Episode 49 – Unstoppable Advocate with Bryan Bashin
Bryan Bashin was born fully sighted, but over time he lost his eyesight. Like many such people, he tried to hide his blindness. Bryan was, in some senses, different than many. Because as he began to discover that other blind people were leading full and successful lives, he decided that he could do the same. He received training and then began to seek employment and attained a most successful career.
Bryan would tell you that he loves learning and advocating. He is an extremely inclusive individual although he clearly does do a powerful job of advocating for blind and low-vision persons. Oh yes, not vision impaired, but low vision. You will hear about this during our conversation.
For the past 13 years, Bryan Bashin has been the CEO of the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind. He has proven to be quite an innovator due to his philosophical orientation concerning blindness. You will hear of his accomplishments.
Bryan announced his retirement from the Lighthouse earlier this year. His future plans are typical of Bryan. Come along with us and hear Bryan’s story and then please give us a 5-star rating wherever you listen to this podcast episode.
About the Guest:
Bryan Bashin, CEO, reports to the Board of Directors and supervises the directors of Communications, Development, Operations, Programs and Enchanted Hills Camp and Retreat. Mr. Bashin has served in this position since 2010. Mr. Bashin’s extensive professional experience includes Executive Editor for the Center for Science and Reporting, Assistant Regional Commissioner for the United States Department of Education: Rehabilitation Services, and Executive Director of Society for the Blind in Sacramento. Mr. Bashin has been blind since college and from that time has dedicated a substantial part of his career to advocating for equality, access, training and mentorship for individuals who are blind or low vision. He serves or has served on numerous committees and organizations, including California Blind Advisory Committee, VisionServe Alliance, San Francisco State University’s Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability, World Blind Union, National Industries for the Blind, and California Agencies for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
About the Host:
Michael Hingson is a New York Times best-selling author, international lecturer, and Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe. Michael, blind since birth, survived the 9/11 attacks with the help of his guide dog Roselle. This story is the subject of his best-selling book, Thunder Dog.
Michael gives over 100 presentations around the world each year speaking to influential groups such as Exxon Mobile, AT&T, Federal Express, Scripps College, Rutgers University, Children’s Hospital, and the American Red Cross just to name a few. He is Ambassador for the National Braille Literacy Campaign for the National Federation of the Blind and also serves as Ambassador for the American Humane Association’s 2012 Hero Dog Awards.
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UM Intro/Outro 00:00
Access Cast and accessiBe Initiative presents Unstoppable Mindset. The podcast where inclusion, diversity and the unexpected meet. Hi, I’m Michael Hingson, Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe and the author of the number one New York Times bestselling book, Thunder dog, the story of a blind man, his guide dog and the triumph of trust. Thanks for joining me on my podcast as we explore our own blinding fears of inclusion unacceptance and our resistance to change. We will discover the idea that no matter the situation, or the people we encounter, our own fears, and prejudices often are our strongest barriers to moving forward. The unstoppable mindset podcast is sponsored by accessiBe, that’s a c c e s s i capital B e. Visit www.accessibe.com to learn how you can make your website accessible for persons with disabilities. And to help make the internet fully inclusive by the year 2025. Glad you dropped by we’re happy to meet you and to have you here with us.
Michael Hingson 01:21
Welcome to unstoppable mindset. And I am really excited today to have an opportunity to talk with Bryan Bashin, the CEO of the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind. And you will see why as we go forward. Bryan is a very interesting and engaging guy. I’ve known him for quite a while. And I think we’ve both known each other we like each other, don’t we, Bryan?
Bryan Bashin 01:44
Yeah, we have traveled in the same paths. And we have been on the same side of the barricades.
Michael Hingson 01:51
And that’s always a good thing. So you’re doing well.
Bryan Bashin 01:57
I’m doing great. This is a this is a good time for me and Lighthouse after 13 years, thinking about sort of a joyous conclusion to a number of projects before I move on.
Michael Hingson 02:10
Wow. Well, that’s always a good thing. Well, tell me a little bit about you before the lighthouse growing up and stuff like that, so people get to know about you a bit.
Bryan Bashin 02:20
Sure. The short version I grew up as a sighted boy started becoming blind when I was 12 became legally blind when I was a sophomore at UC Berkeley. And like all newly blind, low vision people tried to hide it for as long as possible, and really failed. I didn’t have role models, then, like my Kingson. I didn’t really know what was possible in blindness. That pivot came later in my life. And so I just did what a lot of low vision people do. Hide, try to pass all of that. So I did that in my early 20s. I started my career in journalism. I my first job out of Berkeley was at the CBS television affiliate in San Francisco KPI X, API X. Yes, Gen five and the news department there. And I worked there for a couple of years that I wanted to move up in the world. And I joined the channel 10, the CBS Benli a CBS affiliate in Sacramento, and I was higher up on that journalism,
Michael Hingson 03:32
and wrong and you move and you moved from five to 10.
Bryan Bashin 03:35
I did. I doubled. See. After after a few years in local broadcast news, television news, I thought I’m a little more serious person that and I wanted to go deeper. And so I quit my job and I started writing for newspapers, and then magazines, and specialized in science and public policy. So I did lots of work and environment, Space Science, energy usage, epidemiology. You know, for kind of curious guy like me, journalism was a really good fit because it fed all the things I want to learn about him. And I was in my 20s. Somewhere along the way, as I had less than less vision, I knew that I needed to get solutions. And I didn’t know where those would come from, but I knew it involves people. But short version is almost 30 years ago. In a quiet time in my life. I just picked up some copies of the Braille monitor and started reading them. And in it, I found all kinds of stories about blind people doing amazing things. Things that I didn’t think I could do as a person like travel where I wanted when I want it or efficiently use Computers, all that. So I went into a boot camp. It was then the fourth NFB Training Center. Actually it was in Sacramento. Just that the year that I needed it. It only lasted one year. The Marcelino center run by the California affiliate of the NFB, anyway, long story short, I threw myself into training, got training, and then had the most successful period in journalism I’ve ever had. And that’s the first half of my working career.
Michael Hingson 05:33
Did you ever know mozzie? Marcelino?
Bryan Bashin 05:35
No, I didn’t. He passed before the Senator that was named after him. That’s right. Yeah.
Michael Hingson 05:41
He was one of the very active early members of the National Federation of the Blind of California and managed a lot of the legislative activities of the Federation. In Sacramento, if you went with him into the Capitol, everyone knew Mazie. Which, which is important.
Bryan Bashin 06:02
Yeah. Yeah, I certainly was living in Sacramento in the 90s. And his memory was an active presence, then. Well, I finished up my immersion training at the Marcelino center. Four years later, I was running the Society for the blind there in Sacramento. Having gotten the confidence, and aspiration, that I could do stuff there, Executive Director, retired after 33 years, and I interviewed and got the job. That’s when I got my first taste of real service in the blindness community. Chance to like, think of a project, think of a problem, get funds for it, hire cool staff for it and do it. And for me, you know, I might have written an article in a magazine and a million people would read it, but I wouldn’t meet any of them. And I wouldn’t have that thing that we all love that community. So when I started working at society for the blind, that community was right there. And it was deeply gratifying. And so I started working on many, many projects. And I did that in Sacramento for six years, had a wild time with it. And then I was asked to apply in the US Department of Education, to be one of the regional commissioners in region nine for the Rehab Services Administration. So that was, that was really bittersweet to leave the Society for the blind, but I wanted to learn more. And suddenly, I found myself responsible for half a billion dollars in federal spending across all disabilities, and learning like a fire hose about the public rehabilitation system. And I did that until all the regional offices were closed by the administration. And I found myself for the first time in my working life, not knowing what I was going to do for a living. So I, I did some expert witnessing in court, I worked with a startup, I did some other things regarding direction, mentoring of blind people looking for employment. And then after 20 years, the director of the Lighthouse for the Blind, took a new job. And it was the first job I was hired for that I actually knew what I was doing when I came in, because I’d run another org like that. And that was 13 years ago.
Michael Hingson 08:36
There you are. What who was the commissioner when the offices closed?
Bryan Bashin 08:42
Yeah, well, it was Joanne Wilson until it was Joanne Yeah, yeah, it was Joanne Wilson, then
Michael Hingson 08:48
no, no, she necessarily had a lot of choices. But
Bryan Bashin 08:51
well, that’s a long story. She used everything in her power to oppose this. But it was it was at a higher level that was made. Yeah.
Michael Hingson 09:04
So you’ve been at the lighthouse 13 years. And tell me a little bit about what it was like when you started and why did you decide to go to the lighthouse?
Bryan Bashin 09:19
You know, one thing that I can say is that my predecessor, had been prudent with funds. And so this was an agency that had good amount of money in the bank, like $40 million. I came from society for the blind. When I got there. We had six weeks of revenue. And we grew that and made it more stable. But I was attracted to the lighthouse because it was a storied organization. It had been around for, you know, 100 years. It owned this amazing camp in Napa that I’ll talk about. It had the bones of a really great Oregon As a nation, and I thought I could do something with it. And I came there and I first saw the headquarters building then across from the symphony. And I thought, there’s not enough places here to teach. There’s not enough public spaces down. I have things happen. It was just the lighthouse had outgrown its its place. And I thought, oh, here we go. Again, I done a capital campaign in Sacramento to get its new building. Now, I’m going to have to do this again in San Francisco. But we looked at that and we thought, it’s got to be close to transit. It’s got to be in San Francisco, got to have cool places for people to work to ennoble the workforce not to be a dark hole windowless, undistinguished former garage, which was the old, old building, we found a place in the end, after many different things, we found a place right on top on top of the civic center BART station. And through a partnership and some other things we were able, I was able to convince the board to take this leap. And they did. And five years ago, six years ago, now, we occupied our new headquarters, which really has made us a place where people want to come and work and convene and hold events. It really now has the feel of a center.
Michael Hingson 11:32
Chris, the other thing that happened for the for the lighthouse was you got a pretty significant capital infusion along the way.
Bryan Bashin 11:40
Yeah, a little bit. I would do want people to know that this idea for a new building, the search for the Board’s agreeing to do it and agreeing to buy it happened all before the big request, right? So we did, we made all that happen. In December and January, January 2014. Five months later, out of the blue, we got the first letter, understanding that we were going to be receiving receiving a request, that turned out to be the largest request in the history of American blindness to an individual $130 million. It turned out. And that allowed so much of what happened after to be possible.
Michael Hingson 12:31
Right. And that was what I was thinking it wasn’t so much the building, but then you could really put into practice the vision that you were creating. That’s right. That’s right. So how, how has the lighthouse changed in over, let’s say the last eight years since 2014?
Bryan Bashin 12:52
Yeah, I think I think I could say, ambition and reach and kind of audaciousness some things are pretty well known. We launched the Holman prize for blind ambition, it’s a world prize, we’ve had, it’s getting close to 1000 applicants over the seven years we’ve had the homerun prize. Those applicants come from every continent, maybe I haven’t aggregated all of them. But it wouldn’t surprise me to say 40 countries or so have applied. And if you go on YouTube and go to home and price.org. And look, you’re going to see what blind people are saying they their dreams are from all over the world. And you cannot think about blindness the same way when you see people in rural Nepal or Africa or an urban Europe, talk about what’s important to them. There is no real public way to aggregate all these things other than what we’ve done thus far. And so that’s the kind of audaciousness that has come up in the last eight years. But it’s been across everything.
Michael Hingson 14:07
What is the homerun prize? Exactly.
Bryan Bashin 14:10
Prom homerun prize is an annual prize awarded to three people each year by independent jury of blind people that the lighthouse convenes none of those juries are Lighthouse employees. The purpose of the prize is to show great growth and ambition in anything. It’s not necessarily a project to do good in the world for blind people or though it can be it could be personal growth, like rowing a boat across the Bosphorus or climbing a mountain or organizing something that was never organized before that kind of thing. We award 320 $5,000 awards, and the price has been amazingly popular with hundreds of 1000s of views about blind people on our website and on YouTube. I’m happy to say that our partner Waymo, is now sponsoring one of the prizes at $25,000.
Michael Hingson 15:11
That is pretty exciting. Yeah. And I’ve I’ve watched it through the years and it’s it is absolutely amazing and wonderful to see the the different attitudes and philosophies and as you said, dreams that blind people have, because most of the time, we’re not encouraged.
Bryan Bashin 15:31
Yeah, most of the time people settle. This is, this is really, beyond mere skills that any blind organization teaches. And I don’t mean to derogate them, the skills are essential. We can’t do anything without skills. But they’re not enough. Somehow my you got the confidence to be a captain of your own ship, metaphorically speaking. That’s what got you out of the World Trade Center. That’s what got you into business in science and everything else. We want to we this is the this is the mission that any Blind Agency really needs to focus on. Beyond skills. How do you teach confidence? How do you teach what Jacobus tenBroek said that we have a right to live in the world to be at that table, that we are not an embarr and a barren sea in the human condition. We’re part of the human condition. And so getting that deep knowledge, something that the late James avec said, not just knowing it in your head, but in your heart, that It’s respectable to be blind. And all of that that’s, that’s the best agencies get at that as well.
Michael Hingson 16:49
We as as a class, need to be more in the conversation and it isn’t going to happen unless we demand it. You know, it’s it’s interesting. We celebrated Global Accessibility Awareness Day last, what Thursday, and later in the year, we’ll be celebrating some other events regarding disabilities. What amazes me is even with the visibility that’s happened so far, it never seems to hit any of the mainstream television news. Casts or talk shows, the I don’t see anyone celebrating Disability Employment Awareness Month, or anything relating to disability awareness, like we see African American history or LGBTQ pride, awareness and so on. Why is it that we’re just not still included? Even though even though according to the CDC, up to 25%, of all Americans have some sort of a disability. And we’ll of course leave out like dependents, which takes in everyone else, but nevertheless.
Bryan Bashin 18:06
Well, you know, we live in a different as a longtime journalist, we live in a different journalistic culture now. And so what triumphs is narrative, not policy. What triumphs is something that gets is clickbait. Something that gets you emotionally. And I won’t say that there, there haven’t been good stories. The lighthouses then, Board Chair Chris Downey, who you know, is, as one of only a handful of practicing blind architects got 15 minutes on 60 minutes, one of their most popular episodes been rebroadcast four or five times now. That is a powerful narrative. So we need more of them. I really do think that in any state, any blind organization has stories, just like Chris is just as powerful. You know, our job is to actually be out there relationally with journalists so that they can understand what the stories are. But it’s not going to be from a press release, or some some kind of awareness month. It’s going to have to be the personal connections that we have with journalists so that we can wind up pitching stories.
Michael Hingson 19:27
Well, it’s the usual thing. What it really means is we need to tell the story.
Bryan Bashin 19:35
That’s right. As soon as it becomes a story about them. We lose, huh? Yeah.
Michael Hingson 19:41
Yeah, we need we need to be out there and tell the story. And you’re right. We need to tell it in a way that will click with people and interest people. But I think that that certainly is something that can be done and we We also collectively need to understand that we need to tell the story and not be shy about it.
Bryan Bashin 20:08
That’s right. Yeah, that’s right.
Michael Hingson 20:11
And I think all too often, we tend to be shy and we don’t want to, to be out there talking about I remember early on after September 11, we got pretty visible in the news. And it was because really of me contacting Guide Dogs for the Blind, just to say, we got out because people from Guide Dogs had seen us in the world transip Trade Center, they’ve visited us. And I joined guide dogs in about a year afterward. And there was a lot of visibility interviews in the media. By that time, we had been on Larry King Live three times. And on one of the guide dog lists, somebody said, Well, he’s just a meteor media whore. And a number of people fortunately reacted, I did not, but a number of people said, What are you talking about? He’s out there telling the story. And that is, in reality, the case is that somebody needs to and we all should be out there telling the story saying we’re better than people think.
Bryan Bashin 21:12
That’s right. That is really true. You know, there’s an inherent tension between this knee that you just said about, we need to tell the story because otherwise Hollywood is going to tell the story about us. And the need, you know what the most radical thing is, it’s the average blind person doing their average job, unremarkably, and without fanfare and attention, that is the revolution. And so, you know, why should Why should every blind person feel obligated to write a book or do a story. And yet, we have a responsibility as a you have taken to say, This is my life experience, people will learn from it. And so I’ll do the hard work to get it out there.
Michael Hingson 21:59
But the very fact that other people are just going to work, and trying to go to work, doing the job, and trying to even get better at doing the job is as much if not more of the story as anything else.
Bryan Bashin 22:14
That’s the real revolution. And that’s the world we want to help bring about.
Michael Hingson 22:20
So I am curious about something. I believe it’s been attributed to you. Scary already. But but I’ve I’ve adopted it. People say that we’re blind or visually impaired, and I object to the concept of visually impaired because I’ve always thought I looked the same. I don’t like vision impaired because I think I got lots of vision, although as I love to say, but I don’t see so good. But I can accept vision impaired. What do you think about that, that concept of the, the terminology like that? And where do words matter in what we do?
Bryan Bashin 23:00
words do matter. And every every generation needs to own and invent words that are relevant to them. And so although I work in a building that says Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, I’ve come to see that word visually impaired is actually ablest. It means that we are being defined by what we cannot do, we have impairment of vision, we are not a normal part of society. You know, I think the more neutral and non ablest way to construct it is just to talk about people who are blind, or have low vision. Yeah, so that’s, that’s a positive way. It’s neutral way. All these other things over the years, skirting around the word blind, as if that was something we shouldn’t be proud of, are talking about the proud people with low vision, instead of looking at them as just simply a characteristic they have, they have low vision. We look at them as impairment or other other ways in which they’re, quote, not normal. So that’s why words matter. And we in our publications at Lighthouse tried to use a modern language to talk about blindness.
Michael Hingson 24:19
And I do like the concept of low vision. If you talk to a person who is deaf, and you say hearing impaired, you’re apt to be shot because that is absolutely unacceptable, deaf or hard of hearing, which is the same concept.
Bryan Bashin 24:34
Yeah. And of course, you always want to talk to the people ourselves, about how we want to be caught. Yeah.
Michael Hingson 24:43
Unfortunately, I think there’s still all too many of us that have not really thought it through. But I think as people learn and recognize that we do have the same right to live in the world and are demanding it more, more and more people will wreck denies the value of something like blind or a person who happens to be low vision.
Bryan Bashin 25:05
There are agencies around the country who have steadily taken the word blind out of their name. I think it’s a profound mistake, as if who we are needs to be euphemized or just lately swept under the rug. I am a proud blind person because I’ve been around other blind people who haven’t want to euphemized who we are. But yet we have agencies around the country with hundreds of millions of dollars who think that they don’t want the word blind in their name. I think the first step in proper rehabilitation is to say who you are.
Michael Hingson 25:46
And do it with pride. Yep. So well, and just to carry that on a little bit more, Dr. Ken Jernigan passed down the late Dr. Ken Jernigan, past president of the National Federation of the Blind, I think came up with the best definition of blindness of all, which is basically if you are eyesight is decreased to the point where you have to use alternatives to full eyesight to accomplish things, then you should consider yourself blind and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Bryan Bashin 26:17
Yeah, we’re all in this together. Just like, I can’t speak for that community. But it’s been 150 years since African Americans blacks would talk about various grades and gradations of, of their, their heritage. Just part of the movement now as it should be,
Michael Hingson 26:40
as it should be. And it’s unfortunate that it takes some of the kinds of things that it has done to raise awareness for black lives, if you will. But hopefully we’re making some progress, although the politicians tend to be the biggest obstructionist to a lot of that big surprise
Bryan Bashin 27:01
Michael Hingson 27:05
Yeah, it is amazing. As I love to tell people I I try not to be political on this podcast. So I’m an equal opportunity abuser, you know, I’m, I’m with Mark Twain. Congress is that grand old benevolent asylum for the helpless and that’s all there is to it. So we can we can abuse them all. It’s it’s a whole lot more fun. Well, so you have really made some evolutionary changes in the lighthouse. You mentioned enchanted Hills, which I first learned about when I was here in Southern California as a teenager, did not go to Enchanted hills. But I went to what that time, what was the foundation for the junior blinds camp camp Bloomfield, and but I’ve heard and kept up with enchanted Hills throughout the years and the camp had some challenges a few years ago with the fires and so on. That that took place up in Northern California, and you’ve been really working to address a lot of that. Tell us a little if you would about enchanted hills. Yeah. Where it was, where it came from, and and where it’s going? Well,
Bryan Bashin 28:17
a blind woman rose Resnick founded it in 1950, because she wanted blind people, blind youth and adults to be active participants in nature. At the time, most blind folks went to schools for the blind, urban and restrictive. And Rose had a great experience growing up back east, with camps for the blind, it was a liberation for her. There were no camps when in outwest, for the blind, he founded the first one that we’ve had at Lighthouse for 72 years now. Why is it important? That mentorship to see cool blind people who are just a few years ahead of you who are owning their lives, you can’t learn this in a classroom. You’ve got to hang out with people, it takes time. It’s like that, that same mentorship, you’ll see in a convention, a blank convention. The power of that is you got to week, well, you’ve got a summer at camp, and you’ve got a summer with people where you can actually have time to finish your conversations and to get lost and try to grow in different ways and fail and try again. And this is a huge and powerful part. What any camp for the blind is there are only a handful left in the United States. So in 2017, those Napa fires we watched as the fires got closer and closer to camp we evacuated and then watch for week as the fires crept closer, we didn’t know if camp would survive. And when we finally were able to get back in camp, we found that half of the buildings had burned the old camp deep in the Redwood Forest. We have 311 acres there. It’s an enormous P and valuable and beautiful piece of property. And soon after, first we were relieved that nobody was hurt. But after our team realized like this was the opportunity that had waited for three generations, how could we reimagine camp? What are the things now in 2022 that bind people wish they had that we didn’t have before. So yes, of course, we have the same all all American camp.
Bryan Bashin 30:44
But we’re rebuilding camp to be environmentally friendly, universally accessible, every building at camp every every building at El is will be wheelchair accessible. Every watt of power and use will not be through trucked in propane or hydro or fossil fuels, but be solar generated with our solar canopy over our park parking lot. Every building will be heated and insulated. So is changing from summer camp to a year round place where up to 220 people can stay and learn and form community, both informal things like classes, retreats, and all of that. But informally now, when we reopen, you’ll be able to grow, go up to camp with a group of your friends and 20 people, family reunion, whatever you can cook for yourself, or you can take advantage of our full time kitchen staff and all of that. Imagine a blind Asilomar a conference center that is accessible, networked with everything from braille embossers, to the latest tech stuff. That’s what camp is and every last part of it, please touch, please use our woodworking stuff, learn how to do ceramics, get to learn how to own and care for a horse. Get in that boat and Sue ads and, and row, go swim, go do arts, go do music and our wonderful new Redwood Grove theater, all of that stuff. So this was the inspiration when when the camp burned five years ago, we were able to get all these buildings on the master plan with a county, we found a contractor we’re halfway through the rebuilding all of lower camp now you can see those buildings, the foundations are poured, the roofs are up we’re putting in Windows this week. And when we were done, we’ll have this amazing, beautiful village in the Redwoods where people can stroll and accessible paths, no guide ropes anymore, by the way, accessible paths. And as you go around camp, you’ll be able to be just within hailing distance of other people, people you may not know but should know. So half of the program at camp and why it produces 40 50,000 hours each summer of people contacting people half that program is just that, not what we’re talking at you about but people that you meet and form lifelong bonds.
Michael Hingson 33:31
And that’s a whole different idea for a camp in general, but it is really creating community and people will leave with I would think lots of memories they never thought they would get.
Bryan Bashin 33:46
You know one of the key features that has been the hallmark of the last 13 years is that we usually have 20 counselors and another half dozen counselors in training. Three quarters or up to 90% of those counselors are now blind, or have low vision. No camp hardly in the country does that there are a lot of camps in which everybody in power. Every director and every assistant director and every counselor, they’re all sighted. They’re all very well meaning and giving. But where’s the mentorship there? Where’s the role modeling? So in Jannah Hills is different. The overwhelming majority of our counselors and counselors and training are blind. Our staff and area leaders are overwhelmingly blind as well. Because this is part of the purpose of camp to be able to meet people who are in charge of their own lives and a part of a community
Michael Hingson 34:45
and that’s as good as it can possibly get. How does the the camp then it’s it’s a separate entity but it’s part of the lighthouse. How did the the two connect what kind of value does Is the lighthouse itself bringing to the camp and vice versa?
Bryan Bashin 35:03
Yeah, we’re all one organization. But increasingly, because of the new construction, we use camp as a retreat for people who want to go deep into their blindness. So for people who are newly blind, or for people who have been blind a while, and now have decided it’s time to do something about it, we have an initial immersion called Changing vision changing lives, people go to camp. And there, they take their first steps, sometimes, first time they ever put a white cane in their hands, or their first introduction to what a computer could do. All these kinds of things. It’s a deep dive and initial dive, immersion to whet people’s appetites for the real hard work that comes after camp where they’re going to put in time to learn skills of blindness. But before you start doing skills, you have to have the why, why are we doing that, and you have to have met a dozen or two dozen blind people who are just using those skills. So you’re not learning that as an abstraction. Camp is wonderful that way. So the teachers who teach edtech and oh nm, and braille, and, you know, independent living and home repair, and all, these are the same people, whether they’re at our headquarters in San Francisco, or they’re in a special retreat in Napa. That’s what we’re going to be doing more and more of around the around the year. Same thing is true with our new program for little for blind infants and toddlers, lighthouse, little learners is an early intervention program. From across northern California, we have built camp in part to be a wonderful place for families of blind infants and toddlers to come together. Almost every family that has a newborn who’s blind is utterly unprepared, and is so hungry for information. And of course, as you know, if you get it right, your child grows up and does anything that she or he wants. But those are key years. And so our family cabins now are built so that infants and toddlers, and then later on young kids will have time with their families before it’s time for them to go off to camp individually, when they get into the middle years at a teens.
Michael Hingson 37:33
You mentioned the blindness conventions like the National Federation of the Blind convention, and it brought to mind something that I think about every time I go to a convention or know that a convention is coming up, especially with the NFB because of the the way that the organization has handled conventions, there is nothing like watching a five year old who suddenly has a cane put in their hand. And they’re given a little bit of cane travel lessons over a very short period of time at the convention. And then they’re dragging their parents all around the convention hotel, that the parents usually can’t keep up and the kids are just going a mile a second.
Bryan Bashin 38:13
Yeah, that is, that’s what we all want. We want that aha moment, like that. And parents are. So when they’re new in the game, it’s not just talking about the best ophthalmologist, although that’s important and the best stimulation and the best this and that. They’re also looking at those counselors and counselors in training and seeing their kids in 15 years. And they’re just seeing competent blind people. Give them the sense about what’s possible and why. And that that is another unspoken role of conventions, or in retreats like camp where you have the time to put into what is like the big change in life. Your blindness is not just something you do superficially, you got to dive in camp helps with that.
Michael Hingson 39:07
It’s a characteristic blindness is simply a characteristic. It is something that we all have as part of our beings. And I think it’s an enhancement because it allows us should we take advantage of it to have a significantly different perspective on part of life than most people have? And it gives us a broader and more open perspective, which is as good as it gets.
Bryan Bashin 39:38
Absolutely. You know, we’re in an age which is supposedly celebrating diversity and all of that, well the diversity that we bring to the to the human experience is profound. And you know, we we will celebrate our intersectionalities with all the other human diversities. Are we are, we are good to live in an age, which doesn’t sort of characterize and other, but works or at least seeks efficiently to include.
Michael Hingson 40:13
Sometimes it’s a little more superficial than we probably would like. And there are things happening in our modern technological era that are a challenge. For example, one of the examples that I often give is nowadays, there are so many television commercials that are totally graphic pictorial, they may have music, but absolutely no verbiage to the commercial. So a number of us are left out of understanding them. And of course, graphics are so easy to produce. But what the people who produce those commercials, it seems to me don’t realize is that by not having verbiage, and having meaningful and full content, verbally presented in the commercials, they’re not just leaving out us, but they’re leaving out anyone who gets up from their couch or chair, when the commercial comes on to go get a drink. They’ll never know what the commercials were about, they’re missing a true dimension of access to all it seems to me.
Bryan Bashin 41:19
Well, you put your finger on a key aspect of our culture, which is we live in an age of screens, great. Screens are ubiquitous and cheap. And so we’re, we’re in a in an age now where it’s sort of post linguistic almost, that the ability to manipulate and to show successions of images, capture, you owe 90 some percent of people most of the time, but it does a great disservice to the abilities of human beings of all sorts to appreciate. And it kind of cheapens the subtlety and discourse, I think, you know, we this this ability, words are able to convey a universe of experiences in just a few syllables. Pictures, not so much, and not so standard.
Michael Hingson 42:19
Someone said, I don’t recall who but I read it somewhere. Maybe a picture is worth 1000 words. But it takes up a whole lot more memory. I love that. It’s an it’s so true. Yeah. And we, we really need to recognize collectively the value of challenging and using all of our senses, it’s so important to do that, and no scent should be left out. Now, we haven’t figured out a way yet to transmit, smell and taste through the television system. And that may be a long ways away. But we certainly have other senses that we should be using. And that isn’t, and shouldn’t just be screens. But hopefully we can get that discourse to occur and get, get people to change, maybe a little bit about what they’re thinking and see the value in that change again.
Bryan Bashin 43:21
Well, you’ve been a pioneer in this. And as things emerge, I know Mike Kingston is going to be part of it.
Michael Hingson 43:29
Well, it’s been fun to to be involved with some of the technologies. You know, for me, it started with Ray Kurzweil. And then last decade was IRA, which has certainly been a product that has made a significant difference for a lot of people but other butter products along the way being involved in some of the refreshable braille displays and, and a lot of people don’t realize how easy it is in some senses to produce Braille today because refreshable braille displays means I can take any file, any like ASCII file or a Word file, and put it in a medium that I can import into a Braille display and suddenly read that document. That’s, that’s pretty new.
Bryan Bashin 44:15
I think we are just now on the cusp of, of having critical mass in a refreshable Braille display that’s got enough pixels to be useful as an image producer, and then ways to quickly and sort of economically produce those images. Yeah, Lighthouse has a unit MATLAB they have a group called touching the news. And here every week or two, there’s a news graphic, the map of Ukraine during the war, the what is that helicopter on perseverance look like? Those kinds of things, the ephemera and the news of our society, the ability to get those quickly out. If you have a Braille display or a Braille embosser is going to really we’re almost at the time when culture will pivot, and 61,000 Blind K through 12 errs in American schools will be able to get new and fresh material all the time, and compare it or look at the output of an oscilloscope in real time, and change and vary and act in a lab accordingly. So the efforts now to make real time expressible refreshable. screen displays are amazing and so important.
Michael Hingson 45:39
The other thing that I would hope as we get into more of a virtual real world virtual reality world, is that we would do more with sound binaural sound which is easy to produce, which truly with a set of headphones allows you to hear sound coming from any direction. And actually can help immerse all gamers in games rather than it just being from the screen. But if they do it right, it certainly would make a lot of games more accessible to us than are available today.
Bryan Bashin 46:12
If you’ve heard a good binaural recording of something, it can be terrifying. The lighthouse work with this group called The World According to sound to produce several dozen binaural shows about the rich experience that blind people have every day. And you can find those online. We worked with Chris and Sam, who just did splendid work for us about how we live how we how we go around what we notice the subtleties and richness in our lives. So there’s there’s importance for that. And then later, if you look ahead a few years, the metaverse and the idea of group connections, because what we’re doing now Mike, on Zoom is not going to be just like a pandemic, Blip. This is the way people are going to interact. And we want this to be richer. I want to be in a room where I can hear who’s on the left of the conference table and who’s on the right. Right, I want to be able to face them in the three dimensional view on that screen. It’s coming. It’s coming quickly. And we need to be part of what MATA is doing as they may be the standard or other people may develop other standards. But this is around the corner.
Michael Hingson 47:33
And the technology is really here to do it. It’s it is a matter of making it a priority and deciding to do it in such a way that will keep the costs down. And that isn’t all that hard to do. Yeah. So for you, you are I think you have been appointed to the Ability One commission.
Bryan Bashin 47:58
That’s right, President Biden appointed me last July. And it’s been a wild ride ever since
Michael Hingson 48:04
tell us about the commission and what you’re doing with it and so on.
Bryan Bashin 48:09
Well, this commission was set up during the FDR time in 1938. And it was designed originally to provide some way that blind people, and then later on, people with other significant disabilities could find work and an age where there was almost no work. The employment rate of blind people in 1938 was I don’t know two or 3%, or something like that. So it was a groundbreaking bit of legislation in the 30s. But over the years, it became a place where blind people worked in non integrated settings. And some people call them sheltered workshops. There were many blind people who are earning less than minimum wage because of a loophole in the law there and all of that. This has been a fight for the last decades to eliminate the sub minimum wage, and also now to seek blind people not working in silos without the benefit of the wider world only working in a place with people with disabilities. But to integrate and find opportunities for that same federal contracting federal contracts federal government buys, what six or $700 billion worth of stuff every year. This ability one program uses about 4 billion of the 600 billion to provide employment, people will make things the lighthouse itself. We have a social enterprise we make environmentally sound cleaning compounds and disinfecting compounds using sort of state of the art Technology, we got an EPA Safer Choice Award for how benign our stuff is, instead of the other harsh ammonia and caustic chemicals. Anyway. So on this commission, the job is how much wiggle room do we have to provide integrated employment now, you know, if you’re working in making airplane parts, only with blind people in a separate building, and meanwhile, Boeing has people doing the exact same job. along with everything else, and the glitz and glamour of working for international big company. Why shouldn’t blind people be part of that, instead of the sort of set aside, it was a great idea in the 1930s and 40s, and 50s. Now it’s time to change. So the first step of the change is our strategic plan. And we’ve rolled out the draft strategic plan, we have had eight or maybe more now community meetings about it. The public engagement with this change is 500%, more than we had in the past with the AbilityOne. Commission. We we have launched this strategic plan, I sure it’ll be codified in upcoming weeks, when it is over five years, we’re going to both look at ways that we can get competitive integrated employment experiences as much as we can. And that may require that we open up the Javits, Wagner eau de Act, the legislation in order to maybe change some possibilities to increase competitive integrated employment. Because in the 30s, it just said employment, that’s our charge. The idea of competitive integrated employment for blind people, or people with significant that was science fiction, and FDR, Stein. Now it’s something you and I have both lived. And why shouldn’t the 45,000 people in the program right now have that opportunity? So that’s my work in the AbilityOne. Commission, to bring the fruits of federal contracting to the hundreds of federal contractors, and let them benefit from a workforce that includes diversity of all kinds, including people who are blind,
Michael Hingson 52:28
is the tide turning so that we can see the day that the Javits Wagner, eau de Act, Section 14, see will actually go by the wayside, and we’ll be able to truly address the issue of competitive employment.
Bryan Bashin 52:44
Yes, we have taken many steps along that line, the main step is that organizations that hold such certificates may not be allowed, in the very short term it very shortly to compete for new contracts. So the cost of paying subminimum h is going to be very expensive for people who wish to get more contracts. This is in process now. We are not going to, you know, pull the emergency cord and throw people out of work, who are now working under these programs, but new contracts, and new opportunities are going to be you know, bias towards competitive integrated employment. And, you know, on the blind side, there are no organizations in the blindness side of Ability One paying sub minimum wages Now, none. That’s that’s already ended on the significant disability sides. I think the number is around 3000. People still are working on legacy contracts like that. We expect that if I talk to you in a couple of years, Mike, that will be gone.
Michael Hingson 54:02
Well, and historically, I think when the act was originally established, it was done with good intentions. And maybe it wasn’t as five sided as it could be. But as I understood the original Act, the non competitive employment centers were supposed to be training centers to get people prepared to and then out into the more competitive world of employment. But it morphed and evolved over the years to something different than that.
Bryan Bashin 54:33
It is and if legally, if you look, there’s nothing in the ACT about training. It’s just about employment. That’s that was the mindset in 1938. Yeah. Now, of course, that’s what we want. That’s what we want to celebrate. We want to give the nonprofit agencies credit for training people and bringing them out into competitive employment. We think if we open up the act, we want to strike threat. So those agencies who are successful at getting people trained up and out, should be rewarded for that.
Michael Hingson 55:08
That makes perfect sense. What is the pandemic done to the whole rehabilitation system? And what do you see happening as we come out of it?
Bryan Bashin 55:19
This is not a happy topic.
Michael Hingson 55:22
Yeah, it is a challenge.
Bryan Bashin 55:25
The the number of people who are just enrolled in VR across the country has been slashed a third to a half those those people part of that is because VR with its three and a half billion dollars worth of funding, doesn’t find, you know, the homemaker outcome, which is basically blind, independent living training, that’s now no longer legal. So those people who went to VR thinking they could learn how to do certain things. But without a vocational goal, that is not not any, any more part of the public rehab system. So some people went away for that. But I think the larger question and it’s kind of profound is that we’ve been through two years of a pandemic, after, after a century of saying to blind people get out there, learn to travel, be at everybody’s table, take risks. And now we’ve had two years and more of stay in your place. It’s a dangerous world. And our you know, my observation is all of our skills are rusty, are on him skills are rusty, our social skills are rusty. And everybody in the world will say, Oh, you’re blind is easy to stay at home, look from look for work at home and all of this, but we lose if we’re not in the room. And so the bottom line is that the pandemic has caused, I think a lot of us to take a giant step back in our social integration and just our horizons. Through the pandemic, I watched as my sighted friends could just get in the car and go where they wanted safely. Every time you and I want to go somewhere, Mike, we have to get into a conveyance with a person of unknown infectivity status. This is the nature code, we can’t just Uber ourselves to a park without the sense like, okay, we’re taking a controlled risk. This is why a future of autonomous vehicles is so great, no guide dog denials, no coughing driver, who may or may not be wearing a mask these days, technology can be our friend, if the technologists start considering our needs.
Michael Hingson 57:53
Well, and autonomous vehicles are, are definitely in our future and the whole concept of opposing them. Anyone who does we’re, we’re seeing someone who just doesn’t have a lot of vision, because the reality is that they’re, as you would say, right around the corner. I think some of the things that have happened with Tesla vehicles is unfortunate, especially when, in reality, they were probably not using the technology correctly. And that causes many accidents is anything. I have a friend who owns a Tesla, I actually drove it down the I 15 toward San Bernardino a few years ago. But I called him one day and he told me he had an accident with his Tesla. Now he had driven some race cars in the past and he said that there was a situation where a car was coming at him. He had the Tesla in copilot mode and was monitoring. But when this vehicle was coming at him as a racecar driver, he said my inclination is to speed up and get away from it. The car wanted to slow down and he said I overrode the copilot and we had an accident. I should have let the car do
Bryan Bashin 59:14
it. Your way there. I can’t let that pass. Mike. You were in the driver’s seat of a Tesla on Interstate 15.
Michael Hingson 59:24
Absolutely, why not? No, he was he was there of course. And but I had my hands on the wheel and we had it in copilot mode and I could feel it moving. It was a pretty straight run. But we did it for about 15 minutes. And then I said no, I don’t think that the Highway Patrol would be happy with us if we kept that going.
Bryan Bashin 59:44
I don’t think the statute of limitations quite expired on that one bike so
Michael Hingson 59:50
well, they gotta prove it now. I don’t know it’s been more than two years and nothing and nothing happened. I will wasn’t in the car with the accident, we had a completely uneventful time, I just want to point out
Bryan Bashin 1:00:06
now, but these, these technologies, we must be pressing the companies for Level Five accessibility. That means from the time you walk down your friend steps to the car waiting there for the time you get to your destinations, front steps, you’re in control the whole time. Yeah, it would be heartbreaking to have legislation that allows less than that. So that yeah, you have to like drive until you’re on the freeway, and then you can do autonomous driving, that would lock us all out. That would mean this whole technology is useless for us.
Michael Hingson 1:00:44
And that would be useless legislation, it wouldn’t solve the big problem that the autonomous vehicle can bring us. I’m a firm believer, and we got to get the concept of driving out of the hands of drivers. Because, as far as I’m concerned, using a Tesla or not the way most people drive on the road, I would certainly be able to do as well as they do.
Bryan Bashin 1:01:07
Absolutely. I wrote in, I wrote an autonomous vehicle in San Francisco last summer. And I felt it in control, confident, cautious, but it had a different sort of feel in that car and felt like I noticed like in San Francisco, if you want to make a left turn, a sighted driver would sort of drive into the intersection, start making the turn. And then once you’re made the 90 degree turn, then accelerate the autonomous driver drives into the intersection and starts accelerating in the intersection intersection, knowing full well that it knows and has decided where it wants to go. So if it was more confidently powering into the term than a human one would do. I found that interesting.
Michael Hingson 1:02:05
It is, and I just am firmly convinced that we will make the road so much more safer if we take not the decision making but the whole concept of driving away from so many people who haven’t learned to do it. Well, it does mean that we need to program the technology appropriately. And well. We’re still on the cusp, but it’s coming and it’s going to be here sooner than we probably think.
Bryan Bashin 1:02:36
Yeah, well, the main thing is that all there may be 50 Different groups five, zero, looking at autonomous driving, it’s turning out to be a much harder technical problem than people were saying just a few years back. But we need to be in those early design phases. You know, my car right now has a radio that I can’t use. Yeah, because it needs a touchscreen. I mean, if they can’t get that, right, what about the ability to change directions, at a stop on a whim, respond to a safety emergency, we need to let the folks know, all the ways that we need to be involved and not like was one set of the Mercury astronauts, we’re not just spamming again.
Michael Hingson 1:03:25
Right? Well, and the the Tesla, for example, is so disappointing, because everything is really touchscreen driven. So I could deal with the wheel and deal with the car once someone else completely shut it up. And there is some ability to do voice activation, if you do the right things with the touchscreen first. And the bottom line is I couldn’t work the radio, I couldn’t do anything that a passenger should normally be able to do. Because it’s all touchscreen driven. And it really takes away, it seems to me from the driving experience, even because I have to focus on the touchscreen. I can’t be watching the road as well as a sighted driver.
Bryan Bashin 1:04:10
Yeah, this is not inherent to blindness. It’s just smart design that’s inclusive. And those are fun projects. And that’s when you get blind people, engineers, by engineers, sighted engineers together on a problem that is a beautiful Association and it produces really great results.
Michael Hingson 1:04:31
I’m remember I remember some of the early discussions that we had when we were working on the pedestrian enhancement Safety Act and we worked with the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers and eventually got a law passed that said that quiet cars and so on needed to make a noise although we’re still really waiting for a standard so that there is a sound that hybrid cars and totally quiet cars produce and it’s taking way To long, unfortunately, but still working together, we were able to educate and get some people to really imagine a lot more than they thought that they would. And we’re making progress, but it sometimes it just seems like it’s very slow. Well, let me ask you one last thing, what are you going to do when you leave the lighthouse, you announced that you’re, you’re wanting to move on. And I know that there is now a search to find a, a person who will step into your shoes, which I think is going to be an impossibility. But what are you going to do?
Bryan Bashin 1:05:37
Well, I love I love the search, I love that lighthouse is going to have a long, open, transparent process to find that right person. So that will be wonderful to cheer them on when they show up. But for me, I am a guy who likes learning. And I’ve had 13 years of heavy responsibility running a large agency, I want to be in places where I have more of a beginner mind. That could be journalism, that could be advocacy, it will be advocacy. That will be in design, like we were just talking about autonomous vehicles or other interesting projects. I would like to be in those places, whether it be corporate boards, or design Charettes, or architecture, any of these things were blind people haven’t been before, to sort of bring people together to make really exquisite designs, and beautiful human centered outcomes. So whether it’s working with the Ability One Commission, or working on contract with companies that have a problem to design, whether it’s it’s talking truth to power, and making sure that our extended community has is protected and safe and supported in Congress in the state house. You’ll find me in all those places.
Michael Hingson 1:07:04
Well, I hope that as you move on and do things that you will come back and talk with us and keep us posted and give us a chance to learn from you and and maybe give you things that you can use as well. So I hope that this won’t be the only time we hear from you on this podcast.
Bryan Bashin 1:07:22
It’s always a pleasure, Mike, it’s in conversation with you. I learned so much. And I feel we are part of that same community.
Michael Hingson 1:07:30
How can people learn about you, the lighthouse, and so on?
Bryan Bashin 1:07:35
Well, our websites always a good place to start WWW dot Lighthouse dash s f.org.
Michael Hingson 1:07:44
And everything is there, there are so many different programs that the lighthouse offers. And there’s so much that all of us can learn from the various adventures and programs that the Lighthouse has. So I hope that you’ll all go visit WWW dot Lighthouse dash s s.org and peruse the pages. And if you’re able to do so maybe consider volunteering or being involved in some way. And I hope that you’ll make that happen. If people want to reach out to me, we are always available. As I tell people every week you can reach me via email at Michael H I at accessabe.com or through the podcast page which is www dot Michael hingson M I C H A E L H I N G S O N.com/podcast. And once you finish listening to this, please give us a five star rating. We love those five star ratings and, and Brian, hopefully you’ll listen and give us a five star rating when this comes up.
Bryan Bashin 1:08:46
Oh, I’m already pre sold on this one. You’re also welcome to leave my email address. I’ll go folks on on the website or here. It’s simply b Bastion b ba Shi n at Lighthouse stash fsf.org.
Michael Hingson 1:09:03
So reach out to Brian and I’m sure that discussions will be interesting. And as I said we want to hear of your adventures as you go forward. Thank you, Michael. Thanks very much for being here. And to all of you. We’ll see you next week on unstoppable mindset.
UM Intro/Outro 1:09:23
You have been listening to the Unstoppable Mindset podcast. Thanks for dropping by. I hope that you’ll join us again next week, and in future weeks for upcoming episodes. To subscribe to our podcast and to learn about upcoming episodes, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com slash podcast. Michael Hingson is spelled m i c h a e l h i n g s o n. While you’re on the site., please use the form there to recommend people who we ought to interview in upcoming editions of the show. And also, we ask you and urge you to invite your friends to join us in the future. If you know of any one or any organization needing a speaker for an event, please email me at speaker at Michael hingson.com. I appreciate it very much. To learn more about the concept of blinded by fear, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com forward slash blinded by fear and while you’re there, feel free to pick up a copy of my free eBook entitled blinded by fear. The unstoppable mindset podcast is provided by access cast an initiative of accessiBe and is sponsored by accessiBe. Please visit www.accessibe.com. accessiBe is spelled a c c e s s i b e. There you can learn all about how you can make your website inclusive for all persons with disabilities and how you can help make the internet fully inclusive by 2025. Thanks again for listening. Please come back and visit us again next week.