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LightHouse News

“In The Dark”: Is This New Show Cutting Edge, Or Are We In The Dark?

This spring, the CW network launched a show titled “In The Dark” which focuses on a woman named Murphy who is blind. She has lived a rough life and made many questionable choices. Murphy’s life has narrowed down to a job she hates at a guide dog school her parents created for her, two friends she relies on—her roommate and a teenager—in order to function, and a reckless, partying lifestyle. So, when she stumbles upon a dead body she believes to her friend, Tyson, and the case does  not receive the attention it deserves from the police, Murphy takes the investigation into her own hands.

Since before the first episode aired, critics who are sighted and blind have been speaking out about this series. Given its controversy, I thought the staff at LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco might find it interesting to view the pilot episode together. Thirty of us gathered over lunch to watch it with audio description and closed captioning and then entered into a lively discussion about how the show affects the stereotypes of blindness both in a positive and negative light, and how it may shape our work at LightHouse.

In Hollywood, people who are blind are portrayed as one-dimensional in the entertainment industry; their lives are wrapped up in a pretty bow by the end of the story. This pattern is part of the appeal of the show. In the beginning, Murphy is far from likable. She has no drive and uses everyone in her life to her advantage without returning the favor, including her guide dog Pretzel. When she loses one cane, then her spare breaks, she finally gives in and calls her dog over to her to come work.

The writers have a unique way of addressing the stereotypes in a way that is humorous and actually educational without being patronizing. For example, on one of Murphy’s benders, she left a bar with a married man and when his wife came home early, the man told Murphy to hide. Murphy crawled away and found a table to crouch under but when the wife came in that room, she immediately saw Murphy. “This is a glass table, isn’t it?”, Murphy says before she is thrown out. This brought a chuckle to the room when we watched together. It’s a typical scenario in movies, yet anyone who is blind can relate. Thus it makes it alright for sighted people to laugh along with people who are blind. 

There were some quirks we noticed as we watched. An accessible technology expert at LightHouse knows the tech vendor the show producers consulted about technology used by people who are blind. The cell phones used in the show make iPhone sounds but are Android phones. Another quirk is that the audio description does not mention that Murphy’s mom is white and her dad is black. It does come up in the episode that Murphy is adopted but we wondered if this is common for audio description to not mention race?

I am legally blind with limited sight, and this was one of the first times I have used audio description. I liked it, and found that I wanted all the information from audio description that a sighted person has, even if that might mean needing to pause the show while audio description catches us up.

The other issues we noticed revolved around the education of the writers in terms of blind travel and guide dog schools, or the lack thereof. Murphy’s sighted guide technique was terrible. It is hard to know whether that was due to her lack of wanting to be seen as blind or the writers’ lack of education? Also, Murphy seemed to use her cane and guide dog interchangeably. We discussed whether some of us do that as well, and asked each other when we use a dog versus a cane. Is one option preferable based on a situation, our mood or how we want to be perceived?

Ridiculously, Murphy’s parents opened up a guide dog school for Murphy. They thought it would be somewhere that she could thrive by working and being around other blind people. However, Murphy seems to despise the place. It is unclear whether that is due to her parents making her be there, that she doesn’t actually like the work and has other ideas for her life or that she wants to escape her blindness? Either way, I think we all can relate to people wanting to shelter us or swoop in and protect us at some point in our lives.

I originally watched the pilot episode in April to prepare to lead the discussion when the staff watched the episode together in May. It was hard not to go ahead and watch more episodes immediately! People have asked me if I liked the show. I’m not sure if “like” is the right word? It was intriguing, entertaining and thought-provoking. I will watch at least another episode or so to see how things develop. If the show becomes canned and predictable in its stereotypes, I will pass. I am left wondering, and will ask you as well, what is better: to have a white-washed version of blindness, or a nitty-gritty version of someone with ninety nine problems and blindness isn’t the first one?

A LightHouse Staffer on Re-Visioning Enchanted Hills Camp

LightHouse staffer Erin Horne reflects on Enchanted Hills’ legacy and provides an update from camp.

Over the past couple of years, much of the West Coast has been ravaged by wildfires. Many have lost their lives or their livelihoods. Unfortunately, our beloved Enchanted Hills Camp did not escape the flames. But since the fires, the Lighthouse has committed to build back camp better and stronger than ever.

In the weeks, months and years to follow, so many of our friends, community members and large companies which support LightHouse for the Blind and Enchanted Hills Camp have continued to lend their support. LightHouse has been lucky to have so many individuals and groups put out their hand to help us off the ground and rebuild. In addition to countless individuals, people from AmeriCorps, Volkswagen America, The Kiwanis Club of Greater Napa, XL Construction, Napa Rotary and so many others have donated their time and dollars. The annual Rotary Cycle for Sight bike ride and food and wine festival has continued to support Enchanted Hills. Donations large and small continue to roll in as a reminder that EHC is always in the hearts of many around the world. Any dollar amount of donation is as important as the gesture, which can be made at our website.

Founded in 1950 by Rose Resnick, Enchanted Hills was the first camp of its kind on the West Coast, to fill a void as there was not one recreational facility for blind children to explore, thrive and gain confidence. Owned and managed by the LightHouse, Enchanted Hills retains much of its original character while we make structural improvements to the layout and design of Camp.

Since 2017, our staff has begun working with a team of architects to re-envision Enchanted Hills Camp for the next 70 plus years. How can we preserve the legacy of what EHC has been while also preparing for future generations? What can we dream up for this space for people who are blind to explore their freedom and ambitions? Even though the fires were a tragedy, how can we turn it around as an opportunity? As this planning with architects will continue over the coming years, rebuilding has been happening ever since the firefighters approved re-entry on Mount Veeder after the fires were out in the fall of 2017. Our crews put blood, sweat and tears into ensuring that camp sessions could run in the summer of 2018. Even though we were short ten cabins and other facilities, returning campers hardly noticed; the joyful spirit of a typical summer at camp remained.

Between the summer session of 2018 and 2019, even more crews came to give their time and heart to continue bringing Enchanted Hills back to its shining glory. Thanks to the staff at EHC and LightHouse Headquarters, we have an almost endless rotation of volunteer groups who want to come smell the fresh air of the redwoods and dig in to get dirty for the sake of so many campers whose lives will be changed.

By the time our first summer session of 2019 starts on June 9, we will see a new shade structure by the pool and storage barn complete. The poolside shade structure will surely be a relief to our campers who enjoy the wide variety of outdoor activities all summer long. Having a storage barn will allow our staff to finally have an office again, and provide necessary storage. This summer, Enchanted Hills will be able to offer nine sessions for blind and low vision youth and adults focused on all different areas from two sessions of Family Camp to Woodworking.

Stay tuned as our beloved camp continues to grow over the coming years. Updates on the architectural progress will be forthcoming and there will be countless ways for everyone who has a place in their heart for EHC to participate in its future. Together, we will continue to rise from the ashes because, as we all know, EHC is the place to be!

Holman Prizewinner launches website to connect blind travelers

On June 3, 2019, Holman Prizewinner Stacy Cervenka launched the Blind Travelers’ Network, an online platform to connect blind and visually impaired people with information and resources for non-visual accessibility in countries around the world. The platform hosts blog posts, reviews, discussion boards and event listings to help users expand their horizons, leave their comfort zone behind and explore new places.

Never before has there been a website exclusively dedicated to the global travel opportunities for blind people; the Blind Travelers’ Network underscores the growing ability of blind people worldwide to explore independently.

Cervenka, who is blind, birthed the idea for the platform after she and her husband Greg, who is also blind, sought to enjoy a leisurely horseback riding lesson at a ranch, only to encounter obstacles and disrespect in response to their blindness. The staff infantilized the couple and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act; Cervenka took legal action and wanted to share her experience with other blind people.

“I wanted to post about our experience on Yelp, but I knew that it could be months or years before another blind person wanted to go horseback riding at this stable and, by then, my review would likely be hundreds of reviews down the page,” Cervenka said. “I wished there was a centralized place where I could post a review of this stable where other blind people who needed to see it could do so.”

With the creation of the Blind Travelers’ Network, there now is, and it contains information about traveling with a cane in China, paragliding in Torrey Pines and beach-going in Sydney.

The platform was also influenced by Cervenka’s experience planning a cruise for her honeymoon, where the largest online aggregate of cruise information provided her ample detail about various cruise lines, cruise ships, and ports of call, but none about non-visual accessibility.

She realized that there was a need for a central platform with this information. Cervenka has also used social media to share her travel experiences with other blind people, who have historically contacted her directly with questions. Now, she hopes to scale this level of communication and community-building with the Blind Travelers’ Network, and also to make this information publicly available.

The Holman Prize, of The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco, selects three winners a year to challenge conventions of blind ambition and perceptions of blind ability. Created specifically for legally blind individuals with a penchant for exploration, the Prize provides financial backing – up to $25,000 – for three individuals to explore the world and push their limits. To visit the Blind Travelers’ Network, go to blindtravelersnetwork.org.

For all inquiries, please contact Holman Prize coordinator Christina Daniels at cdaniels@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7315. Contact Cervenka at blindtravelersnetwork@gmail.com.

A Fond Farewell to a Beacon of Support in the Blindness Community

by Ali O. Lee, Vision Rehabilitation Therapist, formerly of the LightHouse of the North Coast

Guest author Ali O. Lee reflects on the life of Lois Willson, a LightHouse volunteer and leader in the blindness community since the 90s.

A black and white portrait of Lois Willson.
A black and white portrait of Lois Willson.

Lois Willson brought sunshine, humor, and positivity to any room. When she was newly diagnosed with Age-related Macular Degeneration, she and her husband Howard were integral to the LightHouse’s satellite operations on the North Coast. She helped facilitate low vision support groups in both Humboldt and Del Norte counties. In particular, they grew the Lighthouse’s Eureka Low Vision Support Group and renamed it “The Eyes Have It.”

Lois not only honestly shared her journey—adjusting to changes in her vision as she simultaneously adjusted to changes in her body due to aging and diabetes—but also connected people to community.

Together, Lois and Howard were a force, introducing people to the Humboldt Council of the Blind, making sensory toys with church members for babies who were blind and participating in LightHouse’s first “Changing Vision Changing Life” workshops on the North Coast. Lois believed in the potential of others, including creatures.

Later in life, she and Howard adopted a dog whose first act was to chew holes in the Styrofoam that comprised the back seat of their car when it wasn’t otherwise trying to escape. But, they continued to bring that darn dog in the car, anyway, as they reached out over many miles to support community members. To support the LightHouse’s low vision support groups, Lois and Howard traveled to remote Redway, Willow Creek, Fortuna, McKinleyville and Crescent City. They delivered radio receivers for the Reading Service of the Redwoods and local Lions Service Clubs.

Lois made herself available by phone and she referred people to services she herself used.

Lois received magnification training, sensory skills training, braille training, and Orientation and Mobility training from the LightHouse of the North Coast and the California Department of Rehabilitation. When she could benefit from it in her 80s, she readily adopted a white cane for independently navigating Eureka where she and Howard raised their children and volunteered for the Redwood Jazz Festival and adopted an elementary school classroom. She was rich in relationships, family and anecdotes.

From her cheerful yellow, Henderson Center house, Lois greeted neighbors and invited loved ones to join them in watching the annual Christmas Truckers Parade from their lawn. Rain or shine, Lois was vibrant and modeled resiliency in rural Humboldt County, California—where both she and Howard (but not the dog) are already missed.

An Enchanted Hills Camper On Community

17-year-old Karl, who hails from Maui, Hawaii, attended Enchanted Hills Camp for the Blind’s Teen Session for the first time in 2017. Growing up as the only visually impaired person in his community, Karl didn’t have any blind role models. But when he made the choice to hop on a plane from Hawaii and wind his way up Mount Veeder, he found an abundance of people to learn from.

Camper Karl sits outside at Enchanted Hills Camp.
Camper Karl sits outside at Enchanted Hills Camp on a sunny summer day.

Like Karl, almost all Enchanted Hills counselors are blind themselves, a real rarity among camps for the blind. In 2018, Karl returned to Enchanted Hills as a counselor-in-training. What brought him back, he says, was the warm community and the chance to be a leader.

Karl says his journey with his vision hasn’t always been easy, but the Enchanted Hills community helped him find himself as a young adult.

“If you’re the only visually impaired person in your social group, it’s so new for you to talk to other blind people,” Karl says. “This community helps us say to each other and ourselves, ‘This is how strong we are.’”

With the guidance of our dedicated team, campers try things they might never have an opportunity to do anywhere else, like archery, woodworking, and climbing trees. Enchanted Hills is a refuge away from well-meaning but overprotective parents and teachers, where blind kids learn their true abilities and grow a sense of self-worth. 

For 70 years, all of this has been made possible by the support of community members like you.

Enchanted Hills was hit hard by the 2017 Napa wildfires. Our lower camp cabins were leveled, the stage at the Redwood Grove Theater melted, and 600 trees were lost. Yet, thanks to the contributions of donors like you, we built temporary bungalows to house campers for a successful summer 2018. 

Still, our work is nowhere close to done. In addition to rebuilding from the fire, just this March, tempestuous winds and torrential downpours damaged the camp facilities further. The site became flooded, and now requires about $100,000 in repairs.

We still need support to rebuild Enchanted Hills to be a resource for the blind community year-round. Donate today.

You can also support camp by joining the LightHouse community for an evening of rock and opera in Martinez on June 12. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit the concert event page.

Announcing the 2019 Holman Prize Finalists

A photo collage of the 2019 Holman Prize Finalists.
A photo collage of the 2019 Holman Prize Finalists.

The Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, a set of annual awards of up to $25,000 each for legally blind individuals with big ideas, is proud to announce its 2019 finalists. We received 111 applications from six continents, and narrowed down the field to 41 semifinalists. The semifinalists’ proposed projects were incredible, and highlight advocates, artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, and more; that made it a tall order to narrow it down to just fifteen finalists.

This week, we’re proud to announce our elite group of fifteen finalists, including a “People’s Choice” finalist who we honor for receiving the highest number of YouTube ‘likes’ for his ambitious idea. These finalists will all be in the running to make their ambitions a reality when our Holman Committee meets in San Francisco this June.

The fifteen finalists include an activist, a pole dancer, a bird expert, a snowboarder, a few sailors and more. Over the next month, we hope you’ll sound off on which Holman Prize candidate you want to see take their ambitions on the road. Feel free to tag Holman Prize on Twitter, Instagram and head to the LightHouse’s Facebook page for more updates.

Meet the 2019 Finalists

Abdullah Aljuaid (People’s Choice)

Abdullah is interested in e-commerce. With the Holman Prize, he would create a global consultation app for blind people to find information on learning, mobility, fitness and e-commerce.

Krystle Allen

Krystle, who once advocated for people with disabilities in Tokyo, would use the Holman Prize to pay for fifteen blind women to participate in the Miss Blind Diva Empowerment Fellowship Program. This is a sixteen-week program that provides personal and professional development and ends with the Miss Blind Diva Empowerment Pageant.

Trevor Attenberg

Trevor loves science and the outdoors. With the Holman Prize, he would travel and teach blind people to identify birds by sound and explore other natural soundscapes.

Natalie Devora

Natalie is an author and activist. With the Holman Prize, she would travel and collect stories from people of color with albinism around the world and share these stories in an anthology and documentary.

Yuma Decaux

Yuma loves hiking and surfing. With the Holman Prize, he would build an online community to make astronomy more accessible to blind people, with the hopes of a blind person discovering an exoplanet.

Deniz, Yunus, Utku and Mina

Deniz, Yunus, Utku and Mina are from Turkey. With the Holman Prize, they would take the Trans-Siberian Express from Moscow to Beijing and create a documentary about it to inspire blind children to travel independently.

Pauline Dowell

Pauline and her guide dog live on a sailboat on the Boston Harbor. She would use the Holman Prize to form an all-female crew of blind sailors to compete in the 2020 Newport to Bermuda Race, which goes from Newport, Rhode Island to the island of Bermuda.

Stephanie Campbell

Stephanie is a newlywed whose wedding received media coverage when she requested her guests wear blindfolds during the vows. With the Holman Prize, Stephanie would film the pilot for a sensory travel show, that explores destinations non-visually through the senses of sound, smell, touch and taste. She would then shop this pilot to television executives with hopes for a series pickup.

Dennis Gallant

Dennis worked as a teacher ranger with the National Park service. With the Holman Prize, he would create a podcast to highlight the specific sounds from various national park locations, which would help blind people learn about the natural world in an accessible way.

Alieu Jaiteh

Alieu is the founder of Start Now, a training program for blind people in The Gambia. With the Holman Prize, he would provide eighty blind people with rehabilitation training in rural Gambia.

Lisamaria Martinez

Lisamaria has been active in sports all her life. Recently, she’s discovered pole dance. With the Holman Prize, she would use workshops, training and audio description to make pole dance accessible to blind people across the United States.

Bonface Massah

Bonface is a human rights activist. With the Holman Prize, he would create parent circles, so parents could discuss how to raise children with albinism and change the perception of children with albinism in Malawi.

Mona Minkara

Mona is working on postdoctoral research in computational chemistry. With the Holman Prize, she would film a documentary series called Planes, Trains and Canes, where she would navigate and access the public transportation systems of five cities around the world.

Kris Scheppe

Kris is the North American representative for Blind Sailing International and would use the Holman Prize to form a crew of blind sailors to complete in the Race to Alaska, a 750-mile race from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska.

Pamela Thistle

Pamela, an extreme sports enthusiast, enjoys many sports but her favorites are mountain biking and snowboarding. She would use the Holman Prize to train to heli-snowboard off the mountains of Whistler, British Columbia, Canada.

Meet blind textile artist Claire Spector at the LightHouse on June 7

Claire Spector is a legally blind contemporary textile artist. She sews by feel.

On June 7 at 5 p.m., join us in the LightHouse for the Blind Gallery to celebrate the opening of Claire’s textile show, Blind Stitching: Vis-AbilityTM. The exhibition explores different textile techniques and follows Claire’s journey of stepping out into a wider world after becoming blind suddenly and without warning. Through the medium of contemporary textile art, the exhibition highlights everything from Claire’s first collaborative touch sewing projects in 2005 to more recent independent explorations.

The event begins at 5 p.m. in the LightHouse for the Blind Gallery (in the first floor lobby) showcasing Claire Spector’s work, and ends with a reception (starting at 6 p.m., on the 10th floor) with refreshments. Claire will speak about her work, as well as offer a guided tactile experience of the art.

This event is also an opportunity to meet the esteemed blind judges who will determine the 2019 Holman Prize winners.

Read Claire’s artist statement below:

“I am a legally blind contemporary textile artist. Since 2005, my near vision is multiple, misaligned and unstable. I am very sensitive to light, motion and geometric patterns. I walk with a red and white cane and use assistive technology.

When I was quite young, my artist mother Barbara taught me to sew by hand, to knit, draw and make prints. Hand-sewing teaches patience. Piecing-by-hand is a meditation…a sense memory of visual close work now guided by touch. My fingers reference edges, seams and tactile embroidery spirals I sew following a flow. Work progresses organically, a bit at a time.

I sew with cotton, linen, wool and silk scraps, remnants and deconstructed clothing using good cotton thread, short #10 quilting and big-eyed Sashiko needles, Perle cotton 8 embroidery thread, sharp cuticle scissors, glass-head pins and a treasured Japanese pin cushion.

The reassuring click of a Clover needle threader and the quiet of hand-sewing is a welcome break from synthesized assistive technology voices and the sewing machine. Sharing art created in this fashion opens dialogues and opportunities to explore new possibilities, learn about resources and discover creative workarounds for a more vibrant life.

This work, like all of my work made by feel, flows one piece at a time.

There is no initial design or visual plan.

It’s associative.

One piece follows another in the moment.

It is an exercise in patience, humility, and a willingness to deconstruct, revisit and discover.

It’s a lesson in balance, taking a break, and awaiting fresh directions.

It’s a creative journey beyond adversity, frustration and an opening to happiness.”

The show is inspired by conversations about blind identity, art-making, and accessibility, with Anthony Tusler, Georgina Kleege, Karen Berniker, Cecile Puretz, Dr. Stanley Yarnell, MD, Jennifer Sachs, Greg Kehret.

This art show is supported in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Arts and Disability Center at the University of California Los Angeles.

The show is dedicated to the memory Claire’s dear friend, the artist Reese Thornton.

Photos from Cycle for Sight: Cycling with a side of fun and fundraising

As usual, Cycle for Sight was a day full of sunshine, good food, fitness and a key source of fundraising for Enchanted Hills Camp as we rebuild!

For over a decade, this event, co-presented with the Rotary Club of Napa, has brought together blind community members, blind athletes and family and friends alike. Thank you to all the members of Team Enchanted Hills, volunteers and donors for making this year a success!

Announcing the 2019 Holman Prize Judges

In its third year, the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition received 111 applications from six continents. The semifinalists’ proposed projects are incredible, and highlight advocates, artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, and more. It won’t be an easy task to choose the three 2019 prizewinners from such a strong and diverse group.

The Holman Team is in the process of selecting finalists for the judging committee to select from, but in the meantime, we invite you to peruse the whole group of semifinalist submission videos to experience the diversity of people and proposals in the field.

This week, all semi-finalists have submitted their complete application packets, hundreds of pages of ambitious detail which will help them change the world’s perception of blindness. In just a few weeks, we’ll welcome our judges at LightHouse in San Francisco to review the finalists’ proposals and select the 2019 Holman prizewinners.

As always, the prestigious Holman judge panel represents a leading cross-section of blind talent and experience, a group devoted to the highest ideal of blindness, both personally and professionally.

Meet the Holman Committee:

 A headshot of Jennison Asuncion.

Jennison Asuncion, Engineering Manager, LinkedIn

“I lost my sight before I was two. So to me, being blind has always felt normal. It is part of me but does not define who I am.”

Jennison Asuncion moved to the Bay Area in November 2013 to lead LinkedIn’s digital accessibility efforts. Originally from Montreal, he has been working in digital accessibility for over ten years. In 2012, Jennison co-founded the annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). Held annually on the third Thursday of May, GAAD is dedicated to raising awareness of digital access and inclusion by and for the more than one billion people with disabilities. Jennison sits on the Board of Directors for the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired San Francisco, AMI (Accessible Media Inc.), and Knowbility. 

A headshot of Bryan Bashin.

Bryan Bashin, CEO LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Bryan Bashin has led a diverse life since he graduated UC Berkeley in history and journalism. Mr. Bashin first spent 15 years as a journalist in television, radio and print, specializing in science news. In 1998 he was hired as Executive Director of the Sacramento Society for the Blind, where he quintupled the number of hours of teaching and developed innovative programs such as the Senior Intensive Retreat and summer immersion camps. In 2004, Mr. Bashin was hired as the Region IX assistant regional commissioner for the US Department of Education’s west coast branch of RSA, overseeing funding for $500 million in federal disability programs. In 2010 he was hired to lead the LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco, where he works today with a staff of 140. Mr. Bashin is a relentless innovator, working with a remarkable idealistic staff. Throughout his career, Mr. Bashin has worked in the confluence of high technology, social advocacy and governmental partnerships.

A portrait of Eric Bridges.

Eric Bridges, Executive Director, American Council of the Blind

“I believe that people who are blind or visually impaired should strive to be the best they can be, and I believe that each blind or visually impaired person has the right and responsibility to define success on his or her own terms.”

Eric joined the staff of the American Council of the Blind in 2007. In 2013, he became the Director of External Relations and Policy, cultivating many key relationships with business, industry, government officials, and agency staff. Two years later, the Board appointed him executive director. He is responsible for overseeing the daily operations of both of ACB’s offices. 

A portrait of Kerryann Ifill.

Kerryann Ifill, President of the Senate, Barbados

“The art of living with blindness demands absolute creativity; creativity in attaining and maintaining your own independence, creativity in charting a path that encourages others to emulate your example, creativity in ensuring that others value and recognise your individuality and the right to be the whole person you were designed to be.”

Kerryann’s life continues to be characterized by landmarks. As the first totally blind student completing mainstream education to post graduate level; becoming the first female to hold the office of President of the Senate, the only person with a disability and the youngest person. She has served both professionally and personally in various organizations for persons with disabilities, both locally and regionally and currently hold the office of President of both my the National United Society of the Blind Barbados and the Caribbean Council for the Blind. She represented her country and at several local, regional and international fora on a cadre of issues related to disabilities. The Holman Prize embodies her belief that blindness is not a burden, but an exciting opportunity.

A portrait of Anil Lewis.

Anil Lewis, Executive Director, National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute

“Blindness is a paradigm shift.”

A passionate advocate for the rights, education and employment of blind people everywhere, Anil currently serves as the executive director of Blindness Initiatives for the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, MD, where he leads a dynamic team of individuals responsible for the creation, development, implementation, and replication of innovative projects and programs throughout a nationwide network of affiliates that work to positively affect the education, employment, and quality of life of all blind people.

A portrait of Sile O’Modhrain.

Dr. Sile O’Modhrain, Professor, University of Michigan

A professor in performing arts technology at the school of Music, Theatre and Dance at the University of Michigan, O’Modhrain brings a wide breadth of personal and professional skill to the Holman Prize committee. With past careers in sound engineering, technology, music and more – and passionate study in the fields of arts, assistive technology, and haptics – O’Modhrain is constantly in search of better ways for blind people to access information and work in the world. 

A portrait of Sassy Outwater-Wright.

Sassy Outwater-Wright, Executive Director, Massachusetts Association of the Blind

“There is no one right way to do vision loss. There is your way, and individuality is essential to accessibility. We’re writing history now, deciding how to combine technology and our own humanity to redefine what independence means to us as individuals who are part of the same community. Dignity, opportunity, innovation and accessibility feed off each other.”

Sassy is the executive director of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually impaired (MABVI). She lost her sight at 3 due to retinoblastoma, and has had several rounds of cancer since then. She is a passionate digital accessibility advocate, specializing in technology for people with multiple disabilities, and studying how intersectionality, artificial intelligence, and intersecting marginalizing factors affect people. She lives in the infamous Salem, Massachusetts, and it fits her perfectly.

A portrait of Britt Raubenheimer.

Dr. Britt Raubenheimer, Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

“Losing vision was a hurdle, but it forced me to grow. When I lost my sight I thought I would need to discontinue my work and many of my activities. But instead, overcoming my inability to see taught me self-confidence and encouraged me to explore.”

Britt is a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, MA. Working with a team of other scientists, students, and engineers, she collects and analyzes measurements to understand interactions among coastal waves and surge, beach and dune evolution, groundwater, and winds and precipitation during extreme storms. When others evacuate before a hurricane, Britt often is on her way to the beach. Deploying her instruments in the ocean requires SCUBA, and Britt is the only legally blind, certified, university research diver. Britt resides in northern Idaho, where she serves on the board of the Idaho Commission for the Blind, and enjoys skiing, hiking, and knitting.

A portrait of Jason Roberts.

Jason Roberts, Author, ‘A Sense of the World’

An accomplished author, Roberts’ acclaimed work, about the intrepid blind traveler (and namesake of this prize) James Holman, “A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler,” was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award, long-listed for the international Guardian First Book Award, and named a Best Book of the Year by the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle and Kirkus Reviews. Born in Southern California, Roberts earned his high school diploma at fourteen, then took a five-year hiatus from education. He worked as a day laborer, dishwasher and late-night disc jockey before matriculating at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He lives in Sausalito, California, with his wife, a chemical engineer, and their two young children.

A portrait of Sharon Sacks.

Dr. Sharon Sacks, Retired Superintendent, California School for the Blind

Dr. Sacks is recently retired from her post as Superintendent of the California School for the Blind. During her tenure, Dr. Sacks led a staff of 150 and promoted education excellence for students served on campus and through outreach programs throughout the state. Prior to her role as superintendent, Dr. Sacks was the Director of Curriculum, Assessment, & Staff Development at CSB. After receiving her doctorate, Sharon coordinated programs, and was a university professor in moderate/severe disabilities at San Jose State University, and programs in visual impairments at California State University, Los Angeles. Dr. Sacks worked as a TVI for eight years as a resource and itinerant teacher prior to assuming leadership positions.

Dr. Sacks is a strong advocate for ensuring quality services for children and adults who are blind or visually impaired through her direct work with families, consumer organizations, and professional organizations. She is the recipient of the Mary K. Bauman Award for Distinguished Service in Education, and a past president of AERBVI. Dr. Sacks currently serves on the Lighthouse’s Board of Directors.

A portrait of Zack Shore.

Dr. Zach Shore, Historian

A historian of international conflict, Dr. Shore is the author of five books, including “A Sense of the Enemy.” Shore is Associate Professor of History at the Naval Postgraduate School and Senior Fellow at the Institute of European Studies, University of California, Berkeley. He earned his doctorate in modern history at Oxford, performed postdoctoral research at Harvard, and held a fellowship at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.

A portrait of Kathryn Webster.

Kathryn Webster, President, National Association of Blind Students

“Though a single inconvenience, blindness has the power to ignite strength, resilience, and confidence. We may grow exhausted of educating society of our abilities, but who more qualified than blind communities to shatter the glass ceiling that eternally perpetuates negative misconceptions?”

Kathryn graduated from Wake Forest University with high honors, receiving Bachelor of Science degrees in Statistics and Computer Science in 2017. Her scholastic achievements propelled her into a career with Deloitte & Touché, LLP where she specializes in strategic transformation and data analytics. Kathryn recognizes the value in intertwining corporate prowess with civic engagement, thus jumpstarting a statewide transition program for blind and low vision youth, designed to ignite confidence and independence, demonstrate the value of mentorship, and encourage Virginia’s youth to shoot for the stars. Kathryn proudly serves as President of the National Association of Blind Students (NABS), Kathryn lives each day with true authenticity, bringing difficult conversations to the table and engaging in a persistent challenge to be the best version of herself. 

Holly Scott-Gardner stands outdoors on a lawn, in front of a tree and a potted plant.

Holly Scott-Gardner, Blindness Advocate and Blogger

“I view my blindness as an integral part of who I am. It has shaped my experiences and more often than not presented me with opportunities I don’t believe I would have had if I could see. The so-called difficulties of blindness more often than not result from a world that is not built with blindness in mind. Whether I’m faced with an inaccessible payment terminal, or a stranger who insists I shouldn’t cross the street alone, I am wrestling with an inaccessible world and the misinformed views many hold on blindness. My blindness isn’t the thing that needs to be changed.”

Holly is a public speaker, blindness advocate and Youtube creator in the U.K. When Holly was still a teenager in school, she realized that she could use her voice and experiences to change how blindness is viewed. Eight years after setting up her blog she has spoken in Parliament, lobbying the government to alter its provisions for disabled students, advocated for the rights of disabled survivors of domestic abuse at the European Parliament in Brussels and represented disabled students at her university by winning the seat of disabled students counsellor. She aims to ramp up her advocacy work after graduation, with an outlook on international blindness movements. Read Holly’s essay about her experience as a camp counselor at Enchanted Hills Camp.

Ahmet Ustunel stands in a park with red rock craters, holding his white cane.

Ahmet Ustunel, Teacher of the Blind and Visually Impaired and 2017 Holman Prizewinner

“As a blind person to educate the public about blindness and as an educator to inspire my Blind students, I am trying to foster the same qualities Holman demonstrated: immense courage and passion, persistence, a curious and adventurous spirit, strength of purpose, and belief in one’s self. As a blind teacher of blind students, I tell my students that being blind should never prevent them from achieving their goals, although they might need to deal with prejudices, discrimination, and an inaccessible physical and educational environment. I let them know that limits and barriers they encounter are not results of blindness itself; they are just products of prejudice and discrimination in society. Even worse, sometimes they are our own mind’s products. I want my students to understand blindness as a characteristic of a person rather than a limitation.”

Ahmet is a full-time teacher of the visually impaired in San Francisco. He is also an avid outdoorsman and one of the inaugural recipients of the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition. He began solo kayaking in San Francisco Bay shortly after moving to the United States from Turkey a decade ago. With the Holman Prize, Ahmet achieved his ambitious goal in July 2018 by paddling across the Bosphorus Strait, which divides the European region of Turkey from its Asian counterpart, completely alone. Read about his solo kayaking journey from Europe to Asia.

All summer, tune into KQED on Fridays for a blind tour of California

Every Friday starting April 26, The World According to Sound’s new radio series will take listeners on an audio exploration of California from the acoustic perspective of the blind.

Over the last year, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired has partnered with Bay Area podcast The World According to Sound as they collected footage to take listeners on an audio exploration of California from the acoustic perspective of the blind. Starting this Friday, the radio series will begin airing on KQED during The California Report Magazine at 4:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m. or 11 p.m. PST. Tune in live or visit this link to listen at your leisure.

Each radio episode focuses on one sound or story that captures what it’s like to live in California as someone who is blind or visually impaired. You will hear from wanderers, beekeepers, commuters, hikers, teenagers and retirees. Using the latest in binaural 3D sound recording, the World According to Sound’s producers, Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett, capture vivid sonic environments, stories and observations from all corners of our beautiful state.

Since the experience is all about the audio, and we know our sound-savvy audience, here are several tips for getting the best out of the strange sounds you are about to hear:
  1. Put on headphones. This way, you’ll be able to experience the binaural sound in all its eery depth.
  2. If you have vision, remove as much visual stimulation as possible. Dim the lights, close your eyes, or put on a sleep mask if you have one!
  3. Don’t multitask. Stop what you’re doing for 5 to 7 minutes and just listen.
  4. Tell your friends. Okay… we admit this one has nothing to do with the listening experience. However, we’re hoping this series will get people thinking more critically about the sounds they hear every day. What’s your favorite sound? Tweet your answer with the hashtag #myworldaccordingtosound.

What’s next? A live tour!

In the fall, The World According to Sound will kick off a tour of live shows, like this one we collaborated on a while back. During these live shows, ambisonic recordings and stories are projected on a ring of speakers. Surround sound engulfs the audience to give both sighted and blind listeners, seated in total darkness, a new appreciation of their environment through the rich and often-overlooked world of sound. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to receive event announcements in the fall.

The series is a partnership with LightHouse, with additional support from California Humanities. The goal of these episodes is to push the boundaries of audio storytelling and further LightHouse’s mission both in-person and over the airwaves. For more information about this collaboration and the performance, please contact thewatsound@gmail.com or press@lighthouse-sf.org.

About the World According to Sound

The World According to Sound is a podcast, radio program, and live performance. 90-second episodes of the radio program have aired on NPR, The California Report, and public radio stations across the country. The Washington Post wrote that “each episode contains a neat little story about an evocative, unusual sound rendered in intense aural detail.” WBEZ featured the show’s innovative approach to radio on Morning Shift, and the podcast HowSound dedicated an episode to the philosophy behind the program’s minimally-narrated, sound-dependent audio. Show producers Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett have taken the live version of their program on tour and have played at over 40 locations, including colleges like Cornell and Brown; performing arts venues like WNYC’s Greene Space and PRX’s Podcast Garage; and galleries like the Lab and the Whitebox.