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Spotlight: LightHouse Braille Student Raymond Marcus

Image_DivinImage_LightHouse Braille instructor Divina Fontanilla teaches Raymond Marcus to use a slate and stylusa Fontanilla teaches Braille to Raymond Marcus
LightHouse Braille instructor Divina Fontanilla teaches Raymond Marcus to use a slate and stylus

When 48-year-old Raymond Marcus first came to the LightHouse, he had no interest in trying to learn Braille, even though he had once carefully studied the letters on a free Braille alphabet card someone had given him years ago.

Marcus has had problems with his vision all his life due to Retinitis Pigmentosa, which has left him with limited vision. He attended a vision loss rehabilitation class twelve years ago, but he says, “I was just going through the motions. I wasn’t really benefiting from it. At the time I had a lot of resentment towards my vision.”

But in October, 2008 he learned about the LightHouse and began attending our peer-led support group. “It really helped to hear other people’s stories.” This experience encouraged him to take advantage of other LightHouse services. He completed Orientation and Mobility Training and the Living With Vision Loss series. Then, social worker Linda Porelle gently suggested the possibility of learning Braille.

“It was too intimidating,” said Marcus, “I didn’t think I could do it.”

Marcus took the initial test anyway, and found to his surprise that he was better at it than he thought he would be.

He began weekly Braille classes with LightHouse Braille instructor Divina Fontanilla this January. Using a Perkins Brailler borrowed from the LightHouse, he started with simple tasks such as making labels and taking down phone numbers and addresses and moved on to basic reading.

He loves the result of his efforts. “I am amazed that I can read without worrying about having enough light. I can take my Braille with me on the bus, on Paratransit, anywhere,” said Marcus. “With Braille playing cards, I can even sit and play cards with my aunt and cousin.” He is also using a Braille calendar, and writing by hand with a slate and stylus.

Now, just five classes letter, Marcus is pages away from completing the course in Grade One Braille. About to move on to learning the more challenging Grade Two Braille he says, “I’m kind of intimidated to memorize more letters and all the combinations of syllables. But all I can do is try and see what happens.

“My experience at the LightHouse has been a series of new beginnings. One class would end and something new would begin. I never know what the next thing will be, and it’s still continuing today.”

Friends of Charlie Fundraiser February 27th in San Francisco

Image_Charlie and Tony Fletcher at Friends of Charlie
Image_Charlie and Tony Fletcher at Friends of Charlie

The LightHouse will host the annual Friends of Charlie benefit for Enchanted Hills Camp (EHC) on Saturday February 27, 2010 at the Twin Peaks Tavern in San Francisco, from 12 – 3 p.m. (map)

This summer EHC will be marking its 60th anniversary. We hope we can count on you to send Charlie and his good friends to EHC in 2010 and help us celebrate this important milestone in EHC’s history.

Friends of Charlie started in 2004, when a few people raised money to send their friend Charlie Wilson, who was losing his vision, to Enchanted Hills Camp for the first time. Of that first camp session, Charlie said, “I told some people when I came back that it was one of the best weeks I spent in my life and I will never forget it.”

As the seniors that make up Charlie’s group of friends grew, so too did the support for this fun and inspiring event. Over the last five years, Friends of Charlie has become one of the premiere fundraisers for EHC, raising $9,000 last year!

Please consider supporting Friends of Charlie by donating raffle or silent auction items, providing a donation in support of the event or joining us on the 27th.

For more information about Friends of Charlie, please contact Jennifer Yeagley at the LightHouse at (415) 694-7333 or email

Blind Architect Helping With VA Center expansion

Check out this article about LightHouse Board of Directors member Chris Downey’s use of raised blueprints, by  Eric Thomas for ABC-7 – Peninsula News (KGO).

February 15, 2010, PALO ALTO, CA (KGO) — We’re used to seeing architecture — enjoying the shape and size and sweep of buildings and bridges and other structures. A Bay Area architect is forced to come at things from another direction because he’s blind. Rather than limit what he does, he thinks the loss of sight has opened new horizons.

Surgery to remove a tumor near Chris Downey’s optic nerve two years ago saved his life, but could not save his sight.

“To wake up one day and it’s dark and you can’t see anymore, a lot of things go through your mind. Quickly, architecture came to mind and how are you going to do that?” said Downey.

Turns out Downey tackled architecture with the same stubborn persistence he applies to everything in his life. He couldn’t draw anymore, but he could still picture things in his mind’s eye.

“There’s a lot in architecture that’s verbal, that’s conceptual, that you think about mentally and you solve problems and all sorts of things you do in non-visual ways,” said Downey.

He can read blueprints, thanks to a program that converts them to raised dots – something like Braille -and then prints them out on a special printer. He can study shapes by molding them with a kid’s toy called wiki-sticks — basically yarn covered with wax.

“You can just bend them, they hold their shape, you can bend them around and make right angles,” said Downey.

Downey is currently part of a team working on a big expansion project at the VA Medical Center in Palo Alto. It includes new administrative buildings, a mental health center and polytrauma and blind rehabilitation center. Team leaders say Chris’s perspective has especially helped improve plans for the latter building.

“When we look at them with our eyes we see the whole thing at once and we get a sense of how the whole building works. When Chris works through these spaces with his finger, he’s working through them as if he’s walking through them. So we get an experiential sense of the plans,” said architect Eric Meub.

“In architecture there’s a misconception that there’s one person off in the back room who comes up with all these ideas and does everything. The reality of it is that its team work,” said Downey.

(Copyright ©2010 KGO-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

Northern California Regional Braille Challenge Feb. 27th

Saturday, February 27th will mark the Northern California Regional Braille Challenge, hosted at the Sacramento Society for the Blind. As a partial sponsor of this important event, this week the LightHouse will feature stories of how Braille continues to make a difference in the lives individuals who are blind and visually impaired. Click here for event details for the 2010 Braille Challenge.

Image: 2007 Braille Challenge participant examines closely his trophy
Image: 2007 Braille Challenge participant examines closely his trophy

Click here to view more photos from the 2007 Northern California Regional Braille Challenge at the LightHouse.

News from San Francisco Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind and Upcoming NFB Legislative Workshop.

A note from Jaime Tomasello, Secretary of the NFBC San Francisco Chapter

The San Francisco Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of California would like to extend an open AND FRIENDLY invitation to all whom are interested to join us for our monthly chapter meeting.

Who: The membership and officers of the San Francisco chapter of the National Federation of the blind of California (NFBCSF)

When: Saturday February 20, 2010 from 1-3 pm.

Where: The San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired 214 Van Ness Avenue San Francisco, CA 94102 (415)431-1481.

Why:   to discuss matters of concern, share stories and experiences, as well as become more socially connected to other blind and visually impaired persons   in the San Francisco bay area.

How:  Just show up! – We are located Between Grove and Hays near San Francisco City Hall. We are accessible by SF muni lines 47, 49, 31 and F Market.  Also accessible via BART and Muni metro subway lines at Civic Center station

At our upcoming meeting we will have: Elections for all chapter board positions.  Discussions about current chapter business, updates on current organizational and state  Affiliate goings-ons.

If you have any questions about the NFBC San Francisco Chapter please contact our chapter president Eric Holm either at (415)425-5613 or at  We welcome your presence, energy, ideas and enthusiasm; and look forward to seeing you at our next NFBC San Francisco chapter meeting!!!!

National Federation of the Blind of California Legislative Workshop, 2010

When:     February 27, 2010
Time:        9:30 AM to 4:30 PM
Where:    The California School for the Blind, 500 Walnut Avenue, Fremont, CA 94536

Are you interested in helping to advocate for legislation which will positively impact blind people in California? Are you passionate about legislative issues, but not sure how you can help advocate for them? The 2010 NFBC legislative workshop is the place for you.

This workshop will cover the entire legislative advocacy process, starting with a lesson in resolution writing by former NFBC president Jim Willows, and climax in a series of debates on the important legislative issues which are facing us right here and now. This will be a hands-on workshop which will give you real practice in all aspects of legislative advocacy. Registration will begin at 9:30. The workshop will start at 10 and end at around 4:30. Lunch and registration is $5.

To sign up for this exciting seminar, please contact:

Bruce Sexton (Legislative Committee Chair)

Space is limited, so reserve your seat early.

Leadership Forum for Youth with Disabilities. Apply before February 3rd!

This is a special invitation for California high school juniors and seniors who have disabilities to apply to come to Sacramento and attend the California Youth Leadership Forum July 24-29, 2010. Students will have the opportunity to live on a college campus and join more than 900 alumni from across the state that have been a part of this unique program created specifically for young leaders with disabilities.

At no cost for the student!

Students who attend YLF make new, life-long friendships and resource connections to help them reach their personal, academic, and career goals.

Alumni of the California Youth Leadership Forum for Students with Disabilities (YLF) say it has forever changed their lives for the better.

Go to for more information and a copy of the application and instructions.

Deadline to submit applications, February 3, 2010

If you have any questions or need any information regarding YLF please contact the California Foundation for independent Living Centers, Eddie Rea (information is below)

Eddie Rea
Youth Organizer
California Foundation for Independent Living Centers
1029 J Street, Suite 120
Sacramento, CA. 95814
(916) 325-1690 ext. 337
(916) 325-1699 FAX
(916) 325-1695 TDD

LightHouse Benefits from Honorary Committees

The LightHouse is grateful to have the support of various honorary committee members who play a role in raising the profile of our programs, assist with fund- and friend-raising and serve as a valuable resource. Our 2009 Insights Honorary Committee helped us draw hundreds of people to our 20th exhibition, as well as the attention of media, like KQED and the New York Times. Many Honorary Committee members also gave gifts in support of Insights and other LightHouse programs. Recently, we convened two additional honorary committees: the Friends of the LightHouse, each member of which has demonstrated a strong commitment to LightHouse fundraising, and the Medical Community Friends of the LightHouse, which will help us deepen our connection with medical professionals. We are grateful to these committed community members who remain dedicated to helping us make a difference.


A message from Donna Willmott, Consumer Rights Advocate,
Planning for Elders:

Once again seniors and people with disabilities are the target to help balance the budget. The MTA is proposing to raise the cost of discount passes for seniors and people with disabilities to $30 on April 1. This will hit our community hard, as people are on shrinking incomes, with fewer benefits and more out of pocket expenses.

We need to stop this now.  There are two things you can do:

1)    Come make your voice heard when the SFMTA Board of Directors holds a special meeting on Friday, January 29, 2010 beginning at 10:00 a.m. at City Hall in Room 400. You can make public comment about this at the beginning of the meeting.

2) The Independent Living Resources Center- San Francisco, Planning for Elders and the San Francisco Senior Center are spearheading a petition drive to freeze the fares for seniors and people with disabilities. Join us by reviewing the petition, gather as many signatures as possible from consumers, staff, colleagues, friends and family and return them to PECC ASAP.

Contact to get a copy of the petition.

Mega Self-Defense Workshops at the LightHouse, January 23.

The LightHouse is proud to host The Mega Program: Self-Defense for the Visually Impaired. This program was developed specifically for the visually impaired. It began in London, England, and has been featured on the BBC radio program InTouch. Every workshop will cover physical techniques along with discussion of laws and self-defense theory that specifically affect the blind/visually impaired community.

The series of workshops will cover:

Threat Recognition – Mental State – Body Posturing – Tonal Indication

Substance Abuse – Threat Analysis – How serious is the threat?

Threat Response – The Law – Common Sense in self-defense

Involvements with the police – Witness Statement

Recording an Incident – How do people perceive you?

How do you want people to perceive you?

Principles of aggressive behavior – Physical self-defense techniques

Next Workshop:

When: Saturday, January 23rd, 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Where: The LightHouse, 214 Van Ness Avenue

Cost: There is a suggested donation of $5

For more info contact Philip from the LightHouse.

Call 415-694-7372 or email