The Holman Prize Committee
Our inaugural panel of Holman Prize judges, came together in June to choose three winners from all of our ambitious and adventurous candidates. Encompassing a wide range of expertise, including astrophysics, accessible tech, national politics, education and so much more, our international committee members - virtually all of whom are themselves blind - embody the spirit of both James Holman, our finalists and the LightHouse for the Blind’s overarching mission.
Originally from Montreal, Canada, Jennison Asuncion is LinkedIn's Engineering Manager, directing their digital accessibility efforts. Previously, he spent almost seven years as a member of the Royal Bank of Canada's IT Accessibility Team. In 2012, Mr. Asuncion co-founded the annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) to raise awareness of digital accessibility issues. He obtained a B.A. in Political Science, and an M.A. in Educational Technology, from Concordia University in Montreal.
The current CEO of LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco, Bashin brings to the position a unique blend of professional experiences that include Executive Editor for the Center for Science Reporting, Assistant Regional Commissioner for the United States Department of Education – Rehabilitation Services, Expert Witness on rehabilitation and economic aspects of employment of the blind and Executive Director of Society for the Blind in Sacramento. Over the years, Bashin has spearheaded technological and access enhancements that bolster programs and created employment opportunities for blind and visually impaired professionals.
Don has over 25 years of work experience in the areas of Human Resources Administration and Disability Programs management. Brown is the CEO of Access Work Systems, a HR compliance Management consulting firm, which he founded in 2000. He is also certified as an Alternative Dispute Resolution Specialist and an Americans with Disabilities Act trainer by both the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Don holds a Bachelor's Degree in Clinical Psychology from San Francisco State University and a Human Resources Studies certificate from Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He enjoys gardening, cooking, reading psychological thrillers, hiking and spending down time with his guide dog.
DR. WENDY DAVID
A Licensed Clinical Psychologist in private practice in Seattle, Dr. David recently retired after a 25-year career at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, where she served as a Staff Psychologist specializing in trauma treatment for male and female veterans. David has published two books in the field of blindness which have received wide acclaim; "Sites Unseen: Traveling the World without Sight," the more recent of the two, promotes travel and serves as a resource guide for individuals with visual impairment. She received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Washington in 1991 and was on faculty as a Clinical Associate Professor with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington until December 2015.
DR. WANDA DIAZ-MERCED
Dr. Wanda Diaz-Merced, who holds a multidisciplinary Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, has devoted her career to studying the use of sound as a perceptual tool, while analyzing diversity of astrophysics data sets. As a blind physicist, Diaz-Merced conducted research on using multimodal perception and behavioral psychology to influence the analysis of ambiguous astrophysics data. Diaz-Merced is the co-chair of the National Society of Black Physicists Multimodal Accessible project and the American Astronomical Society Working Group on Disability and Accessibility. She holds a post-doctoral position at the Office of Astronomy for Development in South Africa.
CHRISTOPHER DOWNEY, RA
An architect, planner and consultant living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Chris Downey is dedicated to creating more helpful and enriching environments for the blind and visually impaired. Whether working as a planning and programming team member or as a client representative, he draws on his unique perspective as a seasoned architect. His 20-year career has encompassed a broad range of award-winning projects, from custom residences to the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, MN, and MIT's Rotch Architectural Library. Chris joined the LightHouse Board in 2009.
After visiting the New York Public Library's Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library in the 1990s, Fleet, now a resident of New York City, returned to the library nearly twenty years later to launch a free computer support clinic. In 2014, she joined the library staff, and the core tech education program now serves 50 to 55 patrons for about 130 hours a month of one-on-one coaching by staff and volunteers, five to six days a week. She is currently at work "jump-starting the conversation around tactile literacy" and spatial learning at the library with Dimensions, an initiative for patrons to create and use accessible graphics with a 3-D printer, tactile graphics embosser, and tactile graphic software.
John Heilbrunn, from Denmark, has held countless positions over the years in the field of accessibility. After receiving a degree in electro-acoustics from NYU, he went on to earn his law degree from the University of Copenhagen. Heilbrunn has since worked in various positions in the Danish government, including the Director of Labour Inspection Services and the Director of Social Affairs; he has also served as a liaison between the European Blind Union and the EU. He is currently the Vice-President of the Danish Association of the Blind. Heilbrunn is an impassioned and frequent traveler - he has visited nearly three dozen countries in Asia and Africa alone! At home in Denmark, he has also established a professional recording studio - Mox Studio - and is an active musician, having released several LPs and CD with the Danish band Kester.
Dr. Joshua Miele is an alumnus of the University of California at Berkeley, where he received his BA in Physics and his Ph.D. in Psychoacoustics. He is currently a Research Scientist at The Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute's Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center in San Francisco, where he has made major contributions to tactile map technology, auditory/haptic display research, audio/tactile graphics techniques and Braille technologies. In addition to his current position on the LightHouse Board of Directors, he has also been a member of the City of Berkeley's Commission on Disability and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's Elderly and Disabled Advisory Committee. He lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife and two young children.
DR. BRIAN MILLER
Dr. Miller was born in Michigan, where he lived until the age of ten when his family moved to San Diego, California. He obtained a bachelor's in political science, and a master's in international relations and comparative governments from San Diego State University. He earned his doctorate in history from the University of Iowa, with a focus on disability rights movements, and Latin American history. He enjoys giving lectures on, among other subjects, the history of exploration. Dr. Miller currently works for the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in Washington D.C. Miller frequently travels internationally, having visited more than 65 countries on six continents.
DR. MONA MINKARA
Dr. Mona Minkara is a computational chemist working in the Siepmann Group at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She completed her undergraduate studies at Wellesley College, earning a dual degree in Chemistry and Middle Eastern Studies, and completed her Ph.D in chemistry at the University of Florida in 2015. For her dissertation, she performed an atomic-level molecular dynamics simulation study of the protein Helicobacter pylori urease. Her work contributed toward the goal of designing a novel drug to treat H. pylori, a gastrointestinal bacteria that infects two-thirds of the world’s population with no existing cure. Dr. Minkara focuses her studies on surface tension and surfactants which have numerous applications related to drug delivery, fragrances, coal mining, and the removal of toxins from water sources. Dr. Minkara has furthermore worked extensively with the non-profit Empowerment Through Integration, providing a robust science-based education for blind and low-vision students in Lebanon and Nicaragua.
An accomplished author, Roberts' acclaimed work, about the intrepid blind traveler (and namesake of this prize) James Holman, "A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler," was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award, long-listed for the international Guardian First Book Award, and named a Best Book of the Year by the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle and Kirkus Reviews. Born in Southern California, Roberts earned his high school diploma at fourteen, then took a five-year hiatus from education. He worked as a day laborer, dishwasher and late-night disc jockey before matriculating at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He lives in Sausalito, California, with his wife, a chemical engineer, and their two young children.
DR. SHARON ZELL SACKS
Dr. Sharon Sacks, Ph.D is the Superintendent at the California School for the Blind. Prior to her appointment she was the Director of Curriculum, Assessment, & Staff Development. Sharon was a full professor and the coordinator of the teacher preparation program in blindness & visual impairment at California State University, Los Angeles, Also, she coordinated the teacher preparation program for students with moderate to severe disabilities at San Jose State University. Sharon has published widely and presented nationally and internationally in the areas of social skills instruction, psycho-social implications of visual impairments, and transition from school to adult life. She was the President of AERBVI, and has served on numerous boards.
DR. ZACHARY SHORE
A historian of international conflict, Dr. Shore is the author of five books, including "A Sense of the Enemy." Shore is Associate Professor of History at the Naval Postgraduate School and Senior Fellow at the Institute of European Studies, University of California, Berkeley. He earned his doctorate in modern history at Oxford, performed postdoctoral research at Harvard, and held a fellowship at Stanford's Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.
DEBBIE STEIN, MSW
After earning a Masters of Social Work from Smith College, Debbie Stein took a job in community mental health on New York City's Lower East Side. Later she traveled to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, during which time she published her first young-adult novel, Belonging. While living in Mexico, Stein also helped found the Centro de Crecimiento, a school for children with disabilities. Upon returning to the US, Stein continued with her writing career, writing fiction and nonfiction for young-adult readers. Stein recently edited "Crooked Paths Made Straight," the autobiography of Isabelle Grant, the blind California teacher who in the 1950s became a world-circling blindness ambassador. Stein lives in Chicago with her husband, children's author R. Conrad (Dick) Stein, and is an active member of the National Federation of the Blind
DR. SHERI WELLS-JENSEN
Dr. Sheri Wells-Jensen is an associate professor in the Department of English at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Her research interests include xenolinguistics, phonetics, braille, language preservation, TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages), language creation, and disability studies. She has even lectured at SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) about the notion of communicating with extraterrestrials who may not have vision. Dr. Wells-Jensen also coordinates BGSU's graduate certificate in TESOL and teaches courses in general linguistics, applied phonology and applied syntax. She is a founding member of the Grande Royale Ukulelists of the Black Swamp and coordinates ESOL classes in Bowling Green.
A proud father of four, Gary Wunder serves as the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri, and the editor of the Braille Monitor, the flagship publication of the National Federation of the Blind. The first five years of his public education were conducted in the public schools of Kansas City, Missouri. He attended both the University of Missouri at Columbia and Central Missouri State University, taking a degree from the latter institution in electronics technology.