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accessibility

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!

LightHouse Introduces “Touching the News”

LightHouse Introduces “Touching the News”

Have you ever been reading a news item or watching it on TV, and thought to yourself: “I wonder what that picture is?” Ever witnessed a meme on social media go viral and want to get your hands on it to really understand what it is? As people who are blind or have low vision, we are surrounded by visual information there is no other way to experience without somebody else interpreting it for us, usually by describing it verbally. That, of course, is great. We love and appreciate the thought and effort that goes in to doing that. But what if you were delivered, into your mailbox, a tactile graphic associated with a news story. So you could then emboss it yourself, or have it raised on swell paper?

That very thing will be coming to you in the next couple of weeks. You will also get the opportunity to choose from a list of proposed graphics each time, and the one with the most votes will be the one produced that week.

You might find yourself thinking: “I wish I could get my hands on one of those Oscar statues”, well, now you just might, even without being at the Academy Awards. Space travel might be your obsession and you’re itching to know what the helicopter is like that recently took off from and landed on Mars.

There will be more in the coming days but if you are interested in subscribing to this new free service, send an email to ttn@lighthouse-sf.org.

Join LightHouse for an Insider’s Look into the Comcast Innovation Lab

Join LightHouse for an Insider’s Look into the Comcast Innovation Lab

Please join us for a conversation with a true pioneer in the accessibility field, Tom Wlodkowski, Vice President of Accessibility for Comcast. Tom Wlodkowski and LightHouse for the Blind invite you to learn about new advances in accessibility for Comcast products.

The event will be hosted by LightHouse for the Blind Senior Director of Programs, Scott Blanks, and Erin Lauridsen, Director of Access Technology. Participants will hear about the numerous innovations Tom and his team have created. From the award winning Xfinity X1 Voice Guidance text-to-speech interface and the web-based Xfinity Adaptive Remote, to implementing a dedicated support center specifically tailored for customers with disabilities, Tom and his team define the strategy to ensure current and future Comcast products and services are accessible for everyone.

This is a unique opportunity to hear more about the Comcast Accessibility Lab, which provides an interactive atmosphere where accessibility features are at the forefront of everything the team does as they strive to find the next breakthrough for those with disabilities.

When: Tuesday, December 1 from noon to 1:00 pm

Register for this event, via the Eventbrite page. RSVP by November 23. The first 100 folks to RSVP will receive a code for $20 to enjoy a meal from Grubhub during the event.

For more information, contact events@lighthouse-sf.org.

Welcome to Windows 10

Welcome to Windows 10

Come join the LightHouse access tech team as we explore features and functions of Windows 10, yes Windows 10.

Do you have concerns, are you skeptical, do you wonder why you can’t stick with Windows 7 instead of learning a new operating system? The time has come to make the transition and we will help to allay your concerns and share our knowledge of the differences between Windows 7 and Windows 10. We will point out some of the new features of Windows 10, explore similarities and differences between the two operating systems and explain why the transition has become necessary.

You must be an enrolled LightHouse student to participate. To sign up for the class, contact Shen Kuan at 415-694-7312 or skuan@lighthouse-sf.org This class is free to participants through support from the City of San Francisco’s SF Connected program.

Tech Trainers Unite: LightHouse Hosts Blindness Technology Trainers Conference

Tech Trainers Unite: LightHouse Hosts Blindness Technology Trainers Conference

From October 22 through 24, LightHouse’s Access Technology department hosted their second annual Blindness Technology Trainers Conference. Trainers from blindness agencies and other organizations across California gathered to discuss strategies on training blind and low vision students on a variety of accessible technology needed for communication and day-to-day life, from smartphones, to screen readers, to magnification and more.

This year’s theme was Serving Students with Multiple Disabilities. Trainers discussed working with students who experience a range of access needs along with blindness. Topics included: working with students who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing, working with students who use alternative methods to input text because of motor or learning disabilities, and working with students who have traumatic or acquired brain injuries.

The conference included both group discussion and presentations. Kathy Abrahamson, LightHouse Director of Rehabilitation Services, and Accessibility Evangelist Lucy Greco, presented. The conference keynote on Access Technology and Brain Injury was delivered by three guests from the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired: Executive Director Sassy Outwater-Wright, Director of Rehabilitation Therapy Services Megan Briggs and Amy Ruell, Director of Adjustment Support Services. The keynote provided trainers with a variety of perspectives and experiences to consider when they returned to training their students.

Conference participant Matthew Morgan, who works at the Community Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Stockton, said of the group discussion at the conference, “The questions we posed to each other were great. They were hard and they were challenging.”

Erin Lauridsen, LightHouse Director of Access Technology, noted how powerful it is when blindness technology trainers come together to share ideas. She said, “Technology changes rapidly, and one instructor can’t know everything, but together as a group, the level of knowledge and expertise in the room was truly impressive.”

Erin Lauridsen and student
Erin Lauridsen, LightHouse Director of Access Technology, speaks during the conference.

Professional development opportunities like this conference help LightHouse’s knowledgeable Access Technology staff continue to provide students with high quality training that considers a student’s individual needs. For more information, visit our Accessible Technology webpage or contact skuan@lighthouse-sf.org.

This conference was made possible thanks to a generous grant from Ability Central.

Photos by Sarika Dagar

Employment Immersion Students Make Their Mark at Federal Job Fair

Employment Immersion Students Make Their Mark at Federal Job Fair

On September 4, 26 blind and low vision jobseekers who are part of LightHouse’s Employment Immersion Program, assembled at LightHouse Headquarters and walked as a group to the Federal Building in San Francisco for a job fair.

The jobseekers, dressed in business attire and armed with resumes and cover letters, spoke with representatives from twenty Federal agencies including the Department of Veterans Affairs, Social Security Administration, Transportation Security Administration, Department of Labor and more.

LightHouse’s Employment Immersion Program provides individualized training in job seeking skills to adults who are blind or have low vision. This includes resume and cover letter writing, interviewing, disclosing disability and more. With the unemployment rate for blind people in the United States at 70%, the Employment Immersion Program is dedicated to lowering that rate by providing students with the essential tools they need to be competitive in the job market.

Edward Wong, LightHouse Employment Specialist, remarked that other attendees at the job fair took note of the large group of blind people who sought the same employment opportunities as their sighted peers. “People noticed how many blind people were there. We were the white cane brigade.”

Are you a blind or low vision jobseeker? Visit our Employment Immersion webpage, call 415-694-7359 or email eiteam@lighthouse-sf.org to learn more.

Meet LightHouse Access Technology Specialist Amy Mason

Meet LightHouse Access Technology Specialist Amy Mason

The Lighthouse Access Technology Department offers up-to-date training in the latest accessible methods. Meet Amy Mason, one of our Access Technology Specialists, who trains students who are blind or have low vision on ways to make their phone, computer or other devices easier and more comfortable to use.

Amy began her journey with access technology while in high school in Cedar Bluffs, Nebraska, when her vision was changing. At first, she learned to use a rudimentary screen magnifier, then she moved on to using the popular screen reader, JAWS. But in college, although she used a computer, she had no idea how to set one up and did not keep up with newer versions of Microsoft Windows.

After getting her Bachelor’s degree, she continued her education at South East Community College in Lincoln, Nebraska, focusing on computer networking. She also taught computers to kids during the summer. It was important to her that her students learn not just how to use a computer but how to problem solve when their computer didn’t work. One of her teaching tricks was to unplug all the computers and disconnect the cables in the classroom. Her students were required to put them together before class, including troubleshooting if something wasn’t working. For example, if their computer wasn’t making sound, even with the cable for sound plugged in, Amy would prompt them with questions like, “Did you plug the auxiliary cable back into the right place?”

Amy has brought her sound techniques for getting students to problem-solve and explore to LightHouse. “It’s okay to try things,” she says. “It’s a lot like exploring a new neighborhood or cooking a new dish. You have to learn new skills, new information, and new landmarks, but a lot of your key concepts stay the same.” When students encounter something unfamiliar while using technology, Amy encourages them to apply the skills they’ve already learned and problem-solve.

Amy’s experiences have informed her teaching strategies. She relates how when she was growing up, her father brought a computer home with several tutorials, including one that taught computer basics. One sentence really stood out as she was going through the tutorial: “The computer is no more intelligent than a toaster.” Now, in explaining her approach to teaching, Amy uses the metaphor of a toaster to help her students understand the basic functions of a computer. “What you’re doing with a computer at its most basic level is no more complex than what you’re doing with a toaster,” she states, with amusement. “With a computer, you’re giving input, with a toaster, you’re giving it bread. Then you add in variables, such as ‘I want this input to be put out in this format’, or ‘I want the bread to be medium dark’. Then you execute the program. If you’re using the computer, you might get a spreadsheet. If you’re using a toaster, you get toast.”

During the course of training our students learn how to use a number of technologies. Among the things Amy can teach you are how to use a screen magnifier such as ZoomText, screen readers such as JAWS, your smartphone, email and other programs on your computer, and for braille users, how to use refreshable braille.

Amy is concerned with accessibility, but also has expertise in the user experience. Besides technology training, the LightHouse Access Technology Department works with developers to evaluate websites and mobile applications for accessibility. Amy likes to educate developers on the impact poor accessibility or a poor user experience has on a blind person. For instance, developers may not realize that many blind people do not use a mouse at all though the software they use assumes they do. As Amy explains, “if a someone has to press tab 52 times on a keyboard to get to where a mouse user can get with one click, well that is not a great user experience.”

Amy trains her students to become their own teachers, so that when they finish their training program at LightHouse, they are confident enough to problem-solve when their technology downloads an update. With her help she hopes they will be able to work through any changes the update brings because “they’ll have the tools they would need to explore.”

When Amy is not training you may find her hard at work on hobbies such as drawing and crocheting. Amy is owned by two especially opinionated cats.

Let LightHouse get you connected with access tech. If you are interested in Access Technology Training at LightHouse, visit our access technology webpage or email skuan@lighthouse-sf.org.

“In The Dark”: Is This New Show Cutting Edge, Or Are We In The Dark?

“In The Dark”: Is This New Show Cutting Edge, Or Are We In The Dark?

This spring, the CW network launched a show titled “In The Dark” which focuses on a woman named Murphy who is blind. She has lived a rough life and made many questionable choices. Murphy’s life has narrowed down to a job she hates at a guide dog school her parents created for her, two friends she relies on—her roommate and a teenager—in order to function, and a reckless, partying lifestyle. So, when she stumbles upon a dead body she believes to her friend, Tyson, and the case does  not receive the attention it deserves from the police, Murphy takes the investigation into her own hands.

Since before the first episode aired, critics who are sighted and blind have been speaking out about this series. Given its controversy, I thought the staff at LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco might find it interesting to view the pilot episode together. Thirty of us gathered over lunch to watch it with audio description and closed captioning and then entered into a lively discussion about how the show affects the stereotypes of blindness both in a positive and negative light, and how it may shape our work at LightHouse.

In Hollywood, people who are blind are portrayed as one-dimensional in the entertainment industry; their lives are wrapped up in a pretty bow by the end of the story. This pattern is part of the appeal of the show. In the beginning, Murphy is far from likable. She has no drive and uses everyone in her life to her advantage without returning the favor, including her guide dog Pretzel. When she loses one cane, then her spare breaks, she finally gives in and calls her dog over to her to come work.

The writers have a unique way of addressing the stereotypes in a way that is humorous and actually educational without being patronizing. For example, on one of Murphy’s benders, she left a bar with a married man and when his wife came home early, the man told Murphy to hide. Murphy crawled away and found a table to crouch under but when the wife came in that room, she immediately saw Murphy. “This is a glass table, isn’t it?”, Murphy says before she is thrown out. This brought a chuckle to the room when we watched together. It’s a typical scenario in movies, yet anyone who is blind can relate. Thus it makes it alright for sighted people to laugh along with people who are blind. 

There were some quirks we noticed as we watched. An accessible technology expert at LightHouse knows the tech vendor the show producers consulted about technology used by people who are blind. The cell phones used in the show make iPhone sounds but are Android phones. Another quirk is that the audio description does not mention that Murphy’s mom is white and her dad is black. It does come up in the episode that Murphy is adopted but we wondered if this is common for audio description to not mention race?

I am legally blind with limited sight, and this was one of the first times I have used audio description. I liked it, and found that I wanted all the information from audio description that a sighted person has, even if that might mean needing to pause the show while audio description catches us up.

The other issues we noticed revolved around the education of the writers in terms of blind travel and guide dog schools, or the lack thereof. Murphy’s sighted guide technique was terrible. It is hard to know whether that was due to her lack of wanting to be seen as blind or the writers’ lack of education? Also, Murphy seemed to use her cane and guide dog interchangeably. We discussed whether some of us do that as well, and asked each other when we use a dog versus a cane. Is one option preferable based on a situation, our mood or how we want to be perceived?

Ridiculously, Murphy’s parents opened up a guide dog school for Murphy. They thought it would be somewhere that she could thrive by working and being around other blind people. However, Murphy seems to despise the place. It is unclear whether that is due to her parents making her be there, that she doesn’t actually like the work and has other ideas for her life or that she wants to escape her blindness? Either way, I think we all can relate to people wanting to shelter us or swoop in and protect us at some point in our lives.

I originally watched the pilot episode in April to prepare to lead the discussion when the staff watched the episode together in May. It was hard not to go ahead and watch more episodes immediately! People have asked me if I liked the show. I’m not sure if “like” is the right word? It was intriguing, entertaining and thought-provoking. I will watch at least another episode or so to see how things develop. If the show becomes canned and predictable in its stereotypes, I will pass. I am left wondering, and will ask you as well, what is better: to have a white-washed version of blindness, or a nitty-gritty version of someone with ninety nine problems and blindness isn’t the first one?

Behind the Map: Starting over in a new city

Behind the Map: Starting over in a new city

In January, LightHouse started offering TMAP — on-demand tactile street maps — for order at our Adaptations Store (1-888-400-8933). We have been hearing some amazing stories about how our maps are being used, so we wanted to share them with our mapping community.

One month ago, Lia Jacobsen sat on a plane, nervous. She was moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan after living in Washington D.C. for 10 years. The prospect of learning a new city after all that time was, admittedly, a bit daunting.

On the tray table in front of her lay two TMAPs: one detailing the area around her new home in Ann Arbor, and another of the streets around the University of Michigan School of Social Work, where she was beginning a masters degree. Leah traced her hands along the raised lines of the map, determined to memorize the criss-crossing, partial grid system of her new town. She reviewed the braille street names using each map key, learning the quarter-mile radius map first, then working her way out to the more dense and complex 1.5-miles radius map.

The flight attendant paused at Lia’s row, and politely asked: “Excuse me, ma’am, would you like me to turn your light on?” The question struck Lia as a bit absurd. Why would a person need light to read a raised-line tactile map? She tried to be polite but some snark crept into her voice as she expressed her confusion. It wasn’t until this moment that she discovered that the maps were more than just embossed paper: the streets were printed in ink, as well.

A TMAP of the University of Michigan.
Image: A TMAP of the University of Michigan.

The humor of the situation helped dispel some of her nerves, and since arriving in Ann Arbor and completing several weeks of classes, Lia pretty much knows the lay of the land.  

“My TMAPs were hugely helpful because when I landed I already felt like I knew where I was,” she says. “It automatically made me feel much more comfortable because I knew what I was passing.”

On her first day on campus she caught a group of lost undergrads off-guard when she interjected and gave them directions to their building.  

“It’s about being more equal and having the freedom not to rely on other people,” she says. “I tend to explore no matter what, but it gives me a foundation and a starting point so I don’t feel totally lost. Feeling lost makes you just want to go home.”

Lia wishes she had had access to TMAP throughout her many years working on the Obama campaign, traveling far and wide as a member of the Peace Corps, traveling alone in Colombia, or as a kid growing up in Florida.  

“I never had tactile maps growing up,” she says. “My first time having a sort of tactile map, my O&M teacher took a piece of felt and put some velcro beads on it and made a makeshift map.”

She expects to use TMAPs much more as she pursues her masters in social work and hopefully heads back to D.C. to become a victim advocate for the FBI.

“I definitely plan on purchasing more TMAPs whenever I move next time and have been spreading the word about how much I love the TMAPs to all of my friends who are blind,” she says. “The task of learning a new community after being in the same place for a decade was daunting, and the maps I purchased were enormously helpful in my feeling oriented from day one.”

Get your TMAP today

To order a map, call our product specialists at 1-888-400-8933 and specify the street address of the map you’re interested in receiving. Within two business days we’ll ship you your map, or make it available for pick up at the Adaptations Store (1155 Market St., 10th Floor, San Francisco, CA).

What’s in the package?

  • You will receive 3 map versions printed at simple, moderate and dense map scale ratios
  • A tactile map key
  • An introductory page
  • All materials are printed on 11” X 11.5” sheets of embossed paper and include ink / large print labels in addition to braille

Learn more about the MAD Lab where these maps are produced.

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Aspiring DJs, producers and engineers: Jumpstart your career at the new LightHouse Audio Academy Workshops

Aspiring DJs, producers and engineers: Jumpstart your career at the new LightHouse Audio Academy Workshops

LightHouse’s new immersive program launches in fall 2018 to educate blind and low vision students for careers in music, radio, recording and more.

October 15 preview: Meet other aspiring blind DJ’s and get a performance from working DJ Ryan Dour at a free Audio Academy DJ Demo Night!

This fall LightHouse is pleased to announce our new Audio Academy, an ongoing series of immersive courses to teach employable skills in the field of audio engineering and production. For our first course, we are partnering with the Illinois-based, blind-run I See Music, the only school in the nation that offers a comprehensive audio education curriculum for blind and low vision learners.

“Intro to DJing” will be a 3-day intensive workshop, which will host a small group of students in our dorm-style residences over two nights for an immersive, high-value learning experience. The course will introduce students to the software Deejay Pro and teach students the basics of a fully accessible and non-visual DJ method. See full course details below.

The workshop will also include a comprehensive discussion of the vocational opportunities in the DJ field from Byron Harden, founder and CEO of I See Music. Come spend the weekend with your fellow audio heads, and learn the skills needed for competitive employment in the music and entertainment industry.

What is Audio Academy?

Back in the days of analog, being a blind radio disc jockey, record producer or even a house engineer was not out of the question. But with the turn of the century and the turn to digital, the industry traded knobs, buttons and sliders for inaccessible graphic user interfaces on screens. For several years, the accessibility of the audio industry screeched to a halt.

Today, the landscape is greatly improved: industry leaders like Apple, AVID, Algoriddim and Native Instruments have made commitments to accessibility, and blind individuals can finally operate the tools of the trade to become studio owners, radio producers and musicians in a competitive working environment.

LightHouse Audio Academy will continue over the course of the year with talks, informal gatherings and more immersive weekends (each weekend will focus on a different topic, software or hardware application).

Please note: all who are interested in the workshop must fill out our brief application form.

LHAA 101: Intro to DJing Workshop

When: Friday, Nov. 9 at 9 a.m. – Sunday Nov. 11 at 5 p.m. (3 days, 2 nights)

Where: LightHouse for the Blind offices and residences – 1155 Market Street., San Francisco, CA 94103

Who: For all blind and low vision students

Fee: $800, (includes 2-night overnight stay, breakfast and lunch for 3 days)

Prerequisites: Ability to navigate with VoiceOver on Mac OS

Equipment: Apple workstations will be provided to students for the weekend if necessary, but bringing your own computer (Mac OS or iPad only) and Deejay Pro-compatible DJ controller is recommended.

Apply: To apply for a spot in the first workshop you must fill out our brief Audio Academy application form, located here.

If you’re still unsure, join us on October 15 at 7 p.m. to get a sneak peak of what it’s like to blind DJ at our free preview event.

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