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LightHouse offers specialized help with Be My Eyes

LightHouse offers specialized help with Be My Eyes

If you’re not yet familiar with the Be My Eyes app, check it out on the App store or Google Play. The idea is brilliant in its simplicity. A blind or visually impaired person needs help finding out what’s in a can, or how to use the washing machine in an unfamiliar hotel laundry for example. Simply open the Be My Eyes app, tap or double tap to call using video, and more than two million plus volunteers around the world are a resource open to you. They have signed up to take video calls to help blind and visually impaired people with visual information. Be My Eyes is a free app and free service for all.

Recently, specialized help has also been available through the app. So if your difficulty is with your Microsoft product, you can choose to contact their technical support from a list within the app. And soon, LightHouse will also be listed as an option to call on for specialized help.

Choose LightHouse from the list and you will be video calling directly to one of our helpful staff. Have a question you’d like to ask about our programs? Be My Eyes us. Want some more info about one of our events? Be My Eyes us. We’re eager to talk to you, and soon there will be one more way to reach us. Look for our official launch in mid-May!

How LightHouse staffer Ethan Meigs went from Sociology to Information Technology

How LightHouse staffer Ethan Meigs went from Sociology to Information Technology

Ethan Meigs, LightHouse Information Technology Technician, writes about his blindness and how he became the first blind IT Technician in LightHouse history.

I am 37 years old and a native Californian, who began life legally blind in both eyes. I spent my childhood in Southern California attending public schools using magnification and large print textbooks. I was always outdoorsy, playing whatever sport I could get my hands on. I could never see the details like the rim on the basketball court or the angle of the landing ramps when taking flight on my BMX, but never let that get in the way of keeping up with my friends. As I got older and my vision slowly began to change, I left to work for UPS in Kentucky. You can imagine the things a 19-year-old and his friend could get up to in the backwoods of Kentucky. One memorable experience was hopping on the all-terrain vehicle in the middle of the woods. I was low vision and following my friend’s bright orange hunting vest at full speed and somehow ended up stuck between two oak trees when crossing a shallow, fast-running creek. I mean, I ended up looking like Austin Powers stuck between two walls in his electric cart. There were other things, but let’s just say if we are ever invaded, I have learned some cool home security tricks. I found that lack of transportation and access were an issue, so I moved back to California in 2002.

While in the middle of my upper division classes, I was offered a job at what was then Junior Blind of America and now Wayfinder Family Services. I became the Assistant Coordinator for the Student Transition and Enrichment Program. I continued to work that job while completing the final research paper for my Masters in Assistive Technology and Human Services at Cal State University Northridge.

Once my time at Junior Blind was done and I completed my degrees, I had time to reflect on what I really wanted to do. I found great value in working with youth. I was motivated to help others avoid the barriers and pitfalls I found in my path up to that point, so I began searching. I fell into Sociology in college because of a girl, and found I really enjoyed it. I didn’t pursue a Masters in Sociology because I didn’t think it had great long-term employment prospects.  I found that technology was vital to leveling the playing field while Sociology developed my talent for understanding people and institutions. I began looking for a job that would allow me to utilize both talents while giving back to the blind community which, through mentors and relationships, had given me so much and brought me to this point in my life.

LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco promoted itself as an agency which meets people where they are, and I noticed that out of all the agencies I had experienced throughout California, LightHouse seemed to be the only one who walked the walk as far as employing the population they championed: close to half of their staff were blind or low vision. Thus, began my journey with LightHouse in December of 2016.

Through my time in the Access Technology department, I found that I really enjoyed learning the details of how things work and presenting them to groups and individuals. I enjoyed working one-on-one with students but after a few years, I began opening my mind toward new opportunities.

On February 1 this year, I started in my new role at the LightHouse, as an IT specialist. In the last few months, I have found I truly enjoy supporting my coworkers with daily operations and have been learning a lot at the same time. Although, if I had known I would be jumping into this role right as the entire agency was forced to go remote due to COVID-19, I might have more carefully thought about the decision.

It’s been challenging to learn the entire process used for onboarding of machines, and the implementation of Virtual Private Networks, which enable employees working remotely to connect to our networks. Not to mention, the fact that I am still learning on the job.

As a parting note, the two mantras which have stood me up through all my experiences are: “Those who say it cannot be done, should not interrupt the person doing it!” and the Chinese proverb, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing!”

 

 

 

Bryan Bashin Marks 10 Years as LightHouse CEO

Bryan Bashin Marks 10 Years as LightHouse CEO

Photo by Sarika Dagar

Article by Lee Kumutat

Under Bryan’s leadership, LightHouse has grown exponentially in stature, standing and staff. He oversaw the design and completion of our new state-of-the-art home in downtown San Francisco, the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition and a harmonious parity of blind and sighted staff at all levels.

But who is the man behind all these achievements? We put these seven questions to him to try to get a sense.

1.  You are a self-confessed coffee fiend – how do you make your favorite cup?

I roast my own coffee, sourced from an importer in Oakland. The areas of origin change almost monthly.  In the era of sheltering in place, I have a little extra morning time to froth some milk and make a double or even quad latte. My latest love: beans from a farm in Nicaragua with flavor that lingers on the tongue for a whole minute after a sip.

2.  What, for you, is the best thing about being blind?

The Zen of blindness allows me to go deep, to observe more critically, not to be distracted by the superficial, and to see strategically. Having been both sighted, low vision and blind, I can say that savoring the world as a blind person is often a bit slower and can often be beautiful in rich and unexpected ways.

3.  Dogs or cats?

Dogs. They are social creatures, live in the moment and care about others.

4.  What is the best part of a normal day for you at the LightHouse?

Brainstorming programs and operations that never existed and working with a circle of talented and dedicated people to press the field of blindness ever farther.

5.  What makes you angry?

Lost opportunities. Not fulfilling the expectations of the blind community and of our major donor Donald Sirkin to “be bold. Make a difference. Change the world.”

6.  Who are your role models?

In blindness, Newel Perry, the California leader who relentlessly started a revolution of rising expectations among the blind, with the revolutionary idea that the blind could support themselves and become regular contributing members of society. This he did beginning in 1898 with ripples that are still shaking the world today.

7.  If you had one wish, what would it be?

That all blind people can come to see themselves as whole, beautiful, and capable of becoming who and what they dream of.

By taking a pause, Enchanted Hills Camp will help flatten the curve

By taking a pause, Enchanted Hills Camp will help flatten the curve

Dear friends and supporters,

For almost a year, we’ve been preparing for the biggest and most fun-filled summer ever at Enchanted Hills Camp for this, our 70th birthday year. We’ve nearly completed the new pool bathhouse, spiffed up the dining hall and its commercial kitchen, deepened our lake and stocked it with fish and cleared away the last piles of debris from the 2017 fires. We’re on track to begin building a half-dozen replacement cabins in lower camp later this year. We’re also midway through a process with Napa County which will give us the permits we need to finish the camp-wide rebuild after the fire. It’s been such a good year in fact, that we committed to bring the entire world of blind camp leaders to EHC in 2021 to show off what we have built and to lead the field in designing the best blind camp programs anywhere.

Then, just three weeks ago, California counties were shut tight in a massive effort to slow the COVID-19 pandemic. Early reports this week show that the heroic isolation actions by Californians in particular are making a difference in the virus spread.

We at the LightHouse have known for some weeks that a decision was looming about whether the epidemic and government regulations would allow us to host our usual 600-plus blind campers, their families, staff and volunteers this summer. We hoped the epidemic would have burned through California by our traditional June start to our summer season. One-by-one, though, organizations are realizing that it may not be possible to host group events this summer. From the Olympics to the Democratic Convention, from the World Blind Union conference to Wimbledon, and the American Council of the Blind and National Federation of the Blind conventions, most are deferring their group gatherings until next year.

Camp Director Tony Fletcher and LightHouse leadership wrestled with these realities as the weeks dragged on. Could we screen campers entering camp to keep everyone safe? The medical facts are that people can harbor the virus for several days without showing symptoms and be infectious during that time. The virus can linger on surfaces for several days. Could we imagine keeping a six-foot distance between 100 campers and staff all week long? Most importantly, we couldn’t bear the heartache if even one camper contracted COVID at Enchanted Hills. To implement real protective measures at camp, we believe, wouldn’t make it camp at all. The closeness, camp spirit, hand-on-hand instruction, the heartfelt hugs and adventurous athleticism – none of this would be possible under current government guidelines.

Accordingly, in an abundance of effort to keep our community safe, for the first time in 70 years we’ve decided to skip the entire summer sessions of EHC. There will be no gatherings of any kind at camp until September 2020 at the earliest. We’re heartbroken to have to deliver this news to the thousands of people who have thrilled to EHC over the years and will thrill to it again when the epidemic is over.

If you are one of those hundreds of people who have already made reservations for your EHC summer, you have a few options. You can:

  • Get a full refund.
  • Apply your deposit to your stay during the 2021 summer season.
  • Donate what you might have spent at camp to our fire rebuild fund.

And you can participate in several distance camper events via Zoom as you’ll see below.

For information about your personal situation please call Alyah Thomas at 415-694-7345 or email her directly at athomas@lighthouse-sf.org.

With camp closed this summer, we’ve suddenly found a way to make excellent use of the rare circumstance of having camp empty during summer. We now plan to use the season to dig a massive 3,000-foot-long trench to finally underground all the overhead electric wires now strung haphazardly throughout camp. The trench project will remove fire-causing danger from these overhead wires and will give us stable and reliable power not threatened by falling branches and weather. We’ll fill the trench with new high-pressure water mains for fire hydrants, new pipes to service larger water storage tanks, with state-of-the-art optical fiber for reliable phone and internet service and use the new course to help us irrigate parts of camp never before able to be green in summer.

We could never have undertaken this project during a normal camp season, so it’s a small consolation that we’ll be able to start it sooner than planned. The $500,000 trench project will be finished well before we usher in the next wave of campers beginning next year.

All these post-fire reconstruction efforts take money, lots of money. We’re asking our extended community of friends to help with the reconstruction generously. To make camp safe and secure for the next 70 years takes sweat, imagination, and dollars. If you’re in a position to help with a donation or a pledge to our capital campaign, please write our Development Director Jennifer Sachs at jsachs@lighthouse-sf.org or just call her at 415.694.7333. And if you have some very big ideas on how to help camp, please contact me personally.

So, what to do this spring and summer to replace the EHC camp coziness around the campfire, or the easy socializing in the shade? Camp Director Tony Fletcher has the answer for kids, adults and their families. Beginning Saturday, June 6, Tony will host a weekly Saturday evening campfire-by-Zoom. You will be able to gather with Tony and the gang of counselors, volunteers and campers you know from previous sessions: telling stories, catching up and making some new friends. Tony’s first chat will be followed by many others through summer, with gatherings for various ages, personalities, interests and communities. Lighthouse will advertise the times and call-in details as the date approaches.

In the meantime, it’s spring at our camp. The grass is brilliant green, the creeks are running strong, the frogs are croaking and the wildlife abundant. Thousands of redwood seedlings are now eight feet tall after the fire, and visitors say camp has never looked more beautiful. It will be there, stronger and safer than ever when we emerge from our houses, blinking in the sun, and yearning for that special community that will persevere in a place called Enchanted Hills.

Our very best hopes that you stay safe and are well.

Bryan Bashin
CEO
Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, San Francisco

 

 

LightHouse Offices Closed for In-Person Services Through Labor Day

LightHouse Offices Closed for In-Person Services Through Labor Day

Dear LightHouse students, supporters, partners and friends,

As you now know, COVID-19 has changed so much for all of us, and it continues to be an unprecedented threat. This is especially true for some members of the blind community.

LightHouse for the Blind and its committed staff are continuing to provide essential resources and support for people who are blind or have low vision, even in the midst of these extraordinary circumstances. We are designing and introducing virtual and tele-connected programs for community engagement, health and fitness, employment immersion, psychological counseling and other vital programs that our community relies on. We are adapting quickly and find ourselves united in a powerful, new way.

Our offices may be closed through Labor Day, September 7, but we are very much here, ready and willing to serve.

Find out about our online programs by visiting our calendar. To learn how to access our services call 415-694-7323 or write to info@lighthouse-sf.org.

We at LightHouse for the Blind wish you and your loved ones health as we continue to find ways to help one another.

Bryan Bashin

CEO

LightHouse’s Access Technology team is here to help you complete the 2020 Census

LightHouse’s Access Technology team is here to help you complete the 2020 Census

It’s that time again: Once each decade, we’re asked to complete the Census. The Census counts the population in the United States and five U.S. territories. It’s important to get an accurate population count because the Census determines federal funding for local communities. Your Census responses are protected by law and can’t be shared with local law enforcement, ICE or other agencies.

Our Access Technology team is offering two workshops that will help you find your Census mail and fill out the Census online.

Accessible Census: Reading Mail and Keeping Your Info Safe
Friday, April 10 from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.
In this workshop you will learn:
• Apps and techniques for finding your Census envelope or postcard and other important mail amidst the clutter of junk mail
• Apps and techniques for reading important mail in detail
• Tips for digital safety when reading snail mail and email

Accessible Census: Filling Out Online Forms with Screen Readers
Friday, April 17 from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.
In this workshop you will learn:
• How to make sure your screen reader is in the right mode to fill out forms
• How to understand and work with common parts of forms, such as edit fields, check boxes, and radio buttons
• Safety tips for entering data online

Both workshops will allow remote participation via the Zoom conferencing platform or a phone line. You will need a working email address to receive participation information.

RSVP for either or both workshops to Abby Decker at adecker@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7343.

These workshops have been made possible in part by a grant from the Bay Area Census Funders Collaborative at Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

LightHouse offers online meditation classes

LightHouse offers online meditation classes

During uncertain times, some people find practicing mindfulness very helpful. If it works for you, then LightHouse is here to help by offering two weekly meditation classes online.

Stress Reduction & Meditation Goes Virtual
Wednesdays, 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., through April and May

This class is led by Jeffrey Schneider, who has more than 40 years of meditation and teaching experience. The class is appropriate for everyone from beginners to those advanced at practicing meditation. For more information contact Serena Olsen at solsen@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7316.

Virtual Meditation & Mindfulness

Fridays, 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., through April and May

Use Zoom or call in every Friday at 12:30 p.m. for guided meditation, mindfulness discussion and a chance to build community with your LightHouse community. All are welcome. Please contact Amber Sherrard to sign up at asherrard@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7353.

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.

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 my2020census.gov.

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.

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 anna.wroblewska89@gmail.com.

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