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LightHouse Little Learners Turns One!

LightHouse Little Learners Turns One!

Last fall, LightHouse proudly introduced our newest department to our community, LightHouse Little Learners! It took a whole year of blood, sweat and tears to establish this wonderful team and fulfil a long-held organizational goal to offer services to the littlest members of the blind and low vision population and their families.
From onboarding our first Little Learner and their family, to exploring Enchanted Hills Camp at our first Little Learners Family Camp session this summer, it has been a busy twelve months! Today, Little Learners is currently serving 87 children throughout the Bay Area and Central Valley, with our youngest Little Learner being a newborn baby of just two days old! Since the start of our program last autumn, we have served a total of 147 babies and toddlers – and counting!
“It’s hard to believe that the Little Learners program has reached its one-year anniversary!” says Pam Chapin, LightHouse Little Learners Program Director. “Over the year, families have participated in specialized services with our highly experienced Early Childhood Blind and Low Vision Specialists in their homes and communities, have created wonderful memories and friendships at Enchanted Hills Camp, and have learned together through Playgroups and family gatherings at local venues.
“Little Learners has provided trainings and created partnerships with local Regional Centers, Education Agencies, Infant Programs, and medical providers to help identify children who are blind, have low vision, and cerebral visual impairment, and to help families access appropriate early learning services. 
“We look back with pride at all that this team has accomplished and with gratitude for the support and collaboration provided by every department at LightHouse.  We are honored to be part of each family’s journey and excited to grow into the future!”
Other members of the LightHouse Little Learners team shared their thoughts and reflections over the year:
“My favorite memory so far has been the garden party the East Bay team hosted on the patio at Ed Roberts campus.  It was so wonderful to have our Little Learners and their families come and have fun on the beautiful campus!” – Elizabeth Basillo, Regional Coordinator
“The most memorable thing for me has been the warm reception we got from the entire staff of the LightHouse. It was very touching and made me feel that we were considered an important part of the agency.” –  Jeri Hart, Blind and Low Vision Specialist
“I am a strong believer in that ‘Actions Speaks Louder Than Words!’ The most impressive thing that stands out to me about LightHouse is the amount of staff it has who are blind and/or have a visual impairment throughout the organization! This warms my heart as a parent of an individual with significant special needs! This fact speaks tons about the organization and its mission!!” – Araceli AVina, Blind and Low Vision Specialists
We couldn’t be more proud to celebrate our first year of LightHouse Little Learners and look forward to many more. For questions, inquiries, or to find out more information about the Little Learners program, contact littlelearners@lighthouse-sf.org. You may also reach the Little Learners team by phone at 415-694-7657, by video phone at 415-255-5906, or visit the LightHouse website.

LightHouse Welcomes New Chief Executive Officer, Sharon Giovinazzo!

LightHouse Welcomes New Chief Executive Officer, Sharon Giovinazzo!

Sharon Giovinazzo

We are excited to announce that Sharon Giovinazzo has been named as our new  Chief Executive Officer and will be joining us in this role on October 25.

Sharon Giovinazzo brings more than two decades of experience leading organizations dedicated to advocating for and serving the needs of the blind and visually impaired. She will join LightHouse after serving as President and CEO of the World Services for the Blind.

“I am honored to join the leadership team at LightHouse as its new CEO,” said Sharon Giovinazzo. “This organization has a long and successful track record of driving and achieving independence, equality and self-reliance for the community. This commitment to a focused driven mission, impact and success mirrors my own values, and I look forward to working with a dynamic team to advance the organization’s priorities and expand its reach.”

In her new role as CEO of LightHouse, Giovinazzo will be responsible for leading the organization’s dedicated team of blindness advocates, educators, and professionals while growing the value of the organization to its members, donors, sponsors, partners, and other stakeholders. She will drive efforts to promote the independence and equality of the community, while strengthening the organization and its programs.

“We’re pleased that Sharon will join us as CEO of LightHouse,” said Dr Sharon Sacks, LightHouse Board Chair. “Her strategic drive and her long, distinguished career advocating for and guiding the community make her the perfect choice to lead the LightHouse into the next phase of its development. We’re thrilled to welcome her aboard.”

Giovinazzo brings extensive experience in organizational management, strategic planning, community impact, public policy and advocacy. Prior to her role as President and CEO of the World Services for the Blind, she served for nearly a decade in various roles for the Raleigh Lions Clinic for the Blind (RLCB) where she assisted in the development and implementation of the agency’s $34 million budget, including determining staffing and operational needs and expenditures.

Prior to that, during her tenure with National Industries for the Blind (NIB), Giovinazzo is credited with providing the leadership for cultivating and understanding the AbilityOne programs with Congress, Federal Executive Branch Agencies, consumer and commercial organizations concerned with disability policy. Throughout her career, Sharon has been an advocate for public policy in legislative affairs and regulations. Prior to the NIB, she held positions with the Central Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CABVI) in Utica, NY; was appointed Chair to the State Rehabilitation Council in 2006 and supervised the operations of a DEPMEDS training facility with the US Army.

Sharon Giovinazzo holds a bachelor’s degree in Human Services Management from SUNY Empire State College and a dual master’s as an MSW and an MBA. Additionally, she holds a Certificate of Management in Business Administration from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

We look forward to welcoming Sharon Giovinazzo to LightHouse  next month!

Celebrate Disability Culture at Palo Alto Art Center In-Person or Virtually

Celebrate Disability Culture at Palo Alto Art Center In-Person or Virtually

You’re invited to The Art of Disability Culture: Artists with Disabilities Dispelling Myths, Dissolving Barriers, and Disrupting Prejudice, running September 11 through December 11 at the Palo Alto Art Center in Palo Alto California. This exhibit celebrates the “diverse, personal, and infinitely varied disability experience.”

There are several blind people among the 20 artists whose work is featured in the exhibit: From tactile paintings created during the height of the pandemic by Catherine Lecce-Chong, to an audio comic by Chad Allen, to ceramics by Don Katz, to a site-specific environmental installation by Jennifer Justice, to a healing labyrinth installation by Maia Scott, to a large-scale sculpture made from discarded materials by Matthaus Lam.

The exhibition will feature audio description which will be available for all works of art onsite and on the website. There will also be Braille  labels. Public programs will include American Sign Language interpretation and live captioning and social narratives will be available online for visitors with autism. The art center is also wheelchair accessible.

There are two free public programs both with in-person and virtual options. The programs will include American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation and live captioning. The Palo Alto Art Center facility is fully wheelchair accessible.

Friday Night at the Art Center Opening reception
September 17 from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm

Join us onsite or virtually for this unique hybrid and accessible celebration of The Art of Disability Culture. This event will feature in-person and virtual exhibition walkthroughs, a chance to hear from exhibiting artists, hands-on art activities, a spoken word performance by award-winning author Joy Elan, and a specialty cocktail (Reasonable Accommodation) and bar provided by the Palo Alto Art Center Foundation.

Event will be hosted onsite and online. Register for the September 17 Art of Disability Culture event.

Community Day Celebration
Sunday, October 10, 2021, noon to 4:00 pm  

Learn more about The Art of Disability Culture exhibition in this unique hybrid community day celebration. Participate in exhibition walkthroughs with the curator; enjoy hands-on art activities; an introduction by Northern California’s only stuttering female comedian Nina G; gallery activities; Canine Companions, a performance by Bay Area native, African, Indigenous, Deaf, Disabled, Producer, Choreographer, Actor, and Dancer Antoine Hunter; and Mozzeria, the Deaf-owned Neapolitan pizza truck.

Event will be hosted onsite and online; online registration links: Register for the October 0 Art of Disability Culture event.

LightHouse Staffer Nai Damato tells how a gift and passion for languages led them to become an interpreter for people who are DeafBlind

LightHouse Staffer Nai Damato tells how a gift and passion for languages led them to become an interpreter for people who are DeafBlind

I was born three months premature in Soviet Russia. I was adopted at age three to a multilingual and musical family in Washington, DC. This environment allowed me to develop a strong ear; I began playing music at age six and had eight languages under my belt by age 18. I spent my weekends and summers interpreting Spanish/Russian for an adoption agency and translating data from Persian for an Iranian Human Rights Foundation. I also played in several jazz bands and composed my own music.

My exceptional hearing served as both the vehicle for my passions and an excellent mask: my ocular conditions were only discovered when I switched schools and failed a required vision screening at age 12. I had been legally blind the whole time. While surgery and other treatments restored my ocular acuity, my brain was another story. I struggled to interpret the cacophony of incoming visual data — a condition that is now known as Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI). Throughout middle and high school, I straddled an undefined in-between. I was no longer considered legally blind within the parameters of a purely ocular-based definition — rendering me ineligible for formal accommodations — yet, was also unable to keep up visually, even with four vision therapy sessions per week. Additionally, I sustained further brain injuries from pseudo-medical torture and extreme abuse. I miraculously survived many brushes with death but was left with a much more severe CVI.

It became clear that learning non-visual techniques was a must. The silver lining in these harrowing circumstances was that I was finally eligible for services. I immediately signed up with Vocational Rehab, in the state I lived in at the time. The service providers were overwhelmed and stumped by the complexity of my additional disabilities. I was told, “just stay home”, then left to fall through the cracks. I took matters into my own hands and taught myself Braille by ordering books through the National Library Service. Soon thereafter, I met a completely DeafBlind man who not only taught me practical blindness skills, but also introduced me to Tactile American Sign Language and a whole network of DeafBlind people. I became immersed in the DeafBlind community and fell in love with the vibrant culture.

The combination of my ASL immersion and fervor for interpreting brought my future goal into clear focus: I wanted to become an ASL interpreter and work with the DeafBlind community. I applied to Gallaudet University, a school for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing students that offers all instruction in ASL and admits 5% hearing undergraduate students. I was nervous I might not be accepted, as the first Blind student to apply to the Interpreting program. It turns out my admissions evaluator had paved a similar path himself, as one of the first Deaf interpreters who had also chosen to specialize in DeafBlind interpreting. I attended classes through the use of Deaf tactile interpreters and learned a great deal from them about the ins and outs of interpreting.

During my interpreting internship, I met Brandon Cox, currently the LightHouse Senior Director of Operations. Brandon wholeheartedly believed in my potential when few others did. He not only ensured that I would have ample opportunities to interpret, but also exposed me to an ongoing stream of various assistive technologies and equipment. I was allowed to bring home any device and play around with it until I felt confident using it. He then offered me a job as an assistive technology instructor. As part of that job, I was invited to a training in San Francisco, and I immediately resonated with the Bay Area.

I was very drawn to the LightHouse because of the excellent feedback I heard from many DeafBlind and Blind friends, including former LightHouse clients and former Holman Prizewinner, Conchita Hernandez. Additionally, I was very impressed that the LightHouse’s CEO, Bryan Bashin, is Blind, and that over 50% of the staff, including in leadership, are Blind or Low Vision. While I believe that both Blind and sighted individuals can be excellent blindness professionals, I also believe that structurally, organizations serving Blind people should have a majority of Blind staff at all levels. Based on my experiences, I’ve come to learn a Blind CEO in particular is necessary to extricate every last bit of ableism from the way services are modeled and implemented. In this vein, I was also excited to know the DeafBlind services program is managed by a Deaf O&M specialist, Sook Hee Choi.

I am honored to have joined such a talented team of DeafBlindness professionals, particularly during such unprecedented times. We’ve had to devise many creative strategies for continuing to support clients who depend on physical contact for communication remotely. I’ve been providing training via phone to Hard-of-Hearing Blind clients, and via videophone to Low Vision Deaf clients, thanks to [LightHouse Staffer] Alyah Thomas’ excellent interpreting skills combined with her knowledge of assistive technology and Braille. I sign to the client as usual and Alyah voices in English what the client signs back to me on-screen. This setup offers a much smoother training experience for the client than having to call through video relay interpreters who are not familiar with the technical concepts and vocabulary needed for training. For totally DeafBlind clients, we have been providing real-time technical support through email and texting.

With social distancing in place, many DeafBlind people are completely without in-person tactile communication. Technology for long-distance communication is therefore even more essential than usual; it is crucial that we preserve this one lifeline. We have been ensuring that all clients have the most up-to-date hardware possible, and that all software is functioning at maximum capacity, particularly during such dire times. I look forward to the day we can return to in-person services, particularly for those whose native language is Tactile American Sign Language. I also look forward to expanding all DeafBlind services at the LightHouse in the long term.

With that in mind, if you or someone you know is interested in receiving DeafBlind services from the LightHouse, please visit our DeafBlind Programs page or contact Sook Hee Choi at SChoi@lighthouse-sf.org to learn more.

Deafblind Programs

The Deafblind Program provides training, resources and support to persons who are both vision- and hearing-impaired. The goal of the program is to ensure that deaf-blind individuals have access to information, technology, and the skills needed to live independent and joyful lives.

Independent Living Skills Training

Training in activities of daily living is critical for deaf-blind individuals to maintain independence. Training includes meal preparation, shopping skills, labeling and organization skills and systems in the home and at work. Students will be given a multitude of examples of how accessible technology can be of use in daily activities.

Orientation and Mobility Training

Upon referral, LightHouse Orientation and Mobility instructors provide training to enhance an individual’s ability to travel independently and safely in their community.

Employment Access Program

This program for deaf-blind clients of the California Department of Rehabilitation assists individuals in developing skills to find and retain employment. The following areas are covered:

Pre-vocational Skills Assessment

Each program participant receives an assessment of his/her skills in activities of daily living, communication, job-readiness and access technology in order to determine what training would assist the participant in obtaining employment.

Communication skills training:

Includes training on a variety of specialized tools and systems, such as FM and other assistive-listening devices; tactile communication, such as Print on Palm and Tactile American Sign Language; telecommunication systems and assistive technology; and recruiting and working with certified interpreters and with Support Service Providers (SSP)

FCC Free Equipment Program

The LightHouse continues to provide telecommunication equipment and training to eligible deaf-blind Californians. In our initial three years of the FCC grant we’ve distributed over $1 million in free telecommunications devices to over 300 deaf-blind Californians. This means phone, email and other valuable ways to connect with friends, family and potential professional connections.

We have been able to provide a range of equipment depending on need and skills, for example: iPhones with Braille displays; computers with screen readers and noise canceling headsets to hear JAWs; assistance with upgrading software such as ZoomText or JAWS; or providing braille displays to folks who can no longer hear the speech on the screen reader, but can read email using a braille display.

To find out more about any of these programs, contact Sook Hee Choi, Deaf-Blind Specialist at SChoi@LightHouse-sf.org. Read more about our Sook Hee and her accomplishments.


Getting Started

If you think you may benefit from services, training or community activities and want to know how to get signed up, call us at (415) 431-1481, or email info@lighthouse-sf.org.

Some of the programs we offer include: training on cutting-edge accessible technology, how to move gracefully and effectively with a cane, social and recreational activities, accessible map and graphic design, braille instruction, as well as science, math, music and many other camps for blind youth and adults in the rolling hills of Napa. Please read through the program descriptions below and pick the one that’s right for you.

Blind & Low Vision Training Classes

Click here to read more about orientation and mobility training, braille, cooking and other independent living skills, and the other types of training we provide. Instruction periods include one-on-one, group, ongoing, and immersive options.

Access Technology

People of all ages and levels of experience can receive training in accessible technology. We also provide consulting services to individuals and companies looking for an accessibility evaluation for their product and can organize blind and visually impaired user testers to provide feedback on a product or service.

Employment Immersion Program

The Employment Immersion Program is a multi-week course empowering those who are blind or have low vision to assess their skills and interests and find success and satisfaction in the job market.

Enchanted Hills Camp

Founded in 1950 by Rose Resnick, Enchanted Hills now holds not only our annual summer camp sessions, but also hosts classes, workshops, retreats and seminars in a beautiful setting high atop Napa’s Mount Veeder.

Deafblind Program

The Deafblind Program provides training, resources and support to persons who are both vision and hearing impaired. The goal of the program is to ensure that deaf-blind individuals have access to information and the skills needed to live independent and productive lives. As part of this goal, the LightHouse operates the FCC program to ensure deaf-blind individuals receive free equipment and training to suit their needs.

LightHouse Little Learners

Launch in 2021, the LightHouse Little Learners program is here to help families with children aged birth to three who are blind, Deafblind have low vision, or a neurological visual impairment.

Youth Programs

The LightHouse offers a diverse array of outings, social events, and personal/professional development opportunities for young adult and high school-aged youth.

Community Services

On a weekly basis we provide outings, classes, recreational activities and events for blind people of all ages to learn, connect and thrive.

Counseling and Psychological Services

The LightHouse offers counseling for those affected by blindness or low vision by an experienced team of licensed professionals.

Low Vision Clinic

Part of finding successful solutions is assessing your visual levels and needs. The LightHouse, in partnership with the UC Berkeley School of Optometry, offers low vision examinations each week.

Other links:

If you’d like to donate (time or financial support) to the LightHouse, please refer to the various options in the Donate section of our website (or click here to make a donation).

If you’d like to inquire about press, partnerships, or other media opportunities, please email press@lighthouse-sf.org.

If you’d like to shop at Adaptations, the Bay Area’s only hands-on brick and mortar store dedicated to technology for blind and low vision individuals — visit us during normal business hours, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Mondays through Fridays, at 1155 Market St., 10th floor., San Francisco, or call 1-888-400-8933. You can schedule a one-on-one appointment at Adaptations on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Drop-in visitors on any day may be asked to wait. 

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Notice to the Public

LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired operates its programs and services without regard to race, color, and national origin in accordance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Any person who believes she/he/they have been discriminated against on the basis of race, color, or national origin by LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired may file a Title VI complaint.

Title VI Procedures and Complaint Form

Título VI Información en Español

Título VI –  Adviso (PDF)
Título VI – Procedimiento (PDF)
Título VI – Formulario de Queja (PDF)

For all other questions, call (415) 694-7323 or email info@lighthouse-sf.org to find out what the LightHouse can do for you.