(May 16, 2018) Catherine Read speaks with Tony Cancelosi, CEO and Joceyln Hunter, Director of Communications, for the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind. Since 1900, their organization has been dedicated to helping the blind or visually impaired population of the greater Washington region overcome the challenges of vision loss. Their work enables people of all ages who are blind or visually impaired to remain independent, active and productive in society.
There are approximately 24 million people nationwide who are visually impaired or blind. Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind works every day to meet the needs of those in our area affected by vision loss. Through over 10 programs and with a staff of about 90 employees and 150 volunteers, they serve about 1000 clients with a variety of services ranging from free vision screenings to workforce training to independent living skills and assistive technology.
When founded over a hundred years ago, Cancelosi notes that the organization strictly focused on direct services for clients who were affected with vision loss. Over the years, the organization has grown and adapted, and now works to apply innovative solutions that help their clients thrive. One project that Cancelosi highlights was developed through a grant given by the Department of Transportation. The goal was to create a smartphone technology that was designed to help blind people independently navigate a metro station. The program is currently active and deployed in 11 Metro stations in our area. Building on that, Columbia Lighthouse is now developing an additional component to this technology, where i-beacons are added to the program to help their clients know what types of businesses, such as restaurants, banks and retail stores, are located in the neighborhood when they exit the station.
Columbia Lighthouse dedicates much of its technology based work to assisting businesses in making their websites accessible for those with disabilities. Some of their clients and partners include the National Restaurant Association, the worldwide chain of Carmine’s Restaurants and My Eye Doctor, all who have used their services in relationship to their website accessibility. Columbia Lighthouse has also created a proprietary tool that can score a website to tell a business owner how accessible their site is. Cancelosi encourages businesses to ask themselves “how much business are you losing by not making your website accessible to all?” As the baby boomers age at the rate of 10,000 people per day, he notes that we can anticipate a large growth in the blind population in the coming years. It will be important to be prepared for the challenges that this will pose to our society.
Examples of more traditional direct services that Columbia Lighthouse provides include their Mobile Eye Care Unit, that travels the area and can visit senior living facilities, as well as low-income housing and family shelters for the homeless. The Mobile Unit is designed to ensure that everyone has equal access to eye screening. Now that many of the school system no longer test eyesight as a regular practice, this resource can help diagnose problems and assist in being more proactive in getting services to those in need. They also run an early intervention unit, that can provide in home services for blind children up to the age of three.
The high school youth employment program is a 3-week program run on local college campuses that is designed to teach vision impaired high school seniors how to live independently. The students receive workforce skills training, learn to live independently on campus, and receive a modest stipend for their work. It is a tremendous opportunity for students to build confidence and learn how to thrive on their own after they graduate high school.
Columbia Lighthouse also creates opportunities for the blind to experience activities such as sports or art, things that are not always accessible to all. The organization sponsors a 5K run, where runners are tethered to one another, as well as adaptive skiing opportunities. They also host an annual art show featuring work of their clients at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC. Jocelyn Hunter, Director of Communications, shares that the annual Shot in the Dark Golf Tournament is coming up on Monday May 21st at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, MD. This will be the 6th annual tournament, and they will be featuring Phil Blackwell, a world champion blind golfer. He will conduct a workshop for golfers of all skill levels – and there are still spaces if you are interested in playing. This is one of their largest fundraisers, and they are looking forward to a wonderful day of golf, along with a festive dinner and silent auction in the evening.
You can find Columbia Lighthouse for the blind online at www.clborg
on Twitter @Columbia Light
Proud member of the United Way of the Capital Area, Designation Code 8110 CFC# 94397