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LightHouse programs

A personal take on Tech Together Online

A personal take on Tech Together Online

By Caitlin O’Malior

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.

“So, You Think You Want A Guide Dog?” is back

“So, You Think You Want A Guide Dog?” is back

Photo by Sarika Dagar

Since March, LightHouse has been offering the workshop, “So, You Think You Want A Guide Dog?”, which helps people curious about guide dogs decide if one is right for them. Participants learn about common guide dog misconceptions, skills they need to have, researching and picking a guide dog school and the ins and outs of the application process. LightHouse Orientation & Mobility Specialist Katt Jones who thought up the idea, wanted to provide information that was impartial and beyond that offered by guide dog schools.

“I really wanted to broaden it to all guide dog schools and give students the tools to do their own research. It’s kind of like applying for college: there is no one right answer. Additionally, Bobbi Pompey, our Independent Living Skills Specialist, has a guide dog and talks about the independent living skills needed to have one. Many guide dog schools ask minimal questions about living skills during the application process.”

The first workshop was March 12, the day before LightHouse’s last day of face-to-face services prior to the shelter in place order came into effect in San Francisco. Katt explains how the workshops changed when they went virtual.

“Before shelter in place, I was envisioning doing three workshops over the course of a year. I thought we’d get 10 to 20 people per workshop, mostly local students that we have some connection to. After we went into shelter in place, I posted the info about the second workshop on Facebook groups and listservs. I woke up the next morning to about 50 emails.”

Due to the range of people wanting to sign up, Katt decided to develop special versions of the workshop, one for youth and their families, and another for educators.

“I was getting responses from O&M [Specialists] all over the country and in Canada. I had posted that the workshop was going to be for adults. Many of them said that they’d love for their students to be able to go, who were high school age or younger. I also wanted to figure out how to have one for educators, because there were so many who wanted this information. I worked with my supervisor, Kathy Abrahamson, to figure out how we could provide educators [continuing education] credits for certification.”

Sometimes, people change their minds about getting a guide dog after attending a workshop.

“One of my favorite stories was right after our last guide dog workshop for youth and families. There were a few students who were hanging on the call, just doing a little socializing and asking a couple last minute questions. A former student of mine said, ‘You know, I came in thinking I wanted a guide dog, and now I’m pretty sure I don’t.’ Another student said, ‘I wasn’t sure when I came in and I definitely know I want one now.’ It was great to see how these workshops help people along their process of trying to make these decisions for themselves.”

So why does Katt think these classes are so popular and successful?

“I think people are hungry for this knowledge because so many people love dogs. A lot of people just love dogs.”

The next “So You Think You Want A Guide Dog?” workshop is for high-school aged youth and adults who are blind or have low vision and takes place on the Zoom conferencing platform, July 21, from 1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Pacific. RSVP by July 15 to Briana Kusuma BKusuma@lighthouse-sf.org and to obtain the Zoom log-in information.

LightHouse offers online meditation classes

LightHouse offers online meditation classes

During uncertain times, some people find practicing mindfulness very helpful. If it works for you, then LightHouse is here to help by offering two weekly meditation classes online.

Stress Reduction & Meditation Goes Virtual
Wednesdays, 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., through April and May

This class is led by Jeffrey Schneider, who has more than 40 years of meditation and teaching experience. The class is appropriate for everyone from beginners to those advanced at practicing meditation. For more information contact Serena Olsen at solsen@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7316.

Virtual Meditation & Mindfulness

Fridays, 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., through April and May

Use Zoom or call in every Friday at 12:30 p.m. for guided meditation, mindfulness discussion and a chance to build community with your LightHouse community. All are welcome. Please contact Amber Sherrard to sign up at asherrard@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7353.