Building off the great work our tech trainers have been doing for years, we’re excited this month to announce the creation of a dedicated Access Technology Department at LightHouse, under the direction of our new team member, Erin Lauridsen.
“The launch of this department is a recognition of how central technology is to our lives as blind people,” says Lauridsen. “It really does affect every aspect of our lives—from cooking to voting to dating to moving around the streets. If technology comes into every part of that, we have to train blind people to really be savvy tech users and be able adapt to constant changes.”
Lauridsen feels the digital age is leveling the playing field for people who are blind or have low vision. With screen readers like VoiceOver, new and improved document scanners and apps that provide new services entirely, she thinks we have moved far beyond barriers posed by the inaccessible books and paper printouts of yesteryear.
Lauridsen grew up in rural Oregon, on the cusp of the technological boom. She remembers the leap she took in 7th grade, when she went from having a Perkins brailler and a paid staffer who transcribed all of her work to getting a Citizen Notebook Printer and a Braille ‘n Speak – and nothing was the same.
“For the first time I could turn in my own homework,” she says. “I had to learn all that technology mostly on my own because there weren’t other blind people around me. There weren’t teachers who knew it because a lot of it was very new. I got a computer with a screen reader and the internet in the late ‘90s. That was my first connection in a significant way to other blind people.”
So while technology provides a practical set of tools for everyday living, it can also be a starting point for widening personal horizons and reaching out and learning from a community of blind people all over the world. At its heart, Lauridsen feels, it’s about agency.
“If you give people access to technology they can access information, make their own choices and live their lives in better ways,” says Lauridsen.
But for the AT Department, it’s not just about the end user. The department also plays a key role in Silicon Valley as an accessibility gatekeeper — by bringing in major tech companies like Google, Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, Pinterest and Facebook for user testing and meetups, as well as working in-house with accessibility apps like Actiview and Be My Eyes through our budding startup accelerator programs.
As the head of the Access Tech department, Lauridsen will represent LightHouse in guiding the accessibility features for mainstream platforms and more specialized devices or “assistive technology,” as well as teaching our students how to use all of the above.
You can now schedule free weekday or weekend AT Training on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. or Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The beauty of these trainings it that they’re one-on-one, so if the tech talk intimidates you, you can start slow. We have staff that can meet you where you’re at — maybe ease in with typing and go as far as learning how to building your own website with a screen reader. To sign up, contact Access Technology Coordinator Shen Kuan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (415) 694-7312.
We are assembling a list of people interested in being part of UX testing. These opportunities respect testers’ time and knowledge with compensation. Opportunities vary on skill level, technology preference and personal interest.
Communicate with Erin Lauridsen directly at email@example.com or 415-694-7368 to get involved.