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Sheri Albers

A Ride to Remember

A Ride to Remember

Recently LightHouse CEO, Bryan Bashin, and Community Outreach Coordinator, Sheri Albers, took a ride with Waymo to experience fully autonomous driving technology. Waymo has sponsored the LightHouse Holman Prize for Blind Ambition for the past two years and we have also worked together on accessibility testing. So when Waymo invited them to take part in a journey in an autonomous vehicle, they did not have to ask twice.
Their ride was caught on camera and below is part of the blog Waymo has written about the experience.

Watch the video of the ride with audio description and check out Waymo’s blog post and find out more about Bryan and Sheri’s ride.

Autonomous Vehicles Represent a New Form of Independence for People Who Are Blind
Like so many other people who have had the chance to go to college, Bryan Bashin’s experience transformed his life. For many people, it’s about learning to see the world in a new light. For Bashin, it was about learning how to live in the world without being able to see.

Bryan has been blind since he was a teenager, but confidently navigating the world wasn’t something he initially knew how to do.
“Like so many blind people, I didn’t know how to be blind,” Bryan shared. That all changed as he attended college, entered his twenties, and met other blind people who were boldly creating the lives they wanted.
“Part of my growth was to find blind people who were just living life and living the way they wanted to, going where they wanted, doing what they wanted to do,” Bryan said.
Now, as CEO of LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco, Bryan makes it his mission to equip others to find the same sense of independence and freedom that he found.
“My purpose is to make sure that other blind people who are newly blind or just learning to deal with blindness, have the same opportunities so that they can have the life they want,” Bryan said.
Sheri Albers, Community Outreach Coordinator for LightHouse, said she now has her dream job telling people in the Bay Area about LightHouse and the support and resources available to them. 
“I grew up with an eye disease that was degenerative, losing my vision slowly over my life, but I didn’t have any services,” Sheri said. “I kind of struggled and fended for myself.”

Now, in her job at LightHouse, Sheri gets to go out into the community and help connect people with resources.
“In a way, it’s me telling my story about what I did not have as a blind person growing up, and what they have at their fingertips with LightHouse, so to speak,” Sheri said. Sheri’s new mantra is “Where has LightHouse been all my life?”
Sheri said that for people experiencing vision loss later in life, losing the ability to drive can be devastating. Without training and mentorship a newly-blind person may often be understandably overwhelmed at first. “The depression of that, and the realization of the potential loss of the independence from that, sets in,” Sheri explained.
Sheri emphasized that, for people who are blind, the ability to easily and conveniently go from point A to point B is fundamentally about mobility equity.

“Every day, a hundred million Americans get in cars when they want, go where they want to go, do it by themselves, and have that tranquility,” Sheri said, adding that most sighted people are not refused entrance to ride-hailing vehicles because they have a guide dog or asked insulting questions about how they became blind. “Those hundred million Americans are just living their lives,” said Sheri. “We want that too.”
To that end, LightHouse has joined the Waymo-led public education campaign, Let’s Talk Autonomous Driving, a partnership dedicated to fostering conversation and raising awareness about how fully autonomous driving technology could offer a safe mobility option to connect people and communities.
“So the chance to have autonomy in vehicles is a means to get us to where we want to go, which is living in the world, being part of the world,” Bryan emphasized. “It’s not just about going to a place; it’s about having possession of your own life.”
For people who are blind, fully autonomous driving technology represents a new way to get around without depending on anyone else, going wherever they want to go, at whatever time they choose.
Bryan and Sheri recently took a ride with Waymo to experience fully autonomous driving technology for themselves.

Waymo has been operating the Trusted Tester Program, offering autonomous rides, with autonomous specialists behind the wheel, to riders in San Francisco and recently began offering fully autonomous rides, with no human driver behind the wheel, to its San Francisco employees.
As Bryan and Sheri settled into the Waymo vehicle, Bryan asked Sheri if she was ready to begin the ride. She nodded ‘yes.’
“Here we go,” Bryan said as he pressed the Start button to begin the ride.
Bryan and Sheri were immediately impressed by how the car confidently began the trip.
“There was no hesitation at all,” Sheri said. 
After their ride, Bryan and Sheri reflected on the significance of what they had just experienced.

“You could feel a zillion sensors in that machine just noticing everything. It was cautious, but it felt like a machine that was super aware,” Bryan said.

Sheri said the ride represented the beautiful freedom, independence and autonomy of being able to go wherever she chooses.
“To have been able to experience the exhilaration of riding in an autonomous vehicle today as blind people, oh my goodness, I mean, it is just inexplicable joy,” Sheri said. 
Bryan said that, for people who are blind, advocating for and embracing innovative new ways to have freedom and autonomy has been part of playing an active role in shaping their own destinies.

This Month’s 30% & Growing Welcomes Back Former LightHouse Employee and Host, Serena Olsen

This Month’s 30% & Growing Welcomes Back Former LightHouse Employee and Host, Serena Olsen

Since April of 2016, LightHouse has been hosting a monthly meet up and casual networking social hour for blind and low vision jobseekers and working professionals called 30% & Growing. The name references the percentage of blind adults who were employed in the United States when the program first started.

Back then, the program was hosted by former LightHouse employee Serena Olsen. When the pandemic hit, we took 30% & Growing from busy Bay Area restaurants and pubs to Zoom. The virtual platform opened up the invitation to blind adults all over. In December of last year, our beloved 30% & Growing hostess Serena left the LightHouse and passed the baton onto our witty, friendly, and charismatic Community Outreach Coordinator, Sheri Albers.

Sheri has been a delightful virtual hostess for the past several months and has put her own flare and fun into the 30% & Growing meetups, introducing a blind or low vision guest of honor at each monthly event. This month we welcome back our dear friend and new Bay Area blogger, Serena Olsen.

“I enjoy hosting the program very much. I recognized its value from the very first time I started attending as a guest over a year ago, and I wanted to make sure that it continued, as well as the spirit that it was founded on,” says Sheri.

Every third Thursday of the month. about ten adults who are blind or have low vision come together from all over to spend quality time sharing stories, laughter and resources.

“Each meetup seems to be unique on its own,” Sheri says. “I enjoyed and received a very positive response from the April event when I introduced yoga and meditation as a coping mechanism for the stress of working at home during the pandemic.”

Vidya, a regular attendee, reflects on her favorite 30% & Growing moments.

“I find 30% to be like a mystery box, as you never know where conversations can lead. In one session we had a young lady who was launching her own drink product and was in the process of pitching her ideas to get funding. During the next session, she shared that she had received the first round of funding to launch the product. It was so inspiring to see blind entrepreneurs with the drive, motivation, passion and energy to find opportunities in the marketplace. It was heartening to hear such stories that provide motivation for the rest of us.

“For me, 30% is an opportunity to connect with working blind community members and to get exposure to how other people manage and meet challenges with working and blindness in their everyday lives. I use the meetups for building self-motivation, positive thinking and independent living.”

As we begin reopening public spaces, LightHouse is excitedly awaiting the “ok” to resume 30% & Growing in person.

Sheri is enthusiastic for that day.

“Once we get the green light, I want to get the 30%ers back out into the world where we can have our Happy Hours done right! That is what this event was created for!”

For more information about 30% & Growing, you can visit our  online calendar. To RSVP to this month’s event on Thursday, May 20 from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm, email Sheri at SAlbers@lighthouse-sf.org or give her a call at 415-694-7331. Check out Serena’s blog at ItStartsWithQuiche.com.

Learn more about LightHouse’s Adult and Community Services Programs on our website.

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.

Community Outreach Coordinator Sheri Albers: from hiding to claiming her blindness

Community Outreach Coordinator Sheri Albers: from hiding to claiming her blindness

When my sister and I were diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) at early ages, there was little known about the disease. My parents were told by experts in the field that we would gradually go blind and there was no cure. My parents left the office without any support or resources.

Due to the nature of RP, I feel that I was very misunderstood by people. My symptoms of night blindness, severe near sightedness and difficulty in recognizing faces made it hard for me to make friends and participate in sports and social activities. As a result, I began at an early age to fend for myself and develop my own techniques for doing things, all with the purpose of hiding the fact that my vision was changing.

For most of my life, there were times that I felt “perfectly fine”, and that I had everything under control.  I had developed quite the system to hide my blindness, and even had a few trusted friends recruited to be my so-called “bodyguards” who would look out for potential hazards for me. My system seemed to work—until the time came that it didn’t.

I was able to get a fabulous job right out of college in New York City and after nine years of secretly struggling with spreadsheets and computer screens that were becoming more and more difficult to read, I felt that I had no other choice but to leave that job. While I now know that accessible technology exists for people who are blind to succeed in their professions, I did not know that then.

The next part of my journey took me out west when my husband’s job transferred to Ohio. We started a family and motherhood became my new career. I poured myself into raising my two daughters. I immersed myself into their activities and volunteered at school, church, Girl Scouts and anything else anyone asked me to do. I had to prove to the world that I was still useful. Meanwhile, I was riddled with fear and anxiety as my vision was failing, living a double life between the sighted world and the blind world. I knew it was time to make some very significant changes.

My transformation began after attending my first National Federation of the Blind national convention where I was surrounded by thousands of blind people who were happy and living independent lives. I now had found a community of blind people who became my role models and mentors.

I came to the realization that I did not want to hide my blindness anymore. I registered with my state vocational rehabilitation agency for white cane and technology training. Because I could no longer read print, I was functionally illiterate, and I knew I needed to learn braille. After that, I served in various leadership roles in the blindness community and participated actively in legislative work to help change the lives of blind people.

My blindness skills also gave me the confidence to go back to college and get a degree in Counseling, which had become a passion of mine throughout the years. I worked as a Counseling Assistant for a treatment center and a Caseload Assistant for the Ohio Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation.

My journey now brings me to last July when I heard LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin passionately speaking about the mission and philosophy of LightHouse at a convention.

I was so inspired that I knew at that very moment that my life was falling into place. I just had to be a part of his team.

Through a series of very fortunate events, I now have landed my dream job as Community Outreach Coordinator for LightHouse.  I now have the privilege of making connections throughout the Bay Area and spreading the word to the blind community about all the programs and services that LightHouse has to offer.

I first focused my outreach efforts on our senior population, but now with the COVID-19 pandemic upon us, the implementation of outreach has had to change. I was asked to help develop our Care Calls Program, where we call approximately 1,600 LightHouse students, who we currently serve, to find out where we may assist with any challenges they may be facing during this time of shelter in place.  It is important for everyone to know that even though the doors of LightHouse are closed right now, the lines of communication are still open.

If I can prevent even one person from experiencing the grief that I went through trying to overcome the barriers that hiding my blindness had brought to my life, then my role as Community Outreach Coordinator will be complete.