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LightHouse News

Count on LightHouse volunteers to assist with 2020 Census

Count on LightHouse volunteers to assist with 2020 Census

By Allyson Ferrari, Volunteer Manager

Every ten years, the United States asks its residents to complete a Census so that we know who populates our country. The impact of the census is huge; it impacts funding for schools, healthcare, housing, food income security and more. An accurate Census allows agencies to monitor discrimination and protect civil rights including voting rights and equal employment opportunity. Finally, the census allows us to know how many of the 435 representatives in the House of Representatives our community will have, giving us a greater voice in Congress.

LightHouse had planned several in-person events, including having LightHouse volunteers meet with our students, to ensure everyone could complete the 2020 Census. With the March shelter in place order, these efforts had to pivot to serving our students remotely.

Because the 2020 Census allows U.S. residents to fill out the Census online, we didn’t want lack of access to the internet or accessible technology to be a barrier in completing it. LightHouse volunteer, Sierra B., spent many hours calling over 280 LightHouse students to ensure that they knew about the Census and had support in filling it out (confidentially of course) if needed. Sierra commented on her experience and how it became an opportunity to connect with LightHouse students.

“The Census interview itself was typically completed in under 10 minutes, but leaving it off there just did not feel adequate. I took the opportunity to do a check in with our students to make sure that everything was going as smoothly as possible given the circumstances… It was lovely learning about how people were passing the time during the shelter in place and learning about people’s pets and lives. There may be a physical distance but there doesn’t have to be a social distance.”

If you have not yet filled out the Census, there is still time! Census workers will start visiting residences who have not responded in mid-July, so fill it out as soon as possible. If you would like support in completing it, please reach out to volunteer@lighthouse-sf.org or leave a message at 415-694-7320.

LightHouse Takes the Day to Observe Juneteenth – June 19

LightHouse Takes the Day to Observe Juneteenth – June 19

Juneteenth, celebrated every year on June 19, marks the day when black slaves were freed in Texas after the end of the Civil War.  Its celebration has spread steadily throughout the United States; San Francisco has marked it since 1945.  All but three states now observe it as a commemoration.  It’s been called America’s second Independence Day and more recently has been termed a “day for celebration, education and agitation.”

The recognition of  more than 150 years has now spread from governments to organizations.  There is a push to make June 19 a national holiday.

The deep grief, reflection and authentic conversations sparked most recently by the murder of George Floyd have made the history and meaning of Juneteenth even more poignant for all Americans.  At Lighthouse the trauma, grief and anger at the unremitting history of brutalization has touched us all.  The painful and yet-to-be-finished conversations about race, injustice and our own organizational needs to address it are difficult and welcome.  Leadership continues to encourage staff to take the time needed to turn toward specific actions which our organization can do, individually and collectively.

Therefore, most online LightHouse classes will be cancelled on June 19 in observance of Juneteenth. The events still going ahead on June 19 are:

5:00 pm: Cards Against Humanity (online)]

5:30 pm: EHC Give Back Summer Concert Series: Artist Graham Norwood (online)

Taking this day to reflect, learn, grieve and commemorate is one tangible way we can offer right now to  respect the terrible events symbolized by George Floyd and represents Lighthouse’s recognition of the need to work for respect and freedom.

Bryan Bashin

CEO

EHC Give Back Music Concert Series (online)

EHC Give Back Music Concert Series (online)

Join us for a Facebook Live concert series with marvelously talented musicians every Friday evening June 12 through August 8 at 5:30 p.m PST. Concerts benefit the life-changing programs of Enchanted Hills Camp and the installation of Chimehenge.

We are raising money for Chimehenge, an interactive community musical instrument of epic proportions. Created by the fanciful scientist designers at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, ten-foot tall chimes of various widths are 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 for the Blind. Enchanting indeed!

Help us raise $25,000 for the surfacing, trail extension and installation of Chimehange for our campers who have low vision and are blind.

EHC Give Back Summer Concert Series Full Schedule:
June 12 Graham Norwood (Folk rock, singer/songwriter)
June 19 Lawrence Brown And the Vitruvian Project (R&B Funk and covers)
June 26 Mariana Sandoval (Opera)
July 10 Maceo Williams (Singer songwriter jam/Fireside camp singalong)
July 17 Christina Jones (Opera singer)
July 24 Fernando Apan (Classical pianist)
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 sweatshirts will be for sale at this website.

Attend the online concerts through the LightHouse Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/lighthousesf/

For info avecchione@lighthouse-sf.org

LightHouse offers Spanish language Access Technology event, June 17

LightHouse offers Spanish language Access Technology event, June 17

We’re pleased to expand our Access Technology offerings with an introduction to Access Technology event, conducted in Spanish June 17. See the description below in both Spanish and English.

Introducción a las Tecnologías de Apoyo Miércoles, 17 de junio. 2:00 p.m. – 3:45 p.m.
Un vistazo a las opciones de accesibilidad, aplicaciones y servicios disponibles para personas Ciegas o con Baja Visión, en teléfonos inteligentes, computadoras y dispositivos para el hogar. Lectores de pantalla, ampliadores, opciones de contraste, reconocimiento de voz. Palabras clave: iPhone, Android, OCR, Alexa, OK Google, Windows 10, Mac. Evento transmitido por la plataforma Zoom. Podrás acceder a Zoom desde una computadora, dispositivo móvil, o marcando directamente desde cualquier teléfono. Recibirás los datos de la reunión de Zoom al confirmar tu participación mediante correo electrónico a: jcolon@lighthouse-sf.org o llamando al 415-694-7323.

Introduction to Access Technology, Spanish Language Event Wednesday, June 17,  2:00 p.m. – 3:45 p.m.
An overview of accessibility options, applications and services for blind or low vision users, available in smartphones, computers and home devices. Screen readers, magnifiers, high contrast, speech recognition. Keywords: iPhone, Android, OCR, Alexa, OK Google, Windows 10, Mac. This event will be conducted using the Zoom platform. You can connect to Zoom using a computer, an app, or by dialing in from any phone.

Zoom meeting details will be provided when you RSVP to Jeffrey Colon at jcolon@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7323.

Community Outreach Coordinator Sheri Albers: from hiding to claiming her blindness

Community Outreach Coordinator Sheri Albers: from hiding to claiming her blindness

When my sister and I were diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) at early ages, there was little known about the disease. My parents were told by experts in the field that we would gradually go blind and there was no cure. My parents left the office without any support or resources.

Due to the nature of RP, I feel that I was very misunderstood by people. My symptoms of night blindness, severe near sightedness and difficulty in recognizing faces made it hard for me to make friends and participate in sports and social activities. As a result, I began at an early age to fend for myself and develop my own techniques for doing things, all with the purpose of hiding the fact that my vision was changing.

For most of my life, there were times that I felt “perfectly fine”, and that I had everything under control.  I had developed quite the system to hide my blindness, and even had a few trusted friends recruited to be my so-called “bodyguards” who would look out for potential hazards for me. My system seemed to work—until the time came that it didn’t.

I was able to get a fabulous job right out of college in New York City and after nine years of secretly struggling with spreadsheets and computer screens that were becoming more and more difficult to read, I felt that I had no other choice but to leave that job. While I now know that accessible technology exists for people who are blind to succeed in their professions, I did not know that then.

The next part of my journey took me out west when my husband’s job transferred to Ohio. We started a family and motherhood became my new career. I poured myself into raising my two daughters. I immersed myself into their activities and volunteered at school, church, Girl Scouts and anything else anyone asked me to do. I had to prove to the world that I was still useful. Meanwhile, I was riddled with fear and anxiety as my vision was failing, living a double life between the sighted world and the blind world. I knew it was time to make some very significant changes.

My transformation began after attending my first National Federation of the Blind national convention where I was surrounded by thousands of blind people who were happy and living independent lives. I now had found a community of blind people who became my role models and mentors.

I came to the realization that I did not want to hide my blindness anymore. I registered with my state vocational rehabilitation agency for white cane and technology training. Because I could no longer read print, I was functionally illiterate, and I knew I needed to learn braille. After that, I served in various leadership roles in the blindness community and participated actively in legislative work to help change the lives of blind people.

My blindness skills also gave me the confidence to go back to college and get a degree in Counseling, which had become a passion of mine throughout the years. I worked as a Counseling Assistant for a treatment center and a Caseload Assistant for the Ohio Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation.

My journey now brings me to last July when I heard LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin passionately speaking about the mission and philosophy of LightHouse at a convention.

I was so inspired that I knew at that very moment that my life was falling into place. I just had to be a part of his team.

Through a series of very fortunate events, I now have landed my dream job as Community Outreach Coordinator for LightHouse.  I now have the privilege of making connections throughout the Bay Area and spreading the word to the blind community about all the programs and services that LightHouse has to offer.

I first focused my outreach efforts on our senior population, but now with the COVID-19 pandemic upon us, the implementation of outreach has had to change. I was asked to help develop our Care Calls Program, where we call approximately 1,600 LightHouse students, who we currently serve, to find out where we may assist with any challenges they may be facing during this time of shelter in place.  It is important for everyone to know that even though the doors of LightHouse are closed right now, the lines of communication are still open.

If I can prevent even one person from experiencing the grief that I went through trying to overcome the barriers that hiding my blindness had brought to my life, then my role as Community Outreach Coordinator will be complete.

Enjoy a summer of stories, trivia and songs with Enchanted Hills Camp Virtual Campfires

Enjoy a summer of stories, trivia and songs with Enchanted Hills Camp Virtual Campfires

By Caitlin O’Malior

With the devastation of the coronavirus and the state ordered shelter in place safety restrictions, LightHouse’s beloved Enchanted Hills Camp has had to temporarily close its cabin doors. But that doesn’t mean campers will be completely deprived of fun this summer—dust off those hiking boots, grab a cozy camp sweater, and gather around the virtual glow of a Zoom campfire! The terrific staff of Enchanted Hills will be hosting virtual campfires and all campers, young and old, big and small, are invited to join in on the fun starting Saturday, June 6, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

These fun-filled evenings will consist of all your favorite real campfire traditions, including camp’s traditional opening campfire ceremony rituals, special guest performances, and singalongs. Campfire attendees will also be informed of rebuild updates and all other camp related program offerings.

Enchanted Hills Camp Director Tony Fletcher, reflects on the upcoming virtual campfires.

“I feel strongly that our virtual campfires will keep our camp community connected to Enchanted Hills. Virtual campfires and other activities will prove our resilience and ability to live our motto, that flexibility is key. In offering this program, we are not dismissing the importance of physically being together, but this is a preliminary step for us to take to help us plan on being together again.”

Enchanted Hills is the heart and soul of LightHouse. The EHC staff is working hard to bring the fun and nostalgia of camp to its dedicated community members by adapting beloved camp traditions to an online platform as Tony states, “In reality, what we are doing this summer will have a lasting program impact for the future,

Due to the current global crisis, LightHouse is quickly finding ways to adapt and make virtual events such as EHC’s campfires part of the new normal as Tony explains.

“We may offer virtual programming simultaneously with in person programing in the future such as campfires, talent shows, concerts, discussion groups and educational presentations. We are rebuilding camp with a fiber optic system that will make all of this possible. We have former campers and staff that live all over the world and now they will be invited back to camp.”

If you are one of the hundreds whose heart resides at Enchanted Hills Camp in Napa Valley, then warm up those pipes and sing along ‘til your heart’s content at EHC’s first virtual campfire for everyone June 6. And if you or your campfire neighbor is just a little off-key, there’s always the mute button. Just one of the many perks to the virtual world.

EHC Virtual Campfires run most Saturdays through August 15. There will be sessions for youth and their families, adult campers and teens. Contact Alyah Thomas at athomas@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7345 for more info or see the full virtual campfire schedule on our calendar.

Share your wisdom and shine has a youth mentor

Share your wisdom and shine has a youth mentor

I realized that since LightHouse Youth events are all held over Zoom these days, I actually have time to be a volunteer mentor. As a staff member at LightHouse who has low vision, I have often felt the desire to share some of my educational and professional experiences with the younger generation. I was offered some amazing opportunities during my youth, but also remember being discouraged and left out of several interesting programs and events. If an adult has been willing to share their story when I was a teenager struggling to fit in and discover my dreams, I would have appreciated that tremendously. So, I contacted Ann Wai-Yee Kwong and Jamey Gump to see if they could use a mentor volunteer for any of their upcoming programs.

Next thing I knew, I was on the agenda for the next week’s “Not So Bored Game Night” and “Youth PLUG-In”, both held over Zoom. It turned out that the participants had been wanting to talk to a writer who is blind, and the topic for that week’s PLUG-In was “The Art of Writing”. It felt like this was just up my alley as a Communications major in college, a grad school recipient of a Masters, and currently working at the LightHouse in the Communications Department. I write for fun, for work and for processing my inner-most thoughts. It was a joy to share how these forms of writing overlap and differ, and what writing tools I have used over the decades as I have experienced various levels of sight.

Not only was it exhilarating to discuss their professional growth and perhaps spark an interest in writing for pleasure, but I also got to let my inner teen shine at the Not So Bored Game Night. An exciting highlight was being able to judge a house scavenger hunt. Jamey and I judged each of five rounds where students had to gather items. It was a challenge of the heart not to pick the person that seemed to need a little extra love and, instead, go for the person who really deserved it, like the teen who brought their tiger stuffed animal to fulfill the item “something fuzzy”. I’m still crushing on that tiger!

If you find you have some flexibility in your schedule and are comfortable with Zoom, there are plenty of opportunities coming up for you to support our youth by volunteering to be a mentor for their upcoming programs. The Not So Bored Game Night continues on Tuesdays from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and there is a Sensing the Seasons Workshop June 12 through 14. The Youth Employment Services or YES Academy will be online July 6 through August 7 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. We are even hiring a mentor for the YES Academy, so visit our career opportunities page for details. Check out our website calendar for many other programs and events, or else email youth@lighthouse-sf.org for more information and other opportunities.

Putting the mobile in mobility: LightHouse O&M Instructors serve virtual lessons

Putting the mobile in mobility: LightHouse O&M Instructors serve virtual lessons

Since mid-March, all LightHouse programs have been online, in accordance with shelter in place orders and to keep our students safe. Our program staff had to adapt quickly to ensure there wasn’t a long gap in training for students. Through online classes and phone appointments, we’ve continued to teach accessible technology, braille and independent living skills

But how do you adapt Orientation & Mobility (O&M), something that relies heavily on in-person training with limited social distancing, for a virtual class? LightHouse O&M instructors share how they’ve found ways to continue working with their students.

A tactile diagram of a typical four-way intersection with two lanes of traffic in each direction on each street; four city blocks are connected by crosswalks.

Sarah McIntyre acknowledges that it’s been an adjustment. She’s meeting the challenge by teaching herself new skills so she can better work with her students.

“I have a student who’s just started a new job and although she doesn’t know when she’s going to start work [in person], she’s nervous about teaching herself a new route. I am not able to get there to teach her in person, so what do I do? I send her a TMAP.”

TMAP (Tactile Maps Automated Production), designed by LightHouse’s Media and Accessible Design Lab, cover an area of several blocks surrounding a given address, TMAP uses both braille and large print to identify streets, represented by crisp, raised lines that can be easily followed with the fingertips. Sarah also realized that she could create a different type of tactile representation for her students as well.

“I have downloaded a free program called Inkscape and in a week, taught myself how to draw street intersections. Fortunately, I’ve just bought a swell paper printer and can print tactile graphics of the intersections at home. I mail these out to students, and we talk about concepts such as intersection analysis and street crossing timings.”

Tactile graphics are just one way LightHouse O&M instructors have continued working with students. Katt Jones incorporates technology into her students’ online trainings.

“It’s about maps and apps. I’m helping them apply the tech skills they’ve learned with their Access Technology instructors. We’re working on route planning with Apple and Google Maps and exploring surroundings with BlindSquare and Microsoft Soundscape. Sometimes I have my students share the screen on their smart phone through Zoom [the videoconferencing app] so I can monitor what they’re doing. It can be challenging when they are using [the iPhone screen reader] VoiceOver, because I can’t hear what their VoiceOver is saying. One student called me using her Amazon Echo so that I was able to hear her use VoiceOver on her iPhone.”

When students use Zoom on their iPhone, the person on the other end of the call cannot clearly hear VoiceOver, which makes it challenging for an instructor to monitor how the student is using their screen reader. Because Katt’s student called her using the Amazon Echo smart speaker, Katt was able to clearly hear the student’s VoiceOver on their iPhone through the Amazon Echo call.

But while technology and TMAP certainly have their place, now more than ever, one of the most basic and vital tools is the trusty white cane as Danette Davis observes.

“I have my students stand up with their canes at home and we talk about the cane mechanics of intersection crossing. One time, a student put their phone case on a lanyard and walked down their hallway in their apartment building so I could watch how their cane moved.”

Other O&M instructors have also found creative ways to work with their students remotely. When a student didn’t yet have tactile maps, Chris Williams had the student create intersections with pencils. Dawn Leeflang has students problem-solve the scenario of a bus never showing up. Jennifer Huey has gone outside to record the surge of oncoming parallel traffic so her students can hear what that sounds like. Marie Trudelle has students use a GPS app to practice making turns and tracking cardinal directions.

Robert Alminana, who works with many students who don’t have smart phones or internet access, talks about how he’s shifted the focus of his training.

“I’m doing a lot of assessments, asking students questions [about their mobility skills]. I’m helping students with Paratransit and DMV [Disabled Person] Placard applications. We are planning transit routes.”

Several of the instructors expressed that one of the things they miss most is not getting the “mileage” with students, that is, the in-person walking that is the heart of most O&M lessons. Gina Di Grazia found a workaround for one of her students, Jim. One time, she observed Jim using his white cane to walk a pedestrian pathway that runs through grass, thanks to a real time video his wife took through a cell phone. Gina comments that Jim seemed primed for the unorthodox approach to cane skills training.

“He is brand new to cane use and running with it.”

LightHouse continues to accept new students for O&M training by appointment, including Department of Rehabilitation and Veterans Affairs students. For more information, please contact Debbie Bacon at dbacon@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7357.

How One Camp Changed the World

How One Camp Changed the World

“I had to fit into this world that wasn’t built for me” says one former camper at Camp Jened. For myself and many others in the disability community, this sentiment rings true at some point in our lives. Luckily for a large group of teenagers from the 1950s through the 1970s, there was a place built for them, called Camp Jened. Thanks to Executive Producers Barack and Michelle Obama, the documentary “Crip Camp” gives us a glimpse into this world and how that unique time led to the disability rights movement as it stands today.

Camp Jened was founded in the 1950s in upper New York as a place for young people with disabilities to experience summer camp and not feel as though they were on the outside looking in, as they often felt at home without basic civil rights in place. The camp was partially funded and supported by the parent led Jened Foundation

Directed and Produced by Nicole Newnham and Jim Libbrecht (a former Jened camper), “Crip Camp” shows incredible footage taken at the camp in 1971 where campers are seen letting loose and being themselves. While they are often overlooked in their communities back home, they are invited to speak freely about themselves into the camera.

We at the LightHouse recognized some of the crucial people documented and interviewed who were in the disability rights movement. Corbett O’Toole has served as the Accessibility Consultant at the Superfest Film Festival run by the LightHouse. Jim LeBrecht is a long-time friend of the LightHouse. In addition, the part of the film documenting the sit-in at the San Francisco Federal Building portrayed our neighboring building as a character in and of itself. We must also give thanks to Dennis Billups, who had an important role in the passing of the 504 document, regulations to the Rehab Act. He has been a speaker at LightHouse and continues advocating for and inspiring future generations in the blindness community.

A ripple effect spread from Camp Jened across the country, emulating the Civil Rights and other movements. “Their efforts contributed many advocates and philosophies to the American disability rights movement”, says Bryan Bashin, CEO of LightHouse for the Blind San Francisco. You could see they took what they learned at camp to the movement, especially at the 1977 sit-in at the Federal Building in San Francisco. In practicing inclusion, they always refused to hold any meeting until a sign language interpreter was present.

Since the time that Camp Jened started in the 1950s, our own Enchanted Hills Camp has been doing its part on the West Coast for decades to advocate for and foster community in the world of blindness and disability.

Enchanted Hills Camp Director Tony Fletcher reflects on EHC in light of this documentary:
“In 1950, Enchanted Hills Camp was founded on the principles of connecting blind youth to nature and recreation. Rose Resnick, (founder of EHC and an important part of the founding of LightHouse for the Blind San Francisco), felt there was a huge deficit on both accounts for blind youth. She herself had a passion for both nature and physical fitness. To get there, however, she knew campers must develop self-confidence, build independent living skills and become productive members of society. Rose did not want blind folks to be taken care of, she wanted blind folks to have the same opportunities as sighted folks to take care of themselves. Camp was not given to Rose. She was an advocate. She fought, fundraised, haggled, recruited and created the vision for the first camp for the blind west of the Mississippi. More importantly, it was founded by a blind person. As a program that walks the walk, we hold true to those very same values today and realize we produce the future leaders of tomorrow. We believe in promotion of independence, but we have learned to do it thru fun. From the building blocks of independence came advocacy and empowerment. Today many professionals in our field have had a connection to Enchanted Hills Camp. Some come as staff or volunteers, some as guests, but many come as campers that have attended Enchanted Hills Camp in one or more programs offered throughout the years.”

Our CEO Bryan Bashin, looks ahead and shares our vision: “As we rebuild our own camp, we hope it will be even more of a crucible in which friendships, idealism and social justice will be forged.”

LightHouse and Uber partner to provide transport for essential workers

LightHouse and Uber partner to provide transport for essential workers

In December last year, LightHouse was thrilled to be selected by Uber as a partner in its Community Impact Initiative program. Since 2017 the ride-share company, in recognition of the fact that access to transport is often a barrier to opportunity for many people, began partnering with not-for-profit organizations to provide rides free-of-charge to those in need.

The purpose of the LightHouse partnership with Uber was to make it easier for students to get to LightHouse locations to attend classes, one-on-one lessons and social groups. And, we all know what happened next: coronavirus changed everything for us all. LightHouse had to have all employees who could work remotely move to working from home. We had to close all face-to-face classes and any face-to-face interaction had to stop.

What couldn’t stop though was the essential work being carried out at LightHouse Industries (LHI) in San Leandro, for it is here that essential workers are involved in the process of making and shipping Pride All-purpose cleaner, Pure Bioscience disinfectant and tissue packets. In fact, demand has increased exponentially, and each weekday, and on some Saturdays, essential workers who have low vision or are blind have been working overtime to fill orders.

To support this essential work, Uber agreed to change the terms of its partnership with LightHouse, so LightHouse essential workers could benefit. So now Uber is transporting employees who require a ride, to and from the San Leandro factory free of charge so they can continue to do their necessary work and fulfill a need for the community.

LHI employee Jennifer Holloway said in a recent interview with San Francisco local radio station KALW: “I love my job and these people are like my family. But it is hard work, we are on our feet all day, so I am really grateful to be able to take Uber each day.”

Another LightHouse employee, Caitlin O’Malior, also uses the Uber Impact Initiative partnership with LightHouse to do her work. Once a week, Caitlin takes an Uber ride to go into LightHouse headquarters to assess signage sent to the LightHouse by organizations that must make their signage ADA compliant.

Caitlin has recently moved to an area in San Francisco from where it is difficult to reach the LightHouse by public transit. Caitlin is also not comfortable taking public transit during the epidemic. She, like Jennifer, is very grateful to Uber for its Community Impact Initiative program and its partnership with LightHouse, as are we all, thank you Uber.