For a few days in November, the LightHouse hosted the nation’s largest gathering of blindness CEOs held anywhere. The CEOs from 62 blindness agencies, from Maine to Washington State, from Florida to California, all members of Vision Serve Alliance, gathered to learn leadership skills, discuss best blindness practices and to network with agency heads facing similar challenges. The LightHouse hosted the conference with the support of the Vista Center for the Blind, the Santa Clara Lions Blind Center, Guide Dogs and the Hatlen Center. A key LightHouse partner was Google, who hosted the gathering for an entire day at their San Francisco offices. Google showed the executives the latest accessibility features of many of their new products. The CEOs were especially pleased to learn about how Google implements a culture of creativity and innovation.
A particular highlight of the day with Google was the chance to meet many of the Google car team, pioneers in the field of autonomous vehicles. Google understands when they roll out a commercial version of their driverless vehicle it will be a boon to millions of blind and visually-impaired citizens. The chance to apply the highest technology to real human problems is what Google is all about, and the nation’s blind executives were strongly supportive of their research and development. When will the car be available commercially? No promises, but let’s just say it may give new meaning to the word 2020.
Notable speakers throughout the conference included Dr. Zachary Shore, a historian who teaches at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. Dr. Shore’s latest book, “Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions”, is about how to avoid cognition traps which get in the way of effective leadership. Shore, who is blind himself, shared lessons from history and urged the agency heads to maintain the highest expectations for blind students in their own organizations.
The executives were also treated to a reading and discussion about James Holman, a remarkable 19th-century British explorer and travel writer who became the most widely-travelled human being in his time – and did it blind. Jason Roberts, a Marin county author who wrote about Holman in “A Sense of the World”, delighted attendees with his deep knowledge of blindness and our little-known history dating back 200 years.
The large group of CEOs also learned about some improvements recently made at the LightHouse. Many were impressed by the new iPad-based retail system just implemented in Adaptations, our blind products store. Now store clerks, whether sighted, low-vision or blind can use the same sales and inventory system to do their work – a first in our field.
While at the LightHouse the executives were fed and served breakfast by an amazing team of LightHouse staff and volunteers, who pitched in above their regular duties to show true San Francisco hospitality to those who were visiting the LightHouse for the first time. The CEOs, who collectively oversee more than a billion dollars in private philanthropy, were particularly touched by the warm personal and giving staff welcome.
The conference concluded with an awards banquet on Forbes Island, a private dining establishment moored in San Francisco Bay and reached by small boat. It was a cozy finale to a close and interconnected conference that brought many new ideas and practices into the field. The LightHouse is honored to have hosted this important national gathering.