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Caitlin O’Malior

LightHouse Staffer Caitlin Conquers Capitol Hill, as an NIB Advocate

LightHouse Staffer Caitlin Conquers Capitol Hill, as an NIB Advocate

Rey Villarreal, Sharon Giovinazzo and Caitlin O’Malior stand on the steps of Capitol Hill

For the first time since the establishment of the National Industries for the Blind (NIB) Advocates for Leadership and Employment Program in 2012, LightHouse has a staff member to represent our organization as a national legislative advocate, and I am beyond honored and privileged to be that person.
As a Communications Specialist, I love being able to combine my passion for writing and words with my dedication to the blind community and provide a voice to our students, our organization, and those whom the LightHouse serves. It has been my pleasure to share the stories of triumph and opportunity with our LightHouse Lately readers.

Two months ago, I was accepted into NIB’s Advocate program and on May 8, I began my advocacy training in Washington D.C. at the NIB headquarters. It was a humbling experience to spend two days in a room with so many other incredible blind and low vision individuals from across the country, all with a common goal of advocating for employment, increasement of the working population within the blind community, and utilization and protection of government programs designed to employ blind and low vision people. After eight hours of Public Policy training, Government 101, and “Elevator Pitch” practice with NIB employee and registered lobbyist, Rick Webster, I felt ready. 

And so, to Capitol Hill we go! On May 10, the NIB Advocates took to Cap Hill to meet with our perspective state Congresspeople and Senate members. The walk up the white marble steps of the historical building was exhilarating! I was joined by LightHouse CEO, Sharon Giovinazzo, and fellow California Advocate, Rey Villarreal from Valley Center for the Blind in Fresno. Together, we met with Congresswoman Matsui of Sacramento’s staff member Elise Buellesbach, and Brian Rogers, Deputy Chief of Staff for Congressman Mullin of South San Francisco.
My stomach was flipping and my hands a bit shaky as we walked the beautifully tiled floors and echoing halls, but once the meetings began, my nerves disappeared as my passion took over. It is amazing the ease of which you can speak about the issues and topics that matter most to you. Our words were heard by empathetic and compassionate ears.

As I left Capitol Hill that afternoon, an overwhelming dream was realized – a dream I did not know was possible until that day, that we, LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco, have the opportunity to make long-lasting effective legislative change. It thrills me to think of how the blind community can – and will – be represented in the working population in the years to come. To watch our community, thrive and turn tax-takers into taxpayers is an overwhelming goal with which I am dedicated to see to fruition.
I cannot wait to continue this work at home at the local and state level. It is a long road of hard work ahead, but a road that is important, and one I cannot wait to travel.

LightHouse Staff Shares Her Experience Receiving the COVID-19 Vaccine at LightHouse

LightHouse Staff Shares Her Experience Receiving the COVID-19 Vaccine at LightHouse

As I hopped out of my Lyft at 7th and Market Street and turned the corner toward the LightHouse headquarters in San Francisco, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia. It had been months, nearly a year since I’d last entered this building. As I reached for the door handle of the front entrance, I was welcomed in by a friendly face. The man asked kindly, “Here for the clinic?” to which I replied, “Absolutely!”

After being directed towards the elevators I stepped in and pressed the button for the 10th floor. The door opened to the familiar sound of the automated announcer, “10th floor, LightHouse Main Reception.” I stepped into the lobby and was greeted by friendly, masked volunteers. I looked around and noted the many people in line, spaced at a safe distance apart from one another, patiently awaiting their turn to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.

When I joined the line, a nurse approached me and asked my name and birthdate. She found my vaccination card in the stack of other names scheduled to be vaccinated that day. She assisted me in filling out a pre-vaccine medical form. (Do I have any allergies? Have I received any vaccines within the past 14 days? Etc.) After completing the form, I waited for my turn to be taken into Multipurpose Room B, where there were three vaccination stations set up.

When it was my turn, I was directed to the available station. I rolled up my left sleeve as a very kind and friendly nurse walked me through the process. I turned my cheek away from my left shoulder as I received the vaccine. (Needles make me queasy!)

When I sat down in the post-vaccine waiting area adjacent to the vaccination stations, it hit me. For two years I would come to this building every day. Working with the blind community, my community, has always been important and enjoyable for me. On March 13, 2020 we were told that LightHouse would be closed for two weeks due to the onset of COVID-19 cases increasing in the area. Two weeks turned into 56 weeks (and counting) and the “increasing number of COVID-19 cases” turned into a global pandemic. Through the past thirteen months of confusion, devastation, and fear, here I was, one year later in the same place where I had first learned of the severity of this disease, receiving the COVID-19 vaccination. It was emotional. It was hopeful. It was a triumph. The experience felt surreal.

I want to express my sincere gratitude to all the nurses, volunteers, and all of those responsible for giving LightHouse the opportunity to become a vaccination site. With the help and coordination of many LightHouse and San Francisco Public Health employees, I am proud to say that not only was I vaccinated, but the nonprofit I work for, the work in which I hold so dear, was able to provide yet another accessible and vitally important service to our community.

A personal take on Tech Together Online

A personal take on Tech Together Online

We live in a highly technical world, especially lately as many schools, programs, and companies have converted their services to an online platform. For people who are blind or have low vision, some of these new virtual experiences are less accessible, making certain day to day activities more difficult. It can feel overwhelming trying to keep up. Luckily, LightHouse offers an excellent weekly access tech discussion group to help blind and low vision individuals tackle some of these on-going accessibility struggles. Our phenomenal team of Access Tech specialists host Tech Together via Zoom. Tech Together is an interactive, informal conversation that gives participants a chance to ask questions, share their own knowledge or difficulties, and connect with others on a shared common experience—Access Technology.

In pre-COVID times, Tech Together was a monthly meet up at the LightHouse Headquarters in San Francisco. It is sponsored by the city of San Francisco’s program, SF Connected and is open to all technology enthusiasts, although the topics are generally based around accessibility and specifically that of blind and low vision accessibility. Due to the current shelter-in-place circumstances, Tech Together went from a monthly event with a modest following, to a weekly event with an expansive turn out of participants. Now that Tech Together, like so many other LightHouse programs, has gone virtual, people from all over are able to join from wherever they are. Each week about fifty eager “access techies” dial in to learn and share with one another on topics like accessing streaming apps, deliveries and rideshare services, touch screen keyboard and dictation do’s and don’ts, assistive smartphone applications like Be My Eyes, and much more.

I myself have low vision and am admittedly a terrible techie. I’m constantly struggling with tiny text fields on my phone or laptop. I am always clicking the wrong link instead of activating my zoom magnification, and am always, always, sending friends and family indecipherable text messages. I decided to join Tech Together and see what these Tuesday afternoon Zoom sessions were all about. I joined in on the “Inputting Information” sessions—an afternoon dedicated to sharing tips and tricks about using magnification apps, dedication software, and the struggles of touch screen keyboards when you can’t see the screen. It was the perfect class for me! I dialed just before 2:00 and was surprised to see there were already 26 participants, and the number kept on growing. I was delighted to hear people share the same embarrassing (however hilarious) dictation errors I’ve experienced. (Let’s just say, sometimes I’m convinced Siri has a hidden agenda to embarrass and shame me via text and email.) The hour and a half turned into two hours as the conversations, lessons, and laughter flowed amongst the group. I learned a few new keyboarding efficiency tricks, received some useful dictation advice (slower, clearer, highly annunciated speech is key!) and had several laughs along the way.

Tech Together has not only served as a fantastic resource for people seeking help and information about access technology, but it has also offered a chance for people to connect with others during these difficult times of social distancing and shelter-in-place regulations. “It’s satisfying to help build a community that shares knowledge and resources the way Tech Together does,” says LightHouse Access Technology Trainer, Jeff Buckwalter. “It not only helps cut through the social isolation of feeling you are the only one with frustrating technical issues, but also allows broader sharing to what people have learned, often through hard-won experience.”

Whether you are in need of technological assistance, or if you are just looking for a group of kind, resourceful, AT enthusiasts, I highly recommend checking out Tech Together every Tuesday afternoon from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. RSVP to AT@lighthouse-sf.org or via voicemail at: 415-694-7343.

September 2020 Tech Together topics: 

September 1: 100 things to say to Alexa
Are you making the most of your Amazon smart speaker? We’ll cover a wide variety of things you can ask Alexa without having to enable third party skills.

September 8: What About Google?
If you have a Google smart speaker, we’ll cover a range of tips and tricks for how to make the most of everything it can do.

September 15: Apps for Exploring Your World
We’ll share apps that can provide information on streets, route planning, and transit schedules.

September 22: Understanding Web Elements
If you are a screen reader user, you likely hear about headings, links, landmarks, tables and more, every time you venture on to the world wide web. We’ll share an overview of what these elements do, and how they can make your web browsing experience more efficient.