In 2019, 15-year-old high school student Matthew lived a happy, everyday teenage life until his world was turned upside down. Matthew was diagnosed with a brain tumor, resulting in two surgeries to remove the malignant mass. When Matthew awoke after the second surgery, he was left completely blind. The sudden loss of sight shocked Matthew and his family and created a challenging roadmap that tested the required mental fortitude and painstaking hard work to get his life back on track. He shares, “After losing my vision, it was very hard to adapt for a long time. It’s why I was out of school for like one full year.”

After the pandemic, he transferred to the New York Institute. Matthew says, “Ever since I’ve transferred, I feel that my disabilities are more welcomed and I guess I could say that it’s more of my home — they’re all good-hearted and I think that as a blind community, it’s nice to have each other’s back.”

Matthew was referred to Lighthouse Guild in 2020 where he learned about the many programs and services offered. The Youth Transition Program interested him most. He says, “[T]hat was the [program] that I felt would introduce me to the world. To the blind community.”

Matthew started the program before he went back to school. It was a way for him to socialize with other kids, many of whom were the first kids he had ever met who were blind. At the time, the program was remote, but Matthew says it was welcoming and fun — which he credits to the Coordinator of Youth Programs Jaydan Mitchell. Matthew shares, “[Jaydan] knew that I was new to this whole thing, so he was very supportive, very encouraging to me. He always knew when I had a hard time and he made me feel comfortable.”

The most important thing that I learned in the [Youth Transition] Program was you have to be independent and believe you can do it."

Matthew, client
Matthew, Lighthouse Guild client

He says Jaydan helped the participants work on different skills such as technology, drama and fitness. He feels helped him adjust, gave him a boost of confidence, and taught him the skills he needed.

Matthew shares, “I think the most important thing that I learned in the [Youth Transition] Program was you have to be independent and believe that you can do it. Also practice, practice these skills. Because the more you practice them, the more you’ll be familiarized by it. A skill that you don’t practice is like a muscle that you’re not stretching, you’re that you’re not working out. It’s all about the habit of doing things.”

Just three years later, 18-year-old Matthew is getting set to graduate high school and has continued his passion for playing and teaching music. He says, “I guess one thing I’ve learned about myself throughout this adaptation is that I have the ability to handle whatever’s thrown at me… I just learned to receive it and accept it. I never knew that about myself and now I have the proof. I’m applying to college as a blind person, and it seems that I’m doing okay.”

Matthew also receives instruction from Adaptive Technology Specialist, Ed Plumacher, who worked with him on VoiceOver accessible technology. VoiceOver is a gesture-based screen reader that allows the user to navigate the iOS device even if they don’t see the screen. It gives audible descriptions of what’s on the screen including the battery level, who is calling, and which app your finger is on.

Matthew’s father, Ken, says, “Matthew has learned and gained confidence from instructors, the [Youth Transition] Program, Lighthouse Guild, and it just goes on and on.” He recalls one instance when Matthew was using a transportation service and was dropped off in an unfamiliar location, which was disorienting. Due to the mobility instruction and navigation tools he learned, Matthew was able to stay calm and find his way. Ken shares, “He’s been able to navigate his way home utilizing all the skills he learned. We’re so proud. We’re also grateful.”  

Being a Mentor

Matthew joined Lighthouse Guild’s Tech Pals, a program that pairs mentors who are blind or visually impaired, ages 18-24, with older adults age 55+ who are blind or visually impaired and have an interest in improving skills with using their mobile phones and/or tablets. As a mentor, Matthew teaches older adults how to use assistive technology. He says, “I’m giving back to the community and teaching them what I learned only two years ago.”

Matthew’s father, Ken, says that Lighthouse Guild is really wonderful for even having a program like this. He shares, “[Most] of us know we have aging parents or loved ones or neighbors and it’s a challenge for them to use any kind of device. It’s a challenge for us. It’s a challenge for me sometimes. And so just to know that you’re allowing someone like Matthew to interact with them, it’s just wonderful. I can’t commend the program enough.”

Matthew’s Space Mission

Recently, Matthew returned from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where he participated (virtually) in a mission in outer space!   

The Artemis I mission aboard the Orion spacecraft made history in November 2022 by taking Alexa, Amazon’s voice service, on board the spacecraft. Earlier this year, Amazon and Lockheed Martin announced plans to integrate Alexa into the Orion spacecraft for Artemis I, the first of several NASA missions intended to bring the first woman and the next man to the Moon. Alexa joined the mission as part of Callisto, a technology demonstration payload developed by Lockheed Martin, Amazon and Cisco. Alexa was inspired by the computer on board the Starship Enterprise from the famous TV series Star Trek. 

In December 2022, Matthew was selected to represent Lighthouse Guild at NASA’s Johnson Space Center to join the virtual Artemis I crew and tour the facility. During the tour, Matthew learned about the process astronauts must go through to prepare for missions and the challenging conditions they face while in space. He also touched the various materials of the astronaut suit used to protect them from extreme temperature and atmospheric pressure changes. Matthew said, “The coolest part was feeling the material of the astronaut’s suit!”

From inside a special room in Mission Control Center within Johnson Space Center, he communicated directly with Alexa onboard Orion, asking questions about the mission and giving commands. Some of the questions included asking Alexa how many miles away Orion was from Earth, and how fast the spacecraft was traveling. He also commanded Alexa to change the light within the spacecraft to green, and got Alexa to recite a fun space rap!  

Matthew says, “It was a truly emotional experience. I felt, WOW! I got to be one of the few people in the whole world, in the whole country that talked to Alexa while they were in space.” Talking about the experience, Matthew explained, “It just feels like I’m in a totally different world, like I’m in outer space. It’s just a wonderful opportunity. I feel that being part of this, listening to everything as a visually impaired person, it reminds me just how far technology has come and what’s in store in the future.”

Join our Mission

Lighthouse Guild is dedicated to providing exceptional services that inspire people who are visually impaired to attain their goals.