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LightHouse programs

Learn Blindness Skills Together at Changing Vision Changing Life

Learn Blindness Skills Together at Changing Vision Changing Life

By Kathy Abrahamson, Director of Rehabilitation Services
Here’s a heads-up: many great things will happen on February 22 this year. It’s World Thinking Day, Walking the Dog Day, National Wildlife Day, and you can add one more to your calendar: the week-long Changing Vision Changing Life (CVCL) virtual program kicks off that day. This is where you can put yourself first in 2021.
CVCL is for those of you who are new to blindness or having low vision and who want to get a full overview of the essential training you will find beneficial for work, home, school and life. You’ll learn 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. 
Classes run daily from February 22 through 26, all on the Zoom platform. We will take you through an orientation session Friday, February 19 and a post-CVCL meetup on Friday March 5. During the training week, there will be three, two-hour learning sessions daily, except Friday. Each day of training begins at 9:30 am and ends at 7:30 pm with breaks for lunch and dinner. For those of you who are truly morning people, there will be three mornings where you have the option to start your day even earlier with yoga class.  
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 to have rich discussion with peers and LightHouse 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 your own kitchen) and lunch together. During our December 2020 class Vincent, who was one of our students, noted that after the week of training, he felt “buoyant” and was ready to move forward in his learning and connecting with others.
If you are a Consumer of Vocational Rehabilitation, in California or any other state, you will need an authorization from your Rehabilitation Counselor as there is a fee for the course. If you are not with Vocational Rehabilitation and you are age 55 and older, living in the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Humboldt, Del Norte or Trinity, there is no charge for instruction, however there is a materials fee of $40.  
To participate, all students must be able to make a commitment to all sessions (including the pre-CVCL orientation and the post-CVCL meetup.  You do not have to have a computer to participate via Zoom, but you must have a reliable speakerphone (smart phone or landline) to participate and call in.
Changing Vision Changing Life
February 19 from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm – Orientation
February 22 through 26 from 9:30 am to 7:30 pm with lunch and dinner breaks – CVCL
March 5 from 10:00 am to noon – Post CVCL meetup
Registration is required and the deadline to register is Tuesday, February 16, 2021. To register, please contact Debbie Bacon at DBacon@lighthouse-sf.org or Janet Pomerantz (Humboldt, Trinity and Del Norte county residents) at JPomerantz@lighthouse-sf.org.

Wizardly Winter Reading with the Harry Potter Club for Youth

Wizardly Winter Reading with the Harry Potter Club for Youth

The holidays mean time off from school and a great way to pass that time is to read an awesome book. If you’re a youth who is blind or has low vision, who’s under 18 or still in high school, join us monthly for the Harry Potter Club, starting with our kickoff on January 2 at 1:00 pm.

Whether you’re new to Harry Potter, or an expert, this club is a great way to make new friends and debate that age-old question: Which is better, the book or the movie?

All through 2021, join LightHouse Youth Program Coordinator Jamey Gump and your fellow club members to chat the Harry Potter book you’ve read for that month, watch the corresponding movie and compare the two. Don’t have the books? You can get them for free in downloadable braille or audio format at the National Library Service, or audio through a Learning Ally subscription. You can also purchase retail versions of the audio books through places like Audible or iBooks.

During our kickoff party, we’ll have some fun Harry Potter themed games and a representative from the San Francisco Public Library’s Talking Books and Braille Center to talk about one way to access the books. Then February 6, we’ll watch Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Here’s the full schedule. Please have each book read before the corresponding meeting.

January 2 – Club Kick-off Party!
February 6 – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
March 6 – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
April 3  – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
May 1 – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
June, July & August – Summer Break
September – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
October – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
November 6 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
December 4 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Parents & Guardians: We’d love your help getting your children connected to our virtual program if they need it, however, once they have joined, we ask that you please give them the space to participate individually.

This club meets at 1:00 pm on the first Saturday of each month on Zoom. LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired does not support discriminatory or hateful speech in any form. We stand by the LGBTQ+ community and all fans who found a home in the Harry Potter series and will work to provide a safe space for fans.

RSVP to Jamey at youth@lighthouse-sf.org or by phone at 415-694-7372.

See you next year, and happy reading!

Learn How to Maximize your Low Vision Skills in 2021

Learn How to Maximize your Low Vision Skills in 2021

Having your vision change drastically at any age can be a difficult experience. When this occurs, many have been faced with the new challenges of not just understanding how their vision has changed, but also learning adaptive ways to continue to live their lives with the same independence as before.

Lighthouse has long taught students nonvisual skills and skills useful for people who have low vision, but this class takes a new innovative approach to using low vision.

LightHouse Orientation & Mobility instructor Gina de Grazia and Rehabilitation Teacher Dawn Leeflang know that with the right training, people can work through these challenges and thrive. This is why they’ve created a new virtual introductory program for adults called Low Vision Skills: Putting It All Together.

The program debuted in October for adult participants 55 and over. For two weeks they met on Zoom for two hours a day, twice a week. Gina explains some of the goals of the course and how upcoming sessions in 2021 is open to adults of all ages, including those who are clients of the California Department of Rehabilitation (DOR).

“We want to provide students with strong foundational low vision skills that will maximize their safe and independent living skills. In future courses, when we are working with DOR students, we will be focused on skills that help with gaining and retaining employment.”

During the October course, students learned from University of California, Berkeley Low Vision Optometrist, Dr. Crystal Wang, about the changes in their vision, how to address the physicality of these changes, as well as techniques to work with any useable vision. Open discussions between Dr. Wang and the students provided an informative and supportive dialogue for the course participants. Students were also taught practical low vision skills for daily living, including a focus on both low and high-tech devices and tools by Certified Low Vision Therapists. Every topic discussed, and device, agency, or other assistive trainings referenced during the four sessions were compiled on a resource list for students at the end of the program, allowing students access to all the information they’ll need to continue their low vision education and support. Future sessions will have a similar structure.

Those sessions will occur in January, February and March of 2021 for adults of all ages. More information about each session will be provided in this newsletter as the dates approach. You can reach out to Gina at GDigrazia@lighthouse-sf.org at or Dawn at DLeeflang@lighthouse-sf.org with specific questions.

New Perspectives, New Year, New LightHouse Support Group for Adults 55 and Over

New Perspectives, New Year, New LightHouse Support Group for Adults 55 and Over

It’s a challenging time for many, and if you’re 55 or over and new to blindness or having low vision, or your vision has changed significantly, you may be looking for a way to connect to other people going through the same thing.

This is the premise of New Perspectives, a six-week group offering education, support and resources for adults over 55 who are blind or have low vision.

The group will be facilitated by LightHouse Social Workers Janet Pomerantz and Jeff Carlson. Janet Pomerantz underscores what people will get out of the group.

“By participating in this group, people will begin to challenge some of the ideas that they may have about blindness and gain more confidence in their ability to remain independent. We will also practice advocacy, which is a lifelong skill for negotiating the world of being blind and having low vision. Consumers do not need any particular skill to participate, just a willingness to share and listen to others.”

What: New Perspectives

When: Tuesdays, January 5, 12, 19 & 26 and February 2 & 9 from 1:00 pm to 2:15 pm\

Who: Adults 55 and over who are new to blindness or having low vision, or whose vision has changed significantly.

Cost: This group is provided at no cost to those living in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Marin, Humboldt, Del Norte, and Trinity counties. If you are outside of these counties, please call for resources in your area.

Contact: To find out more about the New Perspectives group, contact Janet Pomerantz at JPomerantz@lighthouse-sf.org or 707-268-5646.

P.S. Just like in our San Francisco and East Bay  offices, LightHouse North Coast is on-hand and ready to provide training virtually, via Zoom or by phone, as Janet says, “Although we are closed for in person services, we are open to provide resources and to connect folks with all the training that we usually do, whether it be Independent living skills, mobility, health and wellness, support or education.” Contact northcoast@lighthouse-sf.org or 707-268-5646.

Changing Vision Changing Life, Celebrating 25 Years of Connection and Program Evolution, Goes Virtual This December

Changing Vision Changing Life, Celebrating 25 Years of Connection and Program Evolution, Goes Virtual This December

By Kathy Abrahamson, Director of Rehabilitation Services

Twenty-five years ago, a program then called “Living With Vision Loss” was launched by the LightHouse Rehabilitation teaching staff.  At that time, adults of all ages would come to our previous headquarters, two or three days a week, for four weeks of learning. Students learned foundational blindness skills in the areas of independent living, access technology, orientation & mobility, self-advocacy and community resources.  The course was launched during the AIDS epidemic.  During this time, students and teachers supported each other through connection and compassion, through adjusting to blindness or having low vision and the desire to learn skills of independence.

After ten years, the course and the name needed refreshing, thus “Living With Vision Loss” became “Changing Vision Changing Life” (CVCL).  In June 2013, the course became even more immersive: morphing into a one-week intensive course at Enchanted Hills Camp. This meant people from all over the Bay Area and beyond could attend.

Over 400 students have participated in this evolving program, with over half of them having the opportunity to connect at Enchanted Hills Camp.

Now we morph again. While we miss our time at Enchanted Hills Camp, Changing Vision Changing Life is going virtual. Yes, it is a different experience and way of learning, but our same dynamic teaching staff will bring together a two-week training course on Zoom.

What: Changing Vision, Changing Life Goes Virtual

Who: Students 55 and over who are new to blindness or have low vision and desire a deep introduction to independent living through orientation & mobility, access technology, and independent living skills.

When: Weekdays, December 7 through December 18 with the following daily schedule:

  • Mondays: 9:30 am to 11:30 am & 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm
  • Tuesdays: 9:30 am to 11:30 am, 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm & 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm
  • Wednesdays: 9:30 am to 11:30 am, 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm & 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm
  • Thursdays: 9:30 am to 11:30 am 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm & 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm
  • Fridays: 9:30 am to 11:30 am & 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm

Cost: There is no instructional fee for this two-week course for those living in the counties of: San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Humboldt, Del Norte and Trinity.  There is a material cost of $40 per person as each student will receive a box of equipment to learn with throughout the two weeks which they will then keep.

The evening sessions will be a time for discussion and deeper connection with peers.

This course is for you if you wish to make a commitment to learn more about developing skills and choices to move forward as you leap into 2021. Please note, that all students must be able to make a commitment to all sessions throughout the two weeks.  You do not have to have a computer to participate via Zoom, but you will need to have a reliable speaker phone (smart phone or landline) to participate and call in.

Registration is required by Monday, November 16 and limited to 12 students.

To register:

Sensing the Seasons, Now for all Ages

Sensing the Seasons, Now for all Ages

Last year, we began offering Sensing the Seasons, a nature study program for LightHouse youth in partnership with the WOLF School Naturalist Academy. Now, Sensing the Seasons is back—virtually—and this time it’s for all ages.

LightHouse Youth Services Coordinator Jamey Gump talks about the origins of the class and how it’s evolved serendipitously into a class for all ages.

“It started from a desire of the community to learn more about the space at Enchanted Hills Camp including the plants, the animals and the land and how those different aspects interact with one another. Last November, it was on the same weekend as Amber [Sherrard’s] Health & Wellness retreat at EHC and there was some overlapping of programming. We noticed that along with the youth, the adult students also wanted to connect with EHC more, specifically around nature and being at camp. So, for our first Zoom-based Sensing the Seasons, we invited all the students who had been up with Amber during the Health and Wellness retreat to the program and we got good participation. We got really good connections between the generations of people going to camp for many years and the high school students who have been going to camp for three to seven years.”

So, how do the Wolf School instructors get students in the right mindset to focus on nature in a virtual space?

“They encourage students to focus on the natural and meditate in their own spaces and go into their backyard or outdoor space if possible,” says Jamey.

What: Sensing the Seasons, during which, participants will learn about how flora and fauna are affected by the onset of fall, learn about recent changes to the space so many of us love and connect with our EHC friends.

When: The class has three sessions over two days: Friday, November 20 from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Saturday, November 21 from 10:00 a.m. to noon and 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 pm.

RSVP by Wednesday, November 18 to Jamey Gump at youth@lighthouse-sf.org  or

Sheri Albers Invites You to Our Virtual Living Room, October 28

Sheri Albers Invites You to Our Virtual Living Room, October 28

Outreach Coordinator Sheri Albers knew that students weren’t getting the same opportunity to talk with staff about LightHouse programs as they did before shelter in place. So, she’s come up with a new monthly program where she invites the LightHouse community to join her on Zoom to talk about the classes and services we have to offer. “Meet You at the House” will run the last Wednesday of each month.

“The whole idea is to go beyond the information people get in a phone call.  Staff from different departments will come in talk in detail about their programs. People will have a chance to ask questions and have a conversation with LightHouse staff,” says Sheri.

For October, Sheri will be joined by Adult Program Manager Serena Olsen who will be highlighting recreation programs for adults who are blind or have low vision from bingo, to virtual museum tours, to 30% & Growing, our casual meetup to talk all things blind employment.

In addition, each month someone from our store, Adaptations, will be on hand to highlight interesting products we’re selling.

Pull up a comfy chair and join Sheri by Zoom or telephone on October 28 from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. RSVP to salbers@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7331.

Want to find out why Sheri is passionate about the LightHouse’s work. Read the staff profile she wrote earlier this year.

A personal take on Tech Together Online

A personal take on Tech Together Online

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.