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Reflections from the 2020 YES Academy

Reflections from the 2020 YES Academy

Despite the many changes to LightHouse programs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, our Youth Programs team rose to the challenge of adapting the Summer Youth Employment Series (YES) Academy to go ahead online. This summer, our YES students participated in a five-week virtual academy filled with engaging, interactive activities to help them gain employment and independent living skills. S]tudents also learned how to investigate their career interests along the way.

Read the first four parts of the series below.

Want to find out more about LightHouse’s youth programs for the fall? Email

Jump to Week One
Jump to Week Two
Jump to Week Three
Jump to Week Four

Week One: New Discoveries

Fernando Olivera, age 18

Fernando Olivera

Mondays are our mentor spotlights, where a guest or two comes on and discusses their hardships and challenges they faced while pursuing their career or growing up as a blind/low vision individual. They also discuss how they overcame those hardships and what they learned from those experiences. I find the mentor spotlight empowering and intriguing, since it makes me reflect on my personal life and what adjustments I could make in my life, if any.

On Wednesdays, we dedicate that day to learning independent living skills (ILS), and Orientation & Mobility (O&M). This is the time where we can learn about many aspects of living independently and learning different O&M tools, such as learning how to use and read tactile maps, GPS, navigation apps, etc. I also enjoy this aspect of the YES academy because in ILS, I don’t feel like I’m just limited to cleaning, washing dishes, doing laundry, etc. The prospect of being able to cook on a stove or in an oven, truly excites me and makes me wonder about all the possibilities that can be accomplished. As for O&M, I find it informative. Yes, it’s not like get full O&M in person. However, it does open other doors to explore other tools. As I previously mentioned, learning how to read and understand a tactile map was very fun to learn. Honestly, I never sought a reason to ever use a tactile map, but they can come in really handy, especially if you’re going to college and the campus is too big. I learned a lot of maps and what certain things indicate.

On Friday, it’s our social hour, where we relax and get to know one another. We discuss general topics or whatever folks throw out there. It’s just a very different atmosphere compared to our busy Monday and Wednesday meetings. It’s also a great way for us to get acquainted with the other YES academy students and mentors.

All in all, the YES summer academy has been a great and memorable experience. Thus far, it has really made me reflect on certain aspects of life that I never took into consideration. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the academy and what it has to offer.

Mason Fessenden, age 19

This first week of the program was a blast for me! I really enjoyed getting to know my peers and being able to collaborate with each other. During these past sessions, I really liked hearing the panelists in discussing how they navigate life as a blind/visually impaired person and their career goals. During O&M, I learned how to read a tactile map, which I am slowly getting the hang of, but I can happily enjoy it a lot more than I did when I started. I hope to hear more panelists, continuing my engagement within the program, and grow and develop more skills that I didn’t think I could do, (like map reading), and prove to myself that I can do those things. I would also like to be less anxious during these weeks as I tend to be.

Leslie Jaramillo, age 18

Leslie Jaramillo

This is my first time doing the YES Summer Academy. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever done a summer program virtually through Zoom. I’ve really enjoyed the first week of the academy so far. Monday July 6 was the first day of the academy and I had so much fun. We began at 10 with an overview on how the academy was going to look for the remainder of the program. After the overview, we had a mentor spotlight which I also really enjoyed. On Wednesday, we were divided into 2 groups. One group did independent living skills and the other did Orientation & Mobility (O&M). For the second session, the groups then switched activities. On Friday, I had an O&M session which was very fun because I learned how to utilize an app called Soundscape by Microsoft. Finally, the entire staff has been very helpful and supportive. I’m looking forward to continuing on with the program.

Week Two: Convention Time

In part two, students discuss attending a virtual blindness convention and learning how other blind youth advocated for themselves.

Mason Fessenden, age 19

During the sessions, I learned a lot about the disability rights movement and advocating for accessibility in the classroom. My favorite part was the meeting on the topic of accessibility when one of the students in high school had mentioned her struggles of getting a test in an accessible format, and how she fought with the College Board to receive an accessible test, and how the board later agreed to help her. I loved the convention.

Like Mason, the student advocating for themselves struck a chord with Fernando as well.

Fernando Olivera, age 18

We attended several sessions given by the National Association of Blind Students (NABS). The part I found most informative was about a blind student who fought the college board to make the SAT accessible to all. If sighted students had access to it, then why couldn’t she? I really liked how she fought back and advocated for herself. Things like that make people realize that blind individuals have voices, too. I’m glad she didn’t just take no for an answer.

Just knowing that there are other blind individuals that have gone through life and been successful at it, is a great feeling.

Week Three: Leveling Up Kitchen Skills and Finding Your GPS Groove

Mason Fessenden, age 19

These weeks of the YES summer Academy have been very informative for me. I learned how to properly measure food in a bowl using the appropriate measuring spoon that I received in my box of LightHouse goodies. That was very enjoyable, because very seldom do I measure food independently and cook on my own. I also enjoyed the GPS Orientation & Mobility presentation, because aside from Microsoft Soundscape, Google and Apple Maps, I didn’t know the other apps existed and would be useful and accessible. Now I have a better understanding of these apps.

I enjoyed (eating) and creating a marshmallow tower with spaghetti noodles as well as making ice cream. One thing I‘ve learned about cooking is to prep ingredients ahead of time and know which ingredients go in the correct order, as well as the measurement sizes of the spoons and cups.

Leslie Jaramillo, age 18

In week three for the YES Summer Academy we had a [blind] mentor spotlight which I really enjoyed, because these spotlights make me reflect on my personal life by making me think about what adjustments I could make, if any.

On Tuesday, I attended the “So You Think You Want a Guide Dog” workshop. I enjoyed attending this workshop, because it gave a lot of information to think about regarding getting a guide dog and what it would be like as a guide dog handler. Honestly, what I figured out when attending this workshop, was that currently I’m not ready to have a guide dog because I won’t be able to give the dog the necessary attention that it needs.

On Wednesday we had sessions in ILS (Independent Living Skills) and O&M (Orientation & Mobility). I really liked the ILS session because we learned how to utilize the measuring cups and spoons by learning how to level things properly. On Friday I had my last O&M session with my instructor Marie. I really enjoyed it because I learned how to use the BlindSquare app.

Fernando Olivera, age 18

Week three was pretty busy. On Monday, we had our normal mentor spotlight. The first person was Tim Elder. He talked about being an attorney for disability rights and what it’s like working in that particular field. He talked a little about his background and where he went to school. As for our second session, we had Shen Kuan. He talked about using tech such as computers and phones and how the software and apps work on both Mac and Windows computers.

On Tuesday, I attended an online guide dog workshop via Zoom. I learned a lot. I thought I knew a good amount, but the workshop provided more details and information that I wasn’t aware of. On Wednesday, we had ILS and our O&M class. In ILS, we learned the different sizes of measuring cups and spoons, which was really helpful for me, since I want to learn how to cook. We also learned how to level out the item that’s in the cup/spoon. For example, we used rice and we practiced filling different cups with uncooked rice and learned how to level it. We could either use a butter knife, finger, or anything else that had a flat surface. Again, I feel like I learned quite a bit for this ILS session. For O&M, we learned how to use GPS and navigational apps. We technically learned 5 apps, but out of the those five, three were the main focus. I found that I liked Microsoft Soundscape the best. I also learned that you can get step by step directions on Apple Maps, which I think is cool because it can come in handy, especially if you’re in a new place.

On Friday, I met with my O&M instructor for our last meeting and we discussed many characteristics of an intersection. That day we also had our social hour, where we talked about what could happen if someone adds too much details in a speech or idea. We used liquids to sort of get an understanding of how too much can ruin a topic. I thought that little experiment was pretty neat and helped some people understand the meaning of too much information.

Week Four: Speeches, Interviews and Ice Cream

Fernando Olivera, age 18

Week four of the YES Summer Academy was pretty interesting. On Monday, we began with a little activity that involved playing cards, dry long thin noodles, and marshmallows. The point of this activity was to see how well a person could communicate with others. It was fun. Then we had our mentor spotlight with Joe [Strechay]. He is a blind producer who works on an Apple TV+ show called “See”. I think I would’ve really benefited if I had talked to him when I was going through a phase where I wanted to be an actor.

Wednesday, we did speeches. I thought two minutes was not enough time. I think three minutes or more would’ve been a little better. I would’ve loved to talk more. Then again, the topic I chose had lots of information. After speeches, we had our last ILS session where we did an ice cream challenge. The ice cream was very easy to make, and the instructions were clear. My ice cream turned out gross, but I think it’s because I shook it too much. Mine had a weird consistency. It’s pretty difficult to explain. The best I can explain is that it was thicker than butter. On Thursday, I had an informational interview. I found it cool how the person I interviewed is working to make construction sites and streets accessible. For example, private cars aren’t allowed on the street. But other forms of transportation are still being allowed like buses and bicycles. So, since bicycles are allowed to get through, they made a bike path. One side of the path is for bikes and the other side is for people to walk on. The path has a line in the middle to let people know what side to be on. A blind or low vision person wouldn’t be able to tell if they’re stepping on the line or not, so instead of the line being painted, the city would add tactile markings.

On Friday, we had our social hour, and had a virtual talent/passion show. Where if we’re passionate about something, we share. Or if we have a talent, we share. I feel like people didn’t want to share what they’re passionate about, but then the conversation switched to people’s biggest pet peeves. That was definitely fun. I feel like people were more comfortable sharing their pet peeves and it really got the conversation flowing and us starting to get to know each other.

Leslie Jaramillo, age 18

On Monday we had another mentor spotlight. I liked this week’s mentor spotlight because a mentor talked about his experiences of being interviewed.

Wednesday, we had our presentations. I had so much fun. Honestly, I usually get nervous when I’m going to present, but when I did my presentation, I wasn’t nervous at all.  Also, we had a cooking competition. I really enjoyed this because we learned how to make ice cream.

On Thursday, I had my informational interview. I really liked doing this because I got to connect with Ethan Meigs who works in the IT department.

On Friday, we had a social hour. It was really fun, because we had a really engaging conversation. Thus far, the YES Summer Academy has really been a memorable experience.


To find out more about LightHouse Youth Programs, contact

A personal take on Tech Together Online

A personal take on Tech Together Online

By Caitlin O’Malior

We live in a highly technical world, especially lately as many schools, programs, and companies have converted their services to an online platform. For people who are blind or have low vision, some of these new virtual experiences are less accessible, making certain day to day activities more difficult. It can feel overwhelming trying to keep up. Luckily, LightHouse offers an excellent weekly access tech discussion group to help blind and low vision individuals tackle some of these on-going accessibility struggles. Our phenomenal team of Access Tech specialists host Tech Together via Zoom. Tech Together is an interactive, informal conversation that gives participants a chance to ask questions, share their own knowledge or difficulties, and connect with others on a shared common experience—Access Technology.

In pre-COVID times, Tech Together was a monthly meet up at the LightHouse Headquarters in San Francisco. It is sponsored by the city of San Francisco’s program, SF Connected and is open to all technology enthusiasts, although the topics are generally based around accessibility and specifically that of blind and low vision accessibility. Due to the current shelter-in-place circumstances, Tech Together went from a monthly event with a modest following, to a weekly event with an expansive turn out of participants. Now that Tech Together, like so many other LightHouse programs, has gone virtual, people from all over are able to join from wherever they are. Each week about fifty eager “access techies” dial in to learn and share with one another on topics like accessing streaming apps, deliveries and rideshare services, touch screen keyboard and dictation do’s and don’ts, assistive smartphone applications like Be My Eyes, and much more.

I myself have low vision and am admittedly a terrible techie. I’m constantly struggling with tiny text fields on my phone or laptop. I am always clicking the wrong link instead of activating my zoom magnification, and am always, always, sending friends and family indecipherable text messages. I decided to join Tech Together and see what these Tuesday afternoon Zoom sessions were all about. I joined in on the “Inputting Information” sessions—an afternoon dedicated to sharing tips and tricks about using magnification apps, dedication software, and the struggles of touch screen keyboards when you can’t see the screen. It was the perfect class for me! I dialed just before 2:00 and was surprised to see there were already 26 participants, and the number kept on growing. I was delighted to hear people share the same embarrassing (however hilarious) dictation errors I’ve experienced. (Let’s just say, sometimes I’m convinced Siri has a hidden agenda to embarrass and shame me via text and email.) The hour and a half turned into two hours as the conversations, lessons, and laughter flowed amongst the group. I learned a few new keyboarding efficiency tricks, received some useful dictation advice (slower, clearer, highly annunciated speech is key!) and had several laughs along the way.

Tech Together has not only served as a fantastic resource for people seeking help and information about access technology, but it has also offered a chance for people to connect with others during these difficult times of social distancing and shelter-in-place regulations. “It’s satisfying to help build a community that shares knowledge and resources the way Tech Together does,” says LightHouse Access Technology Trainer, Jeff Buckwalter. “It not only helps cut through the social isolation of feeling you are the only one with frustrating technical issues, but also allows broader sharing to what people have learned, often through hard-won experience.”

Whether you are in need of technological assistance, or if you are just looking for a group of kind, resourceful, AT enthusiasts, I highly recommend checking out Tech Together every Tuesday afternoon from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. RSVP to or via voicemail at: 415-694-7343.

September 2020 Tech Together topics: 

September 1: 100 things to say to Alexa
Are you making the most of your Amazon smart speaker? We’ll cover a wide variety of things you can ask Alexa without having to enable third party skills.

September 8: What About Google?
If you have a Google smart speaker, we’ll cover a range of tips and tricks for how to make the most of everything it can do.

September 15: Apps for Exploring Your World
We’ll share apps that can provide information on streets, route planning, and transit schedules.

September 22: Understanding Web Elements
If you are a screen reader user, you likely hear about headings, links, landmarks, tables and more, every time you venture on to the world wide web. We’ll share an overview of what these elements do, and how they can make your web browsing experience more efficient.

Get Your Cupful of Cardio Weekdays with LightHouse

Get Your Cupful of Cardio Weekdays with LightHouse

Since the pandemic began, we’ve all had to make adjustments as our normal routines were turned on their heads. It’s not just work and school that have changed, but our fitness routines as well, since gyms are closed as well as some hiking trails and parks.

Many virtual fitness classes have popped up over the last several months, but most of those classes don’t provide detailed descriptions of the exercises for people who are blind or have low vision. Lighthouse’s Health and Wellness Program Manager, Amber Sherrard, has developed “Cup of Cardio” a weekday morning workout where all the exercises are audio described.

Amber, who has a master’s degree in Health and Human Performance and is a Certified Health Education Specialist, explains how the pandemic has changed fitness for the blindness community.

“Because of the pandemic, people who are blind do not have access to group gatherings that are specific to the visually impaired community such as guided classes, hikes, and small group personal training.  We began offering virtual classes during the first week of shelter in place and realized how valuable these offerings were in helping people maintain their commitments to their personal health, as well as building community and making new friends during these unprecedented times.”

She also offers advice for those looking to implement fitness into their “new normal” routine.

“My best piece of advice for maintaining physical fitness during this time is consistency, which is why we are so excited to offer our new daily exercise class.”

So, what about that class?

Cup of Cardio
Weekdays, starting September 1 from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. via Zoom (no class Labor Day, September 7)

These workouts will get your heart rate pumping, strengthen your body, and keep you fit and fierce. Get ready for jumping jacks, push-ups, squats, and more. If you want to sweat, this is the class for you! All activity levels are welcome (you gotta start somewhere). You will get the most out of this class if you commit and make it apart of your daily routine. Are you ready? Let’s do this!

RSVP for Cup of Cardio and find out about other LightHouse Health and Wellness events by contacting Amber at or 415-694-7353.

To find out about other LightHouse programs happening in September, go to our LightHouse calendar.

Listen to our Panel on the future of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Listen to our Panel on the future of the Americans with Disabilities Act

If you missed it, do not fear. The panel we hosted on the Future of the Americans with Disabilities Act is up on our YouTube channel.

Justice Shorter

Disaster Protection Advisor National Disability Rights Network – Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities While earning her MA in Sustainable Development: International Policy & Management, Justice authored three separate inclusion guides for the U.S. State Department and produced multiple people-centered projects via internships with The Hunger Project, World Learning and Women Enabled International. Justice also interned within the White House Office of Public Engagement & Intergovernmental Affairs where she focused on disability outreach efforts, social inclusion policies and federal agency engagement.

Chancey Fleet

Chancey is one of our own: becoming the newest member of the LightHouse board in 2019. In her day job, Chancey is an Assistive Technology Coordinator, Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library, New York Public Library . One of her initiatives in this position is to work with institutions like Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute to teach people who are blind or have low vision to learn programming code. She also does a lot of work in the arena of translating spatial concepts into a tactile form.

Jim Barbour

Jim Barbour has put his computer programming skills to great use over the years, taking jobs with Qualcomm, Google and Yahoo, recently completing an overseas assignment in Ireland. Jim says that the ADA needs to be applied more to education and believes more could be done with it to nudge up the 30% unemployment of working-age people who are blind or have low vision.

We plan to host more discussions like this one, so if you have any suggestions, let us know by emailing:

A look back at the EHC “Give Back” Concert Series

A look back at the EHC “Give Back” Concert Series

Tony Fletcher – Director of Enchanted Hills Camp

“My thoughts? I am genuinely satisfied with the results of the “Give Back” Concert Series. It felt authentic on so many levels. We captured the spirit of camp in terms of variety, fun and adventure. You just never really knew what would transpire with the live broadcasts. To me it was a combination of enthusiasm and anxiety, which is no different than what we expect from our campers and staff during a regular summer program at EHC. As Hoby Wedler [Sensory Innovation Director at Senspoint Design]. so eloquently stated years ago: ‘EHC is a safe place to be uncomfortable.’ “

Masceo Williams – Enchanted Hills Camp Enrichment Area Leader, who is blind

“For me, being part of a production team and being a performer was, like all things with EHC, giving and taking. It was 50% of giving my knowledge and trying to help and, in turn, 50% getting back information to help me as a performer in the virtual world. Experimenting with the production aspect and learning how to use Zoom and Facebook Live was all new for me. Learning to connect virtually with people from the LightHouse and the musicians was educational. Getting familiar with the technology climaxed really well with both the alumni showcase, which was really wonderful, and then the Bruce Cockburn concert, which was very cool. I learned as much as I hope that I was able to give.”

Mariana Sandoval Lintz – Opera Singer

“Performing for the EHC Virtual Concerts was a pleasure. As a musician, getting a chance to perform even virtually during these times is incredible. EHC is a beautiful place and I was happy to be able to do something to help with the rebuild.”

Cristina Jones – Opera Singer, who is blind

“Taking part in the concert series was a lovely way to substitute the time I was supposed to be spending in August as an EHC Music Camp Director. It gave me the opportunity to share music once again during these strange times, and it gave me the opportunity to work with people I wouldn’t have had the chance to work with otherwise. It goes to show that music definitely brings people together, even if we’re forced to stay apart.”

A huge thank you also goes to all the musicians and to everyone who watched. It’s the first time Lighthouse has used Facebook Live and we had over 15,000 views on the concert series. Thanks to all those who’ve donated so far to help make EHC the place to be.

Award winning singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn closes EHC “Give Back” Concert Series, 8/14

Award winning singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn closes EHC “Give Back” Concert Series, 8/14

To celebrate Enchanted Hills Camp 70th anniversary, talented musicians, both blind and sighted, have been singing and playing their hearts out on Facebook Live in the “Give Back” concert series. This groundbreaking season of performances has been helping us raise money for Chimehenge, an interactive community musical instrument of epic proportions that will be played by future campers.

For our final concert, singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn will take center stage. Bruce made his first album 1970 and has released 33 albums to date. His music styles range from folk, to jazz, rock and worldbeat. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area and is a human rights and environmental activist. EHC Director Tony Fletcher sat down with Bruce for an exclusive Q & A session.

Q. When did you first hear about Enchanted Hills Camp?

A. I first heard about EHC when I met Bill Simpson [longtime EHC nurse], at Peet’s Coffee. There was a gang of mostly older people who would sit around in front and drink coffee. I joined that group and he came by and said hello to quite a few of the patrons. A couple of days later, I was sitting out in front of Peet’s again and Bill was there drinking his coffee and I invited him over to join me at my table. We realized we had a lot in common and he talked to me about how he spent his summers at EHC.

Q. Have you attended residential camp yourself?

A. Yes. The one that had the biggest impact for me was the Taylor Statten Camps in Canada. Those camps date back to the 1920s. I spent several summers there and learned an appreciation of nature.  There were four-week wilderness camps, including two weeks on a canoe trip in Ottawa. It was wonderful for my life skills development.

Q. Why do you think it’s valuable for people to attend camp?

A. One of the greatest things is being out from under the roofs of your parents. You’re obliged to discover things about yourself and you learn how to be a good citizen in an unusual setting. Everyone learns to pull their weight. It’s part of learning to be (part of) a team. At camp, there are activities that are different from what you would learn from school. You learn skills: to sail, ride a horse, improve your swimming.

Q. How did your passion for music develop? 

A. I was Interested in music from an early age. I started taking music lessons in fifth or sixth grade and played clarinet and trumpet for three years. I liked those but fell for early rock and roll at the age of 14.  I found an old guitar in the attic at my grandmother’s and banged away at it without much success, but my parents saw the value in it and signed me up for guitar lessons.

Q. What practical tips do you have for young musicians pursuing music as a career?

A. That’s hard to answer in a meaningful way. Things have changed so much. The business has changed so much but recording a YouTube video and getting your music watched on social media is one way to get started. I suggest that you learn everything you can from everybody you can. The more you know, the more you can use.

You can watch the concert Friday, August 14 from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at:

Learn more about Bruce at or on Facebook, Spotify or Apple Music.

Want to join Bruce in supporting EHC? Celebrate our 70th anniversary with your limited edition EHC hoodie or make a donation today.

EHC Virtual Alumni Showcase is August 8

EHC Virtual Alumni Showcase is August 8

This week’s Summer Concert Give Back Series, features many Enchanted Hills Camp Enrichment Area Leaders, currently and from the past four years. It will be a two hour concert featuring; Shane Dittmar, Derik Dittmar, Mariana Sandoval-Lintz, Joshua Lintz, Masceo Williams, Daniel Cavazos, Sky Mundell and Paul Day.

One of the featured performers, Shane Dittmar,  is a musician, educator, and composer. He served for two summers as the Enrichment Area Leader at EHC, which he also attended for 6 years as a camper; graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and now teaches music at the Washington State School for the Blind in Vancouver, WA, where he lives with his wife, cat, and guide dog.

Chimehenge is an interactive community musical instrument of epic proportions. Created by the fanciful scientist/designers at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, It is composed of ten-foot tall chimes of various widths suspended on a frame that make musical tones when hit with mallets.
This interactive, audible sculpture will be installed in a glen in the woods on an offshoot of the main nature trail at Enchanted Hills Camp. Enchanting indeed!

Help us raise $25,000 for the surfacing, trail extension and installation  of Chimehenge for our blind campers.

Online through the LightHouse and Enchanted Hills Facebook pages.

EHC Give Back Summer Concert Series Full Schedule:
Aug 8  EHC Alumni Showcase Concert
Aug 14  Bruce Cockburn (Singer songwriter/ Folk)
Each event will be curated by an emcee Tony Fletcher from EHC.

Limited edition Enchanted Hills 70th Anniversary hoodies are for sale here.

For more information email Andrea Vecchione,

Help us rebuild EHC.

2020 Holman Prizewinners Announced

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: 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

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


Phil Madeira Performs Free Virtual Concert for EHC, 7/31

Phil Madeira Performs Free Virtual Concert for EHC, 7/31

Legendary singer songwriter Phil Madeira joins us this Friday, July 31 for our next live concert

Phil Madeira is a multi-faceted musician whose career seemed destined to flower in the authentic, song-centered culture of Nashville. In his 35 years in Music City, he’s been a singer, a songwriter, a composer, a producer who specializes in piano, organ and accordion. Since launching his professional career in the mid 1970s, he’s been a trusted contributor in the studio and on stage. Quietly he’s accumulated important industry accolades, including an ASCAP Humanitarian Award, and a Dove Award for his songwriting, as well as induction into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame. As a solo artist, he’s released eight albums. He produced two volumes of the acclaimed multi-artist collaboration Mercyland: Hymns For The Rest Of Us and he’s the author of God On The Rocks: Distilling Religion, Savoring Faith , a philosophical memoir published in 2013. Phil comes to us through Will Simpson, long time nurse at EHC, and friend to Phil, who has graciously donated his time to us in support of music camp and fundraising for Chimehendge.

To learn more about Phil go to his: Facebook, FBLiveStreaming

Chimehenge is an interactive community musical instrument of epic proportions. Created by the fanciful scientist/designers at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, It is composed of ten-foot tall chimes of various widths suspended on a frame that make musical tones when hit with mallets.

This interactive, audible sculpture will be installed in a glen in the woods on an offshoot of the main nature trail at Enchanted Hills Camp. Enchanting indeed!

Help us raise $25,000 for the surfacing, trail extension and installation  of Chimehenge for our blind campers.

EHC Give Back Summer Concert Series Full Schedule:

July 31 Phil Madeira. (Singer/ Songwriter)

Aug 8  EHC Alumni Showcase Concert (Mariana, Fernando, Graham, Daniel Cavazos, Roberto and Bill McCann Maceo)

Aug 14  Bruce Cockburn (Singer songwriter/ Folk)

Each event will be curated by an emcee, with a live Q&A.

Limited edition Enchanted Hills 70th Anniversary hoodies are for sale here.

Support Enchanted Hills and say Cheers!
During the month of July, Stardust Winery in Napa will donate 20% of all purchases to LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired’s Enchanted Hills Camp, the only camp west of the Mississippi dedicated to blind campers. Enchanted Hills provides a quintessential camp experience for blind youth to explore, thrive, and gain confidence. Unfortunately, the camp was badly damaged by the 2017 fires and is now being rebuilt thanks to contributions from community members like you.
Enjoy some of Napa’s most magnificent Cabernet Sauvignon and support EHC.

BUY STARDUST NOW or call (415) 655-7635

Online through the LightHouse and Enchanted Hills Facebook pages.

For more information email Andrea Vecchione,

Join LightHouse to discuss the future of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Join LightHouse to discuss the future of the Americans with Disabilities Act

This week 30 years ago, legislation expanding the rights of Americans with Disabilities was enacted. To mark this historic event, we have invited a panel of eminent speakers, all blind, to share their thoughts, predictions and wish-lists for the next 30 years of the ADA. This is a chance to celebrate all the ADA has opened the door to achieving, and it’s a chance to hear peoples’ ideas on how it must change and how it should be expanded to better serve blind people and people with intersecting disabilities for the next three decades or more.

This promises to be a lively discussion, with a chance for comments and questions from the community.

Panel Speakers

Jim Barbour

Jim, who attended the University of Colorado, has built a 30-year career as a Computer Systems Engineer, including working at Google, Qualcomm, and Yahoo. He does extensive volunteer work as a community organizer and holds several board positions in the National Federation of the Blind. He is currently working to keep blind people in the San Francisco Bay Area connected during the pandemic through social calls and providing information on advocacy and community resources.

Chancey Fleet

Chancey is one of our own: becoming the newest member of the LightHouse board in 2019. In her day job, Chancey is an Assistive Technology Coordinator at the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library at the New York Public Library. One of her initiatives in this position is to work with institutions like the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute to teach people who are blind or have low vision to learn programming code. She also does a lot of work in the arena of translating spatial concepts into tactile form.

Justice Shorter

Justice is a Disaster Protection Advisor at the National Disability Rights Network. While earning her Master’s in Sustainable Development: International Policy & Management, Justice authored three separate inclusion guides for the U.S. State Department and produced multiple people-centered projects via internships with The Hunger Project, World Learning and Women Enabled International. Justice also interned within the White House Office of Public Engagement & Intergovernmental Affairs where she focused on disability outreach efforts, social inclusion policies and federal agency engagement.

When:  Friday July 31 from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. via Zoom.

To RSVP and receive the Zoom details for this one-off event, please email Andrea Vecchione at