How blind alums are making the world more accessible

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Blind since an acid attack as a child, Joshua Miele says he no longer spends time wishing he could see. Instead, he works developing ways to make the world more accessible to the blind, things like maps that can talk, YouTube videos that can speak, electronic gloves that can text.

As Holly J. McDede tells the story in California Magazine, Miele came to Berkeley as a teenager to study physics, and, inspired by what he found here — a campus with the first student-led program for disabled students, in a city known for helping lead the disability rights movement — he has devoted his work to making the world more navigable for blind people, and giving them the tools to help solve a major problem: underemployment.

And Miele isn’t alone. He works closely with another Berkeley alum, Bryan Bashin, who became legally blind in his sophomore year and is now CEO of Lighthouse, which produces the talking maps Miele develops.

Lighthouse provides training as well as technology for the visually impaired. Bashin explains in the California Magazine article: “What I’ve learned is that there are a lot of blind people with a mountain of technology at home [who] go nowhere because it’s necessary but not sufficient. What we need as blind people is a sense of the possible. The challenge is to find ways to motivate blind people, beyond putting hunks of iron on their table. How do we install the improbable belief that, yeah, you can go to work, you can support your family, you can be a source of giving to the community as well as receiving?”

Bashin is working with architect Chris Downey, who is blind and teaches design at Berkeley, to build Lighthouse’s new headquarters as a space that will make blind people feel that sense of the possible.

Downey, for his part, teaches his students in his universal design class at Berkeley to think about architecture with all their senses.

The need for more accessibility for the visually impaired has been growing. McDede finds that Berkeley’s Alternative Media Center, which converts material for visually impaired students and students with print disabilities, such as dyslexia, has seen a huge spike in demand for its services: In the past two years, its output has more than tripled, with 7,430 pieces converted in the past school year.

The campus, with efforts led by Disabled Students Program Director Paul Hippolitus, is rising to the challenge.

Read Holly McDede's story California Magazine