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Blind Community

Positions Open for Blind Community Members on LightHouse Blind Advisory Panel

Positions Open for Blind Community Members on LightHouse Blind Advisory Panel

The LightHouse Board of Directors wishes to formalize an ongoing independent structure through which it can learn from blind people in our community their current needs for programs and services.  As these needs change, and as COVID and changing demographics reveal new unmet needs, it’s a best practice to operate an independent ongoing advisory platform from which our Board can learn what LightHouse is doing right, and what it needs to improve upon.

Therefore as the Lighthouse Board seeks to broaden its input about community needs for programs and services, it has decided to implement a common best practice in our field by formalizing a Blind Advisory Committee. As the body charged with drafting Lighthouse policy, the Board of Directors seeks the broadest sources of input from staff, partners and stakeholders, including, now, direct input from its community.

This is not a first for the LightHouse: over the years there have been various forms of blind input. For his first four years, CEO Bryan Bashin hosted a “Dialogue with the Director”, an open forum for all community members, which was a direct route for community members to give their opinions. As Lighthouse programs and services have grown it is imperative that new regular methods for our Board of Directors to be informed about current community needs are developed. Coming out of COVID, too, the needs of our community may have changed greatly, and the Board is interested in hearing directly from community members. This will be especially important as Lighthouse conducts its next Strategic Plan process later in 2022.

Sharon Sacks, LightHouse Board Chair shared her vision for the Blind Advisory Committee:

“As Lighthouse programs continue to evolve and grow, its Board of Directors is committed to engaging and receiving input from our greater community. This group will be chaired by members of the LightHouse board in order to effectively transfer communication from the community directly to the Board. The Lighthouse Board encourages individuals who are blind or low vision to apply to participate in this unique and important committee.

The LightHouse Board is looking for people who are in touch with today’s community needs, as well as those who may have experience with new or different programs and services which might be operated by the LightHouse.  The new Blind Advisory Committee will consist of nine people, including two places that will be offered to the National Federation of the Blind of California’s San Francisco chapter and the California Council of the Blind. Applications are encouraged from people who are blind or have low vision living throughout northern California, with a particular emphasis in the in nine-county San Francisco Bay Area.

Those applying will be asked to meet with the Board’s committee to determine who the Board believes would be the best set of individuals to serve, with many considerations including diversity as we ensure that the distribution according to age, intersectional disability, gender, and blindness/low vision be representative of the northern  California demographics of blindness.  LightHouse Blind Advisory Committee members will be asked to serve a term of two years.

The Committee will meet quarterly approximately three weeks before each Board meeting which will be chaired by a LightHouse Board member.  The Board member will report on the Committee’s observations, suggestions, and recommendations at each Board meeting.

Bryan Bashin, CEO of LightHouse said: “Considering the vast changes in service needs and delivery we’ve seen over the pandemic, it’s more important than ever that the Lighthouse stay relevant to the changing needs of the people our mission requires us to serve.  The Board’s new Blind Advisory Committee will help our governing board stay freshly informed about the needs of blind people today.  This committee will complement input the Board gets from their personal and professional networks, as well as Lighthouse staff.  I welcome the input, especially in areas we may not be familiar with.  Lighthouse has existed for 120 years because it is open to new input and change, and the Blind Advisory Committee will help us learn things we may not now know.”

Apply for the Blind Advisory Committee

Welcome back, EHC!

Welcome back, EHC!

As visitors wind their way up Mt. Veeder Road, past the lush redwoods, sparkling lake, and rolling green hills of Napa, the once quiet grounds of Enchanted Hills Camp are again filled with the delightful sounds of happy campers. The crunching of leaves and twigs under excited footsteps, clicking of canes, splashes of water, nays and baas of EHC’s four-legged residents and the jolly echoed shouts and laughter from campers fill the air—it is, once again, summertime at Enchanted Hills Camp!

On July 5, Enchanted Hills Camp reopened its grounds to 45 eager teen campers. After being closed for over a year, EHC has been thrilled to reopen this summer, abiding by CDC state and federal COVID-19 safety protocols. Although the limited campers, mask wearing, social distance, and required vaccinations of both campers and staff has certainly changed the look of camp this summer, the fun and festivities haven’t changed in the slightest!

“Campers are filling their days horseback riding, kayaking, playing disc golf, participating in Teen Talk rap sessions and talent shows. The kids are dancing, hiking, taking overnight camping trips into the woods, solar cooking, and fishing. They can care for our EHC animal friends (milking goats and collecting eggs from chickens) and do some wood polishing and wood working. They are putting on drama productions, training in martial arts and archery, playing goalball and bowling, and making ice cream and arts and crafts, just to name a few activities.” Enchanted Hills Camp Director, Tony Fletcher, tells LightHouse Lately.

New campers, 17-year-old twin sisters, Madison and Paige from Arroyo Grande, California, share their first impressions and experience at teen camp.

“We heard about Enchanted Hills Camp through our DOR [Department of Rehabilitation] counselor, so we were interested. We loved it once we got here! It is so much fun! There is so much to do, you never feel bored or like you are just sitting around waiting for something fun. Right now, we are working on a play, and we’ve done a lot of arts and crafts. We also tie-dyed bandanas. We are definitely coming back next summer!”

Both girls have nystagmus and ocular albinism and have low vision.

“With nystagmus it is hard to focus my eyes on things, like when I am reading my eyes jump across the page. The ocular albinism makes my eyes very sensitive to the sunlight,” Madison explains.

Aside from each other, neither Paige nor Madison knew any other peers with visual impairments prior to going to camp. Learning more about low vision and the blind community has become an interest and priority for these young women.

“We have never been around anyone with vision like ours or people with less vision. We want to be more involved in the blind and visually impaired community,” Paige says. “We have made a lot of new friends at camp. It is so relieving to be around people like us.”

Madison and Paige reflected on their camp experience:

“Overall, I have learned a lot about people who are visually impaired, and not just about people who have what I have. I have learned so much about adaptability and the blind community, and I am very grateful for that,” Paige says.

“I am also so grateful for camp. I have never seen anyone use a cane before, and it is so interesting to me to see how everyone gets around using their canes. I like how specific people are when they describe how to get to places and how they tap the walls as a guide. I’ve also learned how to guide people who can’t see, and I think it is so helpful and interesting,” says Madison.

In their remaining days at Enchanted Hills Camp Paige and Madison are excitedly looking forward to performing the play, making bath bombs, and trying their hand at archery, as well as hanging out with their new friends and strengthening their bond to the blind and low vision community. “We can’t wait to come back next summer!” they told LightHouse Lately.

There are still available spaces for EHC’s STEM camp, running from July 26 through August 1 for campers aged 13- to 20-years-old. Visit Enchanted Hills Camp STEM Camp Applications to get your application in as soon as possible. We also have limited availability left for Music Camp, also running July 26 through August 1. This session is for campers ranging from high school to college ages. Fill out the Enchanted Hills Camp Music Camp Applications here. For more information about Enchanted Hills Camp, visit the EHC website.

Lighthouse Day to feature Mayor Breed and New Blindness Book Author, June 10

Lighthouse Day to feature Mayor Breed and New Blindness Book Author, June 10

Each year we gather friends to celebrate Lighthouse Day, honoring our 119 years of service and looking forward into the future.

For the second year we will use Zoom to keep social distance as we gather, electronically, celebrating how LightHouse has grown and diversified and reassert our belief in our community and pride in our work.

To help us do this we have invited blind author Dr. M. Leona Godin who will discuss her just-released book, There Plant Eyes: a Personal and Cultural History of Blindness.

We invite you to a conversation between Dr. Godin and LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin to discuss the main themes in the book and learn of the author spending much of her life in San Francisco and beginning her journey into blindness there. This conversation will be a key part of the LightHouse Day celebration.

What: Lighthouse Day

When: Thursday, June 10 from noon to 1:00 pm Pacific

Where: via Zoom or phone

RSVP: To events@lighthouse-sf.org or call Andrea Vecchione at 415-694-7311. The first 10 folks to RSVP will receive a box of Quail Point chocolates, which are delicious, we can vouch for that!

From the book jacket:

From Homer to Helen Keller, from Dune to Stevie Wonder, from the invention of braille to the science of echolocation, M. Leona Godin explores the fascinating history of blindness, interweaving it with her own story of gradually losing her sight.

There Plant Eyes probes the ways in which blindness has shaped our ocular centric culture, challenging deeply ingrained ideas about what it means to be “blind.” For millennia, blind-ness has been used to signify such things as thoughtlessness (“blind faith”), irrationality (“blind rage”), and unconsciousness (“blind evolution”). But at the same time, blind people have been othered as the recipients of special powers as compensation for lost sight (from the poetic gifts of John Milton to the heightened senses of the comic book hero Daredevil).

Godin—who began losing her vision at age ten—illuminates the often-surprising history of both the condition of blindness and the myths and ideas that have grown up around it over the course of generations. She combines an analysis of blindness in art and culture (from King Lear to Star Wars) with a study of the science of blindness and key developments in accessibility (the white cane, embossed printing, digital technology) to paint a vivid personal and cultural history.

Adaptations LightHouse Day Discount

Don’t forget to visit Adaptations.org for all your LightHouse gear! To celebrate 119 years of service to the blind and low vision community,  Adaptations is giving 10% off during the entire month of June on all LightHouse hoodies, t-shirts and tote bags! Use the  discount code LH10 at checkout to receive your discount. Happy shopping!

LightHouse’s Ann Wai-Yee Kwong Believes in the Importance of Addressing Culture for Success in Blindness

LightHouse’s Ann Wai-Yee Kwong Believes in the Importance of Addressing Culture for Success in Blindness

The transition from childhood to young adulthood can be a difficult time in any young person’s life—but for those with limited resources, or a lack of information about what resources are available, the transition can become overwhelmingly difficult. For many students who are blind or have low vision, especially those facing cultural adversity, the information and resources regarding next steps towards a productive and successful future after high school simply are not provided. Most of the support given to students who are blind or have low vision and their families is offered through the public-school system. However, because there is a limited number of TVIs (teachers of the visually impaired) and other qualified VI educators in public schools, resources can be limited and are often stretched between school districts, making the actual time a blind or low vision student spends with these VI educators and mentors very minimal. Of these students, many are first generation American, introducing the additional difficulties of struggling with language barriers. These students are constantly having to balance learning to adapt to American culture in their schools where they are receiving an education, maintaining homelife culture within their families, and navigating this new world of blind culture and building their adaptive education and independence skillsets.

LightHouse Transition Program Specialist Ann Wai-Yee Kwong runs programs made up of trainings and informational workshops—some of which are offered in Spanish to support the blind and low vision Spanish speaking community—for young adults and their families to prepare for their futures and the transition from childhood into adulthood. Ann’s education and professional experience coupled with her own personal experiences as a blind woman who emigrated from Hong Kong as a child make her highly qualified in this area. Her unique brand of passion and empathy stemmed from her own transition experience makes her the ideal mentor to help pave a successful path towards furthering education and employment for our youth.

Growing up as a blind, first generation Chinese American in Los Angeles, Ann had little knowledge of what resources were available to her outside of what public school is legally obligated to provide.

“I had never heard of the landmark legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), nor learned about disability history,” Ann shares.

Historically, in many cultures across the globe, disabilities of any sort have been portrayed in limiting and negative terms. Blindness is often equated through language as a lack of knowledge. Phrases like “the blind leading the blind” create harmful societal expectations and stereotypes, many times leading to a lack of self-worth or self-confidence within the blindness community.

“It was not until I went to college that I discovered many of my peers with disabilities also shared, for the first time, the experience of feeling empowered as we cultivated disability community and found pride in our identities.  Subsequently, although the ADA has provided many educational rights and opportunities for persons with disabilities, there remains a great deal of work around shifting the negative societal perceptions of disabilities as well as in employment, where the employment rate of persons with disabilities, 19.3%, continues to lag far behind that of non-disabled persons, 66.3% in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

This motivated Ann to build a career educating youth who are blind or have low vision about what blindness resources are available and how to make the most of these opportunities. She knows that understanding your options and developing healthy, positive social and personal ideologies about what it means to be blind are essential in working towards a successful future.

Over the years Ann has partnered with various blindness advocacy groups, government agencies like the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) as well as many VI educators. These partnerships have catalyzed her passion and informed her work with youth who are blind or have low vision, which then molded and inspired the programs she has started at LightHouse.

“The Youth Employment Services (YES) program and curriculum is based on research, best practices, and the nationally recognized Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). I strive to provide meaningful work-based experiences for youth to fill the gap for employers, creating a talented pool of future professionals.”

While creating equal opportunities and building a dynamic skillset and experience for blind and low vision youth is the mission of the work Ann does, for her, it is the social and emotional growth that is the most rewarding accomplishment.

“The best part of my job is building trust with my students and watching them build that confidence, because that is transferable. Once you instill that confidence in someone, that can’t be taken away,” Ann believes.

“My most rewarding experience while working at LightHouse is the genuine sense of community and family, we are able to build, especially during the YES Summer Academy when staff and students spend four full weeks working, learning, and living under one roof. This heartfelt sentiment is also expressed by our students, and I had not previously felt this in other blindness programs in my prior work, making this unique to LightHouse.”

The work Ann and the Youth Programs department is doing is starting to change the misconceptions of the lives people who are blind or have low vision can live, for both the blind community and those who are sighted. Ideas for new groundbreaking programs and plans to grow and expand the reach of Youth Programs is constantly underway.

Ann is continuing to further educate herself in the field of education, leadership, and advocacy. She is currently working towards her PhD in Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her growing knowledge and passion are packed into every LightHouse program she runs and is reflected in the future of every student she mentors. Because of incredible mentors like Ann Wai-Yee Kwong, the future of kids everywhere who are blind or have low vision is bolder than it’s ever been.

To learn more about our transition programs for youth, contact Ann at AKwong@lighthouse-sf.org or by phone or text at 415-484-8377.

Health and Wellness Program

LightHouse offers weekly fitness classes and weekend workshops. Make new friends and have fun while getting fit!

LightHouse’s Health and Wellness Program features:

  • Weekly exercise classes for seniors and those wanting low-impact exercise. Wednesdays at 11 AM.
  • DEEP (Diabetes Empowerment Education Program) a six-week course on Diabetes Management and Healthy Living.
  • Weekend Health and Wellness Retreats at Enchanted Hills Camp for the Blind in Napa
  • Regularly scheduled yoga and meditation classes.
  • Healthier Living Series: a six-week course offering practical solutions for chronic disease management, weight management, stress reduction and healthy living.
  • Try It Workshops to try new forms of exercise such as kickboxing, tandem cycling, rock climbing, dance, and more!
  • A full gym membership for $10 a month to Fitness SF, with six locations in the Bay Area. Membership includes private group instruction from a certified personal trainer.
To learn more or to join our programs for people who are blind or have low vision, email info@lighthouse-sf.org or call (415) 431-1481.