoyed by entire families work for both the sighted members and the members who are blind or have low vision.

Mentor Nasir, with a big grin on his face, practices how to roll an Oreo cookie from the forehead to the mouth without using ones hands.

Our Youth Program Fills a Great Need
A lot of times young people who are blind may not know anyone in their neighborhood or school system who is blind. While all of our Youth programming promotes the independence, camaraderie and creativity while having fun, perhaps the most important aspect of these gatherings is providing them with the opportunity to meet other blind young people. Likewise, a side benefit to the gatherings is that the parents who bring their kids to these classes and field trips also get the chance to meet other parents of blind youth and exchange advice and solutions about the various challenges they may face.

We plan on having new cooking and art classes for youth in the fall, so stay tuned. To sign up for our Youth Events e-newsletter or for more information about our Youth programs, contact LightHouse Youth Coordinator Jamey Gump at jgump@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7372.