“I love seeing clients’ growth in independence and mobility,” said Donna Kazanjian, LightHouse’s Rehabilitation Services Coordinator, when asked what she loves most about her job.
Donna was raised on a healthy diet of Ted Williams, haddock, chowda’ and the sparing use of the letter “R.” Boston, Massachusetts was an exciting town to grow up in, but it left her wanting more. After visiting her uncle in Pasadena, as a senior in high school, Donna always wanted to move to California
She finally landed in Southern California, where she finished her undergraduate degree and acquired her secondary teacher’s credentials. Shortly after graduation, she began teaching middle and high school English and history, honing her skills as a leader, teacher and mentor. Donna also worked in the building trades for over a decade receiving journey cards in both masonry and tile setting, one of few women do so at that time.
Two decades later she relocated to San Francisco and enrolled in a special education Master’s program at San Francisco State University, where she specialized in Orientation and Mobility for the blind.
Orientation training helps blind and low vision folks determine where they are and where they want to go, whether moving from one room to another or walking down to the local supermarket. Mobility training refers to learning how to move safely, efficiently, and effectively from one place to another, such as being able to walk without tripping or falling, cross streets, and use public transportation.
Donna told us, “I figured that Orientation and Mobility would be an outgrowth of the skills I learned as a teacher and crafts worker because I learned how to work with all kinds of people in many environments.”
In 1997, Donna joined the LightHouse team as an Orientation and Mobility instructor. She found herself working with a widely diverse population. For example, when she arrived at LightHouse AIDS was ravaging the city, causing many people to lose their sight and later their lives. Now AIDS related blindness is less common, and stands as a recent example of the changing demographics of the bay area blind population. Change and diversity are two things Donna loves about being an Orientation and Mobility instructor. “I love people’s stories, backgrounds, and diversity. In a single day I work with clients living in Nob Hill, the Mission and the Tenderloin.”
O & M instruction requires focus, especially when listening to clients, coming up with relevant goals and building trusting relationships to ensure safe and effective mobility strategies. In this way, Donna says, “O & M instruction and the LightHouse are stepping stones to independence and a better life.” Just like school, clients graduate with newly acquired knowledge and move on to implementing skills that enrich their everyday lives.
Outside of the LightHouse, Donna has many interests. She started playing tennis at age 10, and is still an avid tennis player, frequenting tennis courts in Golden Gate Park, SF Tennis Club, Glen Park courts and the Castro tennis courts. “When I go on vacation, I take the rackets,” she exclaimed. Physical fitness is important to Donna and she is also a proud walkaholic, promenading through the winding streets around Bernal Heights and the downtown San Francisco grid. Her constitutionals to and from work are tracked by pedometer and are daily reminders of how important the mobility training she does is to the health of her students. Donna loves traveling, especially to Mexico and Palm Springs, where she can kick up her feet and soak up the sun. She also enjoys live theatre and the symphony.
If you are interested in learning more about Orientation and Mobility instruction, or perhaps even cracking open a bottle of Moxie, New England’s original soda elixir, contact Donna at DKazanjian@lighthouse-sf.org or call her at 415-694-7308.