2008 Annual Report TECHNOLOGY AND THE VISUALLY IMPAIRED
Nothing is Impossible Please note: The Financials section of this report is available online in a separate Excel document, at http://www.lighthouse-sf.org/about/financials.php.
Changes in technology are continual and pervasive. Accessible technology, using audio or large print or refreshable Braille, has opened so many doors for blind and visually impaired people in accomplishing tasks of daily living, access to travel and navigation, employment and community participation. It’s also caused the development of an entire infrastructure of developers and vendors who are attempting to keep up with the changing technology landscape.
But with these changes come challenges. There’s still far more in our environment that is not accessible to blind and visually impaired individuals than is. There’s still debate on what constitutes access for the greatest number of people and which of the access alternatives is best used in which situation. And, finally, there’s the public will and the economic realities of today. Assistive technology provides real and measurable access to individuals experiencing vision loss. However, whether it’s a talking alarm clock, cell phone, microwave or computer system; there’s a cost – and usually a significant one – associated with their acquisition. With an unemployment rate of 70%, individuals who are blind and visually impaired are often not in a position to purchase assistive technology items on their own.
In addition, competition for limited resources means constant vigilance by individuals and consumer groups to keep access issues in front of politicians and bureaucrats. And, we can add the slowing economy to the list of obstacles between blind people and the technology that will make living and working independently more obtainable.
2009 will prove to be an interesting and exciting year. With your support, we’ll be back next year to report on our progress.
Anita Shafer Aaron, Executive Director and CEO
“However far modern science and techniques have fallen short of their inherent possibilities, they have taught mankind at least one lesson; nothing is impossible.”
LightHouse Technology Services and Benefits LightHouse services empower people of all ages who are visually impaired to lead safe, active and independent lives. Technology plays a critical role in providing solutions for people with vision loss. The LightHouse offers the following
technology services and benefits to individuals who are blind or visually impaired:
Access Technology Training
Familiarizes individuals with technologies like screen readers, magnifiers and Braille embossers, as well as teaches individuals basic computer skills. Training on PC and Mac is available.
Tech Center Open Lab
This drop-in setting allows those learning new technologies to practice skills and receive assistance from lab proctors.
Quarterly Technology Seminars
Hosted by our Vision Loss Resource Center (VLRC), the LightHouse offers quarterly seminars dedicated to educating attendees on cutting edge, low cost adaptive technology. Archived seminars are available on our website.
As part of our mission to advocate for accessibility for blind and visually impaired individuals, the LightHouse offers information conversion to alternative formats, including Braille, audio and digital formats such as DAISY.
Broadcasting 24 hours a day, LightHouse broadcast services (known as Access to Information Services (AIS) Radio) delivers local Bay Area news, magazine articles, literature and information via the Second Audio Program (SAP) of KTVU Television Channel 2 and can be heard on the internet. We maintain an archive of AIS Radio broadcasts available on our website.
Technology Information and Resources
The VLRC provides in-depth information, referral and detailed follow-up on a variety of subjects, including technology, for all callers to our toll-free 800-line or those who have sent in email inquiries.
Visit www.lighthouse-sf.org for more information on the range of programs and services offered by the LightHouse.
In the mid-1980s, LightHouse Board President Gil Johnson realized that he would be “left behind” if he didn’t do one thing: “I purchased my own computer, an IBM XT, and my employer – the LightHouse at that time – purchased a soundcard with software on it that could convert the bits and bytes into speech,” says Gil, who has been blind most of his life. After a week’s training he met his first goal – to write a memo for his boss. With the help of a good technology trainer, plus strong support from his employer, Gil brought himself up to speed with accessible technology, and he’s closely followed the trends ever since.
Over his lifetime, the 71-year-old has witnessed the immense development of technology. Though there are still shortcomings, Gil emphasizes that the accessibility of information today is much greater than it was 20 to 40 years ago. That accessibility, he says, is critical to enabling blind people to fully participate. “We’re such an information-based society now that if you can’t access that information you’re really going to be shortchanged.”
There are many ways that blind and visually impaired people can access the same kind of information that anybody else can. “To me technology is not a goal into itself,” Gil says. “It’s a means to an end.”
“It’s wonderful to have all this techno whiz-bang stuff, but why it’s wonderful is because of what it enables us to do.”
Some people call him Mr. GPS, but not simply because he has a good sense of direction. Former LightHouse intern Kevin Chao currently beta tests accessible navigation devices and gives presentations on the technology. The Berkeley City Colle ge student even contributed his specialized knowledge during an Enchanted Hills Camp (EHC) session last year.
While it might seem like Kevin is a seasoned pro at using adaptive technology, his introduction to it only began about five years ago. Over a 6-month period, Kevin went from being fully sighted to becoming functionally blind due to Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy.
“For the first few months it was pretty rough,” he recalls. “I was just trying to figure out why is this happening to me. After a few months I just thought … I can either have it take over my life, or I can accept it and move on and see what I can do.”
Kevin chose to move on. He learned Braille and became acquainted with technology such as ZoomText, JAWS, talking cell phones and the BrailleNote, a PDA with optional GPS for blind users. “I think for the most part I have everything covered between school, recreational things and work,” he says. “For different types of internships and worktype things I’ve done, using my laptop, the BrailleNote and my cell phone, I can pretty much get anything done.”
“To get from point to point I use GPS. It is able to give me the distance and direction to that next point.”
For Jerene Luna, there’s no doubt about the role technology plays in her daily life. “I just love the computer,” says the 66-year-old retired nurse and Pacifica resident. “I feel like it’s my lifeline.”
Jerene, who has diabetic retinopathy, experienced significant vision loss in 2001 after undergoing laser treatments. That year, Jerene’s rehabilitation counselor set her up with a CCTV and a computer outfitted with ZoomText. Though she had some keyboarding and Excel experience prior to her vision loss, Jerene’s computer knowledge truly increased after she took adaptive computer classes at Skyline College. She later enrolled in LightHouse classes, and Vision Loss Specialist Patty Quiñonez taught her how to use the Internet and email.
“Once I took that Skyline class, it showed me a lot of things that I could do,” she explains, “I had to practice on it, and then I came to the LightHouse for the finishing touches.” Her CCTV is a critical tool for reading documents and filling out forms, while her computer allows her to keep a list of medications, maintain a record of daily blood pressure readings and communicate via email with her doctor as well as her friends.
Jerene can’t imagine what she would do without her adaptive technology. “It’s really opened up my world.”
“I just love the computer. I feel like it’s my lifeline.”
When Jeff Samco, who is legally blind due to a childhood form of macular degeneration, goes to work, he uses a screen reader, CCTV, digital voice recorder and talking barcode reader. At home, he finds himself surrounded by talking clocks, talking calculators and talking caller ID.
The technology of the times has been an essential part of Jeff’s life, starting with cassette tapes through computers and CCTVs and now podcasts. “As capabilities have increased, I’ve latched on to a good number of them.”
Currently an assistive technology coordinator in Grass Valley, Jeff was the recipient of the LightHouse 2007 Frances S. Miller Equipment Scholarship. The scholarship enabled him to update his screen reader, get a laptop and obtain a talking money management program. “I can now manage our family finances all on the same Windows-based computer instead of the old DOS computer and program I was using.”
When asked to imagine life without adaptive technology, Jeff says the absence of it would have precluded his 20-plus years as a ranger naturalist for the National Park Service and other jobs. He says not having assistive technology would remove “options for recreational enjoyment such as access to reading material and ongoing personal growth through learning.”
“There’s hardly a part of my life adaptive technology doesn’t touch. It’s all around.”
When LightHouse board member Josh Miele says he’s motivated by self-interest to design tools and technology, he’s actually thinking of others, too. Josh, who is a Smith-Kettlewell Eye Institute Associate Scientist, has been blind since childhood.
In collaboration with the LightHouse, Josh is working on audio-tactile BART maps that will enable blind and visually impaired riders to plan their travels through any BART station. The maps will be programmed so that users can tap parts with a digital pen for station and schedule information. “I’ve always loved maps, and I have always wanted to be able to look at street maps of the areas that I was going to be walking around in.”
Josh believes tactile graphics will become more prominent in the short term. Additionally, he thinks cell phones and social networking and communication technologies in general will become incredibly powerful, creating extraordinary opportunities for improved information accessibility for the blind. Whatever emerges in the future, there will always be a driving force in Josh’s work. “I am a blind person who has never been satisfied by being told, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ I like to have information. I like to be able to make my own decisions, and my own decisions are based on the information I have available to me.”
“It’s important that blind people be involved in developing the technology that we use and need.”
Glossary of Assistive Technology Terms
An electronic device that produces Braille output by raising and lowering pins in refreshable cells. The display attaches to a computer as a separate unit or is built into a Braille notetaker.
Also called a Braille printer, a Braille embosser produces text on Braille paper via input from a computer.
A type of personal digital assistant (PDA), e.g. HumanWare’s BrailleNote, that is portable and electronic. It has a Braille keyboard for entering information and a speech synthesizer or Braille display for output. It can be attached to a computer for file transfers.
A video magnifier that is designed for stationary use on a desk or other work surface. It is ideal for extended reading and writing tasks because its monitor or screen displays an ample portion of a document and it offers a high level of available magnification.
A compact video magnifier that is designed
for portable use. Due to its small size, it offers
less magnification than a desktop model.
Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) is the leading multimedia file format for digital talking books. It enables blind and print-disabled individuals to freely access and navigate content within a sequential and hierarchical structure that allows the option of audio synchronization with full text.
Digital talking book
A type of electronic book format that presents information to blind and print-disabled users in the form of alternative media (speech, refreshable Braille or large print). It allows for flexible and efficient access and navigation.
Digital talking book player
A machine or software program used to read and navigate digital talking book files.
Job Access With Speech (JAWS) is a popular screen reader for Windows-based computers that is made by Freedom Scientific. In addition to reading information aloud, it can output to refreshable Braille displays and it comes with a scripting language that users canemploy to make many applications accessible.
A software program useful for people with low vision that enlarges text and images shown on a computer monitor. These programs work somewhat like a magnifying glass that moves with the cursor to zoom in on either a specific area or the entire page. They typically provide options to adjust and enhance features such as color scheme, pointer and cursor.
A software program that converts text on a computer screen into synthesized speech. It allows blind and visually impaired users to access and control applications with keystroke combinations, eliminating the need for sighted navigation and control by mouse.
Also called a closed-circuit television (CCTV), a video magnifier is a desktop or handheld device that uses a camera to project an enlarged image of printed materials or other items onto a monitor or television screen. It has controls for features such as magnification level, contrast, brightness and color.
2008 year in review 2008 proved to be a year of innovation for LightHouse programs.
January: The inaugural class of the new Medical Transcription Program began the training of a new group of medical paraprofessionals.
February: The Youth Services Program was a first-time host of the Northern California Braille Challenge, a day-long contest designed to emphasize the importance of Braille proficiency. Also in February, the Vision Loss Resource Center began offering T-Maps: tactile maps of individual neighborhoods and other specific locations. The new program was featured in a story broadcast on National Public Radio.
April: Access to Information Services launched the new LightHouse Website, which combines attractive design with screen reader and magnification accessibility. Also, in April, the Napa Rotary Club renewed its fundraiser for Enchanted Hills Camp with the 2008 Cycle for Sight bicycling marathon.
May: In response to the weakening economy and stock market, LightHouse management conducted a two-day, line-by-line examination of expenses and income to reduce spending for the 2009 fiscal year by $1M.
June:The Advocacy and Public Policy Program, with funding from the Department of Public Health, launched a Pedestrian Safety Program, including a Public Service Announcement promoting the idea “sidewalks are for everyone”. Also in June, the first phase of an on-going fire abatement program at Enchanted Hills Camp was completed in an eco-friendly manner, utilizing a herd of 700 goats to clear brush around the camp.
August:Vision Rehabilitation Services increased the effectiveness of its role with the San Francisco Community Living Fundby adding a Registered Nurse as LightHouse coordinator for the program.
October: We saw the closure of the LightHouse store in Marin as well as the creation of a new Adaptations Mobile Store designed to bring products into the various communities the LightHouse serves. Also, through advocacy efforts by the LightHouse, new accessibility standards were set by the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection relating to high tech destination elevators. November: We launched E-Focus, a short email-only newsletter that highlights events and breaking news significant to our community. Go to www.lighthouse-sf.org to sign up!
December: The Vision Loss Resource Center completed its first full year of Technology Seminars, presenting programs covering video reading machines, affordable technology solutions, health and technology and digital book readers.
Directory of Services Recognizing that vision loss is a personal experience that affects individuals in different ways, the LightHouse has developed a diverse and comprehensive breadth of services to meet this challenge. Our staff provides the community with accessible and professional services that in turn enhance clients’ quality of life.
Vision Rehabilitation Services
-Adjustment to Vision Loss/Peer Facilitated Vision Loss Support Groups
-Independent Living Skills Training/Living With Vision Loss Classes
-Orientation and Mobility Training Home Safety
-Low Vision Clinic (in partnership with UC Berkeley)
-Vision Loss Resource Center (Information and Referral)
-Access to Information Services: news reading services
-Alternative Format Resource Center (Braille Transcription and Recording Services)
-Resources and Information (LightHouse website www.lighthouse-sf.org, Lantern, InFocus and E-Focus newsletters)
-Tactile Maps for Specific Locations
-Adaptations, the LightHouse Store (www.adaptationsonline.com)
-Youth Employment Services and Internships
-Digital Data Scan
-Medical Transcription Training
-Publications (i.e. the Lantern and InFocus newsletters)
-Presentations (to community organizations)
-Vision Loss Awareness
Every individual who loses their vision is unique in the services they need. But every individual has one thing in common: the right to access services which enable them to live as independently as possible. At the LightHouse, we offer a full complement of training, educational and recreational services, which help make independent living a reality for our clients.
The LightHouse promotes independence, equality, and self-reliance of blind and visually impaired individuals through rehabilitation training and access to other related services.
Who We Are
Founded in 1902, the LightHouse has expanded its geographic reach and services to become the most comprehensive organization serving the blind and visually impaired in Northern California. The LightHouse is a private, nonprofit organization and taxexempt under Section 501(C) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Our tax identification number is 94-1415317.
With your support, The LightHouse impacts the lives of nearly 3,000 blind and visually impaired individuals and their families each year with robust and innovative programs and services that promote independence. If you are interested in supporting us through monetary or in-kind donations, or by volunteering, call us at 415-431-1481 or visit our website at www.lighthousesf.org. Rowan Clara Donor Group
Rowan Clara donors have supported the LightHouse for 15 years or more.