Tag Archive

visually impaired

Building the Perfect Access Technology Partnership

Building the Perfect Access Technology Partnership

By Erin Lauridsen, Director of Access Technology

I’m Erin Lauridsen, I’m blind and proud of it, which means that I am profoundly personally invested in my work in digital accessibility. In the course of my career so far, I’ve worked with many companies at all points along their accessibility journeys. In the course of this work, I’ve at times encountered openness and innovation, but at other times, I have encountered friction born of a lack of cultural competence around disability. On this tenth Global Accessibility Awareness Day, I want to share with you the keys to bringing disability cultural competence to your accessibility work, as I see them. Whether you work in compliance, user experience, marketing, engineering, or leadership, these are reflections from my lived experience of disability, and the ways it influences and is impacted by my work in corporate accessibility and how we work together.

I introduced myself to you as blind. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard hesitation in the voice of someone approaching a conversation with me about blindness or accessibility, because they are afraid of using the wrong word, or afraid naming my disability will be seen as negative. People with disabilities use many different terms to describe our identities, or in some cases, we may not consider disability to be central to our identity at all. In the vision world, you may hear ‘blind’, which can represent anything from total blindness to a decrease in visual acuity significant enough to impact reading or driving. You may hear ‘visual impairment’, a clinical term for the same range. You may also hear ‘low vision’, a term to represent the less than perfect but still usable range of visual functioning, and you may hear ‘vision loss’, a term common among older adults, or those who have acquired blindness later in life. Those are just the first four terms that come to mind, I have heard many others over the years, and this is just one of many disabilities you might discuss. Which term a person uses is influenced by their preferences, lived experience and cultural identity. For myself, blindness is a lifelong part of me, so vision loss doesn’t ring true. Visual impairment conjures memories of childhood appointments with professionals who wanted to cramp my carefree kid style with clinical evaluations, and I don’t have enough usable vision for low vision to fit well. I’m happy to call myself blind: it’s concise and makes me think of the affinity I feel when I hear another cane tapping down Bay area streets, or having a late night chat with other blind cooks about knife sharpening techniques. So, if you are entering or starting a conversation about disability, how on earth do you choose which term to use? Here’s my advice: when you are working with an individual, check in about preferred terms. Ask how they identify. When you are speaking or writing about specific disabilities, reach out to disability lead organizations and advocacy groups to learn about identity language. Be open to following our lead on language, even if it is language that feels new or uncomfortable to you.

I often navigate conversations grounded in someone’s fear or imaginings about what the lived experience of disability must be like. This often leads to over-engineering solutions or solving for a nonexistent or trivial problem. I have more than one story about a person coming to LightHouse with a multi-part camera and processor system for text recognition or object identification, who became defensive when learning that the blind people in the room can read text quickly with our phones, and wouldn’t be willing to carry around a bulky camera just so it could shout out “refrigerator” “toilet” “goat” as we encountered these things in our wanderings. Others have taken the time to listen deeply to how blind people read text and explore our environments, and the innovations they are working on will take current good solutions to the next level. If you are designing or coding for a disability that you do not live, check your assumptions with the community. Listen to what our friction points are, and work with us to identify good solutions.

In this work, I often must balance the need for disability awareness and education with jarring requests for personal disclosure. Once when I was explaining how being able to adjust brightness is useful to people with many different eye conditions, I used myself as an example of someone who does best with reduced glare. The researcher I was speaking with exclaimed, “Oh, is that why your eyes move that way!” I hope my next eye movement was an exasperated eye-roll, as we’d abruptly shifted from talking about how I customize technology settings to my needs, to talking about my body. If you are doing product research, or educating yourself about disability in the course of accessibility work, you can start by asking about tools and technologies rather than about medical diagnoses or the functional limitations of someone’s body. You can learn a lot more about how I use an app by asking what accessibility features I run on my phone than by asking what eye condition I have or how much I can see. Take the time to consider why you are asking a personal question, and in what setting you are posing it. While you might be curious about how I pick up after my guide dog, it really isn’t the best topic for our business lunch. However, if you want to innovate a solution to find trash cans on busy city streets, I’m all about sharing my dog walking routine in that context.

Often I hear that a company has designed or tested for accessibility by focusing on only one user with a disability. Perhaps they have a blind engineer on their team, or they may have connected with one end user of their product who has invested in giving them a great deal of feedback. While these are both wonderful things, neither is comprehensive, because disability intersects with every part of the human condition, and may create different challenges and opportunities based on those intersections. The skills and tools I use to navigate digital spaces are influenced by my economic privilege, my early access to education, and my linguistic and cultural background. Despite a preference for Braille reading, having had access to screen readers early in life has improved my ability to process complex web pages quickly using text to speech. The same task presents a significant hurdle for some of the adult learners I have worked with, especially those who are learning language or literacy skills along with digital access. You may have watched a blind coder execute complex keyboard sequences to control a screen reader, but an older adult with arthritis may be challenged by pressing multiple keys at once. Just as with any customer base, it’s important to avoid designing or remediating for one person or one persona. Have professional experts as well as end users with disabilities engaged in the design and testing of your products. Please do hire that blind engineer though, she’s spent her whole life innovating and hacking solutions for a world that often doesn’t consider her in the scope of design, and that skill set is going to make your product better.

Sometimes people reach out to me for help with an empathy lab or asking for a blindfold experience, and I do my best to help them find another way to learn. You can not try on the many intersections of a lived experience, and I can’t instill all the skills, culture, and adventures of a blind life by putting a blindfold on your face. Please avoid using empathy exercises that encourage you to try on a disability experience for a brief moment or a day. Instead, invest your time in learning from the lived experiences of people with disabilities, and learning about the tools and technologies we use. If you try a screen reader for a moment, you may find it challenging in the way that switching modalities can be challenging for anyone, but if you invest quality time in learning how screen readers work, you may discover, and then fix, a pain point with your product. Recognize that digital accessibility is not just a topic limited to your livelihood, but consider it as a way to build stronger communities and relationships throughout your life. For example, you can incorporate image descriptions in to your personal social media posts, not just your company’s website.

I hope these reflections will encourage you to take the next step on your personal or company accessibility journey. Ask yourself how you can more deeply engage with the people your accessibility work impacts, and take the next step to increase that dialogue. Whether you’re just beginning, or are part of a robust accessibility initiative, there is always more to learn. I hope I get to meet you along the way.

Red Szell reflects on how the Holman Prize got him to the top of the rock

Red Szell reflects on how the Holman Prize got him to the top of the rock

Each year, the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, funded by LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco, provides three blind people up to $25,000 each to carry out an ambitious idea. On June 22, 2019, Holman Prize winner Red Szell successfully completed his extreme blind triathlon, which included a 10-mile off-road tandem bike ride, an open-water swim and a 213-foot climb up Am Buachaille, a vertical rock formation off the coast of Scotland. We interviewed Red shortly after his successful climb to get his reflections on training for his Holman Prize adventure.

Red’s triathlon training began in earnest last October. “I had a pretty high level of fitness from climbing and swimming,” Red, age 49, says, “but I had to ramp it up because I would be outside for twelve hours.” Red began incorporating running on a treadmill into his training regimen but injured his right Achilles tendon in January. With the help of twice-weekly physiotherapy sessions and some modifications to his training techniques, Red was able to continue preparing to climb Am Buachaille. Despite the ordeal, Red’s injury ultimately provided some benefits. “It actually helped my climbing because we worked on ankle stability and stretching,” he explained.

Besides the physical training required to successfully complete his Holman Prize goal, Red also had to navigate logistics, such as planning a practice climbing trip to Sardinia, finding a videographer to film the triathlon, getting the tandem bike from London to Scotland and more. “Being the CEO of my own project is something that I never really expected to do,” he admits. “That is a very difficult challenge but also immensely enjoyable and character-building. I feel a genuine sense of achievement and personal growth that has resulted from being awarded a Holman Prize.”

Red has always loved climbing, spending his teenage years climbing in the Welsh mountains in Wales. When he was 20, he was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a progressive condition that eventually causes blindness. As Red’s vision continued changing, he became depressed and stopped climbing. More than twenty years later, Red, now a father and journalist, had learned blindness skills. His passion for climbing was reignited at a birthday party for his daughter at a climbing gym. He decided it was time to learn to climb as a blind man.

In 2013, Red became the first blind man to climb the Old Man of Hoy, another sea stack in Scotland. Red declares that was “a personal achievement.” Successfully climbing Am Buachaille was different, however, because of the scope of the Holman Prize as a worldwide competition. Red remarks that the Holman Prize demonstrates to everyone “what blind people can achieve with the right support and determination.”

Red sitting on a rocky beach at Sandwood Bay, on the far north-west coast of mainland Scotland, with Am Buachaille towering behind him.
Red sitting on a rocky beach at Sandwood Bay, on the far north-west coast of mainland Scotland, with Am Buachaille towering behind him.

Going forward, Red will include his Holman Prize experience in the presentations he gives about being a blind climber, but more importantly, he will encourage other blind people to apply for the Holman Prize. From applying for the prize, to winning it, to carrying it out, Red views the Holman Prize as “a journey of self-discovery.” Listen to Red talk about his harrowing adventure here. Red’s experience will be documented in a forthcoming audio-described documentary of his “Extreme Triathlon” full of Red’s humor and outrageous Scottish scenery, called Shared Vision.

Do you have Holman Prize aspirations? Holman Prize submissions open in January 2020. For more information about the Holman Prize, visit HolmanPrize.org.

Coming soon – LightHouse East Bay expands services

Coming soon – LightHouse East Bay expands services

LightHouse East Bay, our office at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, is growing, and along with it, our commitment to providing a continuum of programs and services. The LightHouse has welcomed students from the East Bay into our programs for many years, but recognizes that establishment of a consistent presence in the area will ensure we more effectively reach the large and diverse population of Alameda, Contra Costa, and Solano counties.

Blind and visually impaired residents in the East Bay can look forward to a warm and welcoming location just steps above the Ashby BART station. Our attentive staff will be available five days a week to connect you with an abundance of services, including skills training and community events. LightHouse delivers individualized training in Orientation & Mobility, Access Technology, employment readiness, Braille, Independent Living skills, as well as hosting events to bring blind people together with one another and the wider Bay Area community.

This expansion coincides with the exciting news that we’ve been awarded a grant by the Senior Assistance Foundation Eastbay to provide training free of charge to residents of Alameda County over the age of 55. If you know of someone who qualifies, please contact LightHouse concierge Esmeralda Soto, at esoto@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7323.

We’ll have more to share on our progress at LightHouse East Bay throughout the coming months. If you have questions about LightHouse programs, contact Esmeralda Soto at 415-694-7323 or info@lighthouse-sf.org.

LightHouse Satellite Offices

At LightHouse’s satellite locations, we are often training in the community, so please contact us to schedule an appointment.

Our satellite offices offer most services as our headquarters, and we’re always happy to refer you to the proper service and support. Below you’ll find a listing of services and locations.

Low Vision and Blindness training/support include:

  • Providing local, State and National Resources and Information
  • Counseling and Support Groups
  • Living Skills Assessment and Training  
  • Access Technology Assessment and Training
  • Orientation and Mobility Assessment and Training
  • Maximizing low vision through magnification, lighting and glare reduction strategies
  • Equipment Loan Program

LightHouse East Bay

Ed Roberts Campus
3075 Adeline, Suite 110
Berkeley, CA 94703
TEL: 415-431-1481
FAX: 510-845-8705
VIDEO PHONE: 510-356-0018
TTY: 510-845-8703
EMAIL: info@lighthouse-sf.org

Deaf-Blind Specialist: deaf-blind@lighthouse-sf.org

LightHouse North Coast

Grove Building 317 3rd St 
Box 3
Eureka, CA 95501
TEL: 707-268-5646
FAX: 707-268-5647
TTY: 707-268-5655
EMAIL: northcoast@lighthouse-sf.org

On our North Coast Resources page, you’ll find a listing of resources for people experiencing changing vision, people who are blind or who have low vision and senior citizens. 

October 15 is White Cane Day, so we’re giving you a 10 percent discount on White Canes

October 15 is White Cane Day, so we’re giving you a 10 percent discount on White Canes

Blind people have used white canes as a tool to navigate throughout the world for hundreds of years. Since 1964, Americans have commemorated this symbol of freedom and independence by recognizing October 15 as White Cane Safety Day. In 2011, White Cane Safety Day was also named Blind Americans Equality Day by President Barack Obama.

During the week beginning October 15, the Adaptations Store will celebrate White Cane Safety by taking 10 percent off of all of the canes we have in stock to commemorate this invaluable tool.

You may think one long, white cane is just like another, but think again. Canes can be as unique as the people who carry them, which is why we offer such a plethora of options for you to choose from. Our canes range from lightweight to heavy, from rigid, solid canes comprised of a single piece of material, to canes that collapse into 5, 6 or 7 sections. We also offer telescoping canes in a myriad of styles with customizable grips and tips for you to make the selection that fits you best. Our cane tips range from the standard pencil to a rolling marshmallow, from steel to ceramic, so you can outfit your cane to suit your preferred amount of feedback and detection.

Our new line-up includes two telescoping canes, one from Ambutech, which adjusts and can be locked at the length you prefer between 31 and 69 inches. Another is a 9-section, light-weight mini telescoping cane available in 6 lengths, ranging from 51 to 61 inches. It collapses into its handle, making the entire cane only about 12 inches when completely collapsed. This cane

is so small it fits in your pocket, and makes a great backup cane so you won’t find yourself stuck without a cane. These small, compact canes are made by Chris Park, the manufacturer of both our rigid, lightweight canes as well as our 7-section folding canes. It is a wonderful solution for those who travel with dog guides, just in case your dog gets sick and you find yourself in a pinch. Take this versatile cane with you when you go out to see a movie or attend an event at a crowded venue.

If your cane is beginning to show its age, we can make it shine with a new coat of reflective tape, a new tip to give it a completely different feel, or perhaps a new denim or leather holster for hands free carrying.

During the week of October 15, to kick off White Cane Safety, we’ll give you 10 percent off of the cane of your choice if you call the Adaptations Store between Monday, October 16 and Friday, October 20. Canes are essential to the health, well-being and safety of blind people and visually impaired people, from beginners to veteran travelers alike. Don’t deprive yourself of this basic right to travel when and where you wish! Picking up a cane for yourself or a friend today.

Call our staff at 1-888-400-8933 to inquire about item pick up and mail orders or email us at adaptations@lighthouse-sf.org.

 

Video: Meet Braille Skateboarding’s First Blind Employee

Video: Meet Braille Skateboarding’s First Blind Employee

In 2013, Alex Harding moved to the US from Sierra Leone, by himself, with only a $100 bill in his pocket.

Alex was young, but full of curiosity and a desire to learn and grow in the US job market. Still, as a person with low vision, Alex was at a disadvantage. As his vision changed, it became a struggle to show employers that he could work. In 2016, he signed up for the LightHouse’s Employment Immersion Program, and today he manages the facility of one of the web’s most popular skateboarding brands, Braille Skateboarding.

This is his story.

Braille Skateboarding is a tenant of LightHouse for the Blind at the Sirkin Center in San Leandro. We established a rental agreement with Braille Skateboarding because of their commitment to employ blind people like Alex.

If you’re blind, have low vision or have just experienced a change in vision and you want to gain the skills and confidence to jump back into the working world, we have a new four-week program just for you. To sign up, email Angela Denise Davis at adavis@lighthouse-sf.org or contact your local Department of Rehabilitation counselor and ask to be enrolled.

Major LightHouse for the Blind Expansion to Serve the Blind and Visually Impaired of the East Bay

Major LightHouse for the Blind Expansion to Serve the Blind and Visually Impaired of the East Bay

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Bryan Bashin, CEO
510.725.1549
bbashin@lighthouse-sf.org

Scott Blanks, Sr. Director, Programs
510.499.2362
sblanks@lighthouse-sf.org

(SAN FRANCISCO, CA) LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Northern California’s oldest and largest nonprofit serving the blind, today announced a major initiative to aid hundreds of East Bay blind and visually impaired students affected by the scheduled closure of the Oakland Lions Center for the Blind.

“This week we’re signing a long-term lease to quadruple the size of our Alameda County office, effective August 31, 2016, the announced date of the Lions Center closure” said LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin. Throughout its 114-year history the LightHouse, though headquartered in San Francisco, has served students mostly from the nine-county Bay Area outside of San Francisco proper. Recognizing the unmet needs in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, the LightHouse first opened a satellite office at Berkeley’s Ed Roberts Campus in 2011, providing employment, tech skills and mobility training. In 2014 the California Department of Rehabilitation awarded the LightHouse a key contract to serve older blind adults in Alameda County. Today’s announced expansion will allow the organization to support up to 30 teachers for working-age blind and visually impaired people in Alameda County, where most LightHouse students live.

The new Ed Roberts Campus training facility will complement the greatly expanded teaching capacity of LightHouse’s new 40,000 square-foot Market Street headquarters in San Francisco, opened just three months ago. The Ed Roberts Campus, built directly on top of Berkeley’s Ashby BART station, houses a renowned group of disability organizations in a safe and transit-friendly location. Nearly a dozen progressive disability organizations have discovered that the Ed Roberts campus is an ideal place to gather people with disabilities, and their friends and family.

Shortly after the Lions Center closes, the expanded LightHouse staff will take up the slack by teaching braille, adaptive computer skills, personal and home management, how to find employment and Orientation and Mobility to hundreds of students throughout the east bay.

“While we’re sorry the chaos around the Lions Center closure has affected several hundred blind students in the east bay,” Bashin said, “the new extra capacity of the LightHouse and its 100+ employees will provide them services and to fulfill our organization’s core mission to train and empower all of the region’s visually-impaired residents.

The LightHouse has chosen to announce its new expanded Berkeley office in advance of the Lions publicized closure to allow time for current Lions students to plan for a seamless continuation of their studies in September. Displaced blind students, rehabilitation counselors and concerned families can contact the LightHouse directly to arrange for uninterrupted training. Former students of the Lions Center for the Blind are welcome to continue their studies at any LightHouse facility. To make arrangements please contact LightHouse Rehabilitation Counselor Debbie Bacon at 415.694.7357, or email her at dbacon@LightHouse-sf.org.

About the LightHouse
LightHouse for the Blind is one of the nation’s strongest organizations serving the blind. With six locations throughout northern California, the LightHouse now serves 3,000 people annually. A vital community of innovation, mentorship and community since 1902, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired is the place where people who are blind or have low vision come to learn skills and gain confidence. LightHouse staff, senior management and Board of Directors are either blind themselves or have significant professional experience in the blindness field, a unique strength of the organization for decades. LightHouse Employment Immersion program participants earn a collective $2.5 million annually, the most successful blindness employment program in California.

Next Mind’s Eye Therapy Group Series Starting in September

Next Mind’s Eye Therapy Group Series Starting in September

PHOTO: Rachel Longan

LightHouse for the Blind’s Counseling and Psychological Services program is offering the next Mind’s Eye therapy group beginning September 7. This group is intended for individuals who are moving forward in their lives with recent changes in their vision.  Group facilitator, Rachel Longan, has thoughtfully designed Mind’s Eye for adults who are navigating this very personal journey.

When: Wednesday mornings, from September 7 through November 16, 10:00 to 11:30 a.m.
Where: The new LightHouse Building, 1155 Market St., 10th Floor, San Francisco, 94103

Sudden or actively progressive vision changes can affect many aspects of a person’s life. Group participants are able to process their experiences in a safe and understanding setting.

Ms. Longan incorporates a variety of techniques and experiential exercises into each session. Some of the topics the group is covering include new challenges in relationships, social participation, and emotional factors commonly associated with adjusting to vision changes.

Please be aware that this is not a drop-in group – there is a registration process and a nominal fee for participating in this group. People who are interested in enrolling in the group are urged to contact Ms. Longan at 415-694-7302 or email her at rlongan@lighthouse-sf.org.

About the Therapist
Rachel Longan has over 10 years of experience conducting support groups in a variety of settings.  Rachel herself has low vision and has designed and facilitated the Mind’s Eye group specifically for individuals experiencing recent changes in their vision.

Ms. Longan has guest lectured at the International Conference on Costello Syndrome and at UC Berkeley.  She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, conducts a parent group for the City of Berkeley, and has a private psychotherapy practice also in Berkeley.

Changing Vision Changing Life II – A New Addition to Our Immersion Training

Changing Vision Changing Life II – A New Addition to Our Immersion Training

PHOTO: Cooking Instructor Sydney Ferrario preps food with students.

Are you ready to kick your skills up a notch? We’ve added a brand-new session to our Changing Vision Changing Life Series of small group trainings: The Changing Vision Changing Life (CVCL) II Immersion.

This motivating six-day overnight session is designed for students who may have participated in CVCL instruction in the past and are now focused on practicing the skills they’ve learned in a more intensive and structured manner.

Note: You don’t need to have attended a previous CVCL session to attend this one. However, you need to have had some basic training in Orientation and Mobility, independent living skills and/or access technology.

This session is great for students who are currently training in all of the areas above and can benefit from multiple days of one-on-one and small group instruction.

In this session, students will work on all of the following:

Access Technology, including

  • Computer training (Mac or PC) – using the software you are currently learning
  • Smart Phone Training – Apple or Android
  • Tablet Training – Apple or Android

Peer Group Support – Moving Forward
Advocacy – Taking Control
Orientation and Mobility Training 1:1
Introduction to Braille
Smart Cooking for Independence
Low Vision Training – Using your Tools to Your Benefit
Physical and Recreational Exploration to Enhance Mobility

When: This session will run from Sunday, September 18 (arrival at 3:30 p.m.) through Friday, September 23 (leave at 10:30 a.m.)

Where: The session will be held in our headquarters building at 1155 Market St., 10th Floor in San Francisco. Participants will stay overnight throughout the week in our Student Residences.

Cost: There is a $1300 fee for this training but you may qualify for partial or full scholarship if you are not already working with the Department of Rehabilitation or the Veterans Administration.

To find out if this session is the best fit for you please contact Debbie Bacon at dbacon@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-357.

Employment Immersion Programs

Employment Immersion Programs

2021 Curriculum – CA DOR Virtual Employment Program

Providing Tools and Resources to Live a Secure and Fulfilled Life

“Employers don’t like problems, they like solutions. We allow people to develop their own solutions; we give them the options, and coach them into finding their own solutions.”

– Kate Williams, Director, Employment Services

After gaining skills in mobility, technology, and daily life, the final metric of success for a working-age individual who is blind or who has low vision may be ensuring a solid paycheck at the end of the month. Although monetary gain is important, we have learned that it is frequently not the most compelling reason individuals want to secure employment!  

Rather, they cite the desire to acquire a sense of “belonging” and “contributing” as the motivating factors, closely followed by a desire to gain confidence, self-esteem and self-reliance. Unlike many employment programs, we pay close attention to these factors and integrate that awareness into each facet of our program.  Our approach to supporting blind and visually impaired individuals on their path to securing employment is customized to each person we work with. As job seekers, we may share similar challenges on our journey; however, our stories and needs are vastly different. This premise is reflected in the design of our award-winning Employment Immersion Program.  

Our Unique Approach to Employment Immersion

Our team is dedicated to providing a thorough assessment of the needs of each individual as they enter the program. Employment Specialists guide students through complex topics such as creating a dynamic resume, writing compelling cover letters, preparing for interviews, disclosing their disability and requesting accommodations. Students work individually to master these skills while they build a network of connections and develop transferable skills.

The Employment Immersion Team augments these one-on-one learning experiences with group activities including highly specialized workshops, expert guest speakers, meetings with employers and mock interviews with local companies. We work tirelessly with our students during their job search. We meet as a team on a weekly basis to review their status and work collaboratively to assist students in discovering job opportunities in today’s competitive job market.

This thoughtful and supportive model has resulted in a consistent placement rate exceeding forty percent. We welcome your inquiries! Our primary goal is to support job seekers realize their value in the workplace.

Learn more about our staff: read their biographies.

If you’re interested in learning more about our Employment Immersion programs, or would like to sign up, please contact Wanda Pearson at 415-694-7359 or at eiteam@lighthouse-sf.org.