atitude students and instructor Matt Mahowald post with LightHouse community members and staff in front of the tenth floor staircase at LightHouse

Latitude High Students Bring Their Inventions to LightHouse!

On May 10 and 11, 2023,  LightHouse welcomed Computer Science and Design students from Latitude High School in Oakland, who came to demo their prototypes of products to help people who are blind or have low vision.
Latitude teacher Matt Mahowald reached out to LightHouse and connected with Community Outreach Specialist Sheri Albers who facilitated their visit. He explains how this came about:

 “This semester my students have been working on a project, building products for the visually impaired. We spent time interviewing blind people and visited the East Bay Center for the Blind. From there, students took issues like transportation, morning routine, and cooking that they were interested in. Each group of students selected one specific issue and spent four weeks prototyping products using Arduinos, which are small computers you can program with sensors and inputs and outputs. I found out about LightHouse through [Blind architect and former LightHouse Board President] Chris Downey’s 60 Minutes interview. I called the main line and got connected with Sheri.”

Braille Instructor Divina Carlson chats with Latitude students

Here are a just a few of the products the students created:

Enzo, Andreas & Jettra
“We found out that people can have both age-related visual and hearing impairments. When we talked to people at the East Bay Center for the Blind, they explained they were often unable to make out sounds from appliances like microwaves and thermostats because the sounds were too high for their ears. So we devised a product that uses a microphone and takes frequencies that are too high for a lot of people to hear and outputs them again at a lower frequency but at the same volume.”
Ehthro, Alex & Esteban
“Our product is a pill box that can sense where you’re at. You can set it at a certain time to remind you to take medicine. Once that time comes, the [pill box] speaker will beep. The ultrasonic speaker senses where you’re at, so if you’re close to the pill box it will beep faster and if you’re further away it will beep slower.”

Isabel & Gabriel
“Our product is [like a] FasTrak card to help people navigate around grocery stores. When it senses what aisle you’re in, it tells you things like ‘bread aisle’ or ‘milk aisle’. It will also tell you if the product you’re looking for is on the left or the right. Our goal is to help blind and visually impaired people have more independence and more freedom around the world.”

A closeup of the prototype for a speaker that would attach to bus stops to give information about bus routes

And here is what LightHouse community members and staff had to say about checking out the products and giving feedback to the Latitude students:
Mike Cole, LightHouse volunteer and former LightHouse Board President
“I met these students a few months ago when they came to visit the East Bay Center for the Blind. Our staff laid out braille books, braillers and other blindness products. They asked a lot of good questions. I’ve visited a few of the tables and the students’ creativity is really wonderful. The kids were really great at explaining their products and receiving feedback. A lot of people, when they think they’ve come up with a brilliant idea, aren’t open to input. I think these students are on the right track and it was very fun.”

Edwin Whitefield, LightHouse student
“They solved a problem I have at the gym, which is knowing the weight of the plate that I’m about to lift or the amount of weight that I want on an apparatus. I have no central vision whatsoever.  When I’m at the gym, I have to squat down and get really close to read the weight plates. Their invention is an RFID code on every weight and I would have a scanner that tells me ‘that’s a 25 pound weight’ etc. It was simple yet genius.”
Sabrina Bolus, Adult Programs Coordinator
“I forget to take my Vitamin D3 a little too often! A cool thing I saw today was a pill box that could sense when I was nearby and then remind me.”
Gabe Griffith, Access Technology Specialist
“I love the creativity and ingenuity of the students. It was great to experience their enthusiasm for their projects.”

Access Technology Specialist Gabe Griffith holds a speaker that changes the frequency of appliance sounds to be lower for those who have difficulty hearing higher frequencies

Kacie Capello, Access Technology Instructor
As an AT professional, it was exciting to see younger folks embracing the concepts and mechanics of technology for access. It was also fun to give tips, and just nerd out, about products that can close persisting accessibility gaps. I enjoy being part of discussions and processes that shape allyship in the tech and maker spaces.”
Fernando Macias, Access Technology Specialist
“How cool the Computer Science department at this school is for putting something like this together! It puts this idea of inclusive design in the mind of highschoolers.”
Divina Carlson, Braille Instructor
“It’s great to know the Latitude School students are learning awareness of blindness, and they are creating devices to potentially support independence for blind or low vision people. As a braille teacher, I had the opportunity to briefly introduce to the Latitude students how braille letters are formed as well.”
Sheri Albers, Community Outreach Specialist and event facilitator
“Anytime you find a young person that is willing to get involved in the blindness community, I find that is absolutely wonderful. It seems like a lot of thought was put into these devices and the needs we face and they really were sincerely hopeful that the things that they made could make a difference in our lives.”
Thank you, Latitude High School Computer Science and Design students for visiting LightHouse and sharing your ideas!

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