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Holman Prize

And the 2021 Holman Prizewinners Are…

And the 2021 Holman Prizewinners Are…

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco is pleased to announce the winners of the fifth annual Holman Prize for Blind Ambition.

Last month an international panel of blind leaders came together virtually to select the three winners of the 2021 Holman Prize.

Launched in 2017, the Holman Prize awards up to $25,000 each to three blind people with ambitious ideas that will challenge misperceptions about blindness worldwide. We’re pleased to partner with Waymo whose support is deep and continuing as a sponsor of one of these prizes. The Holman Prize is named for James Holman, a 19th century blind explorer who was the most prolific private traveler of anyone, blind or sighted, before the era of modern transportation.

Aaron Cannon

Aaron Cannon, 41 – USA

Cannon will use the Holman Prize to build accessible math training modules containing many lessons showing how blind people can learn to do math. These will be shared on a website. Of the endeavor, Cannon says, “This is a project I really believe in. There is something particularly impactful for a student being taught a complex subject that they think they are going to have difficulty with because of their blindness. But if there is a blind person teaching it to them, that kind of goes away. The subject may be hard, but not because of blindness.”

Robert Malunda

Robert Malunda, 33 – Zimbabwe

Malunda will use the Holman Prize to provide computer, orientation & mobility and social skills training to blind Zimbabweans in rural locations. Malunda will personally visit these areas were there are no government services of any kind for blind people. Says Malunda, “Blind people in Zimbabwe often experience isolation. I envision a Zimbabwe where blind people are knowledgeable, independent and socially interactive.”

Maud Rowell

Maud Rowell, 25 – United Kingdom

Rowell will travel across Japan independently including visits to rural and remote areas, solely by foot and public transportation. “I truly believe my project – travelling the length of Japan and writing a book – embodies the spirit of the Holman Prize: it’s ambitious, adventurous, and creative, and it’s absolutely driven by passion and a desire to challenge myself and others’ perceptions of the blind,” she says.

Bryan Bashin, LightHouse CEO, says of the winners, “This year the Holman judges selected three ambitious people from three continents to push the boundaries of blindness. In Zimbabwe, Robert Malunda will go to  the most distant parts of his country to expose blind people to modern attitudes and innovative techniques blind people use. In Japan, Maud Rowell will complete a Holmanesque journey to the most remote and little-visited parts of the Japanese archipelago, doing it solo and sensitively. And in the USA Aaron Cannon will develop a series of blind-friendly tutorials and methods for blind people to learn mathematics, a key subject for later academic and vocational success. We look forward to seeing how each of these three remarkable people will change attitudes about blindness and our ambition.”

Meet the Distinguished 2021 Holman Prize Jurors

Meet the Distinguished 2021 Holman Prize Jurors

A few weeks ago, we introduced you to the fourteen 2021 Holman Prize for Blind Ambition Finalists. Three from this ambitious group of blind people who want to challenge misconceptions about what it means to be blind will be selected as winners of our fifth annual Holman Prize for Blind Ambition. A special thanks goes to Waymo for sponsoring one of this year’s winners.

But who chooses the winners? Each year a panel of esteemed blindness leaders from around the world come together for discussion and debate to select the winners of the Holman Prize. All committee members are themselves blind.

For the second consecutive year, our committee will meet virtually. The fifteen members of this year’s committee reside in six countries and work in a variety of fields from law to computer science, to academia, to leadership roles in blindness organizations.

Learn more about them below.

The 2021 Holman Prize Committee

Martine Abel-Williamson, QSM
Auckland, New Zealand
President, World Blind Union

Martine is employed as a Senior Human Rights Advisor for the New Zealand Human Rights Commission. She’s on the boards of the Accessible Books Consortium, Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind and Blind Citizens NZ. She also holds pan-disability roles as a board member of Disability Connect, a pan-disability service provider.

Bryan Bashin
Berkeley, California, USA
CEO, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Bryan has led a diverse life since he graduated UC Berkeley in history and journalism. He first spent 15 years as a journalist in television, radio and print, specializing in science news. In 1998 Bryan 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 he was hired as the Region IX assistant regional commissioner for the United States 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, leading a staff of 140.

Jason Fayre
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
National Lead, Accessibility and Assistive Technology, CNIB

Jason has been working in the accessibility and assistive technology field for more than 20 years. In his current role at CNIB, he ensures that any staff who are blind are able to take full advantage of the multitude of technologies available to them. He works directly with companies such as Microsoft and Google to assist them in providing the most accessible products possible. Prior to CNIB, Jason worked for Freedom Scientific, one of the largest providers of assistive technology for people who are blind or have low vision.

Karla Gilbride
Silver Springs, Maryland, USA
Senior Attorney, Public Justice

A graduate with honors of Georgetown Law, Karla clerked for Judge Ronald Gould on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Her current legal work focuses on fighting mandatory arbitration provisions imposed on consumers and workers that prevent them from holding corporations accountable for wrongdoing in court. She is also a board member for the National Employment Lawyers Association, and a member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. She is an avid baseball fan and fantasy baseball nerd and enjoys hiking, cycling and playing goalball.

Georgina Kleege
Berkeley, California
Professor in Creative Writing and Disability Studies, UC Berkeley

Georgina has been teaching at UC Berkeley since 2003.  Her recent books include: Sight Unseen, Blind Rage: Letters to Helen Keller and More than Meets the Eye: What Blindness Brings to Art.

Karen Knight
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
General Manager of Client Services, Vision Australia

A proud Australian, Karen spent the first fifteen years of her career as a psychologist specializing in youth suicide prevention and mental health promotion. It is her lived experience and many years involvement in the consumer movement of blind people in Australia that has shaped her views about best practice in blindness service delivery. Karen is passionate about blind and visually impaired people living their dreams without the shackles imposed by others. Being out there telling blind positive stories is one way to change attitudes.

Karen has two young adult children and is a keen ballroom and Latin-American dancer.

Trisha Kulkarni
Dayton, Ohio, USA
B.S. Candidate in Computer Science, Stanford University

Trisha is an incoming senior at Stanford University studying computer science with a minor in creative writing. This summer, she is working as a software engineering intern within the Office Experience Organization at Microsoft, while also proudly serving as the President of the National Association of Blind Students. Kulkarni is humbled to be taking part in this incredible opportunity and looks forward to building our future together.

Jim Kutsch, PhD
Morristown, New Jersey, USA
Retired President, The Seeing Eye

Jim served as President and CEO of The Seeing Eye from 2006 until he retired in December 2019. He served as Chair of the Board of the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF), Chairman of the Morris Animal Foundation Board, President of the Council of U.S. Dog Guide Schools, and Chairman of the Board of National Industries for the Blind. Earlier, Kutsch was a Professor of Computer Science, a Distinguished Member of Technical Staff at Bell Laboratories, VP and Chief Information Officer at AT&T Universal Card Services, and VP of Strategic Technology at Convergys. His degrees include a Psychology BA and a Computer Science MS and PhD, as well as an honorary Doctorate for lifetime service to people with disabilities, including designing the first talking computer.

Jim Marks
Helena, Montana, USA
Program Director, Area IV Agency on Aging, Rocky Mountain Development Council

Previously, Jim served as the Director of Disability Services for Students at the University of Montana and as Montana’s director of vocational rehabilitation. Jim is the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Montana. He lives with his wife, Kathy. They have four adult children and six grandchildren.

Natalina Martiniello, PhD
Montréal, Quebec, Canada
Research Associate, Université de Montréal; President of Braille Literacy Canada

Natalina is a Research Associate and teaches in the Graduate program in Visual Impairment and Rehabilitation at the Université de Montréal, in Montreal, Canada. She is the President of Braille Literacy Canada (the Canadian Braille Authority) and a strong advocate for braille literacy and accessibility. As a Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist, she has taught braille and access technologies to children, adults and seniors with visual impairments. Her research focuses on braille, adult learning and aging and on developing evidence-based strategies to support working-age and older adults who learn braille. An avid traveler, her most memorable trip was visiting the house of Louis Braille.

Florence Ndagire
Wakiso, Wakiso District, Uganda

Florence is the first visually impaired female lawyer in Uganda. She holds a Bachelor of Laws from Makerere University and a Master of Law in international and European human rights law at the University of Leeds, United Kingdom. She is currently enrolled at Makerere University in partnership with the London School of Hygiene and tropical medicine for her PhD research on access to reproductive health services by persons with disabilities in Uganda. She is the chairperson of the UN Women Regional civil society advisory group of East and Southern Africa. She is the current UNPRPD advisor. Florence is the primary author of “Will the proposed reforms in the mental health treatment act be consistent with Article 12 of the Convention on the rights of Persons with disabilities in Uganda?”

Walt Raineri
Northern California, USA
Partner Emeritus, Fenwick & West LLP

Walt’s legal and accounting professional, academic, philanthropic, entrepreneurial, and adaptive athletic sports careers span 45 years, and counting. He has practiced in the areas of international taxation, multinational mergers and acquisitions, and large group consolidations. Walt is also a CPA, a former Associate Professor at Golden Gate university, former Lecturer at UC Berkeley, and Stanford University. He founded four for profit companies, notably Ariat International, the equestrian clothing and footwear company. He is an alumnus of UC Berkeley School of Business Administration  and Georgetown university School of Law. Walt is a Paralympic level athlete in multiple sports and has a passion to help others achieve their fitness objectives. He has helped guide dozens of nonprofit organizations focused on supporting the visually impaired community.

Will Schell, J.D.
Washington, D.C.
Deputy Chief of the Disability Rights Office, Federal Communications Commission

Among other things, Will manages the Disability Rights Office complaints team, drafts various guidance and orders and engages in outreach with the disability community. He also serves as the Designated Federal Officer of the Commission’s Disability Advisory Committee, which provides advice and recommendations to the Commission on a wide array of disability issues within the FCC’s jurisdiction. Prior to that, Will was a disability rights attorney at the Office for Civil Rights and at Disability Rights California where he represented people in litigation to prevent them from unnecessary segregation.

Abby White
Oxford, England, UK
Co-founder and  Volunteer CEO, World Eye Cancer Hope

Abby’s mother was raised in France and her father in Kenya, where he was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma in 1946. Her globally scattered family inspired her love for travel and study of geography at university, with emphasis on development in sub-Saharan Africa. Abby co-founded World Eye Cancer Hope, responding to the needs of one child with retinoblastoma in Botswana, and the desire to help many more worldwide.  While working with the charity in 2015, Abby’s guide dog, Annie, became the first to visit Kenya – during a conference circuit that also took in South Africa and the USA.

She enjoys audio books, creative writing, open water swimming and long country walks. She lives in Oxford, England, with her current guide dog, Ritzie.

Joe Xavier
Elk Grove, California,
Director, California Department of Rehabilitation,

Joe Xavier has over 36 years of experience in business and public administration, as well as many years participating in advocacy and community organizations. As an immigrant, a blind consumer, a beneficiary of the DOR’s services, Joe has the experience and understands the challenges and opportunities available to individuals with disabilities, and the services required to maximize an individual’s full potential. Joe: believes in the talent and potential of individuals with disabilities;  in investing in the future through creativity, ingenuity and innovation; ensuring decisions and actions are informed by interested individuals and groups; in pursuing excellence through continuous improvement; and  preserving the public’s trust through compassionate and responsible provision of services.


Help Your Favorite Holman Prize Candidate Advance to the Semifinals

Help Your Favorite Holman Prize Candidate Advance to the Semifinals

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.

Watch the 2021 Holman Prize Candidate Playlist and Vote Today!

Doubly Sweet: Meet the 2019 Holman Prizewinners and Attend a Chocolate Tasting, April 10

Doubly Sweet: Meet the 2019 Holman Prizewinners and Attend a Chocolate Tasting, April 10

Despite the disruptions of COVID-19, the 2019 Holman Prizewinners Mona Minkara, Alieu Jaiteh and Yuma Decaux completed their Holman Prize year in 2020, so it’s time to celebrate their incredible achievements.

On April 10, we will host a chocolate tasting, with Dr. Hoby Wedler who will take you on a journey through the chocolate making process, the delicate nuance of the flavors and other interesting facts. The fine chocolates are provided byQuail Point Chocolates. We’ll also hear from Alieu, Mona and Yuma about their Holman Prize adventures.

If you’d like the chocolate to try along at home, it’s $50 with enough chocolates for two tasters and $75 for a family box.

You can come to this Holman Prize event without the chocolate tasting for free.

The event takes place on April 10 from 2:00 pm to 3:30 pm Pacific Time.

RSVP for Sweetening the Prize: Holman Prizewinner Celebration & Chocolate Tasting.

Holman Prize Applications are Now Open

Holman Prize Applications are Now Open

Have you been dreaming and planning out your pitch for the 2021 Holman Prize for Blind Ambition? Maybe you’ve even already shot your pitch video. Well the time has come: Applications for the 2021 Holman Prize are now open.
Haven’t heard about the Holman Prize yet? Here’s more info.
Now in it’s fifth year, the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition annually awards up to $25,000 each to three blind people from around the world with incredible ideas that will shatter misconceptions about blindness worldwide. We are thrilled to announce this year that one of the $25,000 prizes is sponsored by one of our close partners, Waymo.

The Holman Prize named after James Holman, a blind 19th century explorer who is the most prolific private traveler of anyone, blind or sighted, before the era of modern transportation.
The only qualifications for the Holman Prize are that you must be blind or legally blind and that you must be 18 years old by October 1, 2021.
But if you’re not quite ready to upload your 90-second YouTube pitch and fill out the application, there’s no need to worry; applications close on March 14 at 11:59 pm Pacific.

We know just how different applications will need to be during this time of the pandemic. While we recognize this will be a factor for the scope of some peoples’ ideas, we encourage you to think big and imagine your Holman plan without taken the current constraints too much into consideration. We will do everything we can if your idea is successful, to work with you and help you make it happen. Don’t let the pandemic blunt your ambition!
Check out our Holman Prize frequently asked questions and if you don’t find your answer there, email us at holman@lighthouse-sf.org
Stay tuned for the next two months as we share updates on 2021 submissions and updates from our winners.
Spread the word about the Holman Prize and follow Holman Prize on FacebookTwitter and Instagram
We can’t wait to watch your videos.

White Cane Day October 15: A Day of Celebration at LightHouse

White Cane Day October 15: A Day of Celebration at LightHouse

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.

2020 Holman Prizewinners Announced

2020 Holman Prizewinners Announced

LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired – San Francisco is proud to introduce the three winners of this year’s prestigious Holman Prize competition for Blind Ambition.

The Holman Prize was launched by LightHouse in 2017: awarding three blind individuals up to 25,000 US dollars to fulfill a dream, turn an idea into reality or shoot for an unusual goal. Named after the 19th-century blind explorer James Holman, 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. And it is in the unquenchable spirit of James Holman that this year, 109 blind people from 22 countries, posted their 90 second Youtube pitch to be considered for the Holman Prize.

A panel of thirteen distinguished blind judges carried out the unenviable and difficult task of whittling down the 16 semifinalists to the following three outstanding blind blue-sky thinkers.

Tiffany Brar, India – Age 31

Tiffany Brar

Brar’s Holman ambition is called ‘Reaching the Unreached.’ With the Holman Prize, Brar will expand services for the blind into rural and tribal south India. Brar’s goal is to train more than 300 blind people across four states: Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, and Karnataka. She hopes to help the teenagers enroll in school and adults participate in either residential training centers for the blind or help them find jobs. Tiffany and a team of special educators will work closely with local leaders, government workers and translators to coordinate training programs for blind youth between the ages of 13 and 35.

Born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, Brar learned to speak five Indian languages as a child. She received schooling in both Great Britain and India. She completed a degree in English Literature in 2006. She later received a Bachelor of Education in Special Education, Visual Impairment from Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University.

The Holman Prize judges were impressed first by Tiffany’s comprehensive and passionate 90 second Youtube pitch and then by the detailed and well-planned proposal she presented.

On learning of her success, Tiffany said:

“I am honored. I applied because I am really passionate about rural development and training blind people in their homes as well as in our residential center, so thank you very much for making it happen.”

Tyler Merren, USA – Age 36

Tyler Merren

With his 25,000 USD Holman Prize, Merren will develop ReVision Fitness, an audio-based fitness mobile application.

“While there are many fitness apps out there,” said Merren, “they don’t provide an adequate description of exercises for people who are blind.”

The app will include descriptions of equipment, nutrition, heart rate monitoring, and journal capabilities all in an accessible format.

Merren is a resident of Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he lives with his wife and four children. He is a three-time Paralympian for Team USA in the sport of goalball with two team medals. His love for adaptive sports began in 1999 at a sports education camp hosted by the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes.

“The idea is that if you can do it as a sighted person in another fitness app, I want a blind person to have that in my app and the Holman Prize will make that possible.”

The Holman Prize judging panel loved the idea of many aspects of fitness usually found by painstakingly trying out each app’s usability and accessibility, being available to many blind individuals in the one place, in the one comprehensive app.

Dr. Birendra Raj Sharma Pokharel, Nepal – Age 53

Birendra Raj Sharma Pokharel

Dr. Pokharel’s proposal is entitled:
“Service Above Self: detecting breast cancer by blind women using medical tactile examination.”

He will use the Holman Prize funds to provide training for blind women in Nepal to become Medical Tactile Examiners in the early detection of breast cancer. The new program will provide an employment path for up to 30 blind Nepalese women who traditionally face enormous barriers to employment.

Dr. Pokharel who lives in Patan, Bagmati, has 25 years of experience in disability rights advocacy. He completed his Ph.D. in Rural Development at Tribhuvan University in Nepal.

Breast cancer is the most common disease for Nepalese women particularly in the remote area where outreach health services are lacking. Statistically, Medical Tactile Examiners who are blind can detect up to 30% more nodules than doctors. And the tissue alterations they identify are 50% smaller than those detected by medical professionals.

“I hope that this will raise awareness that women are employed not despite their visual disability, but because of their capability.”

This groundbreaking work was first pioneered in Germany, but this is the first time it is being led by a person who is blind.

LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin said: “This year’s winners will make a huge impact on the lives and experiences of many blind people around the world. The winners each are taking an active role in solving a problem and providing other blind people with tools to have their own agency and lead independent lives. They are all about to embark on a personal journey of self-discovery, learning new skills, and how it feels to truly make a difference.” He went on:

“I’d like to thank the other 106 applicants for applying and encourage them to consider pitching their big ideas to us again next year. I would also like to acknowledge and thank this year’s judges who gave up their time to undertake this difficult judging task, made especially challenging because we weren’t able to meet in person to adjudicate this year.”

For more information or to arrange interviews with the winners or LightHouse spokespeople, please email:
press@lighthouse-sf.org or call +1 (415) 812 5384

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.

To see videos of all of our 2020 finalists and learn more about The Holman Prize please go to holmanprize.org.

About LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco

LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. We actively seek corporate and philanthropic funding for the finalists who we would like to support beyond the three funded winners this year.

To offer your support, contact holman@lighthouse-sf.org.


Watch Holman Prizewinner Red Szell’s Documentary

Watch Holman Prizewinner Red Szell’s Documentary

In June 2019, Holman Prizewinner 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. His journey is chronicled in the documentary short, Shared Vision, which was screened at the Banff Centre Mountain Film + Book Festival on November 2, 2019.

Watch the documentary, with audio description.


Red Szell reflects on how the Holman Prize got him to the top of the rock

Red Szell reflects on how the Holman Prize got him to the top of the rock

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.”

Red sitting on a rocky beach at Sandwood Bay, on the far north-west coast of mainland Scotland, with Am Buachaille towering behind him.
Red sitting on a rocky beach at Sandwood Bay, on the far north-west coast of mainland Scotland, with Am Buachaille towering behind him.

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.

Meet Alieu Jaiteh: Holman Prizewinner and Social Entrepreneur

Meet Alieu Jaiteh: Holman Prizewinner and Social Entrepreneur

Alieu Jaiteh is one of three recipients of the 2019 Holman Prize for Blind Ambition. The Holman Prize is awarded annually by LightHouse for the Blind to three blind individuals with ambitious ideas. With his award of $25,000, Alieu will provide blindness skills training to eighty people in rural Gambia.

Born and raised in The Gambia, Alieu became blind shortly after graduating high school. He was interested in being an accountant, but as he explains, “In The Gambia, when you are blind, you have two options: to become a teacher or a beggar. Well, I didn’t want to be a beggar, so I chose to become a teacher.”

After graduating from The Gambia College, Alieu applied and won a scholarship to kanthari international, an institute which provides leadership training for people who want to make social change. His instructors at kanthari were impressed with his work and leadership skills and secured funding to send him to the Louisiana Center for the Blind in the United States. At the Louisiana Center, Alieu learned rehabilitation and technology skills. “I had never cooked for myself before,” he explains.

After experiencing the services and opportunities available to blind people firsthand, Alieu knew that he wanted those same things for blind people in his country. “I said to myself, I have to change the system. I started dreaming and wondering what I could do for myself and all the visually impaired people in The Gambia. That is where the dream of Start Now began.”

Start Now Gambia, founded by Alieu, provides rehabilitation and technology training to blind Gambians. Start Now’s mission is to provide blind people with the training they need to work in a variety of fields. As word spread about his organization, Alieu was met with skepticism. “People said this won’t work. It’s a waste of time,” Alieu explains. Alieu’s response was frank. “This is about changing lives. These are services that are not available here.” Start Now Gambia has continued with the hard work of Alieu and other liked-minded people in The Gambia.

Alieu learned about the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition in 2017. He realized the prize would provide him an opportunity to expand his training outside of the capital of Banjul and into rural Gambia. He applied in 2018 and became a finalist but did not win. In 2019, Alieu considered applying again, but was skeptical about his chance for winning because of the caliber of the competition. Finally, with only two weeks left of the submission period, he applied. When asked what he did differently from the first time he applied, Alieu says, “I wrote a more focused, creative and detailed proposal.”

The Holman Prize is named for James Holman, a blind explorer who was the most prolific traveler of anyone, blind or sighted, before the era of modern transportation. The prize is about shattering misconceptions and changing expectations about what blind people can do. On winning the Holman Prize, Alieu says, “This is an opportunity to transform the lives of blind and partially sighted people in rural Gambia to become confident and independent. This award is a dream come true and obviously a motivating spirit for all my future activities.”

Alieu’s Holman Prize journey began last October. Follow along at HolmanPrize.org or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Subscribe to the Holman Prize email newsletter by sending a message to holman@lighthouse-sf.org.