East Bay center for the blind closes its doors for good

- An East Bay non-profit that serves the visually impaired closed its doors on Wednesday, but said efforts are underway to transition clients and some staff to another organization.

The Lions Center for the Blind was founded in Oakland in 1942. Today it provides one-on-one services to about 500 people and reaches about 3,000, but a lack of funding forced the organization to close.

Director of Services Caleb van Docto said state reimbursement rates for services from California’s Department of Rehabilitation have not changed in 20 years.

“The same costs we were receiving for providing services in 1996, we’re still receiving those same costs,” he said.

He also said there were high costs to employ Master’s certified level staff and to keep up with rent.

It means the center will no longer be able to provide employment services, braille training, or independent living skills.

“I’ve always considered myself a low techie and they were just fantastic in teaching an old person who has not used many of those things before,” Debby Leung, a volunteer, said.

Liz Raymer also received tech training on the center’s last day. She became legally blind a few years ago.

“It’s just been so important as I get more blind to get services I need to keep my computer skills up,” she said.

But van Docto said despite closed doors, work is underway to ensure a smooth transition will take place for clients and some staff.

“We’re closing to move programs and staff to another organization that can continue much of our work,” he added.

The Lions Center for the Blind is expected to announce next week who they are working with. The details are still being finalized, but KTVU has learned it is a non-profit disability organization that has been based in the East Bay for decades.

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