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access technology

Our Introduction to Access Technology Immersion Course Starts 1/22

Our Introduction to Access Technology Immersion Course Starts 1/22

LightHouse’s Access Technology Training team is delighted to offer the first in-person Introduction to Access Technology immersion. This course is for students who are blind or have low vision who are brand new to learning Access Technology. Join Kacie Cappello, Debbie Worstman and Gabriel Griffith to explore the concepts and tools you will need to use devices confidently and comfortably.

We will discuss access technology vocabulary in an approachable, digestible and jargon-free manner. We will provide overviews of low vision enhancements and spoken feedback tools available for computers, smartphones and tablets. There will be workshops on dedicated devices, getting to know your phone, options for notetaking, and access-optimized apps, resources and technical support contacts.

This event takes place daily January 22 through January 26 from 9:30 am to 3:00 pm at LightHouse San Francisco.

Course Prerequisites:

To participate and fully benefit from this class, students must:

  1. Live in San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin or Humboldt county.
  2. Be new to Access Technology, having not received prior one-on-one or group training.
  3. Be curious and open to learning basic, beginner Access Technology specific information.
  4. Be comfortable learning in a group setting. This means:
    • Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
    • Do give others a chance to ask questions if they haven’t gotten to do so already.
    • Please refrain from sharing personal, private, or sensitive information.

What: Introduction to Access Technology: Winter 2024 Session
When: Monday, January 22 through Friday, January 26 from 9:30 am to 3:00 pm
Where: LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired of San Francisco
1155 Market Street, Floor 10, Multipurpose Room (MPR) A. Get directions to LightHouse San Francisco.

Please note that lunch will not be provided. Students are encouraged to bring their own bag lunch.

How To RSVP:

To RSVP, please send an email to the LightHouse Access Technology department, at@lighthouse-sf.org or call 415-694-7684 and mention that you’d like to enroll in the Introduction To Access Technology course. Space is limited and registrations close on Friday, January 19.

Learning Access Technology Leads Fernando Macias to a Career at LightHouse

Learning Access Technology Leads Fernando Macias to a Career at LightHouse

At LightHouse, we always want our community members to know more about the dedicated staff who make up this organization. This time, we introduce you to Access Technology Specialist Fernando Macias.
Can you tell us your blindness story? When did you go blind and how did you end up getting training?
I was born in 1992 in Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico. No one knew I was blind at first, but then, as I started to crawl, my family started to figure out something was going on. My grandpa told me that he used to throw a marble towards me, and I would wait for it to stop bouncing off his concrete floor, crawl towards the location where it was, and fumble around for it. He noticed I was using my ears and turning them towards that last location I heard the marble instead of looking at where it went. At first my parents didn’t believe something was off, but things kept happening. As I started to walk, I would bump into tables and chairs, so that’s when my parents started to think something was up with my vision.
Going back a little bit, we lived in the country and did not have the best access to medical care. When my mom was pregnant with me, her water broke, but she did not go to the hospital right away. We got to the hospital hours after her water broke and the staff determined I had an infection, toxoplasmosis. This can cause vision loss if untreated. It’s a parasite that can be found in cat feces or soil, and we did have cats on the farm, so my mom could have caught it and passed it to me. I came down with a nasty fever that persisted for days. There was nothing the hospital could do, but I recovered and grew into a toddler. But after my grandpa had noticed something was wrong and then finally my parents, they made that connection to the fever and that’s when they took me to have my eyes checked.
The hospital staff couldn’t give my parents much information about my vision, but they were able to determine that I was very legally blind, but they didn’t have an acuity for me. They just knew that I couldn’t see as well as I should have.
We went home, but my parents never accepted the fact that I was blind. That happens, especially in rural Mexico, where the hope was that I was going to grow up and tend to the livestock. My parents had a lot of land, and so did my grandpa. They grew crops and had a lot of cattle, so the hope was that I was going to grow up and work that and continue the tradition, but now that was turned completely on its head.
Since my parents couldn’t accept that I couldn’t see, that manifested itself in, “He’s blind, we don’t care. We’re going to treat him like any other kid.” I did chores and my dad taught me how to ride a bicycle because we had open space. He would take me horseback riding and out to the field with him. In fact, I did not know that I was blind until I was told we were going to come to the United States.
We came to the United States so I could get an education. If you’re rich, you can get a private education in Mexico. If you’re not, you can get a public education, but public schools in Mexico are not set up to accommodate people with disabilities.
Now there was a school for the blind in Mexico in the city of Colima, which was about 90 minutes away by car from us. We’d drive there once a week, on a Saturday, and that was the best they could offer. I learned a little bit of braille, my vowels, but that was it.
My parents realized that wasn’t going to work out, so my dad decided that we would emigrate to the United States, because he had heard that there were better opportunities for me over here. One of my aunts was over here and she helped us settle in.
My parents took me to Stanford University to get my eyes checked and got a better idea of what I had. I was seven years old, and the staff figured out that my vision was around 20/4000 and were able to show my parents what the damage was. There are scars smack in the middle of my retinas that are pretty severe. They let in images to my optic nerves, but my central vision is very blurry and the most damaged. My peripheral vision is okay.
Then I was put in school, and I learned how to speak English and read Grade 1 braille by the age of 10. So that’s how I found out I was blind and ended up in the United States.
How did you get into technology and eventually become a tech trainer at LightHouse?
Technology’s been a part of who I am since I could use a computer. When I was 10, I learned how to use Windows XP with the screen reader JAWS. I also started using Google, which was a pretty new search engine at the time.
For middle school and part of high school, I went to the California School for the Blind (CSB). I was on the mainstream track and went to a public middle school for some classes before coming back to CSB in the evenings. I got a lot of technology training.
It was a liberating thing for me, being able to get on the Internet, being able to type, do email, and to do what other people were doing online. Jerry Kuns [former LightHouse board member and longtime LightHouse supporter] was a teacher at CSB at the time and one of my tech trainers. His late wife, Theresa Postello, was my VI trainer. They were my connection points to LightHouse.
I was new to the U.S., and I wasn’t connected to the blindness community at all. Outside of CSB, I didn’t know anyone else who was blind. Jerry and Theresa recommended Enchanted Hills Camp (EHC) to me. They said, “this could be beneficial to you. You’ll make friends. You’ll learn things, and you’ll be in a blind-friendly place.” I initially resisted the idea because I was shy, and I wasn’t very comfortable speaking English yet. But they insisted, and told my parents, and I was convinced, and so I went to EHC in 2003. During the rest of my time at CSB, there would be several student trips to LightHouse to get tours or go to the Adaptations Store.
After high school I went to college. After that, I got a volunteer gig at an immigration law firm. Eventually they hired me part time to be an interpreter and do some office work. I started going to immigration interviews with clients and using more of the technology skills I had acquired, like JAWS and using a braille display. In December 2019, I saw that there was an opening at LightHouse for an Access Technology Trainer, and I always wanted to do something with Access Technology training. I wanted to do what Jerry was doing.
I applied for the position but never heard back, so I continued with my work at the law firm. But it was part time work, and my parents were going back to Mexico, so I needed a fulltime job.
One day in March 2022, more than two years later, I got a call from a human resources person at LightHouse, but I didn’t recognize the number which had a 650 area code so I didn’t answer it. They left me a voicemail, and I then proceeded not to listen to my voicemail. I got another call a week later from this same number and I said, “You know what? I’ve got to answer this.” I don’t usually answer these types of calls, but I had a good feeling.
I answered and was shocked when I was told they were calling from LightHouse. They said, “I see that you submitted your resumé and applied for a position a while ago, and the Director of Access Technology, Jeffery Colon, is interested in interviewing you. I know it’s been a long time, but would you be interested?” So, I interviewed for the position and started the job in June 2022.  
I started off doing a lot of iPhone training and a lot of the bilingual tech training, because we had a pretty long waitlist of Spanish speaking students. I’ve also been doing user testing of apps and websites for accessibility. I believe that’s a way I can contribute to making things more accessible for everyone.
Can you talk about your teaching philosophy when you’re training students?
Don’t be afraid to use technology. It’s there for you. It’s a tool, and it’s the way to access the world. All of our mainstream devices have some sort of access technology built into them. It’s important to become fluent in that. I also teach my students to advocate for themselves. If an app is broken, send an email to the developers. Communication is important. Blind and low vision people have a right to access what everyone else can.
Interested in Access Technology training at LightHouse? Get started by emailing info@lighthouse-sf.org or calling 415-431-1481.

LightHouse Student Robin Thiele Takes the Plunge to Learn Access Technology

LightHouse Student Robin Thiele Takes the Plunge to Learn Access Technology

We like to bring you stories of our wonderful LightHouse students. In this issue, we present an interview with Robin Thiele, 72, who has been taking Access Technology training.
How has your blindness affected your life and how did you find your way to LightHouse?
My family had never heard about glaucoma. When I was 16 months old, my mother noticed that I was unable to look at bright lights in the house, and certainly not outside. I would always squint and turn my head away.
A doctor at the University of Chicago diagnosed me with glaucoma, and I had two surgeries. I received my first pair of glasses when I was five or six. They were thick coke bottle glasses with bifocals, but they allowed me to go to school and lead a reasonably active life.
But I continued to need eye care. I had a couple of retinal detachments in high school that had to be surgically treated. I always had this push/pull with treatment, because it meant I was going to be restricted in terms of my activity. As a young boy, this was very unacceptable to me. My mother tried to lay down rules for me, which I did not appreciate at all, I had resisted and rebelled. I just wanted to wash my hands of having glaucoma, but of course I couldn’t do that.
I went on to graduate college but was having more and more problems managing my glaucoma. I had surgeries with some success, but my vision kept declining slowly. It was like trying to read Ulysses; it’s a very long book, and it can take a long time to get to the end. That’s the metaphor for my vision loss. It started having a major impact on my life when I was about 61. I finally had to retire from my work as a registered nurse; I could no longer drive, and my wife was also having major cognition problems and I just really needed to be home. Unfortunately, my wife’s condition was also deteriorating about the same rate as my vision.
We decided that I would be her memory, and she would be my eyes, and that worked for a short while. But of course, that wasn’t viable long term. I threw myself into caring for my wife, but in some ways, I allowed that to keep me from thinking about my vision. But it finally deteriorated to the point where I really needed to deal with it, and I contacted a nonprofit in the East Bay.  
It was good to make contact, but the support group didn’t have the structure I was looking for, and I wished for more social contact with the people in it. I became discouraged about getting help and support.
18 months ago, my brother, Gus, and I had talked about LightHouse, but I had not made any contact. It was during wintertime, I was depressed, and unfortunately my wife had to be placed into fulltime care. There was a lot going on and I wasn’t doing anything to help improve my situation at all. So finally, when I had not contacted LightHouse myself, my brother got on the phone and connected with [LightHouse Social Worker] Jeff Carlson.
Jeff gave me a call and we set things up, and I got involved in a telephone support group and this time around, it was a very good experience. There was a structure; I knew what we were going to talk about each week and really liked the people in the group.
In that support group, I learned about [the screen reader] VoiceOver on iPhone. I had never been much of a technology person, so I dug in my heels. I did not want to have my life focused around my phone. I thought, “No, I’m not going to do that.” I had acquired just enough computer skills to do email, access the Internet and to do my job, but not much else.
But now my wife could no longer do what she used to do. She used to pay the bills and take care of our finances. It was incumbent for me to take over, and it became very clear that I was on the wrong side of the digital divide.
So, everything kind of came together with that initial contact with LightHouse. A referral was made for Access Technology, and that’s how I got started with training from [Access Technology Instructor] Fernando Macias.
Could you talk about your experience working with Fernando and what you’ve been learning?
Fernando started me out with the basic VoiceOver gestures for iPhone. I was quite impressed with Fernando’s youth, but at first, I wasn’t sure how this was going to work out. He’s 30 and I’m 72, but it’s worked out so well. Fernando is extremely educated, sensitive and naturally curious.
One of the things I value most about Fernando is that he’s picked up on my tendency to be self-critical. When I get frustrated and think I’m not doing something right, he slows me down and points out that I can’t break anything on that software, and that I can start a process from scratch if I mess up. He’s not only been my VoiceOver instructor, but also been a mentor about blindness. I never really had anyone to really talk with about blindness and I learned a lot from listening to him. He’s very focused, doesn’t get frustrated and stays attentive to solving a problem. I’ve tried to emulate that, to stay focused on solving a problem and being able to walk away when I’m frustrated and coming back in an improved state of mind. 
How has learning this technology improved your independence as a blind person?
I’m able to do email now in a way that I wasn’t able to before, and I’ve been able to master using the Uber and Lyft apps. Now I can get out and visit my wife without having to rely on an unreliable taxi. This has been a major improvement in my life.
Learning technology is like learning a new language. It’s not something to be avoided or to be afraid of. I’m slowly starting to find myself open to trying new things and not just immediately saying, “No.”
Do you have an interest in exploring other areas of blindness skills training?
I’m signed up for Changing Vision Changing Life. It’s a survey of the different types of training LightHouse offers like technology, cooking, independent living skills and orientation & mobility. When Fernando first told me about it, I could feel myself resisting, but then Fernando talked about the program a bit more and I said, “Absolutely. This is what I must do.” I’m really looking forward to that for the skills that will be presented, but also for the social contact with other people. I think, having contact with the common denominator around vision loss is a great way to get to know people and for people to open up.

Interested in Access Technology training at LightHouse? Get started by emailing info@lighthouse-sf.org or calling 415-431-1481.

Learn the Ins and Outs of the Victor Reader Stream 3—and Take One Home of Your Own

Learn the Ins and Outs of the Victor Reader Stream 3—and Take One Home of Your Own

Join the Access Tech team at LightHouse headquarters for a four-day class on the Victor Reader Stream 3. You’ll learn all about using Victor Reader Stream 3…and receive a Victor Stream of your own at the end of the class!
The Victor Reader Stream 3 is a handheld digital audio player that allows you to listen to audiobooks, newspapers, web radio, music, podcasts and more. It is the latest in the Victor Reader Stream series from HumanWare A lightweight device, the Victor Reader Stream 3 can be held in your hand, carried in a pocket, or set on the table and listened to with the built-in speaker, headphones, or connected to a Bluetooth device. Perhaps best of all, the Victor Reader Stream 3 is operated by tactile buttons. Each command you perform on this device only requires you to press a single button at a time. The Victor Reader Stream 3 connects to the online services such as NLS BARD, NFB Newsline and Bookshare to download media directly to the player.
You should consider joining the class if:

  • You enjoy listening to books.
  • You love podcasts.
  • You can’t start your morning without checking the news along with your morning coffee.
  • You’re a radio junky and listen to radio stations from next-door to around the world.
  • You are someone who takes notes by recording them.

Oh, and a nice bonus of owning the Stream: it gets 12 to 15 hours battery life.
Ready to join? Here are the details:
What: Victor Reader Stream Class
When: September 25, 26, 27, & 29 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm each day. (There is no class September 28.) There will be a one-hour lunch break daily from noon to 1:00 pm.
Where: LightHouse Headquarters at 1155 Market Street in San Francisco
RSVP: Send an email to AT@lighthouse-sf.org no later than September 19.

Learn the Best Ways to Navigate Accessibly, with LightHouse Wayfinding Class

Learn the Best Ways to Navigate Accessibly, with LightHouse Wayfinding Class

Take your travel to the next level with LightHouse’s Introduction to Accessible Wayfinding. Join Kacie Cappello and Fernando Macias from the Access Technology department, and Orientation & Mobility Specialists Jennifer Huey and Jenna Whitelaw, to explore the tools and techniques for navigating safely and confidently through our opening, changing world.
We’ll discuss how native iPhone functionality like Siri and the Compass app can help you orient to your surroundings. You will learn route-planning strategies using Apple Maps and Google Maps, and how to get public transportation information from apps like Moovit and LiveBart. You will hear accessible apps like BlindSquare in action and try features out for yourself. Whether you’re rediscovering your favorite coffee shop, or preparing for your next great adventure, you’ll be ready to boldly go where you’ve always wanted to go!
Access Technology Instructor Kacie explains more about the class:
“Access Technology and Orientation & Mobility are areas that can often intimidate learners. This class blends concepts from both areas in a thorough, yet approachable way. You’ll learn about many apps in detail, and we’ll practice and discuss scenarios in which you will use the skills out in the community. This course will be virtual, so there is no need to actively navigate during the sessions. After the course, you will have the skills and strategies you will need to travel with confidence, comfort, and new curiosity.”
What: Introduction To Accessible Wayfinding (online)
When: Thursdays, October 5, 12, 19 & 26 and November 2 & 9, from 2:00 pm to 4:30 pm
Where: Online
RSVP: By October 2 to AT@lighthouse-sf.org
or 415-431-1481

A Perfect Teacher-Student Partnership

A Perfect Teacher-Student Partnership

LightHouse offers a variety of resources, trainings, and programs for individuals who are blind or have low vision taught by expert instructors and educators, most of whom are also blind or have low vision. Our dedicated staff work with their students to form and enhance blindness skills to improve their sense of autonomy and self-confidence. The greatest aspect of being part of such a close-knit community of blind leaders and learners is being able to share successes and accomplishments, or “mission moments,” with the LightHouse community.

Access Technology Instructor Kacie Cappello’s favorite part of the job is watching a student’s hard work pay off.

“Many come into training intimidated by technology and full of self-doubt. The skills they learn allow for greater independence and better social connection. When a student realizes they can do something like buy their own groceries online or send email to a friend, I get to watch their confidence grow as they find their empowerment. That means the world to me.”

Kacie’s role is to provide information, guidance, and structure, but the student is the one taking on the challenge of learning a new skill. That requires commitment and practice. One of her ambitions for her students is for them to have autonomy over their digital information.

“To me, maintaining anonymity means having the ability to effectively manage your information, privacy, and digital presence. Access technology skills help students keep track of things like account details and participate in online life on their own terms.”

LightHouse student Eva G. struggled with independently accessing her computer and other devices at home and sought out access technology training with LightHouse. She began working with Kacie one-on-one for virtual training sessions.

“I lost my vision at a quite advanced stage at the age of 84. I am 91 now. I did not think I would be able to learn anything because of my age. When I had sight growing up in school, I was never taught computers or typing or anything like that.  Honestly, the first time I had a lesson with Kacie I thought to myself, ‘I will never get this,’ but Kacie was so patient and persistent. It was amazing to me how after a while I started to get used to it.

“To me, it is really important to be as independent as I can be. It means a lot to be because I’ve always been in touch with a lot of different people throughout my life. But when I suddenly had to ask someone to write my emails and read them back to me it just wasn’t the same. The first time I was able to have an email read to me by the computer and then answer it myself was such a gift. It felt like the best thing that has happened to me.

“In retrospect I do still think it was kind of magic. I feel so grateful for the LightHouse and for Kacie and what she has taught me.”

These are the moments that strengthen the blind community. One individual’s success becomes a shared accomplishment for all of LightHouse and our community. To inquire about programs offered by LightHouse, you can visit our website.

For information about Access Technology, send your emails AT@lighthouse-sf.org  or call 415-431-1481.

There’s an App for That: Select the Right Tech, App Edition is June 25

There’s an App for That: Select the Right Tech, App Edition is June 25

Whether you love accessible technology or have a love/hate relationship with it, knowing your options is power. For years LightHouse has hosted Select the Right Tech, a gathering where blind and low vision consumers from all over the Bay Area can get hands-on with the best in accessible technology and talk directly to representatives from different companies in an exhibit hall hosted at LightHouse headquarters. During the pandemic we’ve found innovative ways to connect tech and consumers remotely.

This year’s virtual Select the Right Tech, App Edition will feature developers of mainstream and blindness-specific mobile apps. Don’t miss this chance to ask your questions to the makers of the apps you love and to learn about apps you haven’t tried yet.

Select the Right Tech, App Edition takes place on Friday, June 25 from 1:00 pm to 4:30 pm. Here is the schedule:

1:00 pm Welcome to LightHouse
Presented by Erin Lauridsen, Director of Access Technology

1:10 pm Be My Eyes
Be My Eyes is a free app that connects blind and low-vision people with sighted volunteers and company representatives for visual assistance through a live video call.
Presented by Will Butler, VP Community

1:45 pm Microsoft Soundscape
Microsoft Soundscape uses 3D spatial audio to promote a person’s mobility and independence by enhancing their awareness of their surroundings by calling out landmarks and points of interest from where they actually are.
Presented by Melanie Kneisel, Software Development Engineer

2:15 pm Spotify
Spotify is a digital music, podcast, and video service that gives you access to millions of songs and other content from creators all over the world.
Presented by Philip Strain, User Research and Accessibility Lead

2:45 pm Voice Dream Scanner
Voice Dream apps are designed for accessibility, and Voice Dream Scanner is a fast and accurate OCR scanner for everyday use.
Presented by Winston Chen, Founder and Developer

3:15 pm Aira
Aira is an app that utilizes your smart phone’s camera to connect with professionally trained agents who provide visual information to accomplish tasks, navigate and enhance your experiences.
Presented by Jenine Stanley, Director, Customer Communications

3:45 pm GoodMaps Explore
GoodMaps Explore helps people who are visually impaired navigate safely and efficiently.
Presented by Mike May, Chief Evangelist

This event is free and open to all, those who RSVP in advance will be eligible to win door prizes.

RSVP to Select the Right Tech: App Edition!

LightHouse thanks Oracle for their generous sponsorship of this event. So, put it in your chosen calendar … app!

Building the Perfect Access Technology Partnership

Building the Perfect Access Technology Partnership

By Erin Lauridsen, Director of Access Technology

I’m Erin Lauridsen, I’m blind and proud of it, which means that I am profoundly personally invested in my work in digital accessibility. In the course of my career so far, I’ve worked with many companies at all points along their accessibility journeys. In the course of this work, I’ve at times encountered openness and innovation, but at other times, I have encountered friction born of a lack of cultural competence around disability. On this tenth Global Accessibility Awareness Day, I want to share with you the keys to bringing disability cultural competence to your accessibility work, as I see them. Whether you work in compliance, user experience, marketing, engineering, or leadership, these are reflections from my lived experience of disability, and the ways it influences and is impacted by my work in corporate accessibility and how we work together.

I introduced myself to you as blind. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard hesitation in the voice of someone approaching a conversation with me about blindness or accessibility, because they are afraid of using the wrong word, or afraid naming my disability will be seen as negative. People with disabilities use many different terms to describe our identities, or in some cases, we may not consider disability to be central to our identity at all. In the vision world, you may hear ‘blind’, which can represent anything from total blindness to a decrease in visual acuity significant enough to impact reading or driving. You may hear ‘visual impairment’, a clinical term for the same range. You may also hear ‘low vision’, a term to represent the less than perfect but still usable range of visual functioning, and you may hear ‘vision loss’, a term common among older adults, or those who have acquired blindness later in life. Those are just the first four terms that come to mind, I have heard many others over the years, and this is just one of many disabilities you might discuss. Which term a person uses is influenced by their preferences, lived experience and cultural identity. For myself, blindness is a lifelong part of me, so vision loss doesn’t ring true. Visual impairment conjures memories of childhood appointments with professionals who wanted to cramp my carefree kid style with clinical evaluations, and I don’t have enough usable vision for low vision to fit well. I’m happy to call myself blind: it’s concise and makes me think of the affinity I feel when I hear another cane tapping down Bay area streets, or having a late night chat with other blind cooks about knife sharpening techniques. So, if you are entering or starting a conversation about disability, how on earth do you choose which term to use? Here’s my advice: when you are working with an individual, check in about preferred terms. Ask how they identify. When you are speaking or writing about specific disabilities, reach out to disability lead organizations and advocacy groups to learn about identity language. Be open to following our lead on language, even if it is language that feels new or uncomfortable to you.

I often navigate conversations grounded in someone’s fear or imaginings about what the lived experience of disability must be like. This often leads to over-engineering solutions or solving for a nonexistent or trivial problem. I have more than one story about a person coming to LightHouse with a multi-part camera and processor system for text recognition or object identification, who became defensive when learning that the blind people in the room can read text quickly with our phones, and wouldn’t be willing to carry around a bulky camera just so it could shout out “refrigerator” “toilet” “goat” as we encountered these things in our wanderings. Others have taken the time to listen deeply to how blind people read text and explore our environments, and the innovations they are working on will take current good solutions to the next level. If you are designing or coding for a disability that you do not live, check your assumptions with the community. Listen to what our friction points are, and work with us to identify good solutions.

In this work, I often must balance the need for disability awareness and education with jarring requests for personal disclosure. Once when I was explaining how being able to adjust brightness is useful to people with many different eye conditions, I used myself as an example of someone who does best with reduced glare. The researcher I was speaking with exclaimed, “Oh, is that why your eyes move that way!” I hope my next eye movement was an exasperated eye-roll, as we’d abruptly shifted from talking about how I customize technology settings to my needs, to talking about my body. If you are doing product research, or educating yourself about disability in the course of accessibility work, you can start by asking about tools and technologies rather than about medical diagnoses or the functional limitations of someone’s body. You can learn a lot more about how I use an app by asking what accessibility features I run on my phone than by asking what eye condition I have or how much I can see. Take the time to consider why you are asking a personal question, and in what setting you are posing it. While you might be curious about how I pick up after my guide dog, it really isn’t the best topic for our business lunch. However, if you want to innovate a solution to find trash cans on busy city streets, I’m all about sharing my dog walking routine in that context.

Often I hear that a company has designed or tested for accessibility by focusing on only one user with a disability. Perhaps they have a blind engineer on their team, or they may have connected with one end user of their product who has invested in giving them a great deal of feedback. While these are both wonderful things, neither is comprehensive, because disability intersects with every part of the human condition, and may create different challenges and opportunities based on those intersections. The skills and tools I use to navigate digital spaces are influenced by my economic privilege, my early access to education, and my linguistic and cultural background. Despite a preference for Braille reading, having had access to screen readers early in life has improved my ability to process complex web pages quickly using text to speech. The same task presents a significant hurdle for some of the adult learners I have worked with, especially those who are learning language or literacy skills along with digital access. You may have watched a blind coder execute complex keyboard sequences to control a screen reader, but an older adult with arthritis may be challenged by pressing multiple keys at once. Just as with any customer base, it’s important to avoid designing or remediating for one person or one persona. Have professional experts as well as end users with disabilities engaged in the design and testing of your products. Please do hire that blind engineer though, she’s spent her whole life innovating and hacking solutions for a world that often doesn’t consider her in the scope of design, and that skill set is going to make your product better.

Sometimes people reach out to me for help with an empathy lab or asking for a blindfold experience, and I do my best to help them find another way to learn. You can not try on the many intersections of a lived experience, and I can’t instill all the skills, culture, and adventures of a blind life by putting a blindfold on your face. Please avoid using empathy exercises that encourage you to try on a disability experience for a brief moment or a day. Instead, invest your time in learning from the lived experiences of people with disabilities, and learning about the tools and technologies we use. If you try a screen reader for a moment, you may find it challenging in the way that switching modalities can be challenging for anyone, but if you invest quality time in learning how screen readers work, you may discover, and then fix, a pain point with your product. Recognize that digital accessibility is not just a topic limited to your livelihood, but consider it as a way to build stronger communities and relationships throughout your life. For example, you can incorporate image descriptions in to your personal social media posts, not just your company’s website.

I hope these reflections will encourage you to take the next step on your personal or company accessibility journey. Ask yourself how you can more deeply engage with the people your accessibility work impacts, and take the next step to increase that dialogue. Whether you’re just beginning, or are part of a robust accessibility initiative, there is always more to learn. I hope I get to meet you along the way.

Access Technology

The Access Technology department at LightHouse is here to facilitate the use of accessible technology among people of all ages and levels of expertise, as well as groups and companies seeking education or consulting.

We welcome those with changing vision or visual impairment to come explore ways to make their phone, computer or other devices easier and more comfortable to use. We’re here to help you find new technology tools to stay productive at work, or keep in touch with friends and family.


Whether you’re just getting started with access technology, or you need to update your skills to keep pace with the latest and greatest tools and apps, LightHouse is here to help.

We have a variety of resources to educate and introduce you to different technology, and the ways you can use them. Our staff will take the time to learn about you, your needs and interests and the technologies you may have used in the past.

With an instructor, you can explore whether magnification, speech, Braille or a combination of these tools will best suit your needs.

You can meet one-on-one with an access technology instructor, and work on skills that will help you achieve your personal and professional goals. We also have group workshops to build skills and connect with the LightHouse community.

A student wearing headphones smiles as they use audio mixing equipment connected to a lap.

Corporate Accessibility Consulting

We invite companies updating their technology, or seeking an accessibility evaluation to make an appointment with the Access Tech department. Contact us about your company’s specific needs, and we can discuss how to help.

Here are a few of the services we offer:

Design consulting —We can help you plan and design a product that is accessible from the ground up.

Functional accessibility review — We utilize our expert access technologists to assess your website or app from an accessibility perspective.

User testing sessions — We organize our blind and visually impaired user testers of all backgrounds and levels of vision to provide feedback on your product or service.

Press for our consulting services:

TechCrunch: LightHouse Access Tech Director Erin Lauridsen interview on ‘Bullish’

The Verge: Soundscape, our new design consulting project with Microsoft

CNN: Erin Lauridsen on Google’s AI Technology

Connect with us:

To sign up for access technology training, contact at@lighthouse-sf.org.

For design consulting and user testing services, contact Jeffrey Colon at  JColon@lighthouse-sf.org.

Microsoft Soundscape is a new way to navigate

Microsoft Soundscape is a new way to navigate

“What is overwhelming about being a blind traveler? It’s not always what people think.” LightHouse Director of Access Technology Erin Lauridsen is passionate about this point: “Obstacle avoidance is not the problem, we have a dog, a cane and our blindness skills for that, The gap is knowing where things are and being able to decide what’s of interest.”

In her daily work, Lauridsen often has to shake her head at technology that misses the mark, but today is different. Today, Microsoft unveils a new free app designed not just for blind people – but by blind people.

In the video below, Erin Lauridsen explains the design thinking behind Microsoft’s new app. Click here to download Soundscape from the US App Store.

Lauridsen is one of the design minds behind Soundscape, a new Microsoft product which aims to empower blind people to not just get where they’re going, but to explore and learn their environment actively.

Read more on the Microsoft Accessibility Blog

Hired last year to start LightHouse’s Access Technology department in San Francisco, Lauridsen has built up a research and design consulting shop that leverages the blind experience to help mainstream companies optimize their products. One day it may be face recognition; another day, it’s designing a more intuitive interface or an advancement in ergonomics. In all cases, though, designing with the blind in mind yields a more competitive product.

Last fall Microsoft approached Lauridsen’s team with a product built upon an ambitious concept: a navigation app not based on turn-by-turn directions, but on dynamic, proximity-based landmarks and 3D audio beacons.

For Lauridsen, an app that promoted spatial engagement instead of rigid instructions and prescribed routes was a breath of fresh air. “The idea of having spatial and directional information floating on top, and taking some of that process load off of the traveler, that was intriguing,” she says. The next step was to find out if this technology would work in practice.

Download Soundscape from the app store

Microsoft brought the idea to a small group at a meeting of LightHouse Labs, Lauridsen’s monthly blind-tech meetup at LightHouse’s Market Street headquarters. Each month, Labs provides a venue for companies and individuals in the blindness and accessibility sphere to explore product-market fit, compare notes on emerging tech and express passionate, at times controversial opinions. It was agreed that the next phase of research and design was to get Soundscape into the pockets of real users, to turn the app from a good idea into an invaluable tool.

Today, Soundscape launches in the US and UK app stores on iOS for iPhones, and with it Microsoft has introduced a new 3D audio experience crafted specifically for exploration.

Soundscape, Lauridsen says, offers freedom for blind users: “It takes out the assumption that you’re following a proscribed route, fills in the information access gap, and allows for discovery and exploration. It’s not oversimplified or over complicated, as so much tech ‘for’ us often is.”

An image of a phone showing the Microsoft Soundscape app reads: "Set a Beacon and make your way there. Heading somewhere? Place an audio beacon on your destination and Soundscape will keep you informed of its location and your surroundings along the way. Use Soundscape in conjunction with your way finding skills and even your favorite navigation app to find your way to your destination."

Featuring an unobtrusive, roaming narrator reading the names of businesses, intersections, and points of interest in stereo, Soundscape is much more like browsing a neighborhood than any audio navigator that has come before. The Around Me and Ahead of Me features allow for more focused “looking around,” and audible beacons can be set to guide users gently toward a destination with intuitive auditory cues.

For Lauridsen and her department, this early stage design work is equally as important in making products both elegant and useful. “Our network at LightHouse is considerable – we have blind engineers, blind architects, blind coders – and what we like to build is ‘of’ those people, not ‘for’ them.”

Over the winter, Lauridsen’s team began putting the app through its paces, quite literally, with a score of blind user testers taking the app up and down Market Street and through the neighborhoods of San Francisco. Taking their feedback and synthesizing it, and delivering it in a series of intense meetings with Microsoft’s developers, Soundscape began to feel ready.

“Inventors often want to design things for us to be safer; I get that, but that’s design from a fear point of view. Microsoft designed this product out of an enthusiasm for learning, exploring, and finding joy in your environment. That’s the kind of technology that we like to see.”