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Latitude High School

Latitude High Students Bring Their Inventions to LightHouse!

Latitude High Students Bring Their Inventions to LightHouse!

On May 10 and 11, 2023,  LightHouse welcomed Computer Science and Design students from Latitude High School in Oakland, who came to demo their prototypes of products to help people who are blind or have low vision.
Latitude teacher Matt Mahowald reached out to LightHouse and connected with Community Outreach Specialist Sheri Albers who facilitated their visit. He explains how this came about:

 “This semester my students have been working on a project, building products for the visually impaired. We spent time interviewing blind people and visited the East Bay Center for the Blind. From there, students took issues like transportation, morning routine, and cooking that they were interested in. Each group of students selected one specific issue and spent four weeks prototyping products using Arduinos, which are small computers you can program with sensors and inputs and outputs. I found out about LightHouse through [Blind architect and former LightHouse Board President] Chris Downey’s 60 Minutes interview. I called the main line and got connected with Sheri.”

Braille Instructor Divina Carlson chats with Latitude students

Here are a just a few of the products the students created:

Enzo, Andreas & Jettra
“We found out that people can have both age-related visual and hearing impairments. When we talked to people at the East Bay Center for the Blind, they explained they were often unable to make out sounds from appliances like microwaves and thermostats because the sounds were too high for their ears. So we devised a product that uses a microphone and takes frequencies that are too high for a lot of people to hear and outputs them again at a lower frequency but at the same volume.”
Ehthro, Alex & Esteban
“Our product is a pill box that can sense where you’re at. You can set it at a certain time to remind you to take medicine. Once that time comes, the [pill box] speaker will beep. The ultrasonic speaker senses where you’re at, so if you’re close to the pill box it will beep faster and if you’re further away it will beep slower.”

Isabel & Gabriel
“Our product is [like a] FasTrak card to help people navigate around grocery stores. When it senses what aisle you’re in, it tells you things like ‘bread aisle’ or ‘milk aisle’. It will also tell you if the product you’re looking for is on the left or the right. Our goal is to help blind and visually impaired people have more independence and more freedom around the world.”

A closeup of the prototype for a speaker that would attach to bus stops to give information about bus routes

And here is what LightHouse community members and staff had to say about checking out the products and giving feedback to the Latitude students:
Mike Cole, LightHouse volunteer and former LightHouse Board President
“I met these students a few months ago when they came to visit the East Bay Center for the Blind. Our staff laid out braille books, braillers and other blindness products. They asked a lot of good questions. I’ve visited a few of the tables and the students’ creativity is really wonderful. The kids were really great at explaining their products and receiving feedback. A lot of people, when they think they’ve come up with a brilliant idea, aren’t open to input. I think these students are on the right track and it was very fun.”

Edwin Whitefield, LightHouse student
“They solved a problem I have at the gym, which is knowing the weight of the plate that I’m about to lift or the amount of weight that I want on an apparatus. I have no central vision whatsoever.  When I’m at the gym, I have to squat down and get really close to read the weight plates. Their invention is an RFID code on every weight and I would have a scanner that tells me ‘that’s a 25 pound weight’ etc. It was simple yet genius.”
Sabrina Bolus, Adult Programs Coordinator
“I forget to take my Vitamin D3 a little too often! A cool thing I saw today was a pill box that could sense when I was nearby and then remind me.”
Gabe Griffith, Access Technology Specialist
“I love the creativity and ingenuity of the students. It was great to experience their enthusiasm for their projects.”

Access Technology Specialist Gabe Griffith holds a speaker that changes the frequency of appliance sounds to be lower for those who have difficulty hearing higher frequencies

Kacie Capello, Access Technology Instructor
As an AT professional, it was exciting to see younger folks embracing the concepts and mechanics of technology for access. It was also fun to give tips, and just nerd out, about products that can close persisting accessibility gaps. I enjoy being part of discussions and processes that shape allyship in the tech and maker spaces.”
Fernando Macias, Access Technology Specialist
“How cool the Computer Science department at this school is for putting something like this together! It puts this idea of inclusive design in the mind of highschoolers.”
Divina Carlson, Braille Instructor
“It’s great to know the Latitude School students are learning awareness of blindness, and they are creating devices to potentially support independence for blind or low vision people. As a braille teacher, I had the opportunity to briefly introduce to the Latitude students how braille letters are formed as well.”
Sheri Albers, Community Outreach Specialist and event facilitator
“Anytime you find a young person that is willing to get involved in the blindness community, I find that is absolutely wonderful. It seems like a lot of thought was put into these devices and the needs we face and they really were sincerely hopeful that the things that they made could make a difference in our lives.”
Thank you, Latitude High School Computer Science and Design students for visiting LightHouse and sharing your ideas!

High School Students Set Out to Provide Creative Assistance for the Blind Community

High School Students Set Out to Provide Creative Assistance for the Blind Community

LightHouse is thrilled to announce an exciting opportunity for our students and community members. Our Community Outreach Coordinator, Sheri Albers, was contacted by Matt Mahowald, a teacher of Computer Science and Design, from Latitude High School in Oakland with a unique request.
Latitude High School teaches a real-world Project-Based Learning curriculum with strong arts, multimedia, and technology integration. This semester, Matt’s class was tasked with developing a working prototype of a device with the specific purpose of providing daily task assistance to the blind and visually impaired community. And, on Thursday, May 11, Matt Mahowald’s sophomore class will be coming to demonstrate their prototypes to LightHouse students and staff.
So, with eager enthusiasm and interest, Sheri Albers sat down with Latitude High sophomores, Nai and Alex, for more details about the project.
“Our class came up with a list of things that might be challenging to do for someone who is visually impaired. Most people said tasks like cooking, crossing the street, or finding things would be harder to do if you can’t see. So, each group had to identify different problems that people with visual impairments might have and focus on one. Then, Step 2 was to choose one of those problems to solve and come up with a sketch and then make a cardboard prototype of an invention to help with those problem/tasks,” explained Nai and Alex.
Sheri: What is your invention, and what does your prototype look like?
Nai: I invented a camera to help find things and detect movement in your house. My original prototype was a cardboard box with a little rectangle on it, it looks like how a camera is supposed to look, and it’s kind of simple. But it influenced my newer design, which is made out of actual plywood that we laser-printed. There is also a mount where you can hang it on the wall if you want. And, because it is a computer science class, we also have to have some kind of mechanical, computer or electric component to the prototype – like a camera, a sensor, a speaker, etc. – as long as we can work on our coding skills to make the computer component work.
Sheri: What kind of research had to be done before you started the project?
Nai and Alex: We did research on how the eye works, and the different parts of the eye. We read articles about what the main causes for visual impairment or blindness are. Also, previously, we went on a field trip to the Center for Blind and Visually Impaired in Berkeley. We interviewed someone who has been blind his whole life. It was really informative and helpful to go over there. He told us about his experiences, and how he gets around on his own. He showed us some braille books which were pretty cool.

Sheri: When you come to LightHouse on May 11, what do you hope to get from sharing your prototype with our students and staff?
Nai: Personally, I’m hoping I can refine my project, or make it a little bit more personalized, because what I’m making, it basically already exists but not really for the use that I’m using it for. I feel like I can get input on how to make it specifically for people who are visually impaired and maybe do some edits on it. The code probably won’t change, but I could maybe make the actual design of the box easier or refine my design to make sure that it’s usable for people who are visually impaired.
Sheri: What would that mean to you to see your design being used by someone who is blind or visually impaired?
Nai: I would definitely feel really accomplished! If somebody was really using my product and they truly appreciated it, I feel so proud! If I ever put it out there, my mom would buy it just to support me, but if somebody genuinely thought it was a useful product and could totally use it in their house, I would feel really accomplished and motivated to do more!

If you want to check out these student-designed prototypes, give your feedback, and help aid and guide these future designers and engineers, come to LightHouse on May 11 from 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm. For questions or to RSVP, please contact Sheri Albers at SAlbers@lighthouse-sf.org or call 415-694-7331.