Toward a Brighter Day: Part 2

By Ken Volonte, President, San Joaquin County Chapter

Journal readers will recall that I spoke before the Community Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired board of directors last year. I’m glad to report that things have changed for the better. In fact, I have never been so excited about the prospects of blind people who live in Stockton.

The changes began a little at a time. To appreciate how much things have changed, you need some perspective.

A few months ago, I reluctantly walked into the center in hopes that I might be able to order a new talking calculator. My old Speech Plus had finally given up and died after more than 20 years of service. I didn’t expect much; after all, it wasn’t that long ago that I had tried to buy a ream of Braille paper.

“Who uses Braille any more?” the operations manager wanted to know.

“I use it all the time,” I said. “How can a blind person live independently and not use Braille at least some of the time?”

“Well,” said the manager, “I guess we can spare a few sheets.” I couldn’t believe my ears.

But back to the good news. Recently I walked into the center, and it was abuzz with activity. People were working at tables on their various projects. The Braille instructor was telling a person how to order his own Brailler. “Braille notes are fine, but sometimes you’re just going to need a Brailler,” he said.

I walked into the library where the client caseworker showed me two models of calculators for my inspection. “There are some other ones we can order,” she said. She gave me a brief lesson on each of the little machines. “Which one feels better?” I walked out of the center happy with my choice and just tickled at the shift in attitude.

In April, the San Joaquin County chapter put on its third annual pasta dinner. The employment specialist from the blind center there was having a wonderful time along with everybody else. It felt like family.

In May, members of our chapter were consulted as to staff morale at the center. On June 17, several members again addressed the board of directors as to specific concerns regarding a certain disrespect for blind consumers. I was there for moral support but I didn’t say much because the center hasn’t been a big part of my life.

Center clients spoke for over 25 minutes—and when it was all over, Paul Lamarsh announced that he would be stepping down as board president and taking on the job as interim director of the center from July to October. In addition, the new board president, Colleen Stuart, promised that the job announcement for executive director would be posted on the Employment Development Department database as well as with the Department of Rehabilitation, in the Braille Monitor and the Braille Forum.

Jennifer Ash and David Vigil are the latest members of the blind center’s board. They, and by extension, we, have received an apology for the treatment we have gotten in the past. In July, the San Joaquin County chapter had its first meeting at the Community Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The center is our new meeting place…and the only reason I’m telling you this story is because there are other centers in other towns where blind people have no hope; at least, that’s what they believe.