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YES Academy Week One: Cane skills, cooking and mock interviews

It’s been a lively week at LightHouse headquarters with our three-week Summer Youth Employment Series (YES) underway. The 10th and 11th floors have been warm with the chatter of blind and visually impaired youth attending four classes a day including orientation & mobility, technology, living skills and job readiness trainings.

Many of the students at YES Academy are getting their first introductions to life skills like using a white cane, cooking, doing laundry, interviewing for jobs and volunteering. But it isn’t all work and no play. They also explored the city of San Francisco, including a ghost tour of Chinatown and a scavenger hunt at Fisherman’s Wharf.

This week they’re headed to camp and kayak in Tomales Bay, and then they’re off to Enchanted Hills Camp to spend a few days breathing the fresh air and learning the fundamentals of woodworking with blind woodworker George Wurtzel. The final week, a select group will attend the National Federation of the Blind Convention in Orlando, Florida. Here, students will meet thousands of blind role models from across the country, network with the National Association of Blind Students, peruse the aisles of the exhibition hall, participate in a nation-wide accessible job-fair and attend informative seminars.

“When we picked up the students at the airport not a single one of them was using a cane,” says Youth Services Coordinator Jamey Gump when we asked him about the most gratifying aspect of leading the program. “Now many of them feel confident to use their canes. It’s an important landmark for them to be comfortable with themselves and be able to identify as blind to allow the public to understand their needs.”

Romesha Laird is one of the YES students who started off the week having never used a cane before. She’s quickly taken to the mobility training and has found it an incredibly useful tool as she goes through this busy week of fun and self discovery.

“I’m just learning to use a cane,” she says. “I used to trip a lot and the cane makes me feel more confident. After this week, I feel a lot more motivated to use my cane when I’m walking around.”

Romesha is a high school student from San Bernardino, and when she’s not learning to making quick biscuits in the teaching kitchen or learning skills that will help her toward her goal of attending a four year college, she’s an avid cheerleader.

This week she discovered a mentor in YES Academy Counselor Danielle Fernandez.

“I really look up to Danielle,” she says. “She taught me a lot and showed me around. She also has the same condition as me, so we relate and understand each other.”

Romesha has already made up her mind that she’ll be headed back to YES next year.

“I am going to come back next year to learn more and get more experience and visit everyone at the LightHouse,” she says smiling.

Here are a few photos of Romesha practicing mobility in downtown San Francisco and volunteering to braille business cards in the MAD Lab.

Romesha smiles as she walks down Market Street with her white cane.
Romesha smiles as she walks down Market Street with her white cane.
Romesha helps emboss business cards with fellow YES Academy students in one of the LightHouse volunteer rooms.
Romesha helps emboss business cards with fellow YES Academy students in one of the LightHouse volunteer rooms.

Stay posted for more YES Academy updates in the coming weeks!

‘The Specialist’ Podcast On Going Blind, and How We Help

Katt Jones and Marco SalsicciaLightHouse O&M instructor Katt Jones was featured on this week’s episode of The Specialist, a new KALW podcast about the important jobs you don’t think about. Host Casey Miner takes us through a day-in-the-life of someone, in this case Jones, who helps blind people learn how to get around. Miner also takes a deep dive with Marco Salsiccia, LightHouse student and Accessibility Specialist at Lyft, about what it’s like to lost your vision all at once, and what happens next. Listen to the whole episode here and tell us what you think in the comments!

Blind & Low Vision Skills Training

Our team of teachers and specialists (many of whom are low vision/blind themselves) are highly trained in low vision and blind skills techniques and strategies, providing solutions to all aspects of maintaining one’s independence.

From learning essential safe travel skills in your home and community to accessing your daily mail, beloved novels, or e-mail and the internet using the latest access technology, the LightHouse can accommodate any individual seeking to enhance self-reliance. While there are many different ways to meet your needs and desires for training and independence, understanding what we can offer is important.

Our philosophy about teaching is that we work with you as a team, our teachers meet you where you are in your level of readiness and desire to move forward. Every person has their own journey and learning mode. As long as you are open to learning how you can do something in a new way with your changing vision, we are ready to provide the training and support you need.

For those who are new to low vision, blindness or have a recent change in their vision, we recommend our flagship program, CVCL.

Immersion Training: Changing Vision, Changing Lives (CVCL)

Changing Vision, Changing Lives is our introductory immersion program for adults who are newly blind or have experienced a change in vision and find that new skills are needed. The program introduces basic yet essential skills to live confidently at home and in the community. Topics such as magnification, organizational skills, time management, use of adaptive aids and accessing print materials provide students solutions and strategies for living with low vision or blindness. In addition, each class session includes a discussion on adjusting to changing vision.

While CVCL provides an introduction to solutions regarding blindness or low vision training and techniques, the bigger purpose is to bring people together, learning and sharing experiences together. While so many students have felt isolated in their learning, CVCL instinctively propels and motivates students to study further and know the right choices for later. A great majority of students who go through the CVCL class remain enthusiastically engaged with the LightHouse and return to leading full, active lives.

Students need not live in the Bay Area to take advantage of our CVCL program. Our facilities in Napa and San Francisco are equipped with lodging and meals to keep you comfortable and nourished throughout the training.

Read about CVCL in the New York Times!

In addition to CVCL, listed below are the core learning opportunities in which you can participate as a student. All of these skills can be learned from our headquarters in San Francisco and most of them from our satellite offices: LightHouse of Marin, LightHouse of the North Coast, or LightHouse of the East Bay.

Orientation and Mobility (O&M)

“Orientation” refers to the ability to know where you are and where you want to go; whether you’re moving from one room to another, walking route from your home to downtown, taking a bus from one place to another or ‘orienting’ to a new worksite or school campus.

“Mobility” refers to the ability to move safely, efficiently, and effectively from one place to another. This means walking confidently without tripping or falling, street crossing and use of public transportation. Learning mobility also includes learning the use of essential tools such as a cane or even a monocular for those with low vision, and strategies, such as listening for traffic patterns when crossing the street or using accessible pedestrian signals.

LightHouse teachers recognize that traveling ‘independently’ is done in so many ways and once basic skills are learned, students can concurrently learn alternate systems for travel such as Human Guide skills and transit using community Paratransit. Additionally, LightHouse Orientation and Mobility Specialists also provide training in navigation systems such as the Trekker Breeze; current mobility applications on smartphones for travel such as BlindSquare or orientation devices such as the Brain Port.

The ability to move about independently, with confidence and grace is an essential step towards self-confidence, independence and living a full life.

Essential Living Skills

Essential living skills, often referred to as Independent Living Skills or Daily Living Skills are none the less the essential skills you typically use for performing your daily routine. Many of these subconscious skills can change if your vision changes. Our team of skilled Certified Rehabilitation Specialist, Independent Living Skills and Kitchen Skills Teachers can provide you the tips, strategies, simple modifications and tools so that you can do to continue your routine at home, school or work. The beauty of the skills learned is that so many of them transfer to variety of other skills you may need in your life, such as cleaning/clearing a table requires tactile and/or visual scanning patterns or techniques, as does orientation and mobility, reading Braille or reading using a video magnifier.

While the skills are many, you work with your teacher to prioritize what skills are most essential to your independent living and daily routine. Here are some of the skills and strategies you can learn for home, school and/or work:

  • Personal Hygiene Care
  • Food Preparation and Kitchen Skills (from list making and shopping to cooking)
  • Clothing Care and developing and managing your wardrobe
  • Paper Management (bills, correspondences)
  • Organizational and labeling (visual and non visual)
  • Household Management and housekeeping
  • Record Keeping and financial/household document management
  • Money/banking management
  • Time and Calendaring Management Tools
  • Shopping (from on-line to in-store shopping)
  • Social and Recreational Involvement – getting back to a routine of fun!
  • Smartphone training and relevant apps

Access Technology 

Access Technology (AT) is exciting, ever changing and has become the big equalizer for persons who are low vision or blind. Our exceptional and trained AT staff are all users of Access Technology, from computer use (through speech or magnification), to scanning print on stand alone systems, or using a smartphone.

LightHouse AT Specialists and Trainers work with students in the following ways:

Assessment: Matching student’s abilities and needs with the array of tools is essential. LightHouse AT staff start off by conducting an AT Assessment with each student to understand the following:

  • What is the student’s current experience and skill with technology in general? What are they using now (including PC and/or MAC use)?
  • Visual function as it relates to best options effective and efficient access to print, either magnification or speech access.
  • Does the student have financial limitations to equipment needs?
  • Is the student a Braille user?
  • What tasks does the student need to complete using AT?
  • Does the student need to be mobile in using his/her AT?

All of these questions and help to identify not only what training a student may need, but also the equipment (from low tech to high tech) may be the best fit for the student, their vision and their intended use.

Training: The language alone used in teaching Access Technology as well as the names of the equipment and software can be overwhelming and hard to understand, but our AT staff understand this and their goal is to work with each student, ensuring the student can use the chosen technology efficiently and effectively as well as having the tools to problem solve potential hardware, software or user challenges. While each student works with the teacher on a path of training and equipment, training options are also varied and include some of the following (may be taught individually or in a small class environment):

  • Keyboarding Skills – effective touch typing skills are a foundation of access technology use
  • Computer software instruction using screen magnification, screen reading or a combination of both
  • Use of Video Magnification Systems (desk top, handheld or in conjunction with a computer system)
  • Internet Browsing and Website Use
  • Access and Reading materials in accessible formats
  • Use of scanning systems and software
  • Use of portable recording and listening systems
  • Use of smartphones and tablets (iOS or Android), including ‘best’ apps for blind access
  • Use of refreshable braille displays
  • Use of GPS devices

Spotlight Gateway: Low vision students referred by the American Academy of Ophthalmology will receive complimentary trainings in Spotlight Gateway, a new app designed specifically to expand access to digital reading materials for people with low vision. Select students who meet income and eyesight requirements will receive a complimentary Apple iPad loaded with Spotlight Gateway. This LightHouse will then train qualifying low vision students to instantly access over half a million books through Bookshare and read text with a whole new comfort level.

This program is a partnership with Lighthouse Guild, Benetech, VisionService Alliance, the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Spotlight Text.

February 1, 2017: Ophthalmologists may begin registering students at the AAO website’s low vision rehabilitation page.

Mar. 1, 2017: Distribution program begins with tech trainings at LightHouse in San Francisco and Lighthouse Guild in New York City.

For more info on referrals, contact sblanks@lighthouse-sf.org.


Braille is not a fading form of communication. It is not only an essential means of writing and reading, but is one of the primary skills that is essential to successful education and employability.

The LightHouse is not only dedicated to teaching Braille, but also supports many businesses, schools and community agencies in ensuring that they have and maintain Braille access. Braille is everywhere in public venues, elevators, ATM’s, restaurants and more, it is a tactile reading and writing system that most anyone can learn (youth and adults) and the LightHouse teaches every day of the week.

Adult students of all ages can benefit from learning Braille for simple label writing and labeling and playing cards with friends and family, to learning contracted braille for notetaking and reading text books or documents or learning refreshable displays in tandem with computer use or smartphones.

To receive low vision or blind skills training, contact:

LightHouse Headquarters for San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area (including LightHouse of the East Bay): Debbie Bacon, Rehabilitation Counselor – dbacon@lighthouse-sf.org.

LightHouse of Marin, for Marin County: Jeff Carlson, Social Worker – jcarlson@lighthouse-sf.org.

LightHouse of the North Coast, for Humboldt and Del Norte Counties: Janet Pomerantz, Social Worker – jpomerantz@lighthouse-sf.org.