Stacy Cervenka filmed the pitch at the Sacramento train station last winter.
A 90-second plea for her idea: The Blind Travelers Network.
A Yelp for people who navigate the world with white canes. TripAdvisor for those who know Braille.
An idea the 38-year-old public policy expert needed some help to make happen. One that the Holman Prize, granted by San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, could make come true.
And did this summer.
One of three $25,000 prizes -- named for James Holman, the first blind man to circumnavigate the globe in the 1800s -- is hers.
“The only production value the video had was the train station,” Cervenka said Wednesday. “I did it on one take.”
But she’s thrilled with the win. She’s conducting focus groups now, finding out what other visually impaired or blind vacationers are looking for to assist them in their travels.
She’s found a company to build the network’s website to make it interactive and practical.
“It really needs to be a crowd-sourced site. A place where lots of people go to deposit reviews. If it’s just me posting stuff, it won’t work.”
Not that the well-traveled woman with a bachelor’s degree in French and Italian and a master’s in rehabilitation counseling couldn’t fill a page or two with her own travel tips.
Cervenka grew up adventurous. She traveled often to both North Korea and South Korea while working for then-Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback after college.
Her husband, Greg DeWall, is a Paralympian who has been to Brazil, China, Germany, Turkey and Lithuania competing in judo. (The pair met at a National Federation of the Blind conference in 2008; he was conducting a judo seminar and she was in the class.)
When she applied for the prize, the couple was living in California’s capital and moved to Lincoln a few months later after DeWall took a job at the Nebraska Commission for the Blind.
DeWall lost his sight when he was 18; Cervenka’s slowly left her due to a condition called optic nerve hypoplasia.
They have two sighted kids. Leo, 5, and Josephine, not quite 1.
The couple took a cruise for their honeymoon and ziplined in the rain forest. (Their favorite getaway? Huatulco, Mexico.)
The family has vacationed at Walt Disney World (twice) and at Great Wolf Lodge in California once -- the Kansas City location of the waterpark complex is up next on their list.
They know how to navigate new places by using their orientation and mobility training (using your other senses, problem-solving, mental maps), but the impetus for the website came from bad travel experiences.
The first was a horseback riding lesson DeWall set up outside D.C. while the couple were dating, Cervenka said. The employee refused to let them ride, even though both had ridden horses and had the law on their side.
“It was horrible, it was humiliating, it was a really bad experience. We didn’t want to go and have to educate people; we just wanted to go have a relaxing riding experience.”
She recognized the need for a blind-specific site while they were planning their honeymoon, too, frequenting a site called Cruise Critic.
“We learned a lot about different cruise lines and cruise ships, but we had questions as blind people.”
Questions that sighted travelers didn’t quite get.
“A bus tour wouldn’t be a good way to experience a new country ... but we have no problem climbing stairs or being vigorous.”
The idea for the Blind Travelers Network had been circling in her brain for a while, Cervenka said.
A year before she applied, she learned about the Lighthouse’s Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, an effort to “change perceptions and reclaim ‘the concept of blind ambition,’” according to its website.
But she was in the middle of a difficult pregnancy.
Then came 2018 and another chance.
And she took it.
She stood in the train station with her iPad aimed at her face.
“Like many of the people in this station, our family’s favorite activity is traveling,” she said.
She described her dream for the website, video blogs and forums and answers to questions like: What’s the best way to experience Disney World nonvisually? What’s the best blind-friendly snorkeling company in Jamaica?
A free resource for blind people, she said, and a source of encouragement, too.
“That they can travel, whether it’s across town or around the world.”