A composite of the Latitude High School and LightHouse logos

High School Students Set Out to Provide Creative Assistance for the Blind Community

LightHouse is thrilled to announce an exciting opportunity for our students and community members. Our Community Outreach Coordinator, Sheri Albers, was contacted by Matt Mahowald, a teacher of Computer Science and Design, from Latitude High School in Oakland with a unique request.
Latitude High School teaches a real-world Project-Based Learning curriculum with strong arts, multimedia, and technology integration. This semester, Matt’s class was tasked with developing a working prototype of a device with the specific purpose of providing daily task assistance to the blind and visually impaired community. And, on Thursday, May 11, Matt Mahowald’s sophomore class will be coming to demonstrate their prototypes to LightHouse students and staff.
So, with eager enthusiasm and interest, Sheri Albers sat down with Latitude High sophomores, Nai and Alex, for more details about the project.
“Our class came up with a list of things that might be challenging to do for someone who is visually impaired. Most people said tasks like cooking, crossing the street, or finding things would be harder to do if you can’t see. So, each group had to identify different problems that people with visual impairments might have and focus on one. Then, Step 2 was to choose one of those problems to solve and come up with a sketch and then make a cardboard prototype of an invention to help with those problem/tasks,” explained Nai and Alex.
Sheri: What is your invention, and what does your prototype look like?
Nai: I invented a camera to help find things and detect movement in your house. My original prototype was a cardboard box with a little rectangle on it, it looks like how a camera is supposed to look, and it’s kind of simple. But it influenced my newer design, which is made out of actual plywood that we laser-printed. There is also a mount where you can hang it on the wall if you want. And, because it is a computer science class, we also have to have some kind of mechanical, computer or electric component to the prototype – like a camera, a sensor, a speaker, etc. – as long as we can work on our coding skills to make the computer component work.
Sheri: What kind of research had to be done before you started the project?
Nai and Alex: We did research on how the eye works, and the different parts of the eye. We read articles about what the main causes for visual impairment or blindness are. Also, previously, we went on a field trip to the Center for Blind and Visually Impaired in Berkeley. We interviewed someone who has been blind his whole life. It was really informative and helpful to go over there. He told us about his experiences, and how he gets around on his own. He showed us some braille books which were pretty cool.

Sheri: When you come to LightHouse on May 11, what do you hope to get from sharing your prototype with our students and staff?
Nai: Personally, I’m hoping I can refine my project, or make it a little bit more personalized, because what I’m making, it basically already exists but not really for the use that I’m using it for. I feel like I can get input on how to make it specifically for people who are visually impaired and maybe do some edits on it. The code probably won’t change, but I could maybe make the actual design of the box easier or refine my design to make sure that it’s usable for people who are visually impaired.
Sheri: What would that mean to you to see your design being used by someone who is blind or visually impaired?
Nai: I would definitely feel really accomplished! If somebody was really using my product and they truly appreciated it, I feel so proud! If I ever put it out there, my mom would buy it just to support me, but if somebody genuinely thought it was a useful product and could totally use it in their house, I would feel really accomplished and motivated to do more!

If you want to check out these student-designed prototypes, give your feedback, and help aid and guide these future designers and engineers, come to LightHouse on May 11 from 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm. For questions or to RSVP, please contact Sheri Albers at SAlbers@lighthouse-sf.org or call 415-694-7331.