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Learning Access Technology Leads Fernando Macias to a Career at LightHouse

Learning Access Technology Leads Fernando Macias to a Career at LightHouse

At LightHouse, we always want our community members to know more about the dedicated staff who make up this organization. This time, we introduce you to Access Technology Trainer Fernando Macias.
Can you tell us your blindness story? When did you go blind and how did you end up getting training?
I was born in 1992 in Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico. No one knew I was blind at first, but then, as I started to crawl, my family started to figure out something was going on. My grandpa told me that he used to throw a marble towards me, and I would wait for it to stop bouncing off his concrete floor, crawl towards the location where it was, and fumble around for it. He noticed I was using my ears and turning them towards that last location I heard the marble instead of looking at where it went. At first my parents didn’t believe something was off, but things kept happening. As I started to walk, I would bump into tables and chairs, so that’s when my parents started to think something was up with my vision.
Going back a little bit, we lived in the country and did not have the best access to medical care. When my mom was pregnant with me, her water broke, but she did not go to the hospital right away. We got to the hospital hours after her water broke and the staff determined I had an infection, toxoplasmosis. This can cause vision loss if untreated. It’s a parasite that can be found in cat feces or soil, and we did have cats on the farm, so my mom could have caught it and passed it to me. I came down with a nasty fever that persisted for days. There was nothing the hospital could do, but I recovered and grew into a toddler. But after my grandpa had noticed something was wrong and then finally my parents, they made that connection to the fever and that’s when they took me to have my eyes checked.
The hospital staff couldn’t give my parents much information about my vision, but they were able to determine that I was very legally blind, but they didn’t have an acuity for me. They just knew that I couldn’t see as well as I should have.
We went home, but my parents never accepted the fact that I was blind. That happens, especially in rural Mexico, where the hope was that I was going to grow up and tend to the livestock. My parents had a lot of land, and so did my grandpa. They grew crops and had a lot of cattle, so the hope was that I was going to grow up and work that and continue the tradition, but now that was turned completely on its head.
Since my parents couldn’t accept that I couldn’t see, that manifested itself in, “He’s blind, we don’t care. We’re going to treat him like any other kid.” I did chores and my dad taught me how to ride a bicycle because we had open space. He would take me horseback riding and out to the field with him. In fact, I did not know that I was blind until I was told we were going to come to the United States.
We came to the United States so I could get an education. If you’re rich, you can get a private education in Mexico. If you’re not, you can get a public education, but public schools in Mexico are not set up to accommodate people with disabilities.
Now there was a school for the blind in Mexico in the city of Colima, which was about 90 minutes away by car from us. We’d drive there once a week, on a Saturday, and that was the best they could offer. I learned a little bit of braille, my vowels, but that was it.
My parents realized that wasn’t going to work out, so my dad decided that we would emigrate to the United States, because he had heard that there were better opportunities for me over here. One of my aunts was over here and she helped us settle in.
My parents took me to Stanford University to get my eyes checked and got a better idea of what I had. I was seven years old, and the staff figured out that my vision was around 20/4000 and were able to show my parents what the damage was. There are scars smack in the middle of my retinas that are pretty severe. They let in images to my optic nerves, but my central vision is very blurry and the most damaged. My peripheral vision is okay.
Then I was put in school, and I learned how to speak English and read Grade 1 braille by the age of 10. So that’s how I found out I was blind and ended up in the United States.
How did you get into technology and eventually become a tech trainer at LightHouse?
Technology’s been a part of who I am since I could use a computer. When I was 10, I learned how to use Windows XP with the screen reader JAWS. I also started using Google, which was a pretty new search engine at the time.
For middle school and part of high school, I went to the California School for the Blind (CSB). I was on the mainstream track and went to a public middle school for some classes before coming back to CSB in the evenings. I got a lot of technology training.
It was a liberating thing for me, being able to get on the Internet, being able to type, do email, and to do what other people were doing online. Jerry Kuns [former LightHouse board member and longtime LightHouse supporter] was a teacher at CSB at the time and one of my tech trainers. His late wife, Theresa Postello, was my VI trainer. They were my connection points to LightHouse.
I was new to the U.S., and I wasn’t connected to the blindness community at all. Outside of CSB, I didn’t know anyone else who was blind. Jerry and Theresa recommended Enchanted Hills Camp (EHC) to me. They said, “this could be beneficial to you. You’ll make friends. You’ll learn things, and you’ll be in a blind-friendly place.” I initially resisted the idea because I was shy, and I wasn’t very comfortable speaking English yet. But they insisted, and told my parents, and I was convinced, and so I went to EHC in 2003. During the rest of my time at CSB, there would be several student trips to LightHouse to get tours or go to the Adaptations Store.
After high school I went to college. After that, I got a volunteer gig at an immigration law firm. Eventually they hired me part time to be an interpreter and do some office work. I started going to immigration interviews with clients and using more of the technology skills I had acquired, like JAWS and using a braille display. In December 2019, I saw that there was an opening at LightHouse for an Access Technology Trainer, and I always wanted to do something with Access Technology training. I wanted to do what Jerry was doing.
I applied for the position but never heard back, so I continued with my work at the law firm. But it was part time work, and my parents were going back to Mexico, so I needed a fulltime job.
One day in March 2022, more than two years later, I got a call from a human resources person at LightHouse, but I didn’t recognize the number which had a 650 area code so I didn’t answer it. They left me a voicemail, and I then proceeded not to listen to my voicemail. I got another call a week later from this same number and I said, “You know what? I’ve got to answer this.” I don’t usually answer these types of calls, but I had a good feeling.
I answered and was shocked when I was told they were calling from LightHouse. They said, “I see that you submitted your resumé and applied for a position a while ago, and the Director of Access Technology, Jeffery Colon, is interested in interviewing you. I know it’s been a long time, but would you be interested?” So, I interviewed for the position and started the job in June 2022.  
I started off doing a lot of iPhone training and a lot of the bilingual tech training, because we had a pretty long waitlist of Spanish speaking students. I’ve also been doing user testing of apps and websites for accessibility. I believe that’s a way I can contribute to making things more accessible for everyone.
Can you talk about your teaching philosophy when you’re training students?
Don’t be afraid to use technology. It’s there for you. It’s a tool, and it’s the way to access the world. All of our mainstream devices have some sort of access technology built into them. It’s important to become fluent in that. I also teach my students to advocate for themselves. If an app is broken, send an email to the developers. Communication is important. Blind and low vision people have a right to access what everyone else can.
Interested in Access Technology training at LightHouse? Get started by emailing info@lighthouse-sf.org or calling 415-431-1481.

LightHouse Student Robin Thiele Takes the Plunge to Learn Access Technology

LightHouse Student Robin Thiele Takes the Plunge to Learn Access Technology

We like to bring you stories of our wonderful LightHouse students. In this issue, we present an interview with Robin Thiele, 72, who has been taking Access Technology training.
How has your blindness affected your life and how did you find your way to LightHouse?
My family had never heard about glaucoma. When I was 16 months old, my mother noticed that I was unable to look at bright lights in the house, and certainly not outside. I would always squint and turn my head away.
A doctor at the University of Chicago diagnosed me with glaucoma, and I had two surgeries. I received my first pair of glasses when I was five or six. They were thick coke bottle glasses with bifocals, but they allowed me to go to school and lead a reasonably active life.
But I continued to need eye care. I had a couple of retinal detachments in high school that had to be surgically treated. I always had this push/pull with treatment, because it meant I was going to be restricted in terms of my activity. As a young boy, this was very unacceptable to me. My mother tried to lay down rules for me, which I did not appreciate at all, I had resisted and rebelled. I just wanted to wash my hands of having glaucoma, but of course I couldn’t do that.
I went on to graduate college but was having more and more problems managing my glaucoma. I had surgeries with some success, but my vision kept declining slowly. It was like trying to read Ulysses; it’s a very long book, and it can take a long time to get to the end. That’s the metaphor for my vision loss. It started having a major impact on my life when I was about 61. I finally had to retire from my work as a registered nurse; I could no longer drive, and my wife was also having major cognition problems and I just really needed to be home. Unfortunately, my wife’s condition was also deteriorating about the same rate as my vision.
We decided that I would be her memory, and she would be my eyes, and that worked for a short while. But of course, that wasn’t viable long term. I threw myself into caring for my wife, but in some ways, I allowed that to keep me from thinking about my vision. But it finally deteriorated to the point where I really needed to deal with it, and I contacted a nonprofit in the East Bay.  
It was good to make contact, but the support group didn’t have the structure I was looking for, and I wished for more social contact with the people in it. I became discouraged about getting help and support.
18 months ago, my brother, Gus, and I had talked about LightHouse, but I had not made any contact. It was during wintertime, I was depressed, and unfortunately my wife had to be placed into fulltime care. There was a lot going on and I wasn’t doing anything to help improve my situation at all. So finally, when I had not contacted LightHouse myself, my brother got on the phone and connected with [LightHouse Social Worker] Jeff Carlson.
Jeff gave me a call and we set things up, and I got involved in a telephone support group and this time around, it was a very good experience. There was a structure; I knew what we were going to talk about each week and really liked the people in the group.
In that support group, I learned about [the screen reader] VoiceOver on iPhone. I had never been much of a technology person, so I dug in my heels. I did not want to have my life focused around my phone. I thought, “No, I’m not going to do that.” I had acquired just enough computer skills to do email, access the Internet and to do my job, but not much else.
But now my wife could no longer do what she used to do. She used to pay the bills and take care of our finances. It was incumbent for me to take over, and it became very clear that I was on the wrong side of the digital divide.
So, everything kind of came together with that initial contact with LightHouse. A referral was made for Access Technology, and that’s how I got started with training from [Access Technology Instructor] Fernando Macias.
Could you talk about your experience working with Fernando and what you’ve been learning?
Fernando started me out with the basic VoiceOver gestures for iPhone. I was quite impressed with Fernando’s youth, but at first, I wasn’t sure how this was going to work out. He’s 30 and I’m 72, but it’s worked out so well. Fernando is extremely educated, sensitive and naturally curious.
One of the things I value most about Fernando is that he’s picked up on my tendency to be self-critical. When I get frustrated and think I’m not doing something right, he slows me down and points out that I can’t break anything on that software, and that I can start a process from scratch if I mess up. He’s not only been my VoiceOver instructor, but also been a mentor about blindness. I never really had anyone to really talk with about blindness and I learned a lot from listening to him. He’s very focused, doesn’t get frustrated and stays attentive to solving a problem. I’ve tried to emulate that, to stay focused on solving a problem and being able to walk away when I’m frustrated and coming back in an improved state of mind. 
How has learning this technology improved your independence as a blind person?
I’m able to do email now in a way that I wasn’t able to before, and I’ve been able to master using the Uber and Lyft apps. Now I can get out and visit my wife without having to rely on an unreliable taxi. This has been a major improvement in my life.
Learning technology is like learning a new language. It’s not something to be avoided or to be afraid of. I’m slowly starting to find myself open to trying new things and not just immediately saying, “No.”
Do you have an interest in exploring other areas of blindness skills training?
I’m signed up for Changing Vision Changing Life. It’s a survey of the different types of training LightHouse offers like technology, cooking, independent living skills and orientation & mobility. When Fernando first told me about it, I could feel myself resisting, but then Fernando talked about the program a bit more and I said, “Absolutely. This is what I must do.” I’m really looking forward to that for the skills that will be presented, but also for the social contact with other people. I think, having contact with the common denominator around vision loss is a great way to get to know people and for people to open up.

Interested in Access Technology training at LightHouse? Get started by emailing info@lighthouse-sf.org or calling 415-431-1481.

Learn the Ins and Outs of the Victor Reader Stream 3—and Take One Home of Your Own

Learn the Ins and Outs of the Victor Reader Stream 3—and Take One Home of Your Own

Join the Access Tech team at LightHouse headquarters for a four-day class on the Victor Reader Stream 3. You’ll learn all about using Victor Reader Stream 3…and receive a Victor Stream of your own at the end of the class!
The Victor Reader Stream 3 is a handheld digital audio player that allows you to listen to audiobooks, newspapers, web radio, music, podcasts and more. It is the latest in the Victor Reader Stream series from HumanWare A lightweight device, the Victor Reader Stream 3 can be held in your hand, carried in a pocket, or set on the table and listened to with the built-in speaker, headphones, or connected to a Bluetooth device. Perhaps best of all, the Victor Reader Stream 3 is operated by tactile buttons. Each command you perform on this device only requires you to press a single button at a time. The Victor Reader Stream 3 connects to the online services such as NLS BARD, NFB Newsline and Bookshare to download media directly to the player.
You should consider joining the class if:

  • You enjoy listening to books.
  • You love podcasts.
  • You can’t start your morning without checking the news along with your morning coffee.
  • You’re a radio junky and listen to radio stations from next-door to around the world.
  • You are someone who takes notes by recording them.

Oh, and a nice bonus of owning the Stream: it gets 12 to 15 hours battery life.
Ready to join? Here are the details:
What: Victor Reader Stream Class
When: September 25, 26, 27, & 29 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm each day. (There is no class September 28.) There will be a one-hour lunch break daily from noon to 1:00 pm.
Where: LightHouse Headquarters at 1155 Market Street in San Francisco
RSVP: Send an email to AT@lighthouse-sf.org no later than September 19.

Learn the Best Ways to Navigate Accessibly, with LightHouse Wayfinding Class

Learn the Best Ways to Navigate Accessibly, with LightHouse Wayfinding Class

Take your travel to the next level with LightHouse’s Introduction to Accessible Wayfinding. Join Kacie Cappello and Fernando Macias from the Access Technology department, and Orientation & Mobility Specialists Jennifer Huey and Jenna Whitelaw, to explore the tools and techniques for navigating safely and confidently through our opening, changing world.
We’ll discuss how native iPhone functionality like Siri and the Compass app can help you orient to your surroundings. You will learn route-planning strategies using Apple Maps and Google Maps, and how to get public transportation information from apps like Moovit and LiveBart. You will hear accessible apps like BlindSquare in action and try features out for yourself. Whether you’re rediscovering your favorite coffee shop, or preparing for your next great adventure, you’ll be ready to boldly go where you’ve always wanted to go!
Access Technology Instructor Kacie explains more about the class:
“Access Technology and Orientation & Mobility are areas that can often intimidate learners. This class blends concepts from both areas in a thorough, yet approachable way. You’ll learn about many apps in detail, and we’ll practice and discuss scenarios in which you will use the skills out in the community. This course will be virtual, so there is no need to actively navigate during the sessions. After the course, you will have the skills and strategies you will need to travel with confidence, comfort, and new curiosity.”
What: Introduction To Accessible Wayfinding (online)
When: Thursdays, October 5, 12, 19 & 26 and November 2 & 9, from 2:00 pm to 4:30 pm
Where: Online
RSVP: By October 2 to AT@lighthouse-sf.org
or 415-431-1481

Sharpen Your Skills with a LightHouse Cooking Class

Sharpen Your Skills with a LightHouse Cooking Class

Student cooking at LightHouse is back! “Meet me in the Kitchen” is a five-week course designed to empower LightHouse students with the non-visual techniques needed to prepare and present delicious meals independently. This course is created and taught by Bobbi Pompey, an Independent Living Skills Specialist with a passion for cooking and teaching. Each week you will learn non-visual kitchen skills, general cooking tips and tricks, and prepare a snack or meal.
Skills You Will Learn Include:

  • Organizing, labeling, and preparing your kitchen and workspace
  • Measuring wet and dry ingredients
  • Using knives, kitchen appliances, blindness/low vision gadgets and other “tools of the trade”
  • Understanding how to build flavor profiles, decipher lingo used in recipes, and determine the doneness of food
  • Serving, garnishing, and presenting meals with multiple dishes to friends and family, and other guests

Course Schedule:

Session 1: September 1 – Welcome and Course Overview
This session will include staff/student introductions, a course overview, a tour of the kitchen and an introduction to basic techniques for navigating a kitchen. Class will conclude with a lesson on pouring and spreading and the preparation of a snack.
Session 2: September – Cracking the Code
By the end of this session, you will understand how to decipher common recipe lingo, develop delicious flavor profiles with spices, stock a pantry with basic staples and shop for groceries independently. Techniques for measuring will be used to create a spice rub and/or basic sauce.
Session 3: September 15 – Getting the Job Done
Knife skills are the focus of this session. Students will make a simple one-pot soup and learn to determine when food is done.
Session 4: September 22 – Learning to Spin All the Plates
This class marks the transition into the more advanced portion of the course. Labeling, organizing, blindness devices, kitchen gadgets and the use of small appliances will be covered as ways to add efficiency to meal preparation. You will prepare a three-part meal during this session.
Session 5: September 29 – Putting on the Finishing Touches
Taking all the skills of previous classes you will learn to: serve yourself, serve others, set a table, decorate and/or garnish a meal.
This course takes place at LightHouse San Francisco at 1155 Market St. 10th Floor. Spots in this fun and educational course are limited, so secure your participation by contacting Bobbi Pompey at BPompey@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7613 by August 25.

LightHouse Student Anusha Touts the Independence Blindness Skills Training Gives Her

LightHouse Student Anusha Touts the Independence Blindness Skills Training Gives Her

Anusha wearing hoop earrings and a pale green gownWhether we are working with the families of our Little Learners at a home visit, or our senior students in the Changing Vision Changing Life program, LightHouse strives for mission moments—those pivotal moments in a student’s success, clarity, or independence. For LightHouse student Anusha, that moment happened during an orientation and mobility lesson with LightHouse O&M instructor, Katt Jones.
Anusha moved to the United States from India last year to attend Law School at UC Berkeley. Newly blind, Anusha began to lose her sight four years ago due to a condition that has caused significant damage to her optic nerve. Knowing that Anusha’s plan was to live independently in the US, Anusha’s aunt conducted her own internet research and came across LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco. She suggested to her niece that she should get in touch. And, after settling into life as a law student, another blind student at the Cal Berkeley Disabled Students Office referred Anusha to LightHouse for services and resources that would help her acclimate to her new environment. Last August, Anusha began O&M lessons with Katt. We asked Anusha to share more of this experience with the LightHouse Lately readers:

What was your experience with blindness services and orientation and mobility before coming to LightHouse?
“I received very basic training in India, but it was not enough for me to be independent. And at the time, back home, I was always around family or friends, so there was not really a need for me to become independent. Between that and COVID, there was not an urgency to learn blindness skills at that time.”
What has receiving O&M services brought to your life?
“It has given me a lot of freedom!” [Writer’s note: When Anusha said this, you could hear the emotion, the smile, and the empowerment in her voice.]

“I don’t have to depend on anyone to go to classes. Back in India, I was always depending on someone to take me to places— to go to classes, to take me back. Always having to depend on someone is not the most… it wasn’t a fun experience, I’ll just say. Now I really enjoy going around on my own. I am still working on my skills, but I go to classes independently, I go around my dorm and my campus independently. It is very liberating. I love having this kind of freedom. I really appreciate the services, and I really appreciate Katt’s training. They have connected me with so many resources, and my life has become so much easier than it was.”
Will you be continuing with any other LightHouse services?
“Yes! I’ve been working with Dawn Leafling on my Independent Living Skills since January. I have also connected with Ed Wong in the Employment Immersion department, and I look forward to starting the employment program with him at the end of March.”

What advice would you give to anyone who is blind or has low vision and is skeptical about receiving blindness services?
“I actually have a friend who is going through this—they are losing their eyesight. I don’t know if they are ready to start classes yet, but they have already spoken to me about my experience with LightHouse. I shared my experience and my own story. I told them how it has made me become free and do things independently. I shared my story of how far I’ve come. I think that helps—sharing your own story. I think it helps people understand, ‘Okay this is someone who is going through something similar, and they have overcome the challenges, and so can I.’

“It is going to be a daunting process going through all the trainings and learning all the skills,” Anusha advises, “but it is worth it, having the freedom and the independence. I know it can be difficult at times. Sometimes I think about all the juggling I have to do—all the skills, the classes, law school—sometimes I am just so exhausted. But then, I look at the end result. I look at all the things I am able to do, and I think, ‘Okay, this is completely worth it.’ Especially working with LightHouse. All of the instructors have been so kind, so compassionate. I love their enthusiasm and love for their work. Even on days when I feel like I don’t want to do it, it is their support that helps me get through.”
To learn more about the programs and services LightHouse provides, please visit the LightHouse website, or email info@lighthouse-sf.org for questions, inquiries, or intakes.

LightHosue Holds “So You Think You Want A Guide Dog” Info Session, 10/19

LightHosue Holds “So You Think You Want A Guide Dog” Info Session, 10/19

In March 2020, right before LightHouse closed for in-person programs, for 26 months, a new workshop, “So You Think You Want A Guide Dog?” debuted. The workshop was the brainchild of LightHouse Orientation & Mobility Specialist Katt Jones, who wanted to provide information that was impartial and beyond that offered by guide dog schools to people who were interested in learning more about guide dogs.
The workshop covers how to decide if a guide dog is right for you, what skills you need before applying to schools, common misconceptions about guide dogs, how to pick a guide dog school, what to expect during the application process and how to best prepare for school once you are accepted.
Katt writes about the success of the workshop:
“Since that first hybrid workshop in March 2020, there have been five virtual workshops with one geared to youth and their families, and another geared towards Orientation & Mobility instructors.”   
The workshop has evolved over the last two and-a-half-years, thanks to feedback from participants.
“We have played around with the format and have made the workshop more interactive and engaging rather than purely informational.”
If you’re interested in possibly getting a guide dog, now is a good time to attend the workshop as the demand for guide dogs goes up, as Katt explains:
“The guide dog schools have been ramping back up their puppy breeding to try and meet the need of students applying to the different schools, after they had to ramp them down over the pandemic.”
So, if you’ve got even a bit a curiosity about getting a guide dog, why not join us?
Wednesday, October 19, from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Please RSVP by October 18 to Briana Kusuma at ‪BKusuma@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7335.

LightHouse Community Services Programs to Hold Weekend Retreat at EHC

LightHouse Community Services Programs to Hold Weekend Retreat at EHC

Three retreats are being held simultaneously at Enchanted Hills Camp the weekend of November 11 through 13. 

Sensing the Seasons: EHC’s Fall Nature Retreat

Our always popular Sensing the Seasons Nature Education retreat returns. This session is open to blind and low vision high school students and recent high school graduates. This time around, we’ll focus on how fall effects the plants, animals, and landscape of the camp and how we sense these changes.  From our taste, to smell and even how things feel, fall brings many changes to camp. You’ll learn not only how to sense the changes, but also why they happen.
Cost: $50 for transportation. Thanks to the San Francisco Department of Disability and Aging Services for providing additional funding for this program.
To RSVP, contact Jamey Gump at youth@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7372 no later than November 4.

Youth Employment Services Weekend Workshop: Accessing Advocacy

Youth Employment Services, or YES, is our program for transition-aged youth to learn skills needed for employment and post-secondary education. This program is for blind and low vision students between the ages of 16 and 22.
Daisy Soto, Youth Services Coordinator, describes the retreat: “YES students will spend the weekend hearing from blind and low vision mentors and professionals regarding advocacy in college and the workplace. They will learn about blindness advocacy organizations and get a chance to put their skills to use during interactive activities designed to increase their confidence with many of the new situations we will discuss.”
To learn more and RSVP: Please contact Daisy Soto at DSoto@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7328 no later than November 4. Please note: You will need a Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) authorization or alternate funding source to attend this program.

Weekend Writers’ Workshop Retreat

Are you a blind or low vision adult who loves to write? Then why not share your weekend and your story with other storytellers. Write about a challenge you’ve faced and how facing that challenge transformed you. Discover your own determination and confidence. People who are confident in themselves are better equipped to help others. 
Cost: $200 for the weekend. Thanks to the San Francisco Department of Disability and Aging Services for providing additional funding for this program.
RSVP to Sabrina Bolus at SBolus@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7607 no later than November 4.

Transportation for all three programs

Round-trip transportation to EHC will be provided from the Ed Roberts Campus at 3075 Adeline St. in Berkeley. The shuttle to EHC departs at 1:00 pm on November 11 and returns to Ed Roberts Campus at 1:00 pm on November 13.
As a bonus for the weekend: There will be time for attendees of all three programs to mix and mingle with each other. We look forward to having you join us at EHC this November.

LightHouse Staffer Katt Jones on Developing “Your Personal Safety” Workshops. Final workshop is October 16

LightHouse Staffer Katt Jones on Developing “Your Personal Safety” Workshops. Final workshop is October 16

This summer LightHouse partnered up with a personal safety instructor from Savannah, Georgia, George Freeman, to bring the LightHouse community and their families specially designed virtual accessible workshops called Your Personal Safety: Getting Back to Normal. The final workshop will be held Saturday, October 16.

LightHouse Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist, Katt Jones, was a major advocate for the class and played a significant role in coordinating and scheduling this workshop series along with other LightHouse staff. We talked to them about their experience organizing and participating in these workshops.

“This workshop series was created from LightHouse’s BIDE Task Force which stands for Belonging, Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity.”

BIDE is focused on implementing BIDE for LightHouse staff, students and the community. Some issues the task force are addressing include pay equity, glass ceilings and ensuring students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds can access LightHouse programs.

Katt Jones continues:

“During the first meeting of the task force, we discussed how many of our students were not feeling safe going outside. They might be afraid of COVID, or they might lack confidence in their travel skills due to having to shelter in place for so long. There were concerns of anti-Asian violence that has been increasing in the United States that is disproportionately impacting Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities. Working with George Freeman while coordinating this workshop series has been lots of fun. He has a long history of teaching safety and self-defense, so he is a wealth of knowledge. George also has an infectious sense of humor that gets me cracking up during all of our planning meetings and workshops.”

We also asked Katt some additional questions:

What was the level of participation in the first two workshops? 

“We had around 70 participants in the first workshop and around 30 participants in the second. Most of the students found out about Personal Safety: Getting Back to Normal through participating in other LightHouse community service adult programs or from having O&M training. In the first workshop we got a lot of amazing questions, stories, and feedback from students about their safety concerns. The second workshop was mostly a lecture format to do a deeper dive in topics from the first workshop including de-escalation and boundary setting strategies. There are no requirements to join these workshops, so if a student has not participated in the previous classes, they are absolutely welcome to join the October 16 class.”

What can students expect from the workshop?

“The third workshop will be a Q&A format with a panel of safety experts from the Strive 4 You SEED program. This is a program George Freeman is a part of. This will be a great opportunity for people to ask questions and learn as much as they can in this interactive format.”

What feedback have you received from students in the previous classes?

“I have received a lot of positive feedback from students from both previous workshops. Students are eager to get back out into the world after being afraid to leave their homes due to the pandemic or fear of violence, but they are craving safety skills. Many of our students are interested in pursuing self-defense classes and hands-on training if it is available.”

What have you taken away from this experience, both as a program coordinator and as a participant?

“I think the most important thing I have learned is how hungry our students are for this information. They want to feel safe moving through the world and empowered to handle difficult situations and help others around them.”

In the future Katt hopes to hold another series of workshops, whether virtual or in-person, but for now, this is your last chance to attend a Personal Safety workshop.

Join Katt, George, other instructors and students on Saturday, October 16 from 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm Pacific. RSVP to Personal Safety: Getting Back to Normal. If you have any questions regarding preparation for the workshop you may email Katt Jones at KJones@lighthouse-sf.org. If you have any other questions about the workshop or need assistance RSVPing, please contact Jaclyne Atoigue at JAtoigue@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7618.

New to Blindness? Learn essential skills with a virtual Edition of Changing Vision Changing Life

New to Blindness? Learn essential skills with a virtual Edition of Changing Vision Changing Life

Changing Vision Changing Life (CVCL) is for those who are new to blindness or low vision and want to get a full overview of the essential training that will be beneficial for work, home, school and life. Students will be with a cohort of up to ten peers. CVCL starts with a day of thinking and grows into a week of learning, connecting and doing. This one-week course runs every day with all classes on Zoom.

In addition to the week of training, there will be an Orientation Session Friday, September 17 from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm and a follow-up meetup on Friday October 1, from 10:00 am to noon after the conclusion of the course. During the training week of September 20 to 24, there are three, two-hour learning sessions every day. Each day of training begins at 10:00 am and ends at 5:00 pm with breaks for lunch and dinner. The exception is Friday, September 24 which begins at 9:30 am and ends at 1:00 pm. Time for student discussion and other relevant topics will be facilitated Monday through Thursday after each afternoon class. Optional chair yoga will be available Tuesday through Thursday from 9:00 am to 9:45 am to get your day started

This week-long course is designed for adults who desire a deep introduction to independent living through travel (Orientation & Mobility), Access Technology, and Independent Living Skills. It’s also for those who want a venue to have rich discussion with peers and our professional staff about the opportunity and choices that are ahead. Everyone will receive a packet of materials to enhance learning throughout the week and we will end the week with a morning cooking session (in students’ own kitchens) and lunch together.

Because one of the main purposes of this course is to connect with others who are new to blindness or low vision, we request that all students make a commitment to participate in all sessions including the CVCL Orientation and CVCL Post-Course Meetup. Please note, you do not have to have a computer to participate via Zoom, but you must have a reliable speaker phone (smart phone or landline) to participate and call in. Our tech trainer will provide training before the course to make the Zoom experience smooth.


The fee to participate in this training is $825 and $140 for course materials that will be sent to you prior to September 20. There are options to pay for the course if you are a consumer of Vocational Rehabilitation or 55 or older.

If you are a consumer of Vocational Rehabilitation, in California or any other state, you will need an authorization from your Rehabilitation Counselor to participate in CVCL.

If you are not with Vocational Rehabilitation and you are age 55 and older, and living in the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Humboldt, Del Norte or Trinity, there may be partial scholarship funding for training and course materials.

CVCL Full Schedule

CVCL Orientation Session: Friday, September 17 from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm
CVCL: Monday, September 20 through Thursday September 23 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and Friday, September 24 from 9:30 am to 1:00 pm
CVCL Optional Morning Chair Yoga: Tuesday, September 21 through Thursday, September 23 from 9:00 am top 9:45 am
Post-CVCL Meetup: Friday October 1, from 10:00 am to noon

Registration is required and the deadline to register is Tuesday, September 14, 2021. To register, please contact Debbie Bacon at DBacon@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7357 or Janet Pomerantz (Humboldt, Trinity and Del Norte residents) at JPomerantz@lighthouse-sf.org or 707-268-5646.