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The Brilliance of Braille Challenge 2020

The Brilliance of Braille Challenge 2020

Photos by Sarika Dagar

Every four years, there’s a leap day and every three years, the LightHouse hosts the Northern California Regional Braille Challenge. This year, those two events coincided. On February 29. the Braille Challenge titled, Leap into Literacy, took over LightHouse headquarters.

The Braille Challenge is a North American contest that tests the braille skills of students in grades K-12. Students are drilled in five categories: reading comprehension, proofreading, spelling, charts & graphs, and speed & accuracy. If a student has one of the top scores in their testing level across the nation, they advance to the finals.

This year LightHouse partnered with the Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the California School for the Blind to present the challenge for the Northern California region.

The day kicked off with attorney and LightHouse board member Michael Nuñez, sharing how he uses braille on-the-job and how it was vital to his success throughout his education, from elementary school to law school. He explained that braille helped him to master legal terms and concepts in a way that screen readers and human readers could not. “To me, braille provides independence and freedom,” he said during his keynote speech.

LightHouse Youth Employment Services students were runners during the competition: taking completed tests from the examination rooms to the scoring room. They also observed and noted the leadership and decision-making skills needed to put an event of this kind on in order to discuss it as a group later. Frank Welte, Senior Accessible Media and Braille Specialist at the LightHouse, served as a scorer. He said, “I have been a volunteer scorer for many years. I keep coming back because it is an opportunity for me to apply my professional skills as a certified braille transcriber and to express my passion for braille for the benefit of the next generation of braille readers and their families. Besides, the event generates a lot of positive energy, and it’s just plain fun!”

Students entertained their families, teachers and other guests with music and singing while the tests were scored. Afterwards, prizes were awarded. February 29 only happens once every four years, but the Braille Challenge shows one reason of many why braille should be used and celebrated every day.

LightHouse closes until early April

LightHouse closes until early April

Dear LightHouse Community,

I am writing to you this afternoon to announce an advanced and accelerated implementation of what we have all feared was coming – a major disruption of LightHouse operations and services. Governmental guidance, epidemiologic evidence, and your own concerns have all registered with our leadership team.

Therefore, we have decided on the following course of action to protect the health and safety of all of our employees and those we serve.

All face-to-face services to all students and community members will cease today, Friday, March 13 2020, at close of business. Face-to-face services will not resume until at least early April. This includes individual teaching and any events or groups.

We urge you all to follow official advice and to remain safe and well.

We will be working hard during this time to welcome all our students and friends again, when we re-open.

Stay well.

Bryan Bashin
LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired

It’s Time To Fill Out Your 2020 Census

It’s Time To Fill Out Your 2020 Census

It’s time for Census 2020. Every ten years, the U.S. Census Bureau counts the population of the 50 states, Washington D.C. and the five major territories in the United States. An accurate count is important because it helps determine funding for schools, highways, healthcare, social services and housing in your community.

Over the next few days, households across the Bay Area will receive an envelope postmarked from Jeffersonville, Indiana, with an ID code and instructions from the Census Bureau to get counted in the 2020 Census.

You can complete your census by phone at 844-330-2020 or online

Looking for help filling out your census? Stayed tuned for dates when you can come to Lighthouse’s San Francisco headquarters and work with a vetted volunteer to complete your census.

An important message from LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin

An important message from LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin

Like every other organization in the Bay Area, the LightHouse is dedicated to the health and safety of our community. On March 9, we instituted an initial policy to address the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak. This policy is currently in force and may intensify if the outbreak and public health authorities publish new guidance.

Some aspects of our policy which affect our students are listed below:

  • For the month of March, there will be no gatherings at LightHouse larger than 50 people.
  • Students with training appointments who feel unwell are asked not to take classes in person.
  • Students may receive a telephone call prior to lessons inquiring about whether they show any symptoms of the coronavirus.
  • The LightHouse Headquarters building has adopted a set of intensified cleaning and disinfection routines and stronger air filtration to increase area hygiene.
  • Meetings will be arranged so seating is far more distant, and the room density is lowered.
  • Many LightHouse staff will be joining meetings remotely to lower contact potential. Consequently, our building will be emptier than usual.
  • LightHouse has cancelled all conference and non-essential meeting travel for its employees to lower the chance of bringing exposure back.
  • These and other measures guided by advice from the CDC and SFDPH will help us conform to the latest public health guidance about the epidemic.

Finally, we want all program participants to know that we remain open for small meetings, trainings and community groups. We will do our very best to accommodate the public health requirements while continuing to serve those who benefit from our services.

Blind Fulbrigtht Grantee Anna Wroblewska Seeks Interviews with LightHouse Students

Blind Fulbrigtht Grantee Anna Wroblewska Seeks Interviews with LightHouse Students

Anna Wroblewska, a Fulbright grantee, who is hosted by the University of San Francisco, and is herself blind, is conducting a study on the biographical experiences of blind and low vision people who use LightHouse services. She is looking for participants to interview and the interviews will be recorded. The research findings will be used to support designing of high-quality training programs for the blind in Poland and the United States.

To be eligible, the participant must be at least 18 years old, live in the San Francisco Bay Area and have an experience of taking part in one of the services provided by the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco listed below:

  1. Changing Vision, Changing Life,
  2. Employment Immersion,
  3. Summer camp at Enchanted Hills Camp.

The participants will be interviewed personally, during one or two sessions if necessary. Each session will take about 3 hours. Interviews will be conducted at a place convenient to each participant, such as at home, in a space at the LightHouse, or in a mutually-selected community location.

LightHouse supports this research.

If you agree to participate in this important research, please email Anna Wroblewska at

Photo: A headshot of Anna Wroblewska outdoors wearing sunglasses and a straw hat.


Youth Employment Series (YES) 2020 Summer Academy Applications Open

Youth Employment Series (YES) 2020 Summer Academy Applications Open

Our Youth Employment Series (YES Academy) is happening again this year for working-aged young people. Students take part in interactive learning opportunities as they participate in work-based learning experiences. They’ll meet life-long friends, mentors and supportive LightHouse staff. They will also have the opportunity to go to one of the biggest blindness conventions in the world. Not to mention, gaining skills needed to get hired.

Apply for the summer 2020 YES Academy

This transformative academy could not happen without the support of mentors and work-experience host organizations. If you or someone you know would be interested in serving in either of these roles, please contact Ann Wai-Yee Kwong, Transition Program Specialist, at or 415-694-7328.

Come to Our Enchanted Hills Camp Hiring Fare at LightHouse

Come to Our Enchanted Hills Camp Hiring Fare at LightHouse

Looking for paid or volunteer opportunities over the summer? Then we’re looking for you.

Come along to our Enchanted Hills Camp Hiring Fair to learn about how you can have the time of your life, while helping to enrich the experiences of blind and visually impaired campers. We need cooks, counselors, leaders and listeners.

Blind or visually impaired yourself? Even better. We’re looking for motivated, community-minded young people to come along and help to make our summer camps a great experience for everyone.

Get more details about the hiring fair.

Enchanted Hills Summer Camp Registrations Now Open

Enchanted Hills Summer Camp Registrations Now Open

Sign-up now for one (or more) of the fantastic camps happening this summer at beautiful Enchanted Hills Camp in Napa. From weekend retreats with the family, to longer camps for teens – there’s something for everyone.

Browse the full list of camp sessions, fill out the application form, and get set for a fulfilling and fabulous summer.

Reflections from Chancey Fleet, LightHouse’s newest board member, on recent Board Retreat at EHC

Reflections from Chancey Fleet, LightHouse’s newest board member, on recent Board Retreat at EHC

A few weeks ago, the LightHouse Board of Directors held its annual retreat at Enchanted Hills Camp, atop Mount Veeder in Napa. Although I had visited the camp before to take part in a Tactile Arts and Graphics Symposium, this was my first opportunity to visit as a board member, and my first since the devastating fires that swept Mount Veeder in 2017.

Enchanted Hills offers its visitors a chance to disconnect from the chaos of city life, appreciate the peace and rich complexity of the natural world, and focus on fellowship, skill-building and discovery. As they arrive at EHC’s dining hall, visitors find comfortable couches flanking a blazing fireplace, where they might chase away the winter chill with a cup of tea and a leisurely conversation. The kitchen staff who are all blind, provide a warm welcome along with meals that are memorable for the vibrant flavors of locally grown produce and freshly baked bread. The dining hall also features a detailed map of EHC with tactile structures, pathways and labels, so that all people, whether sighted or blind, can refer to it as they learn to feel at home.

Although the dining hall is just as I remembered from my last visit, EHC’s landscape bears reminders of the 2017 wildfires. Some buildings are gone, along with swaths of trees and greenery. Some trees still stand strong and growing, though their bark is singed. The legacy of the fire is a testament to the adaptability of nature and the resilience of the LightHouse staff and community. Already, new platform tent bungalows (simple, clean and filled with light) have been built to replace lost housing. New growth is everywhere: willow trees, quick to grow tall, are already taller than most campers just two years after planting. The camp’s soundscape is peaceful but dynamic: I heard wind through the old trees and the new, innumerable birds, purposeful footsteps and laughter, and the sound of a shovel turning earth as one more willow prepared to take root.

I remembered well the redwood benches in EHC’s amphitheater, each constructed by blind master carpenters and engraved with bold tactile motifs drawn from Napa’s local flora. These benches now hold the names of community members who contributed to EHC’s recovery effort and helped the camp weather its losses without missing even one summer of camp programs. When campers enter the Redwood Grove (whose name is boldly carved in foot-high letters on a redwood’s stump), they will always sit with the legacy of those who ensured that music will ring out in that place for decades yet to come.

Enchanted Hills Camp is a place where everyone, whether blind, sighted or somewhere in between, can build confidence and a sense of belonging while taking on new adventures. As our board screened a retrospective of film shorts captured throughout the camp’s history, we saw generations of kids, families and adults enjoying camp traditions like hiking, swimming, horseback riding and canoeing that still go on today. It’s exciting to be part of the EHC community at a time when the camp is offering even more: sessions for blind artists, musicians and woodworkers, in order to expand the camp’s fundamental mission of fostering community and helping campers explore new challenges with confident blind mentors.

To experience the majesty that is Enchanted Hills Camp and Retreat for yourself, why not sign up for a session this summer by exploring the variety of offerings on our camp website? Or plan your own group retreat by visiting our retreat website? Then, stay tuned for details to come about our 70th anniversary of EHC celebration this August 2020.

Dr. Sharon Sacks elected new board chair of LightHouse for the Blind

Dr. Sharon Sacks elected new board chair of LightHouse for the Blind

LightHouse for the Blind is honored and excited to welcome Dr. Sharon Sacks as its next board chair.

An internationally-recognized leader within education for blind and visually impaired children, Dr. Sacks brings her own brand of energy, expectations and ambition to her new role.

Dr. Sacks is blind and follows Architect Chris Downey, and scientist Dr. Josh Miele, who are both also blind, to become the most recent Board chair in the organization’s 118-year history.

Her belief in the abilities of blind people grew from her parents’ belief in her. As a blind teenager, Sacks babysat neighborhood children, volunteered locally and was a candy-striper.

Sacks was strongly affected upon observing the poor education other visually impaired students received even though her own schooling was well-resourced and supported.

Sacks became a Resource Teacher for visually impaired students within mainstream schools: advocating for and working to provide opportunities for their equal participation.

After obtaining her doctorate, Sacks was professor and coordinator of the Moderate/Severe Disabilities program at San Jose State University, and from there moved on to become professor & coordinator of the educational specialist program in blindness & visual impairments at California State University, Los Angeles. She conducted seminal research in the areas of social skills instruction, psychosocial implications of visual impairments, and career and transition programming for blind and visually impaired students.

The pinnacle of this distinguished career was being appointed superintendent at the California School for the Blind, from which post she retired in July 2017.

LightHouse for the Blind’s chief executive officer Bryan Bashin said:
“LightHouse has had a remarkable history in having its board led by blind people with Dr. Sacks record of scholarship, publication, executive leadership and passion for fellow blind citizens makes her the perfect next person to lead our Board of Directors.”

Sacks says she is humbled to join the succession of exemplary blind people who have served as past LightHouse board chairs.

“LightHouse is at the forefront of change in the visual impairment community. It leads many other organizations in the blindness sector both within the US and internationally with its philosophical approach and its ethos of partnering with sighted people and blind people working at all levels within the agency. It is doing great work, but I know there is more we all want to do.”

Under Dr. Sacks leadership, the LightHouse will complete the rebuilding of its Enchanted Hills Camp for the Blind, damaged by the 2017 Napa wildfires, as well as expand services throughout California for people who are blind or have low vision.

Watch a 5 minute interview with Dr. Sharon Sacks, conducted by Jennifer Sachs, Director of Development and produced by Content Marketing Manager Sarika Dagar.

For more information or to schedule an interview please contact:

Lee Kumutat

Director of Communications


Phone: +1 (415) 694-7309

Notes to editors:

The LightHouse, an organization with 140 employees and a $17 million annual budget, provides programs and services to the 40,000 blind residents of the bay area and beyond.

Photo by Sarika Dagar