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Arts and Entertainment

What is Kendrick Lamar Hiding?

Kendrick Lamar sits at a microphone, wearing sunglasses

One of the biggest myths about Braille is that it’s hard to read or that it’s somehow another language. Neither is true. Braille is just simple, straightforward code. In a cover story this month for Mass Appeal magazine, hip-hop superstar Kendrick Lamar admitted that he was now using Braille, a somewhat curious announcement that piqued our interest here at the LightHouse. Turns out he had stashed a Braille message in the liner notes of his new, Billboard-topping album, To Pimp A Butterfly [listen on Spotify]. “Nobody has caught [it] yet,” he told Mass Appeal, blowing his own cover and explaining that the message, when decoded, would reveal the album’s full title.

But there were some problems. Kendrick hadn’t really created very useful Braille. For starters, there were no bumps. The dots were printed, not embossed, ironically obscuring their whole raison d’être. This wasn’t lost on Lamar, in fact maybe it was intentional: “You can’t [sic] actually feel the bump lines. But if you can see it, which is the irony of it, you can break down the actual full title of the album.” So — it was Braille, yes — but Braille for the sighted. Kendrick is counting on the fact that no one really knows Braille, which is not far off. After all, getting someone with good vision to learn Braille is kind of like getting Winnie the Pooh to start wearing pants — it might happen, but don’t hold your breath. So why should you care about this Braille message, or any Braille at all for that matter?

The answer is literacy. It’s estimated that only about 10% of blind people know Braille, which means 90% of blind people are missing out on millions of the world’s accessible texts. As a newly blind (low-vision) person myself, I don’t read Braille, either. So I couldn’t translate the secret message from Kendrick Lamar myself, either. Luckily we have a whole team of people here to do just that. The folks in our access to information services (AIS) department specialize in this exact stuff — translating and elucidating information — not only here at LightHouse, but for the public. They Braille business cards, restaurant menus, maps, and all other kinds of tactile documents. All I had to do was walk across the hall and ask “Have you guys ever heard of Kendrick Lamar?”

a page from Kendrick Lamar's CD booklet, blown up and Brailled

Within minutes, I had a big piece of paper — much bigger than a CD booklet — right in front of me, fully Brailled, courtesy of AIS. The reason they had to blow it up was because the CD-booklet-sized Braille code was actually way too small for a real blind person to read, even if it was raised on the page. This is directly related to the size of human fingertips. In order to differentiate between dots, you need Braille to be a certain size. This is also why converting from small print to to Braille often takes more paper. (If you want to see how many pages a document would take up as Braille, resize the font to 29 pt).  Because the original Braille on To Pimp a Butterfly was done in ink, now not only was the Braille message tactile but it was also visual. This is somewhat rare — to have Braille with ink on top of it, that a sighted person can look at and, if not read, at least organize in their mind.

If you’re sighted, look at the photo above; Kind of takes some of the mystery out of what all those blind people are running their fingers across, doesn’t it? If you look at the photo above, you’ll see one simple dot on the first line — that’s the letter “a.” And for those who are interested in Braille learning that’s similarly visual and tactile, we actually offer books like this in our store, along with some other goodies. I still wanted to know exactly what Kendrick’s message meant, though, and I wanted to hear it from an expert.

a chocolate bar with the letters EHC

I brought the Kendrick-Braille to Frank Welte, one of our Braille experts, who coincidentally was munching on one of our dark chocolate, Braille-studded candy bars. His dog Jeep came and said hi first, then I handed Frank the sheet to tell me what it said. He came at it with his left hand — perhaps counterintuitively — peoples fingers are, for some reason, often more sensitive on the left. It only took him a split second before he started translating:

”A Kendrick By Letter Blank Lamar.”

What the hell does that mean? It didn’t make sense. The Braille is actually formatted quite well — the cell spacing was just right, which is something that beginning Braillers don’t often consider. And yet, the words were completely mixed up. Upon further Googling, I found that other Braille experts reached the same conclusion when consulted about the album art. The Braille was actually pretty good, but the sentence was incoherent. Complex magazine figured it must be a mistake. But our expert disagrees.

“People could take a Braille alphabet card and figure it out. But it’s still weird that they didn’t get it in order. There’s no obvious reason why it wouldn’t be in order… They might have intentionally scrambled it just for the fun of it.”

The Braille was in its simplest form, sure — lower case and uncontracted — but there was no reason the words should be shuffled around, unless through human error or intention. We can only conclude that Kendrick wanted to obscure the meaning even further — or just thought that the dots looked cool that way and that no real blind people would actually bother decoding it.

But decode it we did, and diehard fans of the Compton rapper already know where this is going: the words, rearranged, are meant to say “A Blank Letter By Kendrick Lamar.” That’s the real, extended title to To Pimp A Butterfly. We know this because Lamar’s last album, Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City, had a similar subtitle: “A Short Film By Kendrick Lamar.” So there you go. To be honest, it kind of seemed too easy. And our experts agree:

“A lot of people think learning Braille must be terrible, like learning a whole foreign language,” Frank told me later on,”but it’s really much easier than that. The best analogy I can think of is like when you’re a kid, and you learn your printed letters, then you’re introduced to handwriting. It’s the same language, just different-shaped characters. That’s what learning Braille is like, it’s like learning cursive. It’s actually even easier than cursive, because everyone’s handwriting is different, but with Braille, every letter is the same.”

There’s a lot more to say about Braille, but we’ll save that for another day. Most importantly, next time you want Braille done right, whether you’re a famous rapper or not, do yourself a favor and email an expert — hint hint (that’s us).

Email Will Butler at communications@lighthouse-sf.org. (Twitter).


Woodworking with the LightHouse: Build a Birdhouse

Blind and Visually Impaired Kids and Teens: It’s time to charge the power tools and sharpen the saws, because shop class is coming to the LightHouse. Those of us who are blind craftspeople know that with the right tools and training blind kids and teens can build anything.

So put on your gloves and goggles, and experience a hands-on demonstration by a blind craftsman. Once you’ve mastered the safety demo, we’ll hand the tools over to you so that you can make your very own birdhouse to proudly take home and show off to your friends and family.

Who: Low vision and blind youth, ages 8 to 18
When: Saturday, May 16, 1:00 to 6:00 p.m.
Where: LightHouse San Francisco Headquarters
Waiver: Each participant must complete a LightHouse Youth Program Application, if you have not done so already.
Cost: FREE
RSVP: Space is limited to 10 participants! Please RSVP by May 13 to Jamey Gump, Youth Services Coordinator, at jgump@lighthouse-sf.org or (415) 694-7372.

Don’t forget to sign up for our monthly Youth Program Events email! Contact Jamey Gump, Youth services Coordinator, at 415-694-7372 or jgump@lighthouse-sf.org.

Are You a Blind Musician? Fine-tune Your Craft at Blind Music Academy

Do you sing or play an instrument? Train with some of our nation’s best teachers at our summer Music Academy at Enchanted Hills Camp.

Our Academy is open to young musicians all over the world!

Travis Nichols (left) and Jimmy Cong play guitar while sitting on the newly built Redwood Grove Stage

After a hugely successful debut in 2014, the LightHouse will partner for a second year with Dancing Dots, the world’s leading provider of accessible music technology for the blind, to bring our summertime Music Academy back to the redwoods. The Academy is open to young, motivated blind and low vision musicians who are 14 to 25 years old.

Bill McCann, President and Founder of Dancing Dots, will spend the entire week with the aspiring musicians. McCann, blind himself, will lead a team of four blind instructors and technicians to teach the latest and greatest techniques for blind and low vision students. Also returning is former camper and current EHC staff member Shane Dittmar, who will bring his energy and talent to teaching what he loves most.

19-year-old Chris Nakamura attended last year and here’s what he told us:

“I really had a wonderful time and enjoyed my one-week stay. I attended classes, seminars and presentations to learn how to read, write and record music as well as listen to various artists and styles and add to my music library. Each day there was time to practice, socialize with other campers and relax with other musicians. There was a talent show at the end of camp which was a lot of fun. I would definitely recommend this camp to other blind musicians.”

Chris went on to say, “This camp is great for those who are serious and have a passion for music as it introduces them to new ways to digitally write down music through computer technology, read the works of others, arrange and perform their music as well as gain the knowledge and skills to work in the music field as they grow older. Campers who go will have lots of fun and a lot to look forward to.”

Featuring Special Guests
The week will feature special guest musicians from Napa and the Bay Area and the opportunity to perform live on our new Redwood Grove Theater Stage.

When: Monday, August 3 through Sunday, August 9
Where: Enchanted Hills Camp for the Blind, Napa
Cost for the week, all-inclusive: $300
(If the registration fee is a barrier, let us know; some scholarships will be available.)

To sign up, contact Taccarra Burrell at 451-694-7310 or ehc@lighthouse-sf.org or go to the Enchanted Hills page on our website: http://lighthouse-sf.org/programs/enchanted-hills/

Family Fun Night with the LightHouse Youth Program

Three youth playing “cotton ball scoop” - a timed game where they had to move cotton balls, using just a spoon in their mouths, from one bowl to another bowl that is placed on a team-mates head. Each player is given 5 minutes to move as many as they can. The team with the most cotton balls at the end of 5 minutes wins.In early March members of our Youth Program and their families from around the Bay Area gathered to participate in the first Family Game Night of 2015. The evening was filled with good old-fashioned fun that had each family working as a team. There was a mummy race, a paper airplane throwing contest, a frozen t-shirt race, a cotton ball scoop race, Tactile Twister and more. The evening finished up with families facing off in the egg drop competition.

If you’d like to learn about LightHouse Youth programs or be included in the next Youth Leaders Summit, as a student or as a mentor, please contact Jamey Gump, Youth services Coordinator, at 415-694-7372 or jgump@lighthouse-sf.org.

Did you know we have a Youth Program eNewsletter? If you are a blind or a low vision youth, or the parent of someone who is blind or low vision, you need to sign up for it! This is the email that will tell you all about the LightHouse social, recreational and educational outings and adventures we offer each month, just for blind and low vision youth. You’ll also hear about scholarship and other youth related educational and leadership opportunities. To sign up for our Youth Program Newsletter, or for more information about the program, please contact Jamey Gump, Youth services Coordinator, at 415-694-7372 or jgump@lighthouse-sf.org.

LightHouse Students Honor Loved Ones with Memorial Quilt

Molly Irish holds a rainbow square of the Memory QuiltEach week students and friends of the LightHouse are fulfilling a long-standing desire to honor those from the LightHouse family that we’ve lost. LightHouse Students Janice Leong, Elisa Serafini, Liz Klein, Diep “Marie” Vuong along with Molly Irish, LightHouse Community Services Coordinator have begun work on the Memory Quilt, which will memorialize LightHouse students, teachers and volunteers who have passed on.

Molly told us, “A couple of years ago the students and I were talking about what we could do to commemorate the people we have been connected to here at the LightHouse, who have passed on. We have a list of about 50 people who have passed in the last 20 years. It will take a few months to finish.”

Each square of the quilt features hand-stitched concentric squares of fabric, each square a different color. White clouds will be sewn onto the quilt and the names of all those honored will be written on the clouds. When it is done, the quilt will proudly hang at our San Francisco Headquarters office for all to reflect on and enjoy. A braille list of names will be available.

You are warmly invited to help us make the Memory Quilt. The group meets Tuesdays from 10:00 a.m. to noon at LightHouse San Francisco Headquarters. For more information contact Molly Irish at mpearson@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7320.

Access Day – High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection

The Legion of Honor is hosting an Access Day to view the following exhibition:

High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection
Where: Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco
Access Viewing Day:  Monday, May 4, 2015
Exhibition Dates: March 14, 2015 – July 19, 2015

Benefits of Access Day
– Admission by appointment
– Reduced crowds and discounted fees
– Free for each member and one guest

Non-members: $5 per person; some free tickets available for those with financial need (make request on reservation form in link below)

Access Features

  1. Extra blue parking spaces at the Legion of Honor
  2. Maps with parking and transportation information
  3. Extra seating inside and outside the exhibition
  4. Portable large-print editions of exhibition labels
  5. Docent-led tours
  6. Verbal description tours at 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon


Available upon request (see form in link below)

  1. Wheelchairs and folding stools
  2. American Sign Language interpretation (please request at least two weeks in advance)
  3. Materials in alternative formats for study in advance of visit
  4. Assistive listening devices

Click here for the reservation form.  Please print the reservation form out and send the form (with check, if necessary) to:

Access Program
de Young
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco, CA 94118

For other requests, please contact the Access Program at access@famsf.org or 415-750-7645.

Bay to Breakers Blind Centipede – Looking for Participants

The San Francisco chapter of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) is organizing a group to participate in the world-famous Bay to Breakers foot race. Bay to Breakers is one of San Francisco’s premier events. Participants dress up in creative costumes and run/walk a 12 km course through the city. For fun, some participants bind themselves together in what is known as a “centipede,” and dress up in a creative theme. Examples include runners with chairs strapped to their backs pretending to be a roller coaster, runners holding cardboard cut-outs painted as a MUNI bus, and other similar themes.

This year, NFB San Francisco are going to assemble as a blind centipede. They have built a harness contraption made of nimble plastic pipes and hoses that will allow a group of blind people to all move together in perfect synchronicity through the race course. It will be a fun and informative example of what blind people can do when they work together and apply a little bit of ingenuity.

Would you like to participate?

When: Sunday, May 17 starting at 8:00 a.m.
Where: San Francisco
Cost: $54

If you are interested in joining in, or for more information, please contact Tim Elder by phone at 925-784-0512 or by email at eldert@uchastings.edu.


Shop for a Cause: Stella & Dot Fundraiser is a Fun Way to Support Enchanted Hills Camp for the Blind

Shop for a Cause: Stella & Dot Fundraiser is a Fun Way to Support Enchanted Hills Camp for the Blind

Join LightHouse Board Member Gena Harper and her guide dog, Yulie, at a Stella and Dot fundraiser in Davis, CA. Proceeds will go towards the transformative programs of Enchanted Hills Camp for the Blind. Can’t make it to the party? Shop online between now and April 24th and proceeds will go to Enchanted Hills. Check out the jewelry and other items to adorn the fashionista.

When: Friday, April 3, 2015 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.
Where: Vini Wine Bar, 611 2nd Street, Davis, CA

Art at Your Fingertips During March 23 Access Day at the de Young

“The greatest thing about Access Day is that the museum is closed so you can get closer to the art. Also the docents are specifically trained to be more descriptive in talking about the art. These tours are specifically for people who are blind or visually impaired.”
-Beth Berenson, LightHouse Community Services and Information and Referral Coordinator

Enjoy a unique opportunity to see the exhibition Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland.

When: March 23, 2015
Where: de Young Museum, San Francisco
Free for each member and one guest
Non-members: $5 per person; some free tickets available for those with financial need.

The Exhibition runs March 7 through May 3, 2015.

Perks of Access Day include:
Admission by appointment
Reduced crowds and discounted fees
Extra blue parking spaces at the de Young
Maps with parking and transportation information
Extra seating inside and outside the exhibition
Portable large-print editions of exhibition labels
Docent-led tours
Verbal description tours at 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon

Available upon request:
Wheelchairs and folding stools
American Sign Language interpretation (please request at least two weeks in advance)
Materials in alternative formats for study in advance of visit
Assistive listening devices

For other requests, please contact Rebecca Bradley at rbradley@famsf.org or 415-750-7645.

Click here to download the reservation form.

Join us on Fridays for Art Exploration

Art Exploration is about exploring your creativity and expressing yourself. Ruthie Campbell Miller, an Art Therapist who specializes in working with people with Visual Impairments, facilitates the group with a balance of structure and freedom. The art projects are based on our students’ interest, and the possibilities are almost endless.

Where: LightHouse San Francisco Headquarters
When: Fridays, 2:00 to 3:30 p.m.

Everyone is welcome – come check it out! RSVP to LightHouse Community Services Coordinator Molly Irish at 415-694-7320 or mpearson@lighthouse-sf.org.