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YES Summer Academy

LightHouse’s Ann Wai-Yee Kwong Believes in the Importance of Addressing Culture for Success in Blindness

LightHouse’s Ann Wai-Yee Kwong Believes in the Importance of Addressing Culture for Success in Blindness

The transition from childhood to young adulthood can be a difficult time in any young person’s life—but for those with limited resources, or a lack of information about what resources are available, the transition can become overwhelmingly difficult. For many students who are blind or have low vision, especially those facing cultural adversity, the information and resources regarding next steps towards a productive and successful future after high school simply are not provided. Most of the support given to students who are blind or have low vision and their families is offered through the public-school system. However, because there is a limited number of TVIs (teachers of the visually impaired) and other qualified VI educators in public schools, resources can be limited and are often stretched between school districts, making the actual time a blind or low vision student spends with these VI educators and mentors very minimal. Of these students, many are first generation American, introducing the additional difficulties of struggling with language barriers. These students are constantly having to balance learning to adapt to American culture in their schools where they are receiving an education, maintaining homelife culture within their families, and navigating this new world of blind culture and building their adaptive education and independence skillsets.

LightHouse Transition Program Specialist Ann Wai-Yee Kwong runs programs made up of trainings and informational workshops—some of which are offered in Spanish to support the blind and low vision Spanish speaking community—for young adults and their families to prepare for their futures and the transition from childhood into adulthood. Ann’s education and professional experience coupled with her own personal experiences as a blind woman who emigrated from Hong Kong as a child make her highly qualified in this area. Her unique brand of passion and empathy stemmed from her own transition experience makes her the ideal mentor to help pave a successful path towards furthering education and employment for our youth.

Growing up as a blind, first generation Chinese American in Los Angeles, Ann had little knowledge of what resources were available to her outside of what public school is legally obligated to provide.

“I had never heard of the landmark legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), nor learned about disability history,” Ann shares.

Historically, in many cultures across the globe, disabilities of any sort have been portrayed in limiting and negative terms. Blindness is often equated through language as a lack of knowledge. Phrases like “the blind leading the blind” create harmful societal expectations and stereotypes, many times leading to a lack of self-worth or self-confidence within the blindness community.

“It was not until I went to college that I discovered many of my peers with disabilities also shared, for the first time, the experience of feeling empowered as we cultivated disability community and found pride in our identities.  Subsequently, although the ADA has provided many educational rights and opportunities for persons with disabilities, there remains a great deal of work around shifting the negative societal perceptions of disabilities as well as in employment, where the employment rate of persons with disabilities, 19.3%, continues to lag far behind that of non-disabled persons, 66.3% in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

This motivated Ann to build a career educating youth who are blind or have low vision about what blindness resources are available and how to make the most of these opportunities. She knows that understanding your options and developing healthy, positive social and personal ideologies about what it means to be blind are essential in working towards a successful future.

Over the years Ann has partnered with various blindness advocacy groups, government agencies like the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) as well as many VI educators. These partnerships have catalyzed her passion and informed her work with youth who are blind or have low vision, which then molded and inspired the programs she has started at LightHouse.

“The Youth Employment Services (YES) program and curriculum is based on research, best practices, and the nationally recognized Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). I strive to provide meaningful work-based experiences for youth to fill the gap for employers, creating a talented pool of future professionals.”

While creating equal opportunities and building a dynamic skillset and experience for blind and low vision youth is the mission of the work Ann does, for her, it is the social and emotional growth that is the most rewarding accomplishment.

“The best part of my job is building trust with my students and watching them build that confidence, because that is transferable. Once you instill that confidence in someone, that can’t be taken away,” Ann believes.

“My most rewarding experience while working at LightHouse is the genuine sense of community and family, we are able to build, especially during the YES Summer Academy when staff and students spend four full weeks working, learning, and living under one roof. This heartfelt sentiment is also expressed by our students, and I had not previously felt this in other blindness programs in my prior work, making this unique to LightHouse.”

The work Ann and the Youth Programs department is doing is starting to change the misconceptions of the lives people who are blind or have low vision can live, for both the blind community and those who are sighted. Ideas for new groundbreaking programs and plans to grow and expand the reach of Youth Programs is constantly underway.

Ann is continuing to further educate herself in the field of education, leadership, and advocacy. She is currently working towards her PhD in Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her growing knowledge and passion are packed into every LightHouse program she runs and is reflected in the future of every student she mentors. Because of incredible mentors like Ann Wai-Yee Kwong, the future of kids everywhere who are blind or have low vision is bolder than it’s ever been.

To learn more about our transition programs for youth, contact Ann at AKwong@lighthouse-sf.org or by phone or text at 415-484-8377.

A YES Summer student reflects on their first week

A YES Summer student reflects on their first week

The following is a reflection from Amber, a YES Student from LightHouse’s Summer Academy. For more information about YES’ Summer Academy, check out our round-up and photos from last year.

“In my short time of being at the LightHouse, I have had an exceptional time with many different learning experiences including work/living skills and also self-discovery.

Before coming to LightHouse, I had never met another visually impaired person. I have always been insecure about my vision, but here I’ve heard many inspiring stories about self acceptance.  One mentor who I identified with was Tim Elder, who spoke of hiding his vision loss by sitting in the back of the class and not acknowledging his vision. He then spoke of the gradual process of self-acceptance, and that was inspiring. Hearing about his accomplishments, like going to law school, being an attorney and helping others, was motivating and I aspire to have that level of self-acceptance someday.

There were other talks of self acceptance such as Lisamaria from Be Confident, Be You. She spoke of her method called “BAANG” which stands for blindness skills, advocacy, academics, networking and getting involved. This method was important and definitely something I will incorporate into my own journey of self acceptance. Her quote, “Tell yourself there are no such things as mistakes, only room for growth” is something I will think about every time I have to do something out of my comfort zone. It is very true each mistake we make can be a learning tool. Her last step of getting involved to not only benefit ourselves but to change the perception of blindness to the general public. That is great perspective that I had never thought of.

I am looking forward to spending the next four weeks at the LightHouse!”

YES Summer Academy

YES Summer Academy

Applications for YES Summer Academy 2020 are now open!
Monday, July 6 through Friday, August 7, 2020

 

Applications for the YES Summer Academy close on June 12, 2020.

 

LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired Youth Employment Series (YES) is excited to announce the 2020 Summer Academy for working age blind and low vision youth. Students will have access to an unforgettable summer filled with interactive learning opportunities as they participate in work-based learning experiences. They’ll meet life-long friends, mentors and supportive LightHouse staff. Students will be immersed in a comprehensive pre-employment independence skills course which takes place at the heart of an empowering and supportive community in San Francisco. The YES Summer Academy is a four-week immersive experience for young people to gain skills which help build confidence and positive identity. They will learn to collaborate and be a team player, identify their strengths and interests, and gain a sense of direction through interactive work-based learning experiences.

By the end of the YES Summer Academy students will have expanded their web of support, explored career interests, and been equipped with vocational tools i.e. a set of professional attire, working resume, interview strategies, etc.

Further learning outcomes include:

  1. Students will have the opportunity to conduct informational interviews with professionals resulting in relevant job exploration, counseling and labor market information.
  2. Participants will be immersed in a variety of work-based learning experiences through paid work-based opportunities where they will be responsible for commuting to work, selecting appropriate attire, self-advocacy and negotiating workplace accommodations, as well as communicating with their respective supervisors.
  3. Attendees will hone their workplace readiness soft skills such as practicing effective collaboration, drafting and delivering presentations, and engaging in independent living as they collaborate with and support one another.
  4. Participants will increase their understanding of resources, services, and knowledge in the areas of self-advocacy, requesting accommodations, college education necessary for certain career paths, financial literacy including benefits planning, as well as legal rights and responsibilities of blind and low vision individuals.
  5. Students will have the opportunity to elevate their attitude and confidence from meeting with successful blind and low vision peer mentors and professionals pursuing various careers as well as cultivate community with peers who have similar interest or transition aspirations.
  6. Students will have the opportunity to practice setting, progressing, and achieving professional and personal goals.
  7. Students will learn the importance of informed decision making in order to solidify and achieve their individualized projected post school employment outcomes.

YES Summer Academy’s comprehensive pre-employment transition skills curriculum: (1) Job exploration counseling (2) work-based learning experiences (3) counseling on opportunities for researching and enrollment in transition or post-secondary educational program (4) workplace readiness training to develop soft and independent living skills (5) critical instruction in self-advocacy refinement and connection to blind and low vision mentors. Our work-based experience component will encourage students to reflect and incorporate their Summer Academy experience on their resumes and be more prepared for when their dream opportunity arrives. YES Summer Academy also includes a chance to attend the annual National Federation of the Blind Convention held in Houston, Texas. This exciting conference will allow students to meet thousands of blind role models engaged in a myriad of work disciplines. Students will conduct informational interviews, practice their soft skills, be introduced to a wide array of products and services for the blind as they peruse the Exhibition Hall, participate in a nation-wide job-fair and informative seminars.

To apply, follow the steps below:

  1. Fill out our general LightHouse Student Intake Form and select YES Summer Academy 2020. Under the Program Interest section. If you have participated in LightHouse Youth programs within the last year, please skip this step and go directly to Step 2.
  2. Complete the YES Summer Academy Participation Application and Short Responses. Please send your responses to youth@lighthouse-sf.org by June 12, 2020.

Please note
1. Space for the Summer Academy is limited and student application, interview, and funding/authorization must be confirmed in order to be considered.
2. The LightHouse Youth Services team is also seeking several enthusiastic and confident individuals to support program objectives and join the YES Summer Academy Mentor staff. Candidates must be youth-focused, flexible, and in possession of strong interpersonal, leadership and communication skills; for more information, please contact Ann Wai-Yee Kwong at youth@lighthouse-sf.org
If you have any questions regarding the application process please contact Ann Wai-Yee Kwong by email at youth@lighthouse-sf.org or by phone at 415-694-7328.

Applicants for the Academy must have an open case with their state’s vocational rehabilitation agency or other entity for funding to cover associated costs. Please note that the fee is $8,000 which is all-inclusive except transportation costs to and from the program.

Applications for the YES Summer Academy close on June 12, 2020.