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Transportation and Travel

This June – Go to the NFB National Convention with LightHouse YES Academy

The LightHouse believes that attending consumer conventions of the blind can be an empowering tool. Since 2011 we’ve taken students and staff to a number of consumer conventions to maximize and intensify learning in a fun and adventuresome way.

With great excitement, The Lighthouse Youth Program is pleased to announce its first Youth Employment Series (YES) Academy.

Academy Dates: Wednesday, June 22 to Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Deadline to register is May 1
Informational conference call: Sunday, April 10, 4:00 p.m.

During this two week training academy students aged 16 to 24 will gain valuable knowledge and life experiences that will help them become more independent, confident and successful.

During the first week of this intensive program, students will stay at the brand new, state-of-the-art LightHouse headquarters in San Francisco where they will take part in a series of day-long workshops focused on acquiring knowledge about college, employment, blindness skills and self-advocacy.

LightHouse YES Academy Goes to NFB National Convention
During the second week, new skills will be put to the test when the entire academy hits the road and travels across the country to attend the National Federation of the Blind annual National Convention in Orlando, Florida, one of the largest gatherings of blind and low vision individuals and professionals in the world.

Join us for an Informational Conference Call
To learn more about this innovative program, we invite you to join us for a conference call on Sunday, April 10 at 4:00 p.m.
Call-in number: 641-715-3300, passcode 168319#. You will have an opportunity to speak with and ask questions of LightHouse staff during the call.

YES Academy Week Highlights
•Learn about accommodations available to college students and those entering the workforce.
•Acquire access technology skills which can be applied to real world situations, and test how effective these technologies might be for yourself.
•Acquire and use blindness skills that will enrich your life and help you achieve your goals, be more confident and learn how to advocate for your needs.
•Learn how to smoothly transition into college from high school or from college to a career.
•Develop effective cover letters and resumes.
•Practice networking, participate in mock interviews and understand how to make a strong and positive first impression.
•Learn how to develop, enhance and utilize your network and your relationship with peers and mentors.

NFB National Convention Week Highlights
•Attend the largest gathering of low vision and blind students in the United States.
•Gain advice, wisdom and network with intelligent, charismatic and fun blind and low vision mentors and leaders.
•Share and discuss issues, ideas and perspectives of importance to the blind community with peers and mentors.
•Practice skills and techniques learned during our monthly YES Youth Employment Series and other trainings in a blind-friendly environment with thousands of low vision and blind mentors who can help you master your new skills.
•Learn about the latest and greatest technologies for the blind and low vision community at one of the largest gatherings of venders of low vision and blind technologies in the world.

Students aged 16 to 24 who are referred to the YES Academy by their Department of Rehabilitation counselor are encouraged to apply. The LightHouse YES Academy includes dormitory lodging, hotel room expenses, transportation to and from Orlando, food, registration fees and many day-to-day expenses during the academy. Transportation to and from San Francisco is not included. Payment must be secured by June 15.

The first step in the registration process is to complete the online portion of the application by May 1. Click here to go to the application form.

Lighthouse’s Youth Services Coordinator Jamey Gump will contact you shortly after your application has been submitted to complete the application process.

If you would like more information regarding the Lighthouse YES Academy, including costs, please contact Jamey Gump at 415.694.7372 or jgump@lighthouse-sf.org.

Frank Welte – A Journey from Computer Programming to Braille Mastery

The following is one in a monthly series featuring the extraordinary people who make up the LightHouse staff.

“As we move into our new headquarters office, the LightHouse is going through a time of amazing growth and community partnership building, but our core services are as important as ever: helping people who are blind or have low vision live full and successful lives,” Frank Welte tells us. Frank, who is blind, is officially the LightHouse Information and Referral Specialist, but his job has grown over time to match his vast skillset.

“Before coming to the LightHouse, I worked as a mainframe computer programmer and performed website user testing for accessibility. As someone who is blind, I was able to lend my technology skills and blindness skills to help for-profits meet the needs of their blind constituents and customers.”

In 2007, Frank’s personal interests started to change. “I wanted to help more blind people achieve the kind of personal growth that I achieved, so I left the for-profit world and worked at the Vista Center for the Blind and the LightHouse for the Blind part-time. Later, I started working at the California Council of the Blind (CCB) as their Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs.”

In May 2011, Frank became a full-time LightHouse staffer, sharing his time between fielding the many calls and questions we get about resources for people who are blind or have low vision, and working on LightHouse’s Tactile Strip Map project for MUNI, BART and CalTrain.

“The Strip Maps are particularly exciting because tactile maps for the blind are just getting traction, and LightHouse is an early adopter and creator of tactile maps,” Frank told us. “I love applying my professional and real world experience to the strip map and tactile graphic process, ensuring the tactile work we produce is beautiful and useful. Tactile graphics is a growing field. For years, people mistakenly believed that tactile representations of information, like maps and graphs, were not useful to the blind—that we couldn’t learn from tactile graphics. However, LightHouse has learned that the ‘issue’ wasn’t in blind people’s abilities to read tactile graphics; rather, the tactile graphics were poorly designed and created.”

Creating tactile representations of print materials requires outside-the-box thinking and a fair amount of artistry. LightHouse also integrates many forms of media, from tactile and high contrast print, to talking smart pens and voice-eye apps. Frank works with his colleagues to ensure that their creations feel lovely and are highly usable. “It’s such a new field, LightHouse is actually creating industry standards for tactile graphic design. We are working on STEM models for blind students, maps of international transit systems and music venues, and tactile designs for the National Park Services, just to name a few projects.”

Frank’s job has evolved over the years. “Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of braille editing and proofreading, and I’ve been designing and editing tactile graphics and maps with my coworkers. I’m also completing my National Library Service (NLS) braille certification, which will round out my professional development in braille transcription and proofreading.

“[Moving into] our new building is an exciting opportunity for LightHouse to grow our Access to Information Services Department, enabling us to push the envelope further with cutting edge technologies.” Frank continues, “But our new building isn’t just about braille and tactile graphic production. At the new LightHouse we’ll be able to teach a larger number of students the blindness skills they need to thrive. Our store, Adaptations, will be larger and feature hands-on demonstrations for people to try items before they buy them. (A rarity for those who purchase accessible technology). Our Community Services Department will have more programming for a larger variety of students, from youth to seniors and everyone in between. Basically, we’ll be growing and improving our already robust programming to meet and exceed the needs of our community.”

An active member of the blindness community, Frank’s time outside of work is split between his position as a board member for CCB, serving as the President of the local San Francisco chapter of CCB, and too many other blindness initiatives to list. But he does save time for fun and recreation. “Lately, my wife and I have been planning our next vacation. We are looking to visit my wife’s family in Italy, but we also want to explore Hawaii and Alaska. On the weekends, we walk our dogs along the beach over in the East Bay, and daydream about our many future trips.”

If you are interested in having something transcribed into braille or another format, or would like to learn more about tactile graphics, contact Access to Information Services today at MADLab@lighthouse-sf.org.

LightHouse Featured in the New York Times

Image of blindfolded person with light shining on its face. Image by Brian Stauffer.LightHouse student Eleanor Lew writes in the New York Times about her experience with our Changing Vision Changing Life Immersion Program for people who are new to low vision or blindness. It shows the impact the program has on our students’ lives.

Read Eleanor’s article, “Travelers in the Dark”

Would you or someone you know benefit from Changing Vision Changing Life?
Our week-long sessions are now being offered at Enchanted Hills Retreat in Napa and also soon, at our new headquarters (with dormitories) in San Francisco.

During the Immersion, up to 14 students come together in an intensive and immersive week of learning skills, sharing stories, exchanging solutions and supporting each other. Because learning takes time, commitment and development of new skills and sensitivities, this week provides our students the opportunity to become acquainted with essential skills that support their journey to independence and confident living. Students focus on a variety of training including orientation and mobility, tech training, cooking and daily living skills.

We have several Changing Vision Changing Life sessions coming up the next few months:
April 4th through 8th
June 12th through 17th
July 11th through  July 15th (for Spanish speakers)
For more information, contact Debbie Bacon at 415-694-7357 or dbacon@lighthouse-sf.org.

Robert Alminana: “Life Doesn’t Come to You; You Have to Go After Life.”

AlfredoRobertThe following is one in a monthly series featuring the extraordinary people who make up the LightHouse staff.

“There is a quote I really want you to include in my profile,” says Robert Alminana, an Orientation and Mobility Specialist at the LightHouse. He reaches for a well-loved book he’d brought with him: Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

“One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eyes,” he quotes from the book. The message, with its obvious relevance to the LightHouse and the blindness community, is also one of Robert’s guiding principle. He says, “I’ve spent my life helping people and communities find better ways to live by uncovering hidden potential.”

It’s possible that Robert’s desire to help people stems from his unique history. “I’ve lived—really lived—in nine countries on three continents. I speak five languages. I grew up with parents who are bilingual, bi-national, and bicultural. Because of this, I don’t identify with a particular country or nationality. Instead, I see myself more as a global citizen, finding it easier to identify with individuals despite our perceived differences.” Living within so many cultures has also made Robert more conscious of the struggles that make us more similar than different. “We’re all trying to find our place in the world regardless of the part of the world we’re from. I’m passionate about helping people find their place in the world, because I know that everyone has a place.”

This fervor for empowering people to feel grounded is what led Robert to Orientation and Mobility. “I used to be an urban planner, with special emphasis on designing communities that make people feel welcomed and at peace, which I know has dramatically positive effects on behavior and the way we relate to one another. I literally worked to create communities that provide people with a ‘sense of place,’ an endeavor that takes time to materialize. I left that field because I wanted to work one-on-one with people and see the results of my work on a more intimate and immediate level. Orientation and Mobility fulfilled that need.”

Instead of designing beautiful, sustainable communities for large groups of people, Robert now works with individuals who are blind teaching them to navigate whatever space they find themselves. “I dreamed of changing the world on a large scale, and did some of that with the urban planning work I conducted. Now, my dream is being fulfilled on a different scale. I’m changing the world for one person by teaching him or her practical skills to move through the world.”

Speaking philosophically, Robert stresses that there are billions of individual worlds—we all live in our own world. “Working one-on-one with a dozen students a week might not seem like the stereotypical ‘world change’ one thinks of, but seeing the immediate impact Orientation and Mobility skills have on people has shown me that I’m changing worlds instead of one single world.”

Robert’s journey to the LightHouse started when he became a LightHouse Volunteer. He tells us, “I enrolled in my Master’s in Special Education program at SF State to become an Orientation and Mobility specialist, but had to wait eight months for classes to start. I was anxious to get going, so I asked Dr. Sandy Rosen, Coordinator, Orientation and Mobility Program at San Francisco State, if she had any recommendations. She suggested I volunteer at the LightHouse. I started off as a Personal Services Volunteer, working with one person – this was an incredibly rewarding experience. I also worked on some projects with MUNI and recording print text to alternative formats.” Robert’s experiences remind us that LightHouse has many different volunteering opportunities, from working one-on-one with students to administrative work.”

After graduating with a Master’s in Special Education in the field of Visual Impairments, Orientation and Mobility, Robert joined the team at LightHouse as an O&M Instructor. He tells us, “I’m also the President Elect of the Northern California Association of O&M Specialists (N-CAOMS), and I have my ACVREP (Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation & Education Professionals) certification, which enables me to design programs to meet our students’ needs.”

Robert goes on to say, “I love what I do at the LightHouse—helping people gain the independence and confidence required to thrive in the world around them. I want people to know that if they’re struggling with getting to where they need to be, they should make an appointment today. There are so many wonderful things to do and people to meet. Life doesn’t come to you; you have to go after life.”

Robert enjoys being philosophical, even when he’s not at work. “What do I do on the weekends or outside of work? I love reading. Some of my favorite authors include Albert Camus, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Marguerite Yourcenar, Gabriel García Márquez, John Steinbeck and Jane Jacobs. I enjoy going to art and science museums. Traveling is also important to me, and nature is a big part of my life. My last trip was to Alaska. I was absolutely blown away by the quality—and quantity—of the natural beauty. The train trip from Anchorage to Denali was so beautiful it overwhelmed me. Every panorama was filled with life and splendor.”

If you’d like become a more independent traveler the LightHouse can teach you how. Contact us at 415-831-1481 to get started.

Ready to give back? The LightHouse has a robust Volunteer Program and we invite you to enroll. For more information, contact Justine, our Volunteer Coordinator, at 1altruism@lighthouse-sf.org.

Discover Alcatraz Through Tactile Maps

Discover Alcatraz: A Tour of the Rock is the latest in our ongoing series of Golden Gate National Recreation Area maps. If you are blind or have low vision these maps will motivate and inspire you to visit and explore Alcatraz with confidence.

Discover Alcatraz: A Tour of the Rock, consists of fifty-three pages of tactile maps, elevations, features, and braille designed to be as informative as the standard visual, self-guided information pamphlet. It contains a timeline of Alcatraz Island, compelling historical information about different eras of the Rock, contextual information on important structures, interesting trivia and a map of the island. Also included are two cartographic aspects: an overview of the island and an elevation map, which describe the island’s topography.

For more information about Discover Alcatraz and other GGNRA maps please contact Richard De La O, Accessibility Program Manager at (415) 561-4958, write goga_accessibility@nps.gov or visit http://www.nps.gov/goga/planyourvisit/accessibility.htm.

Registration Now Open for the Biggest, Best Bicycle Ride of 2016

Cycle for Sight riders on a tandem bicycleRegistration is now open for the Napa Rotary’s Cycle for Sight 2016 ride which will be held on Saturday, April 16.

Cycle for Sight boasts more than 2,000 riders and provides the single biggest fundraiser for Enchanted Hills Camp for the Blind. Don’t be left out. Come join the largest and most fun group of tandem riders in Northern California to have some fun, get some exercise and support EHC’s life-changing programs. Sign up at www.cycle4sight.com to ride as a cyclist for Team LightHouse and enjoy the beauty of scenic Napa and the challenge of a 15, 25 or 50 mile route with 2,000 other cyclists.

Raise pledges for every mile you ride through the Cycle for Sight website or donate directly to support Enchanted Hills.

Be sure to designate “Team LightHouse” when you register.

During the festival enjoy wine tasting from Napa Valley wineries, beer tasting from local microbreweries and local cuisine from Napa Valley restaurants, all while listening and dancing to the timeless pop/soul of “Pride and Joy”.

Interested in piloting a tandem bike for a blind stoker? Or, are you a blind stoker in need of a pilot? Contact Tony Fletcher via email at afletcher@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7319 to join Team LightHouse today.

Learn to Travel Blind with LightHouse Orientation and Mobility Instructor Katt Jones

Katt Jones works with LightHouse student George Montag in NapaThe following is one in a monthly series featuring the extraordinary people who make up the LightHouse staff.

“Being an Orientation and Mobility Specialist is a perfect fit for me,” Katt Jones tells us. “I love teaching one-on-one, and empowering people to live their lives. I also value people’s stories, which I get to hear as I teach them how to safely travel as a blind person. She adds, “There’s more to learn about O&M than white cane travel, like using auditory cues to know when to cross the street, or explaining how weather can change the skills a blind person should use to travel.”

Katt, one of our newer Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialists, reminds us that O&M is more than white cane travel. “I love nerding out about smartphone apps, GPS and other means of travel. Though I don’t teach in-depth technology training—that’s what our LightHouse technology specialists are for—I do introduce my students to technology they may not be aware can help them.”

Katt earned her Master’s in Special Education with an emphasis on Orientation and Mobility at California State University, Los Angeles. Before she worked for the LightHouse she gained experience working as an O&M Specialist, and also unofficially began to learn independent living skills, which allowed her to more easily spot when someone needs additional training.

When students work with Katt to enhance their O&M skills, they get someone who listens. She says, “At the University of California San Diego, I studied sociology and psychology to understand how the individual fits within society. This led me to running support groups, where people come together to share experiences, learn and grow. When I’m working with a student, lots of personal things surface. We talk about independence, which often leads to conversations about family and friends being overly protective and not understanding. For students who are naturally shy, we talk a lot about how to respond to strangers who offer unsolicited (though well-meant) help because they see someone with a white cane. Family dynamics come up a lot, and I listen to students’ stories and help them talk through solutions. Mostly, however, I remind my students that they are in control of their lives.”

She goes on to say, “People have so many ideas about what it means to be blind. If you’re new to blindness, it’s easy to let it consume your attention. When I’m with a student, I’m teaching them blindness skills, but I also try to remind them of their hobbies and interests. It’s ironic that students of mine spend a lot of time talking to relatives and friends about blindness, and when they come to me, we start talking about theater, dancing, and hiking. I tell my students that it’s ok to say ‘stop talking about my blindness!’ My first priority is O&M instruction, but sometimes people need to be heard—what they really need is someone who sees them as a whole person.”

Katt encourages her students to come up with locations of interest to travel to during their lessons. “Several of my students want to learn how to get to the de Young Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, or how to hop on the F-line and get out to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf so they can check out the shops and the sea lions. They get really excited when they can show family members from out of town how to get to these iconic San Francisco locations. Just today I got to work with a student who has a membership at Cal Academy of Sciences and wanted some instruction on how to navigate the stair lifts when it is rather dark. I have another student who has been learning how to get to a San Francisco bakery so she can bring back delicious pastries and sourdough bread to her family back home in the East Bay. I try to let my students dream up any route they want or any location they want to get to so that they can focus on learning the skills while on the way to a place that they really would love to get to.”

Very much a people person, Katt runs a co-op in Oakland where she and five other housemates ensure a constant homey vibe. “We eat dinner together, share chores that we rename ‘spheres of influence’, and encourage each other.” In addition to creating a loving home, a portion of the co-op’s rent is given to nonprofits of their choosing. “Living in a co-op means we know how important community is, which is why we also support nonprofits that enrich and support the community around us.”

Katt truly embraces life and the people around her, from her students who are learning new blindness skills, to a team of performers in a local showing of the iconic film the Rocky Horror Picture Show. “I love music and dancing,” Katt says with a twirl of her head, “and I regularly attend live theater.” She reminds us all, “get up, get out, and get along.”

If you’d like to brush up on your O&M skills, or if you’ve been holding off on learning them, Katt has some words of advice: “Take the leap and let’s laugh while learning.” Contact the LightHouse at 415-831-1481 to get started.


Let the Adaptations Store be your Holiday Haven this December

A red and white stocking filled with accessible gifts and surrounded by gold and silver ribbons.Come to Adaptations for Compact and Affordable Gifts for that Special Blind or Low Vision Person in Your Life

Looking for stocking stuffers?

10% off will help you fill those stockings with all kinds of choices such as oven rack guards, our measured 2-ounce wine-pourer, 20/20 pens, new retractable gel impact pens, liquid level indicators, talking clocks, bump dots and headphones. For the month of December, get an extra 10% off these items, including phone orders.

We’re going crazy with holiday hysteria!
Visit Adaptations between Monday, December 7 and Friday, December 11, and you might be chosen for a very special discount on your purchases. We’re giving one customer each day 25% off their entire purchase. This offer is for in-store purchases only and cannot be coupled with other discounts at Adaptations. Some restrictions apply, as certain products will not be available for discount.

December Discount/Bargain bin:
For the entire month of December, we’re hosting a special bargain bin sale on select products at up to a 50% discount. This includes some handheld magnifying glasses, LightHouse branded coffee mugs and water bottles, Forget-Me-Not Pocket recorders, large print pinochle playing cards, guide-doggie-doo bags, jumbo braille slates and more!

Stop by Adaptations and we will share our extra-super special deals with you. Adaptations is located at 214 Van Ness in San Francisco, open Monday through Friday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Call us at (415) 694-7301 or email us at adaptations@lighthouse-sf.org with any questions.

Please note: Adaptations will close early on December 11 at 3:00 p.m. and December 16 at 2:30 p.m. All LightHouse offices, including Adaptations, will be closed for the holidays beginning Friday, December 25. We will reopen Monday, January 4, 2016.

Arm Yourself with the Tools and Attitudes to be Successful with Changing Vision

Calvin James


Many people are inspired by our Changing Vision Changing Life Session and occasionally a participant is moved to write or even compose some poetry. Here’s a recent example:

Changing Vision Changing Life
Relax, open minds, abandon fears, and trust.
Smell, hear, touch, sense, feel.
Enjoy encouraging, supportive smiles and words.
Watch skills grow as tools empower and calm.
Strategy insures safety and melts frustration.
Senses flood with rich detail, more accurate
Also more vivid than mere sight.

Through his writing, above, Changing Vision Changing Life Immersion participant Calvin James shared his thoughts and experiences of the Fall 2015 Training in Napa.

Our week-long session can truly transform the way you set your goals for effectiveness and bring you closer to knowing what you’ll need to learn so you can live the life you want. During the Immersion, you and up to 13 other students will come together in an intensive and immersive week of learning or re-learning skills, sharing your stories, exchanging solutions, supporting each other. Because learning how to do something different takes time, commitment and development of new skills and sensitivities, this week provides you the opportunity to become acquainted with a range of essential skills that support your journey to independent and confident living. The consequent desire for self-advancement and hunger to learn that participants develop in our retreats will help them dedicate the necessary time and concentration in later learning.

Our next Changing Vision Changing Life Immersion Session is in January 2016.
Where: Enchanted Hills Retreat
When: Sunday, January 31 through Friday, February 5
Full scholarships are available for persons who are not consumers of the Department of Rehabilitation and are 55 or older, living in the counties of Alameda, San Francisco and Marin.

Here’s what Changing Vision Changing Life Immersion is all about:

  • Changing Vision Changing Life is a week committed to YOU. It is the opportunity to learn how to take charge of living your life instead of letting your change of vision hold you and your life hostage.
  • Immersive training exposes you to a myriad of independent living skills and strategies; you will also receive a concentrated dose of orientation and mobility and access technology exposure.
  • You’ll work with our trainers in the full group, in small groups and one-to-one (as much as possible). We encourage students to learn using training shades, giving the experience of focusing on skill development through non-visual learning.
  • Changing Vision Changing Life is a personal commitment to having the desire and taking the time to make a change. The week is full of active participation starting as early as 7:30 in the morning with our optional Yoga class and ending at around 9:00 p.m. The days are full, incorporating time for learning, personal time for reflection and time to connect with fellow students. If you have never met another person who is blind or has low vision, he or she will be your roommate, your fellow student throughout the week, your teacher, your mentor and quite possibly your newest friend.
  • LightHouse staff are professionally trained and the majority of the staff is also blind or has low vision. They understand that each student’s goal in training is unique and that your journey is to be respected. All staff will help guide you toward advances in your blindness that make the most sense for you.
  • Part of the Changing Vision Changing Life framework is that personal acceptance, learning and embracing new skills and renewed skills take time and commitment – we expose you to the possibilities.

Group Photo of Students in the Fall 2015 CVCL Immersion session

If you’d like to attend please contact the following LightHouse staff:

San Francisco Bay Area and Alameda County, contact Debbie Bacon at 415-694-7357 or dbacon@lighthouse-sf.org.
Marin County contact Jeff Carlson at 415-258-8496 or jcarlson@lighthouse-sf.org.
Humboldt or Del Norte Counties, contact Janet Pomerantz at 707-268-5646 or jpomerantz-sf.org.