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LightHouse Observes White Cane Day with Mayor London Breed

On Tuesday, October 15, LightHouse celebrated White Cane Day. Eighty-seven LightHouse ambassadors, visitors and staff gathered to talk about the white cane as a tool for blind independence. San Francisco Mayor London Breed joined us and talked about San Francisco’s commitment to making the city a great place for seniors and people with disabilities to live and work. After her remarks, LightHouse received an official proclamation from the Mayor’s Office declaring October 15, 2019 as White Cane Day. Afterwards, the LightHouse group marched to City Hall to create awareness about the white cane and blind pedestrian safety.

Mayor London Breed
San Francisco Mayor London Breed holds a tactile map of the White Cane Day route to City Hall. Photo by Caitlin O’Malior.

The event was highlighted in the San Francisco Chronicle and profiled on ABC7’s evening news broadcast.

LightHouse O&M instructors, some wearing Safe Streets t-shirts.
LightHouse celebrates White Cane Day on steps of San Francisco City Hall.
LightHouse friends, many wearing “my cane is my right-of-way” t-shirts, stand on the steps in front of San Francisco’s City Hall holding the LightHouse banner. Photo by Sarika Dagar.

Many White Cane Day participants wore t-shirts designed in partnership with the Vision Zero SF Safe Streets project. Vision Zero SF is committed to eliminating traffic fatalities by 2024 in San Francisco, by educating the public about traffic safety and adopting policy changes that will save lives. The t-shirts come in orange, black and white. The front of the shirts show two blind pedestrians drawn in outline in a crosswalk, using their canes. A car is stopped outside the crosswalk at a stop sign. Words, above, read “My cane is my right-of-way.” On the back of the shirts, it reads, “My Cane is my right-of-way.” in English, Spanish, Chinese and Tagalog.

In celebration of White Cane Awareness Month, white canes are 10% off at our Adaptations Store for walk-in customers for the entire month of October! Visit us at on the 10th floor of 1155 Market in San Francisco. Store hours are Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. We’re also open on the second Saturday, October 12, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Look for LightHouse on San Francisco Muni Buses

As part of LightHouse’s involvement in the Vision Zero SF campaign Safe Streets for Seniors, and to celebrate White Cane Day, LightHouse has put up bus tails (advertising appearing on the back of a bus) on Muni buses across San Francisco. The whimsical ad depicts drawn images of blind pedestrians using a white cane to cross the street. Next to the image it reads, “My cane is my right-of-way.”

The bus tails can be seen through the end of October on many buses that run to and from downtown San Francisco, including but not limited to the following bus lines:

7/7X, 38/38R, 1, 8/8BX, 49, 47, 9/9R, 39, 14R and 14X.

Celebrate White Cane Day and meet Mayor London Breed

Calling all members of the blind community, friends and allies. Tuesday, October 15 is White Cane Day. Celebrate and promote safety awareness at LightHouse Headquarters as we meet Mayor London Breed and walk to City Hall. Bring your canes or dog guides and be seen.

When: Tuesday, October 15, 2019, 10:00 to 11:30 a.m.
Where: Meet at LightHouse Headquarters on the 10th floor.
Light refreshments will be served before the walk.

We’ll get things started with a 30-minute welcome meeting at LightHouse Headquarters on the 10th floor to talk about the importance of the white cane, LightHouse’s involvement with the Safe Streets for Seniors project and pedestrian safety in the city. San Francisco Mayor London Breed will be there to say hello.

PHOTO: In a photo taken outdoors amongst a crowd of supporters, Mayor London Breed smiles broadly for the camera as she is hugged by a delighted young girl.

At 10:30, we’ll leave LightHouse as a group and walk proudly to City Hall and back to create awareness and visibility around the white cane and blind pedestrians. Photos will be taken, and we’ll be giving away free Safe Streets t-shirts (now in white!) to wear as you walk.

Please RVSP directly to Briana Kusuma at bkusuma@lighthouse-sf.org or 415.694.7335. If you’d like a new Safe Streets t-shirt, be sure to give us your shirt size. Or wear one you already have.

1n 1964, at the urging of the National Federation of the Blind and other organizations, the United States Congress adopted a joint resolution designating October 15 of each year as White Cane Safety Day, recognizing that white canes enable blind people to travel safely and independently.

San Francisco’s Market Street is being transformed and the city wants to hear from you

You’re invited to a community gathering on Thursday, October 3, to learn more about and give input to the Better Market Street project.

When: Thursday, October 3, 4:30 to 6:00 p.m.
Where: LightHouse Headquarters, 1155 Market St, 10th Floor

Better Market Street is the City’s multi-agency project to transform 2.2 miles of Market Street, from Octavia Boulevard to Stuart Street, enhancing safety and accessibility, improving transit performance, replacing aging infrastructure, and revitalizing the corridor’s streetscape.

The project is advancing toward approval this fall and in the coming months, team members from San Francisco Public Works and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency will be joining us for community meetings to provide updates on the project.

At our first meeting, we’ll hear an overview with an emphasis on the first phase of the project, Market Street between Eighth and Fifth streets, right in front of LightHouse Headquarters. The team will also discuss proposed transit stops and passenger drop-off zones, as much of these streetscape improvements may affect the travel of blind pedestrians. This meeting is a key one in which we all can give input.

Please join us at 1155 Market Street, 10th floor, on Thursday, Oct. 3, 4:30 to 6:00 p.m.

RSVP directly to Jennifer Blot of San Francisco Public Works: Jennifer.blot@sfdpw.org or 415-554-6993.

Employment Immersion Students Make Their Mark at Federal Job Fair

On September 4, 26 blind and low vision jobseekers who are part of LightHouse’s Employment Immersion Program, assembled at LightHouse Headquarters and walked as a group to the Federal Building in San Francisco for a job fair.

The jobseekers, dressed in business attire and armed with resumes and cover letters, spoke with representatives from twenty Federal agencies including the Department of Veterans Affairs, Social Security Administration, Transportation Security Administration, Department of Labor and more.

LightHouse’s Employment Immersion Program provides individualized training in job seeking skills to adults who are blind or have low vision. This includes resume and cover letter writing, interviewing, disclosing disability and more. With the unemployment rate for blind people in the United States at 70%, the Employment Immersion Program is dedicated to lowering that rate by providing students with the essential tools they need to be competitive in the job market.

Edward Wong, LightHouse Employment Specialist, remarked that other attendees at the job fair took note of the large group of blind people who sought the same employment opportunities as their sighted peers. “People noticed how many blind people were there. We were the white cane brigade.”

Are you a blind or low vision jobseeker? Visit our Employment Immersion webpage, call 415-694-7359 or email eiteam@lighthouse-sf.org to learn more.

New local tactile maps at Adaptations

Photo: Sarika Dagar

Our Mad Lab designers have been hard at work producing a set of new maps of our region. Never before have curious blind travelers had these tactile maps, and they can be acquired immediately from LightHouse’s Adaptations Store.

Here is a list of the available maps:

• San Francisco Bay Area Cities: Ever wonder where the heck Piedmont actually is? This map shows the major cities in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. $15

• San Francisco Bay Area Counties: This map shows the counties in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Now you can see, for example, why Contra Costa County is actually north of Albany. $15

• San Francisco Bay Area Highways: You’ve heard of highway 13, or 237, or 92. Now you can see exactly where they are and how they connect. This map shows the main highways of the greater San Francisco Bay Area. $20

• San Francisco Neighborhoods: Just where does the Western Addition end and the Richmond District begin? Now you can find out. This map shows the neighborhoods in the city of San Francisco. $15

• California: Sacramento is actually more north than people commonly think. This map shows the state of California and its major cities. $20

Each map comes with braille and large print labels and is available for pickup. Get yours today by visiting our Adaptations store on the 10th floor at LightHouse Headquarters, 1155 Market Street in San Francisco. Or for extra convenience, just phone in your order and we’ll mail it to you. For more information call Adaptations at 1-888-400-8933 or email our store staff at adaptations@lighthouse-sf.org.

Red Szell reflects on how the Holman Prize got him to the top of the rock

Each year, the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, funded by LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco, provides three blind people up to $25,000 each to carry out an ambitious idea. On June 22, 2019, Holman Prize winner Red Szell successfully completed his extreme blind triathlon, which included a 10-mile off-road tandem bike ride, an open-water swim and a 213-foot climb up Am Buachaille, a vertical rock formation off the coast of Scotland. We interviewed Red shortly after his successful climb to get his reflections on training for his Holman Prize adventure.

Red’s triathlon training began in earnest last October. “I had a pretty high level of fitness from climbing and swimming,” Red, age 49, says, “but I had to ramp it up because I would be outside for twelve hours.” Red began incorporating running on a treadmill into his training regimen but injured his right Achilles tendon in January. With the help of twice-weekly physiotherapy sessions and some modifications to his training techniques, Red was able to continue preparing to climb Am Buachaille. Despite the ordeal, Red’s injury ultimately provided some benefits. “It actually helped my climbing because we worked on ankle stability and stretching,” he explained.

Besides the physical training required to successfully complete his Holman Prize goal, Red also had to navigate logistics, such as planning a practice climbing trip to Sardinia, finding a videographer to film the triathlon, getting the tandem bike from London to Scotland and more. “Being the CEO of my own project is something that I never really expected to do,” he admits. “That is a very difficult challenge but also immensely enjoyable and character-building. I feel a genuine sense of achievement and personal growth that has resulted from being awarded a Holman Prize.”

Red has always loved climbing, spending his teenage years climbing in the Welsh mountains in Wales. When he was 20, he was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a progressive condition that eventually causes blindness. As Red’s vision continued changing, he became depressed and stopped climbing. More than twenty years later, Red, now a father and journalist, had learned blindness skills. His passion for climbing was reignited at a birthday party for his daughter at a climbing gym. He decided it was time to learn to climb as a blind man.

In 2013, Red became the first blind man to climb the Old Man of Hoy, another sea stack in Scotland. Red declares that was “a personal achievement.” Successfully climbing Am Buachaille was different, however, because of the scope of the Holman Prize as a worldwide competition. Red remarks that the Holman Prize demonstrates to everyone “what blind people can achieve with the right support and determination.”

Red sitting on a rocky beach at Sandwood Bay, on the far north-west coast of mainland Scotland, with Am Buachaille towering behind him.
Red sitting on a rocky beach at Sandwood Bay, on the far north-west coast of mainland Scotland, with Am Buachaille towering behind him.

Going forward, Red will include his Holman Prize experience in the presentations he gives about being a blind climber, but more importantly, he will encourage other blind people to apply for the Holman Prize. From applying for the prize, to winning it, to carrying it out, Red views the Holman Prize as “a journey of self-discovery.” Listen to Red talk about his harrowing adventure here. Red’s experience will be documented in a forthcoming audio-described documentary of his “Extreme Triathlon” full of Red’s humor and outrageous Scottish scenery, called Shared Vision.

Do you have Holman Prize aspirations? Holman Prize submissions open in January 2020. For more information about the Holman Prize, visit HolmanPrize.org.

Meet LightHouse Access Technology Specialist Amy Mason

The Lighthouse Access Technology Department offers up-to-date training in the latest accessible methods. Meet Amy Mason, one of our Access Technology Specialists, who trains students who are blind or have low vision on ways to make their phone, computer or other devices easier and more comfortable to use.

Amy began her journey with access technology while in high school in Cedar Bluffs, Nebraska, when her vision was changing. At first, she learned to use a rudimentary screen magnifier, then she moved on to using the popular screen reader, JAWS. But in college, although she used a computer, she had no idea how to set one up and did not keep up with newer versions of Microsoft Windows.

After getting her Bachelor’s degree, she continued her education at South East Community College in Lincoln, Nebraska, focusing on computer networking. She also taught computers to kids during the summer. It was important to her that her students learn not just how to use a computer but how to problem solve when their computer didn’t work. One of her teaching tricks was to unplug all the computers and disconnect the cables in the classroom. Her students were required to put them together before class, including troubleshooting if something wasn’t working. For example, if their computer wasn’t making sound, even with the cable for sound plugged in, Amy would prompt them with questions like, “Did you plug the auxiliary cable back into the right place?”

Amy has brought her sound techniques for getting students to problem-solve and explore to LightHouse. “It’s okay to try things,” she says. “It’s a lot like exploring a new neighborhood or cooking a new dish. You have to learn new skills, new information, and new landmarks, but a lot of your key concepts stay the same.” When students encounter something unfamiliar while using technology, Amy encourages them to apply the skills they’ve already learned and problem-solve.

Amy’s experiences have informed her teaching strategies. She relates how when she was growing up, her father brought a computer home with several tutorials, including one that taught computer basics. One sentence really stood out as she was going through the tutorial: “The computer is no more intelligent than a toaster.” Now, in explaining her approach to teaching, Amy uses the metaphor of a toaster to help her students understand the basic functions of a computer. “What you’re doing with a computer at its most basic level is no more complex than what you’re doing with a toaster,” she states, with amusement. “With a computer, you’re giving input, with a toaster, you’re giving it bread. Then you add in variables, such as ‘I want this input to be put out in this format’, or ‘I want the bread to be medium dark’. Then you execute the program. If you’re using the computer, you might get a spreadsheet. If you’re using a toaster, you get toast.”

During the course of training our students learn how to use a number of technologies. Among the things Amy can teach you are how to use a screen magnifier such as ZoomText, screen readers such as JAWS, your smartphone, email and other programs on your computer, and for braille users, how to use refreshable braille.

Amy is concerned with accessibility, but also has expertise in the user experience. Besides technology training, the LightHouse Access Technology Department works with developers to evaluate websites and mobile applications for accessibility. Amy likes to educate developers on the impact poor accessibility or a poor user experience has on a blind person. For instance, developers may not realize that many blind people do not use a mouse at all though the software they use assumes they do. As Amy explains, “if a someone has to press tab 52 times on a keyboard to get to where a mouse user can get with one click, well that is not a great user experience.”

Amy trains her students to become their own teachers, so that when they finish their training program at LightHouse, they are confident enough to problem-solve when their technology downloads an update. With her help she hopes they will be able to work through any changes the update brings because “they’ll have the tools they would need to explore.”

When Amy is not training you may find her hard at work on hobbies such as drawing and crocheting. Amy is owned by two especially opinionated cats.

Let LightHouse get you connected with access tech. If you are interested in Access Technology Training at LightHouse, visit our access technology webpage or email skuan@lighthouse-sf.org.

Coming soon – LightHouse East Bay expands services

LightHouse East Bay, our office at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, is growing, and along with it, our commitment to providing a continuum of programs and services. The LightHouse has welcomed students from the East Bay into our programs for many years, but recognizes that establishment of a consistent presence in the area will ensure we more effectively reach the large and diverse population of Alameda, Contra Costa, and Solano counties.

Blind and visually impaired residents in the East Bay can look forward to a warm and welcoming location just steps above the Ashby BART station. Our attentive staff will be available five days a week to connect you with an abundance of services, including skills training and community events. LightHouse delivers individualized training in Orientation & Mobility, Access Technology, employment readiness, Braille, Independent Living skills, as well as hosting events to bring blind people together with one another and the wider Bay Area community.

This expansion coincides with the exciting news that we’ve been awarded a grant by the Senior Assistance Foundation Eastbay to provide training free of charge to residents of Alameda County over the age of 55. If you know of someone who qualifies, please contact LightHouse concierge Esmeralda Soto, at esoto@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7323.

We’ll have more to share on our progress at LightHouse East Bay throughout the coming months. If you have questions about LightHouse programs, contact Esmeralda Soto at 415-694-7323 or info@lighthouse-sf.org.

The best part about blind camp

By Annalisa DiLeonardo, Assistant Director, Enchanted Hills Camp

I’ve been attending Enchanted Hills Camp for nine summers now, seven as part of the staff. I have low vision, but prior to my first summer attending EHC, I’d never really met another person with low vision, except one gentleman in high school.

I owe a lot to EHC for making me into who I am today. In the sighted community I sometimes feel like a fish out of water. At Enchanted Hills I’m with people just like me. Everyone deals with the same challenges and we can share our stories, tips and tricks. We don’t have to worry about what people think of us.

Campers with white canes walk in front of peaceful Lake Lokoya.
Campers with white canes walk in front of peaceful Lake Lokoya.

Each summer, I make a point of taking a step back mentally when we all gather at the campfire together. This year I did my thinking during the dance competition campers have come to enjoy every year. While I could sing many praises to EHC and take many pages to tell you about the great things there, what really blows my mind is how we all come from so many different walks of life but are connected at camp through this one special thing – our blindness. For example, at this year’s Teen Camp session, campers and staff came from parts of the world as diverse as Australia, China and Poland, plus all over the USA. It was so amazing to see the dining hall filled with at least 100 people who are all immersed in the world of blindness in their own special way.

Yes, there are cultural differences between us, but that doesn’t matter at EHC. Language barriers don’t seem to matter either – we all come together to enjoy each other and the wonderful activities camp has to offer. We all “get” each other. This is truly the best part about Enchanted Hills Camp.

As our community knows, in a single afternoon in October 2017, half of Enchanted Hills burned to the ground or experienced fire and smoke damage. You can help us rebuild Enchanted Hills Camp better than ever. Thank you for your support!