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Advocates for Stockton's blind protest for change at community center

The Stockton Blind Alliance says Community Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired has a "toxic environment" and few programs since the pandemic.

STOCKTON, Calif. — Carrying signs reading "Listen to the Blind" and "Defund CCBVI," a small group of advocates for the blind protested on the sidewalk in North Stockton.

The group with megaphones stationed themselves in front of the Community Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CCBVI) on Grand Canal Blvd.

"We are out here for a change in leadership and a change in the toxic environment here at the center. We want this executive director gone. We want, at a minimum, the board president gone," said Jennifer Gass.

Gass has been blind since she was 18.

From 2009-2017, she says she worked for the center for eight years as activities director and also did marketing and outreach.

"We want inclusion of the blind in every level of this organization for our input to be heard instead of being shut down all the time and ignored," Gass added.

Bob Cole has been blind since birth and is a single father of two. He says he got his first job ever working for the center last October as an assistive technology instructor, but says the stressful environment, including what he believes was a mini-stroke, led him to quit this past March.

"They don't deserve to be treated as miniscule or less than human by a place whose mission is supposed to be to help them," Cole said.

When asked if the center would like to respond to allegations of a "toxic work environment," Executive Director Elsie Hirata said "personnel issues" would not be discussed.

While it's "appointment only" for clients for now, Hirata said social programs curtailed by the pandemic are being "reevaluated" by herself and the center's board of directors.

As a non-profit since 1956, the center has over 100 clients who are taught independent living skills, computer skills, braille along with other services.

The center says it is "dedicated to providing quality instruction to persons who are blind or visually impaired in San Joaquin County."

In a statement given to ABC10, it said in part CCBVI must "successfully pass a rigorous biennial DOR audit to maintain its state certification."

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