Submissions for the 2021 Holman Prize for Blind Ambition have now closed and now you can help your favorite advance to the semifinals as the People’s Choice Semifinalist. The person with the most likes on their YouTube video will automatically advance to the semifinals and have a chance to compete to become a finalist.
LightHouse has a lot to celebrate this Thursday, October 15 which is White Cane Day. This is a day to recognize the presence, equality and achievements of people who are blind or have low vision. In 1964, a joint resolution by the United States Congress was signed into law. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the first White Cane Day proclamation a few hours later.
October 15 also happens to be the birth date of James Holman. Holman is the namesake of LightHouse’s Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, an award given annually to three blind people with ambitious ideas. James Holman was a 19thcentury British explorer who was known as “The Blind Traveler.” Holman was the most prolific private traveler of anyone, blind or sighted, before the era of modern transportation. To learn more about his incredible story, you can read “A Sense of the World” by author Jason Roberts.
Throughout October, we’re offering 10% off white canes and accessories at our Adaptations Store. You can order white canes and cane accessories on the Adaptations Website, call 1-888-400-8933 or contact the team at Adaptations using the Be My Eyes app on your smart phone.
Finally, end your celebration of White Cane Day with LightHouse’s 30% & Growing Virtual Meetup, a relaxed setting to talk all things blind employment on Thursday from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. This month’s guest is Domonique Lawless, who teaches cane travel at the Virginia Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Vision Impaired and hosts a podcast on the world of blind employment. Contact Serena Olsen at SOlsen@lighthouse-sf.org and let her know you’ll be there.
Each year, the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, funded by LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco, provides three blind people up to $25,000 each to carry out an ambitious idea. On June 22, 2019, Holman Prize winner Red Szell successfully completed his extreme blind triathlon, which included a 10-mile off-road tandem bike ride, an open-water swim and a 213-foot climb up Am Buachaille, a vertical rock formation off the coast of Scotland. We interviewed Red shortly after his successful climb to get his reflections on training for his Holman Prize adventure.
Red’s triathlon training began in earnest last October. “I had a pretty high level of fitness from climbing and swimming,” Red, age 49, says, “but I had to ramp it up because I would be outside for twelve hours.” Red began incorporating running on a treadmill into his training regimen but injured his right Achilles tendon in January. With the help of twice-weekly physiotherapy sessions and some modifications to his training techniques, Red was able to continue preparing to climb Am Buachaille. Despite the ordeal, Red’s injury ultimately provided some benefits. “It actually helped my climbing because we worked on ankle stability and stretching,” he explained.
Besides the physical training required to successfully complete his Holman Prize goal, Red also had to navigate logistics, such as planning a practice climbing trip to Sardinia, finding a videographer to film the triathlon, getting the tandem bike from London to Scotland and more. “Being the CEO of my own project is something that I never really expected to do,” he admits. “That is a very difficult challenge but also immensely enjoyable and character-building. I feel a genuine sense of achievement and personal growth that has resulted from being awarded a Holman Prize.”
Red has always loved climbing, spending his teenage years climbing in the Welsh mountains in Wales. When he was 20, he was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a progressive condition that eventually causes blindness. As Red’s vision continued changing, he became depressed and stopped climbing. More than twenty years later, Red, now a father and journalist, had learned blindness skills. His passion for climbing was reignited at a birthday party for his daughter at a climbing gym. He decided it was time to learn to climb as a blind man.
In 2013, Red became the first blind man to climb the Old Man of Hoy, another sea stack in Scotland. Red declares that was “a personal achievement.” Successfully climbing Am Buachaille was different, however, because of the scope of the Holman Prize as a worldwide competition. Red remarks that the Holman Prize demonstrates to everyone “what blind people can achieve with the right support and determination.”
Going forward, Red will include his Holman Prize experience in the presentations he gives about being a blind climber, but more importantly, he will encourage other blind people to apply for the Holman Prize. From applying for the prize, to winning it, to carrying it out, Red views the Holman Prize as “a journey of self-discovery.” Listen to Red talk about his harrowing adventure here. Red’s experience will be documented in a forthcoming audio-described documentary of his “Extreme Triathlon” full of Red’s humor and outrageous Scottish scenery, called Shared Vision.
Do you have Holman Prize aspirations? Holman Prize submissions open in January 2020. For more information about the Holman Prize, visit HolmanPrize.org.
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LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired’s Holman Prizewinners will each use their $25,000 awards to promote blind empowerment by building a tool for blind people to find exoplanets, taking a plunge into public transit in six cities around the world and developing a network of blind mentors for the first time in rural Gambia.
In just a few months, three intrepid blind individuals will set off around the world in a daring series of groundbreaking adventures as the 2019 winners of the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition.
We announce the three 2019 Holman Prize winners: Yuma Decaux, Alieu Jaiteh and Mona Minkara after a rigorous, multifaceted judging process. Each winning project embodies its own sense of adventure and ambition – Yuma plans to give blind citizens advanced tools to participate in astronomical research, Alieu will create a network of blind mentors in his home country of The Gambia, where this is unheard of, and Mona will immerse herself in an adventure on mass transit systems worldwide, documenting the experience on film.
Created to change perceptions and popularize the concept of “blind ambition”, the San Francisco LightHouse’s Holman Prize Holman Prize annually awards three blind adventurers up to $25,000 to support their ambitious dreams.
Now in its third year, the prize is named for James Holman (1786-1857), a Victorian-era adventurer and author. As the first blind person to circumnavigate the globe, he holds the further distinction of being the most prolific traveler in history, sighted or blind, prior to the invention of modern transportation.
“While many awards in the blindness field look toward past accomplishment, the LightHouse is determined to spark new initiatives for future growth by some of the world’s most ambitious blind people,” said LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin.
The LightHouse was first introduced to the three applicants through their 90-second video pitches. You can see their original pitches here:
The three Holman Prizewinners will fly to San Francisco in September 2019 for a week-long orientation before starting their project year on October 1. Once they land in San Francisco, the winners will not only meet and learn from each other, but they will engage with other blind teachers, technologists and leaders from LightHouse’s extended network. The winners will also create comprehensive plans to document and share their experiences along the way through video, audio, writing and other media.
Our 2018 prizewinners are each in the final stages of their Holman projects. Stacy Cervenka launched the Blind Travelers’ Network last month, Red Szell successfully completed his extreme blind triathlon and Conchita Hernandez will soon host a blindness workshop in Mexico.
LightHouse is still interested in finding corporate or philanthropic supporters for the 12 finalists who we found irresistible but simply couldn’t fund this year. For possible support please contact Jennifer Sachs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Applications or the 2020 Holman Prize will open in January 2020. Please consult www.holmanprize.org for details.
The Holman Prize is determined by a prestigious international group of judges, all of whom are blind.
The prize is a flagship program of the LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco, who will salute each winner in an annual gala now set for the fall of 2020 in San Francisco.
About the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition
In 2017, LightHouse for the Blind, headquartered in San Francisco, launched the Holman Prize to support the emerging adventurousness and can-do spirit of blind and low vision people worldwide. This endeavor celebrates people who want to shape their own future instead of having it laid out for them.
Created specifically for legally blind individuals with a penchant for exploration of all types, the Prize provides financial backing – up to $25,000 – for three individuals to explore the world and push their limits. Learn more at holmanprize.org.
About the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco
The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. To offer your support, contact email@example.com. Individuals may donate any amount using LightHouse’s secure form. For sponsorship inquiries, email us or call +1 (415) 694-7333.
For press inquiries, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, a set of annual awards of up to $25,000 each for legally blind individuals with big ideas, is proud to announce its 2019 finalists. We received 111 applications from six continents, and narrowed down the field to 41 semifinalists. The semifinalists’ proposed projects were incredible, and highlight advocates, artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, and more; that made it a tall order to narrow it down to just fifteen finalists.
This week, we’re proud to announce our elite group of fifteen finalists, including a “People’s Choice” finalist who we honor for receiving the highest number of YouTube ‘likes’ for his ambitious idea. These finalists will all be in the running to make their ambitions a reality when our Holman Committee meets in San Francisco this June.
The fifteen finalists include an activist, a pole dancer, a bird expert, a snowboarder, a few sailors and more. Over the next month, we hope you’ll sound off on which Holman Prize candidate you want to see take their ambitions on the road. Feel free to tag Holman Prize on Twitter, Instagram and head to the LightHouse’s Facebook page for more updates.
Meet the 2019 Finalists
Abdullah is interested in e-commerce. With the Holman Prize, he would create a global consultation app for blind people to find information on learning, mobility, fitness and e-commerce.
Krystle, who once advocated for people with disabilities in Tokyo, would use the Holman Prize to pay for fifteen blind women to participate in the Miss Blind Diva Empowerment Fellowship Program. This is a sixteen-week program that provides personal and professional development and ends with the Miss Blind Diva Empowerment Pageant.
Trevor loves science and the outdoors. With the Holman Prize, he would travel and teach blind people to identify birds by sound and explore other natural soundscapes.
Natalie is an author and activist. With the Holman Prize, she would travel and collect stories from people of color with albinism around the world and share these stories in an anthology and documentary.
Yuma loves hiking and surfing. With the Holman Prize, he would build an online community to make astronomy more accessible to blind people, with the hopes of a blind person discovering an exoplanet.
Deniz, Yunus, Utku and Mina are from Turkey. With the Holman Prize, they would take the Trans-Siberian Express from Moscow to Beijing and create a documentary about it to inspire blind children to travel independently.
Pauline and her guide dog live on a sailboat on the Boston Harbor. She would use the Holman Prize to form an all-female crew of blind sailors to compete in the 2020 Newport to Bermuda Race, which goes from Newport, Rhode Island to the island of Bermuda.
Stephanie is a newlywed whose wedding received media coverage when she requested her guests wear blindfolds during the vows. With the Holman Prize, Stephanie would film the pilot for a sensory travel show, that explores destinations non-visually through the senses of sound, smell, touch and taste. She would then shop this pilot to television executives with hopes for a series pickup.
Dennis worked as a teacher ranger with the National Park service. With the Holman Prize, he would create a podcast to highlight the specific sounds from various national park locations, which would help blind people learn about the natural world in an accessible way.
Alieu is the founder of Start Now, a training program for blind people in The Gambia. With the Holman Prize, he would provide eighty blind people with rehabilitation training in rural Gambia.
Lisamaria has been active in sports all her life. Recently, she’s discovered pole dance. With the Holman Prize, she would use workshops, training and audio description to make pole dance accessible to blind people across the United States.
Bonface is a human rights activist. With the Holman Prize, he would create parent circles, so parents could discuss how to raise children with albinism and change the perception of children with albinism in Malawi.
Mona is working on postdoctoral research in computational chemistry. With the Holman Prize, she would film a documentary series called Planes, Trains and Canes, where she would navigate and access the public transportation systems of five cities around the world.
Kris is the North American representative for Blind Sailing International and would use the Holman Prize to form a crew of blind sailors to complete in the Race to Alaska, a 750-mile race from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska.
Pamela, an extreme sports enthusiast, enjoys many sports but her favorites are mountain biking and snowboarding. She would use the Holman Prize to train to heli-snowboard off the mountains of Whistler, British Columbia, Canada.
In its third year, the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition received 111 applications from six continents. The semifinalists’ proposed projects are incredible, and highlight advocates, artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, and more. It won’t be an easy task to choose the three 2019 prizewinners from such a strong and diverse group.
The Holman Team is in the process of selecting finalists for the judging committee to select from, but in the meantime, we invite you to peruse the whole group of semifinalist submission videos to experience the diversity of people and proposals in the field.
This week, all semi-finalists have submitted their complete application packets, hundreds of pages of ambitious detail which will help them change the world’s perception of blindness. In just a few weeks, we’ll welcome our judges at LightHouse in San Francisco to review the finalists’ proposals and select the 2019 Holman prizewinners.
As always, the prestigious Holman judge panel represents a leading cross-section of blind talent and experience, a group devoted to the highest ideal of blindness, both personally and professionally.
Meet the Holman Committee:
Jennison Asuncion, Engineering Manager, LinkedIn
“I lost my sight before I was two. So to me, being blind has always felt normal. It is part of me but does not define who I am.”
Jennison Asuncion moved to the Bay Area in November 2013 to lead LinkedIn’s digital accessibility efforts. Originally from Montreal, he has been working in digital accessibility for over ten years. In 2012, Jennison co-founded the annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). Held annually on the third Thursday of May, GAAD is dedicated to raising awareness of digital access and inclusion by and for the more than one billion people with disabilities. Jennison sits on the Board of Directors for the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired San Francisco, AMI (Accessible Media Inc.), and Knowbility.
Bryan Bashin, CEO LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Bryan Bashin has led a diverse life since he graduated UC Berkeley in history and journalism. Mr. Bashin first spent 15 years as a journalist in television, radio and print, specializing in science news. In 1998 he was hired as Executive Director of the Sacramento Society for the Blind, where he quintupled the number of hours of teaching and developed innovative programs such as the Senior Intensive Retreat and summer immersion camps. In 2004, Mr. Bashin was hired as the Region IX assistant regional commissioner for the US Department of Education’s west coast branch of RSA, overseeing funding for $500 million in federal disability programs. In 2010 he was hired to lead the LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco, where he works today with a staff of 140. Mr. Bashin is a relentless innovator, working with a remarkable idealistic staff. Throughout his career, Mr. Bashin has worked in the confluence of high technology, social advocacy and governmental partnerships.
Eric Bridges, Executive Director, American Council of the Blind
“I believe that people who are blind or visually impaired should strive to be the best they can be, and I believe that each blind or visually impaired person has the right and responsibility to define success on his or her own terms.”
Eric joined the staff of the American Council of the Blind in 2007. In 2013, he became the Director of External Relations and Policy, cultivating many key relationships with business, industry, government officials, and agency staff. Two years later, the Board appointed him executive director. He is responsible for overseeing the daily operations of both of ACB’s offices.
Kerryann Ifill, President of the Senate, Barbados
“The art of living with blindness demands absolute creativity; creativity in attaining and maintaining your own independence, creativity in charting a path that encourages others to emulate your example, creativity in ensuring that others value and recognise your individuality and the right to be the whole person you were designed to be.”
Kerryann’s life continues to be characterized by landmarks. As the first totally blind student completing mainstream education to post graduate level; becoming the first female to hold the office of President of the Senate, the only person with a disability and the youngest person. She has served both professionally and personally in various organizations for persons with disabilities, both locally and regionally and currently hold the office of President of both my the National United Society of the Blind Barbados and the Caribbean Council for the Blind. She represented her country and at several local, regional and international fora on a cadre of issues related to disabilities. The Holman Prize embodies her belief that blindness is not a burden, but an exciting opportunity.
Anil Lewis, Executive Director, National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute
“Blindness is a paradigm shift.”
A passionate advocate for the rights, education and employment of blind people everywhere, Anil currently serves as the executive director of Blindness Initiatives for the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, MD, where he leads a dynamic team of individuals responsible for the creation, development, implementation, and replication of innovative projects and programs throughout a nationwide network of affiliates that work to positively affect the education, employment, and quality of life of all blind people.
Dr. Sile O’Modhrain, Professor, University of Michigan
A professor in performing arts technology at the school of Music, Theatre and Dance at the University of Michigan, O’Modhrain brings a wide breadth of personal and professional skill to the Holman Prize committee. With past careers in sound engineering, technology, music and more – and passionate study in the fields of arts, assistive technology, and haptics – O’Modhrain is constantly in search of better ways for blind people to access information and work in the world.
Sassy Outwater-Wright, Executive Director, Massachusetts Association of the Blind
“There is no one right way to do vision loss. There is your way, and individuality is essential to accessibility. We’re writing history now, deciding how to combine technology and our own humanity to redefine what independence means to us as individuals who are part of the same community. Dignity, opportunity, innovation and accessibility feed off each other.”
Sassy is the executive director of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually impaired (MABVI). She lost her sight at 3 due to retinoblastoma, and has had several rounds of cancer since then. She is a passionate digital accessibility advocate, specializing in technology for people with multiple disabilities, and studying how intersectionality, artificial intelligence, and intersecting marginalizing factors affect people. She lives in the infamous Salem, Massachusetts, and it fits her perfectly.
Dr. Britt Raubenheimer, Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
“Losing vision was a hurdle, but it forced me to grow. When I lost my sight I thought I would need to discontinue my work and many of my activities. But instead, overcoming my inability to see taught me self-confidence and encouraged me to explore.”
Britt is a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, MA. Working with a team of other scientists, students, and engineers, she collects and analyzes measurements to understand interactions among coastal waves and surge, beach and dune evolution, groundwater, and winds and precipitation during extreme storms. When others evacuate before a hurricane, Britt often is on her way to the beach. Deploying her instruments in the ocean requires SCUBA, and Britt is the only legally blind, certified, university research diver. Britt resides in northern Idaho, where she serves on the board of the Idaho Commission for the Blind, and enjoys skiing, hiking, and knitting.
Jason Roberts, Author, ‘A Sense of the World’
An accomplished author, Roberts’ acclaimed work, about the intrepid blind traveler (and namesake of this prize) James Holman, “A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler,” was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award, long-listed for the international Guardian First Book Award, and named a Best Book of the Year by the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle and Kirkus Reviews. Born in Southern California, Roberts earned his high school diploma at fourteen, then took a five-year hiatus from education. He worked as a day laborer, dishwasher and late-night disc jockey before matriculating at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He lives in Sausalito, California, with his wife, a chemical engineer, and their two young children.
Dr. Sharon Sacks, Retired Superintendent, California School for the Blind
Dr. Sacks is recently retired from her post as Superintendent of the California School for the Blind. During her tenure, Dr. Sacks led a staff of 150 and promoted education excellence for students served on campus and through outreach programs throughout the state. Prior to her role as superintendent, Dr. Sacks was the Director of Curriculum, Assessment, & Staff Development at CSB. After receiving her doctorate, Sharon coordinated programs, and was a university professor in moderate/severe disabilities at San Jose State University, and programs in visual impairments at California State University, Los Angeles. Dr. Sacks worked as a TVI for eight years as a resource and itinerant teacher prior to assuming leadership positions.
Dr. Sacks is a strong advocate for ensuring quality services for children and adults who are blind or visually impaired through her direct work with families, consumer organizations, and professional organizations. She is the recipient of the Mary K. Bauman Award for Distinguished Service in Education, and a past president of AERBVI. Dr. Sacks currently serves on the Lighthouse’s Board of Directors.
Dr. Zach Shore, Historian
A historian of international conflict, Dr. Shore is the author of five books, including “A Sense of the Enemy.” Shore is Associate Professor of History at the Naval Postgraduate School and Senior Fellow at the Institute of European Studies, University of California, Berkeley. He earned his doctorate in modern history at Oxford, performed postdoctoral research at Harvard, and held a fellowship at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.
Kathryn Webster, President, National Association of Blind Students
“Though a single inconvenience, blindness has the power to ignite strength, resilience, and confidence. We may grow exhausted of educating society of our abilities, but who more qualified than blind communities to shatter the glass ceiling that eternally perpetuates negative misconceptions?”
Kathryn graduated from Wake Forest University with high honors, receiving Bachelor of Science degrees in Statistics and Computer Science in 2017. Her scholastic achievements propelled her into a career with Deloitte & Touché, LLP where she specializes in strategic transformation and data analytics. Kathryn recognizes the value in intertwining corporate prowess with civic engagement, thus jumpstarting a statewide transition program for blind and low vision youth, designed to ignite confidence and independence, demonstrate the value of mentorship, and encourage Virginia’s youth to shoot for the stars. Kathryn proudly serves as President of the National Association of Blind Students (NABS), Kathryn lives each day with true authenticity, bringing difficult conversations to the table and engaging in a persistent challenge to be the best version of herself.
Holly Scott-Gardner, Blindness Advocate and Blogger
“I view my blindness as an integral part of who I am. It has shaped my experiences and more often than not presented me with opportunities I don’t believe I would have had if I could see. The so-called difficulties of blindness more often than not result from a world that is not built with blindness in mind. Whether I’m faced with an inaccessible payment terminal, or a stranger who insists I shouldn’t cross the street alone, I am wrestling with an inaccessible world and the misinformed views many hold on blindness. My blindness isn’t the thing that needs to be changed.”
Holly is a public speaker, blindness advocate and Youtube creator in the U.K. When Holly was still a teenager in school, she realized that she could use her voice and experiences to change how blindness is viewed. Eight years after setting up her blog she has spoken in Parliament, lobbying the government to alter its provisions for disabled students, advocated for the rights of disabled survivors of domestic abuse at the European Parliament in Brussels and represented disabled students at her university by winning the seat of disabled students counsellor. She aims to ramp up her advocacy work after graduation, with an outlook on international blindness movements. Read Holly’s essay about her experience as a camp counselor at Enchanted Hills Camp.
Ahmet Ustunel, Teacher of the Blind and Visually Impaired and 2017 Holman Prizewinner
“As a blind person to educate the public about blindness and as an educator to inspire my Blind students, I am trying to foster the same qualities Holman demonstrated: immense courage and passion, persistence, a curious and adventurous spirit, strength of purpose, and belief in one’s self. As a blind teacher of blind students, I tell my students that being blind should never prevent them from achieving their goals, although they might need to deal with prejudices, discrimination, and an inaccessible physical and educational environment. I let them know that limits and barriers they encounter are not results of blindness itself; they are just products of prejudice and discrimination in society. Even worse, sometimes they are our own mind’s products. I want my students to understand blindness as a characteristic of a person rather than a limitation.”
Ahmet is a full-time teacher of the visually impaired in San Francisco. He is also an avid outdoorsman and one of the inaugural recipients of the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition. He began solo kayaking in San Francisco Bay shortly after moving to the United States from Turkey a decade ago. With the Holman Prize, Ahmet achieved his ambitious goal in July 2018 by paddling across the Bosphorus Strait, which divides the European region of Turkey from its Asian counterpart, completely alone. Read about his solo kayaking journey from Europe to Asia.
This year, we had 111 candidates from six continents for our third annual Holman Prize for Blind Ambition. We received ideas in 90-second pitch videos from advocates, artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, and more. It wasn’t easy, but we’ve narrowed it down to 41 semifinalists, including one People’s Choice Semifinalist.
We’re already proud of the impact our applicants have had on the world. Our 2019 candidates pitches have been viewed thousands of times on YouTube—that’s thousands of people whose expectations of blind ambition and ability have been challenged. This is an impactful feature of the Holman Prize, but the best is yet to come.
Below, we present the full list of 2019 Semifinalists. Each will send a detailed proposal and budget to be reviewed by the 2019 Holman Team in May. This year, we will select a People’s Choice Finalist from this group—that means the semifinalist with the most YouTube likes by May 10 will automatically become a Finalist. Help them out and like your favorite pitch videos! Final judging will take place in June, when the winners will be determined by an esteemed panel of blind judges who themselves are role models of blind ambition.
Click on each name to watch their original pitch video, share, and spread the word: This is what blind ambition really looks like.
Meet the 2019 Holman Prize Semifinalists:
who is passionate about inclusivity in the beauty industry, would use the Holman Prize to develop his accessible makeup brand Visionary Cosmetics, which uses braille labels and vivid color descriptions.
who’s been a performing magician for over twenty years, would use the Holman Prize to digitize notable magic books and make them accessible to blind people for the first time.
a disability rights advocate, would use the Holman Prize to pay for fifteen blind women to participate in the Miss Blind Diva Empowerment Fellowship Program that provides personal and professional development.
the People’s Choice Semifinalist, would use the Holman Prize to create a global consultation app for blind people to find information on learning, mobility, fitness and e-commerce.
who loves science and the outdoors, would use the Holman Prize to travel and teach blind people to identify birds by sound and explore other natural soundscapes.
a powerlifter, would use the Holman Prize to train and compete in powerlifting competitions with the hopes of qualifying for the 2020 Paralympics.
who works in social services, would use the Holman Prize to teach blind people how to build accessible, low-cost computers.
a newlywed who requested her wedding guests wear blindfolds during the vows, would use the Holman Prize to film the pilot for a sensory travel show, that explores destinations non-visually through the senses of sound, smell, touch and taste.
who loves hiking and surfing, would use the Holman Prize to build an online community to make astronomy more accessible to blind people, with the hopes of a blind person discovering an exoplanet.
who are from Turkey, would use the Holman Prize to take the Trans-Siberian Express from Moscow to Beijing and create a documentary about it to inspire blind children to travel independently.
who is an author and activist, would use the Holman Prize to travel and collect stories from people of color with albinism around the world, to share these stories in an anthology and documentary.
an athlete who hopes to qualify for the 2020 Paralympics, would use the Holman Prize to train and complete in the Coolangatta Gold race in Australia, which involves kayaking, swimming, running and paddling a surfboard.
who lives on a sailboat on the Boston Harbor with her guide dog, would use the Holman Prize to form an all-female crew of blind sailors to compete in the Marblehead to Halifax Race.
who’s an experienced winter mountaineer, would use the Holman Prize to lead an expedition on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic. If successful in ascending a peak that hasn’t been climbed, he would propose the peak be named “Blind Ambition”.
who loves hiking, camping, traveling and sailing, would use the Holman Prize to train and purchase assistive technology to sail a 7000-mile course from North America to New Zealand.
who’s a two-time world champion in para-surfing, would use the Holman Prize to run surfing workshops for blind children and youth all over the world.
who has worked as a teacher ranger with the National Park service, would use the Holman Prize to create a podcast to highlight the specific sounds from various national park locations to help blind people learn about the natural world in an accessible way.
who grew up in Iraq where she didn’t have access to books in an accessible format, would use the Holman Prize to set up a system to record audiobooks and distribute them online to blind students in Iraq.
a Brazilian jiu-jitsu enthusiast, would use the Holman Prize to travel and train with blind Brazilian jiu-jitsu experts worldwide, and then teach other blind people this accessible martial art.
a musician, would use the Holman Prize to develop Reference Point Navigation, which provides accessible indoor and outdoor access to information and navigation on mobile phones.
who runs a training program for blind people in The Gambia. would use the Holman Prize to provide eighty blind people with rehabilitation training.
who’s worked as a radio and television broadcaster in the United States and Mexico, would use the Holman Prize to travel to Cuba to teach a motivational workshop in English and Spanish to empower blind people.
a former music teacher who loves to cook, would use the Holman Prize to travel to Naples, Italy to train in the art of pizza making and open her own pizzeria back home.
who taught himself to program, along with other blind developers, would use the Holman Prize, to develop their prototype software Sable to allow blind people to create audio games without coding or scripting.
who is an athlete and martial arts enthusiast, would use the Holman Prize to train and seek setting the world record for distance traveled on a wave by a blind surfer.
who’s competed in dancing competitions and talent shows, would use the Holman Prize to open Blind Rhythm Dance Studio to teach dance to blind and low vision individuals.
who has recently discovered pole dance would use the Holman Prize to develop workshops, training and audio description to make pole dance accessible to blind people across the United States.
a human rights activist, would use the Holman Prize to create parent circles, so parents could discuss how to raise children with albinism and change the perception albinism in Malawi.
who plays acoustic and electric bass, would use the Holman Prize, to develop a device he created called VIsION, a wearable AI device for the blind, with the goal of mass production.
who is working on postdoctoral research in computational chemistry, would use the Holman Prize to film a documentary series called Planes, Trains and Canes, where she navigates and accesses the public transportation of five cities around the world.
who are from Canada, would use the Holman Prize to create an online platform that focuses on blindness awareness and accessibility training for employers and organizations.
who has a passion for electronics, building and repairing, would use the Holman Prize and his many skills to renovate his home.
who’s a writer, disability rights advocate and a marathon runner, would use the Holman Prize to form Project Runstoppable, a program that empowers blind children through a running curriculum.
is the North American representative for Blind Sailing International and would use the Holman Prize to form a crew of blind sailors to complete in the Race to Alaska, a 750-mile race from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska.
who co-founded Alive Albinism Initiative Trust, would use the Holman Prize to open a manufacturing plant in Zimbabwe that produces sunscreen for people with albinism.
a textile artist, would use the Holman Prize to bring together blind weavers and blind textile artists to create new art, develop online and traveling exhibitions, and strengthen confidence in art-making.
a motocross racer, along with his friend Pat, who is also blind, would use the Holman Prize to travel the country to motivate blind people to try different sports like snowboarding, jet skiing, sailing and more.
who has a bachelor’s degree in social work, would use Holman Prize to film a series of professionally audio-described self-defense videos that blind people could access online.
an extreme sports enthusiast, would use the Holman Prize to train and heli-snowboard off the mountains of Whistler, British Columbia, Canada.
who’s finishing up her degree in journalism, would use the Holman Prize to open a braille bookstore in Perth, for blind and Deafblind people to have easy access to hard copy braille books.
who’s worked with blind people on structured discovery in Qatar, the United States, and Australia would use the Holman Prize to hold residential workshops on structured discovery and echolocation orientation and mobility techniques.
Email email@example.com to be added to the Holman Prize mailing list.
Join the Holman Prize community and make a tax-deductible donation to help fuel the dreams of blind adventurers and creators for years to come.
Last Thursday, the LightHouse gathered hundreds of friends, supporters and community members at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in downtown San Francisco for the LightHouse Gala: A Celebration of Blind Ambition. At the gala, which was LightHouse’s largest-ever, we honored blind pioneers, role models and citizens for their audacity and ambition. It was a celebration, a fundraiser and an invitation for our community to partner and become more deeply engaged with the work of the LightHouse.
With over 300 people in attendance, it was an evening of community and camaraderie. Emcee Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind person to summit Mount Everest, set the tone for our daring evening. LightHouse student Jorge Ellington and his band started the evening right with live Latin Jazz. We honored seven blind leaders throughout the night, and capped off with presentations from our agency’s Holman Prize for Blind Ambition.
We were proud to present our new LightHouse Awards: to acknowledge longtime leaders from the field of blindness, who have had a great impact on the community. This award honored trailblazers in education, technology and policy. LightHouse Newel Perry Award was presented to Cathy Skivers by Bryan Bashin. The LightHouse Dr. Isabelle Grant Award was presented to George Kerscher for his work to made electronic books accessible. Erin Lauridsen, Director of Access Technology presented the award to Dr. Kerscher. The LightHouse Chris Buckley Award honored Scott LaBarre and Maryanne Diamond for their work advocating for the Marrakesh Treaty to make books accessible to the global blind community without exception. Benentech’s Jim Fruchterman presented the award.
Ceremonial medals were given to the 2017 Holman Prizewinners, who were honored for the completion of their year-long projects which furthered the cause of blindness across six continents in the fields of adventure sports, entrepreneurship and cultural exchange. Holman prizewinner Penny Melville-Brown recounted her perilous, near death car accident and subsequently meeting and marrying the love of her life. Ojok Simon spoke of teaching over 45 blind people the art of beekeeping this year, and brought honey from Uganda to share with all. Ahmet Ustunel imparted his kayaking adventures in Turkey, and the technology he crafted to aid blind kayakers navigate independently.
Julie Cabrera, an Enchanted Hills camper who grew up to be a counselor helped us raise funds to rebuild the Wing Creek Chapel and accessible nature trail at Enchanted Hills, which were destroyed in last year’s Wine Country wildfires. The evening supported the life-changing programs of the LightHouse with a portion supporting to Enchanted Hills Camp for the Blind. The event raised over $180,000. Thank you to our sponsors.
EXPLORATION SPONSORS – Individual
- Jennifer and Ken Bunt
- Walt Disney Company Employee Matching Gift Program
AUDACITY SPONSORS – Individual
- Drew Kebbel
- Sharon and Richard Sacks
- Herbst Foundation
- Merchant’s Exchange (Julia Morgan Ballroom)
- Patson & Co
- U.S. Bank
ADVENTURE SPONSORS – Individual
- Jennison Asuncion
- Lisa Carvalho and David Mager
- Gena Harper
- Jerry Kuns
- Josh Miele, Liz Ruhland and Fred Ruhland
- Fred and Kristine Silva
- One Market Restaurant, Michael and Leslye Dellar
- Google/ Laura Allen
- Maze & Associates
- Mutual of America
- U.S. Bank
OPPORTUNITY SPONSORS – Individuals
- Barbara Lassen
- Joan Dove
- Chris Downey and Rosa Downey
- Eric and Jacalyn Mah
- Michael Nuz
- Alice Wingwall and Donlyn Lyndon
- Stanley Yarnell and Victor Rowley
- Bauke Family Foundation
- Disability Rights Advocates
- Fitness SF
- Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP
- Turner Construction
Belgian-born chef and entrepreneur Noam Kostucki summed up 2017 Holman Prizewinner Penny Melville-Brown like this: “She’s bonkers. She’s completely mad.” This from a man running a restaurant in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle — but he meant it as a compliment. And for those who know Penny, it’s pretty much spot on.
Penny has big ideas and the gumption to carry them out — there’s no stopping her once she puts her mind to something. The woman has fortitude, military-learned logistics skills and an uncanny ability to connect with everyone she meets and put them immediately at ease.
From the onset, Penny’s Holman prizewinning project looked to be the one with least risk involved (compared to tending killer bees and solo-kayaking a highly trafficked shipping channel). Her plan was to leave her home in the green, port-side town of Fareham, UK and travel to six continents over the course of one year. Along the way she stopped in Costa Rica, Malawi, Australia, China and the United States, and met with chefs, other blind people and community leaders all over the world. She traveled with her nephew Toby Melville-Brown who documented her whirlwind world tour in a video blog series, Baking Blind.
“Some people were tentative and quite cagey before I showed up,” she says. “As soon as we were cooking together, they forgot I was blind. Then it was just two people sharing an experience together. Usually they had something simple in mind that they wanted to cook and I bullied them into doing something much more interesting.”
The risks of cooking seemed minimal to an experienced baker like herself— a burned wrist here, a nicked finger there — and yet somehow Penny’s project was the one with the most sturm und drang. Penny’s tour was met with much more intrigue than she had planned— coming face-to-face with Tropical Storm Nate in Costa Rica, a visa-related marooning in China, an air-sea rescue in Australia, to name a few. But Penny took it all in stride, and embraced the uncertainties as an unavoidable and rich part of her journey.
“As I crisscrossed continents and connected with people in vastly different cultures, I became even more convinced that something like this needed to be done,” she says. “There is very little media coverage of a blind person interacting with the rest of the world as an equal — an ordinary person, who is really keen on something, operating as an equal with others around the world.”
Penny has a special connection with the namesake of the Holman Prize, James Holman, a 19th Century world traveler known as the first blind man to circumnavigate the globe. Both became blind while serving in the British Royal Navy (albeit nearly 200 years apart). Penny served for 22 years in the Women’s Royal Naval Service and Royal Navy, reaching the rank of commander. She was also the first woman to hold the position of naval barrister. After being medically discharged from the Royal Navy in 1999, she created her business Disability Dynamics to help other people with disabilities find employment.
“The majority of disabled people acquire their disabilities during their working lives, as they’re growing up or while they’re working,” she says. “If you’ve build yourself the strength of character motivation, optimism, determination, those skills will take you through life’s challenges of any sort, like acquiring a disability or getting a job.”
So much of Penny’s work focuses not only on changing the minds of people with disabilities themselves, but changing widespread public perceptions about disability. And when asked to identify the highlights of her Baking Blind tour, it’s the small human connections that Penny pinpoints — the ones that ripple out into the collective psyche to help evolve peoples’ understanding of what it means to be disabled.
Her favorite moment was cooking with two 20-year-old women in China, who didn’t even know how to hold a knife — and how quickly they formed a bond and began helping each other, growing more confident with each passing moment. Or wending her way through the bush and scrubland of Kiama, Australia with an Aboriginal chef as a guide to show them which plants were edible. Or even cooking deep in the jungle of Costa Rica with Chef Noam during a tropical storm and being forced to improvise due to the ironic lack of running water.
But the end of Penny’s journey around the world didn’t turn out quite as she had expected. During a visit to France just before Christmas to explore new cooking opportunities, Penny almost died in a serious car accident where she fractured several vertebrae in her neck and broke multiple ribs and her sternum. She spent two months in intensive care and was put into an induced coma for five weeks.
Penny says, “The breathing tubes stopped me talking so communicating with the French medical team was a challenge for all of us and even more complicated by my blindness. When you’re blind and in intensive care, and trying to communicate in a foreign language, it’s not easy. I had a whole vocabulary of sound effects that I used to communicate with the nurses.”
It was an incredibly trying time for Penny and her loved ones, but Penny fought hard — facing her rehabilitation head-on, and recovering much faster than her doctors anticipated.
“When you’ve already overcome significant life challenges, you’re an old hand at it,” she says.
And though Penny still has some recovery to do, she’s hard at work producing Baking Blind videos that she and Toby shot while traveling all over the world for the Holman Prize. She’s also working on a cookbook using recipes and ideas from her world travels.
The strange lesson in all of Penny’s adventures is that the most serious mishap occurred not while she was stuck in muddy, pockmarked roads during a downpour in Costa Rica, or eating unfamiliar foods in the villages in Malawi — but while she was driving in a taxi in a major European metropolis. It goes to show that risk is unavoidable, and Penny would tell you there’s no use holding back from the things you want to seek out in the world.
“Life is all about taking risks,” says Penny. “And we survive to tell the tale.”
In little more than a month, Penny will again return to San Francisco to regale attendees at the LightHouse Gala about her accomplishments and discoveries during her year-long adventure funded by the Lighthouse’s Holman Prize.
About the Holman Prize
In 2017, San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind launched the Holman Prize to support the emerging adventurousness and can-do spirit of blind and low vision people worldwide. This endeavor celebrates people who want to shape their own future instead of having it laid out for them. In early July, we announced the 2018 Holman Prizewinners — congratulations to Stacy Cervenka, Conchita Hernández and Red Szell. Ojok and his fellow 2017 prizewinners will visit San Francisco in November 2017 to speak at the LightHouse Gala.
“We are thrilled to be able to continue the Holman Prize for a second year,” says LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin. “These three new prizewinners represent a wide range of ambitions and life experience: from tackling social obstacles to huge tests of physical and mental fortitude, they reflect the diversity and capability of blind people everywhere.”
Created specifically for legally blind individuals with a penchant for exploration of all types, the Holman Prize provides financial backing – up to $25,000 – for three individuals to explore the world and push their limits. Learn more at holmanprize.org.
A Celebration of Blind Ambition
On November 29, 2018, we hosted the first-ever LightHouse Gala at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco.
The full gala tickets included access to a pre-dinner cocktail hour, our Gala dinner and awards, and live auction with fabulous packages.
We can’t wait to have you again in 2020.
November 29, 2018
Julia Morgan Ballroom
6 p.m. – 10 p.m.
For 116 years, LightHouse has served California and supported people with blindness or low vision to live full lives. We are the place where blind people come to learn skills and to gain confidence and independence. At the LightHouse people connect with resources, peers and mentors. Every day we prove that with access to information and training, blind people can live as confident and effective employees, students, and community members.
In addition to awards for outstanding members of our community, innovative organizations and our valued sponsors, the evening also featured the stories of our first three winners of the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, who will have just completed their year-long Holman adventures.
We look forward to sharing an exceptional night together in celebration again in 2020. The Gala benefits LightHouse for the Blind’s transformational programs including Vision Rehabilitation, Community Services, Employment, Technology, and Accessible Design, as well as the annual Holman Prize for Blind Ambition and Enchanted Hills Camp for the Blind in Napa.
2018 CORPORATE SPONSORS
Bauke Family Foundation
Jennifer and Ken Bunt
Josh Miele, Liz Ruhland and Fred Ruhland
Lisa Carvalho and David Mager
Richard and Sharon Sacks
THANKS TO OUR GALA COMMITTEE