A composite of the LightHouse and Holman Prize logos

2020 Holman Prizewinners Announced

LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired – San Francisco is proud to introduce the three winners of this year’s prestigious Holman Prize competition for Blind Ambition.

The Holman Prize was launched by LightHouse in 2017: awarding three blind individuals up to 25,000 US dollars to fulfill a dream, turn an idea into reality or shoot for an unusual goal. Named after the 19th-century blind explorer James Holman, the first blind person to circumnavigate the globe. He holds the further distinction of being the most prolific traveler in history, sighted or blind, prior to the invention of modern transportation. And it is in the unquenchable spirit of James Holman that this year, 109 blind people from 22 countries, posted their 90 second Youtube pitch to be considered for the Holman Prize.

A panel of thirteen distinguished blind judges carried out the unenviable and difficult task of whittling down the 16 semifinalists to the following three outstanding blind blue-sky thinkers.

Tiffany Brar, India – Age 31

Tiffany Brar

Brar’s Holman ambition is called ‘Reaching the Unreached.’ With the Holman Prize, Brar will expand services for the blind into rural and tribal south India. Brar’s goal is to train more than 300 blind people across four states: Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, and Karnataka. She hopes to help the teenagers enroll in school and adults participate in either residential training centers for the blind or help them find jobs. Tiffany and a team of special educators will work closely with local leaders, government workers and translators to coordinate training programs for blind youth between the ages of 13 and 35.

Born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, Brar learned to speak five Indian languages as a child. She received schooling in both Great Britain and India. She completed a degree in English Literature in 2006. She later received a Bachelor of Education in Special Education, Visual Impairment from Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University.

The Holman Prize judges were impressed first by Tiffany’s comprehensive and passionate 90 second Youtube pitch and then by the detailed and well-planned proposal she presented.

On learning of her success, Tiffany said:

“I am honored. I applied because I am really passionate about rural development and training blind people in their homes as well as in our residential center, so thank you very much for making it happen.”

Tyler Merren, USA – Age 36

Tyler Merren

With his 25,000 USD Holman Prize, Merren will develop ReVision Fitness, an audio-based fitness mobile application.

“While there are many fitness apps out there,” said Merren, “they don’t provide an adequate description of exercises for people who are blind.”

The app will include descriptions of equipment, nutrition, heart rate monitoring, and journal capabilities all in an accessible format.

Merren is a resident of Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he lives with his wife and four children. He is a three-time Paralympian for Team USA in the sport of goalball with two team medals. His love for adaptive sports began in 1999 at a sports education camp hosted by the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes.

“The idea is that if you can do it as a sighted person in another fitness app, I want a blind person to have that in my app and the Holman Prize will make that possible.”

The Holman Prize judging panel loved the idea of many aspects of fitness usually found by painstakingly trying out each app’s usability and accessibility, being available to many blind individuals in the one place, in the one comprehensive app.

Dr. Birendra Raj Sharma Pokharel, Nepal – Age 53

Birendra Raj Sharma Pokharel

Dr. Pokharel’s proposal is entitled:
“Service Above Self: detecting breast cancer by blind women using medical tactile examination.”

He will use the Holman Prize funds to provide training for blind women in Nepal to become Medical Tactile Examiners in the early detection of breast cancer. The new program will provide an employment path for up to 30 blind Nepalese women who traditionally face enormous barriers to employment.

Dr. Pokharel who lives in Patan, Bagmati, has 25 years of experience in disability rights advocacy. He completed his Ph.D. in Rural Development at Tribhuvan University in Nepal.

Breast cancer is the most common disease for Nepalese women particularly in the remote area where outreach health services are lacking. Statistically, Medical Tactile Examiners who are blind can detect up to 30% more nodules than doctors. And the tissue alterations they identify are 50% smaller than those detected by medical professionals.

“I hope that this will raise awareness that women are employed not despite their visual disability, but because of their capability.”

This groundbreaking work was first pioneered in Germany, but this is the first time it is being led by a person who is blind.

LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin said: “This year’s winners will make a huge impact on the lives and experiences of many blind people around the world. The winners each are taking an active role in solving a problem and providing other blind people with tools to have their own agency and lead independent lives. They are all about to embark on a personal journey of self-discovery, learning new skills, and how it feels to truly make a difference.” He went on:

“I’d like to thank the other 106 applicants for applying and encourage them to consider pitching their big ideas to us again next year. I would also like to acknowledge and thank this year’s judges who gave up their time to undertake this difficult judging task, made especially challenging because we weren’t able to meet in person to adjudicate this year.”

For more information or to arrange interviews with the winners or LightHouse spokespeople, please email:
press@lighthouse-sf.org or call +1 (415) 812 5384

About the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition

In 2017, LightHouse for the Blind, headquartered in San Francisco, launched the Holman Prize to support the emerging adventurousness and can-do spirit of blind and low vision people worldwide. This endeavor celebrates people who want to shape their own future instead of having it laid out for them.

Created specifically for legally blind individuals with a penchant for exploration of all types, the Prize provides financial backing – up to $25,000 – for three individuals to explore the world and push their limits.

To see videos of all of our 2020 finalists and learn more about The Holman Prize please go to holmanprize.org.

About LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco

LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. We actively seek corporate and philanthropic funding for the finalists who we would like to support beyond the three funded winners this year.

To offer your support, contact holman@lighthouse-sf.org.


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