Newsletter of the SILICON VALLEY COUNCIL OF THE BLIND A Chapter of the California Council of the Blind

April 2019


EDITOR: Susan Glass,

COPY EDITOR: Beverly Clifford,

ADDRESS: P.O. Box 493, Mountain View, CA 94042

DEADLINE: for the May, 2019 issue: noon, April ;;


VOLUNTEERS: Naomi Grubb,


MEMBERSHIP: Mike Keithley,


LEGISLATION: Mike Keithley,


PHONE: 888-652-5333




Legislative Hotlines, current issues for blind persons:

CALIFORNIA CONNECTION: 800-221-6359, after 5 PM and weekends

WASHINGTON CONNECTION: 800-424-8666, 3-9 PM and weekends


DISCLAIMER: This publication contains announcements from the Silicon Valley Council of the Blind and is also a forum for opinions relating to blindness issues. Signed articles reflect the views, and research, of their authors.


STATUS: SVCB is a 501(c)3 non-profit, tax-exempt organization under the California Council of the Blind.


CHANGES OF ADDRESS: Contact Mike Keithley,


Monthly meetings are held at the Peninsula Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired (Vista Center San Jose) at 101 N. Bascom Avenue in San Jose. Meetings run 9:30 AM to 1 PM the third Saturday of the month and are open to all.





* President's Message

* Membership Corner

* Santa Clara Valley's Best Kept Braille Literacy Secret

* Fund-Raising Report

* ACB's Legislative Imperatives

* ACB Mid-year Leadership Review

* A Call To Writers

* Event Calendar




by Susan Glass


I'll begin this column with a correction of a misstatement in last month's newsletter. We inadvertently wrote that Lisa Quan's title at the Vista San Jose Office is Vice Office Manager. She is, in fact, Office Manager, with all the responsibility and authority that the title accords. I'm sorry, Lisa, for this error.


There's much to read in this current issue of In Touch. Mike Keithley gives us a sneak peak at a new CCB writers group that will debut in May, and he's encouraging us to join it. He's also written an article summarizing the 3 ACB legislative imperatives that were addressed at this February's Capitol Day in Washington DC. Aaron Espinoza, the gentleman from Bakersfield who we sponsored to attend ACB's Leadership seminar, wrote a summary of the mid-year meetings which is also included here. Yours Truly has contributed an article about the Santa Clara County Braille Transcription Project, Inc., as well as its distinctive library. And of course you'll want to read Michelle McGrew's Fund-Raising Report, Mike Keithley's Membership Corner column, and the monthly Event Calendar. So read this on a sunny day with a glass of lemonade or iced tea in hand. But don't spill it in your braille display.




by Mike Keithley


The End of An Era!


On March 29, Noel Runyan, CEO of Personal Data Systems, is retiring. The company that Noel and Deb started in the early 1980s will close for good. Gone is the friendly customer service and the willingness to help when needed. And Noel developed the Audaptoer, one of the first widely used speech synthesizers.


But though they're retired, they'll still be around when not on cruises. And we'll see them at meetings and picnics.


Let's wish happy April birthdays to Anna Bolino, John McNulty, and Dawn Wilcox.


Last month our program featured Evelyn Comstock from the Braille Project Inc., which is hosted at the Blind Center. It's been there since the mid 60s, and there was a time when a very good library of braille books was maintained there. I remember it in the mid 70s, and took home any books I had a fancy to read.


You can hear the program at


Last month I promised that the spring SVCB membership list would be distributed. More people joined SVCB, so it was decided that the membership list will be included in this issue.


SVCB's Alice Turner is co-chair of CCB's Governmental Affairs Committee, and at our upcoming meeting she will tell us about a new legislative initiative for contacting our local legislators. I will also be discussing the ACB legislative imperatives, and I preview them for you in this newsletter.



by Susan Glass


Any blind, braille-reading child or adult who lived in Santa Clara County between 1956 and 1990 would likely have spent time at the braille library housed in San Jose's Santa Clara Valley Blind Center, now Vista Center San Jose. This library was the natural offspring of the Santa Clara County Braille Transcription Project Inc., hereafter referred to as the Braille Project. On Saturday, March 21, attendees of the SVCB general membership meeting were privileged to hear from Evelyn Comstock and Dan Warton, both of whom are currently active in the Braille Project, as well as deeply and personally involved in its history. Their talk inspired us all, so I thought I'd share some of its highlights in our newsletter. I'd also like to beg your indulgence by writing parts of this article in the first person. The Braille Transcription Project and accompanying braille library were integral to shaping my lifelong passion for reading, and my later career as a writer and teacher. It feels awkward to write about these experiences from any point of view other than first person.


The Braille Transcription Project was founded in 1956 by Sylvia Cassell, an active PTA president, when Santa Clara County's superintendent of schools asked her to start a program to enable blind students to receive academic materials in braille so they could attend their local public schools. Sylvia was a sighted person. Initially, she and the other transcribers who worked with her learned to read and write braille using a slate and stylus. It was several years before they had access to Perkins Braillers and computers. By 1970, the Braille Project boasted 50 sighted volunteers who first learned to read and write braille themselves, and then became certified transcribers. In 1988, the Braille Project incorporated as a nonprofit. Today, its transcribers produce textbooks, worksheets, and all manner of materials for blind children attending school all over the country. This service is completely free. But students aren't the only beneficiaries. For minimal costs, the project also transcribes bus schedules, restaurant menus, conference agendas, LSAT practice tests, prayers, greeting cards, calendars, a Yamaha keyboard manual, a guide and agenda for a labor union, recipes, and all manner of pleasure reading including the most recent Harry Potter books.


This is an impressive list, and it became even more so as SVCB members shared how the work of the Braille Project has shaped their professional and personal lives. John Glass told about how, upon graduating from college, he was hired as Customer Service Manager for Advanced Computer Controls, a company that manufactured and sold ham radio products. Each product had its own print manual. When working with customers, John often needed to provide them with the exact page and paragraph in a manual where product features and instructions could be found. It was not possible to emboss these manuals, so over a period of 18 months, transcribers at the Braille Project hand-brailled hard copy braille manuals for 6 different products. This amounted to some 25 to 30 volumes of braille. Having braille hard copies of the manuals enabled John to work efficiently with his customers for the 8-year duration of his employment at Advanced Computer Controls.


I credit the Braille Project and braille library for providing me with some of my first volunteer work experience. The library was unique in having a braille card catalog that allowed patrons to find their books independently, just like sighted library patrons. (Remember the Dewey Decimal System days?) The sighted transcribers had prepared this braille catalog. Each book also contained a braille mini book summary comparable to what you'd find on a book jacket. When I was in high school, my mother and I spent many a Saturday afternoon and summer day working together in the library. My mother would update the print card catalog lists and records of which books had been checked out, were overdue, or had been returned. I, meanwhile, would reshelve books that had just come back to the library, as well as reorganize books on their shelves that some happy, distracted patron had improperly replaced. I could do this because the shelves, as well as the card catalog, had been labeled in braille. I also brailled many of the library's book summaries, especially for children's books, and for books in the adult collection that I'd read and knew well. Often it was just the two of us working there, inhaling the smells of braille paper and wooden shelves and, if the windows were open, the smell of baking falafel from the restaurant down the street. Perhaps we couldn't actually smell it, but because we often stopped for lunch there on our way home, the fragrance believes that it belongs in the library with us, so there it stays.


Our guest speakers, Evelyn Comstock and Dan Warton, offered their own inspiring testimonies. Dan's wife was a nurse who lost her sight in the middle of her adult life and career. "She was a brilliant woman," Dan said of her, "and I may be exaggerating, but I'm pretty sure she learned braille within about a month and a half of losing her sight." Dan was so inspired by the Braille Transcription Project and the help that it offered his wife, that he now volunteers as a braille writer repairman, a printer repairman, and an overall mechanical fix-it man. He also serves on the Braille Transcription Project Board.


A former public librarian, Evelyn Comstock took her first braille class in 1960. Her teachers were Sylvia Cassell and Ben Sonamatsu. For a time, she worked as a transcriber for North Ranch in Los Altos, but ultimately returned to the Braille Project where she's now been transcribing for 25 years.


Today the project has only 12 volunteers, and welcomes any assistance that SVCB members can provide. One reason for the low number of volunteers is that since braille teacher extraordinare Lynette Kersey moved to Oregon, there's been no person available to teach braille classes. I, Susan Glass, have volunteered to begin teaching the classes on Thursdays to any interested sighted person. Lynette will supply me with the appropriate curriculum. Vic Clifford has also volunteered to help scan in books for them using The Braille Project's own Braille 2000 software, and he has just completed basic scanning of his first book for them. They will do the fine braille formatting themselves. Additionally, the project welcomes volunteers willing to box and mail books, run errands, and perform other on-site tasks which change from day to day but are always present. So SVCB members can help by telling our friends and communities about the Braille Project, and certainly our Braille Literacy Committee can share information about it when we begin our readings at local public libraries. We can also list its new publications in our newsletter as they become available. One outcome of the day's program was that we donated $100 to continue the project's excellent work.




by Michelle McGrew


Save the dates and spread the word! Please join us at our next fund-raising event at Marie Callender's (751 East El Camino Real, Sunnyvale, CA 94087) any time Monday, April 22 through Tuesday, April 23, 2019 (11 AM-8 PM) for a meal, dessert or snack, or even to purchase a pie to take home! Please call 408-245-3710 to make reservations if you have a party of 6 or more. Present one of our fund-raising event flyers to your server, and Marie Callender's will donate 20% of each purchase (excluding alcohol, tax, and tip) to SVCB's technology grant program! We'll have the required flyer at the April meeting and on our website at for you to download and print. (Note: Marie Callender's will not have extra copies, and we will not receive credit for your purchases if your party does not have a flyer.)


Thanks to all who got tickets for our 50/50 raffle at our March meeting! We sold $105 in tickets, so SVCB and our winner each received $52.50. Congratulations to our lucky winner, Rob Turner!


At our April meeting, we will have a raffle featuring donated items. Our theme will be springtime! Stay tuned to the Phone Tree to learn what prizes you could win. Tickets are $1 each or $5 for six.


Our March Cookies of the Month fund-raiser, benefiting our tech grant, featured Biscochos baked by Mary Castellano's great-niece Ally. The recipe for these cookies was featured in the "Snack Shack" column of our May, 2017 newsletter. We sold 26 bags of cookies at our meeting, and another 24 bags on the following Wednesday at the Blind Center, and we expect to sell more before the end of March. Also, after I wrote last month's report, we sold an additional 24 bags of February's cookies at the Blind Center. Thanks to all of our supporters! Altogether since my last report, we raised another $74!


For April, Suzanne Smith will be baking M&M cookies. Each bag of cookies will sell for $1.


Looking for a great Easter gift? Meltaways from Bakers Candies come in four-ounce bags containing about 13 individually-wrapped chocolates, and sell for $4 per bag. I currently have the following flavors available: five kinds of dark chocolate (plain, mint, orange, cherry, and sea salt caramel), six kinds of milk chocolate (plain, mint, peanut butter, raspberry, coconut, and mocha), and milk chocolate wrapped caramel. (Sorry, we're sold out of the assorted.)


We continue to sell candy bars from our new vendor! Made by Van Wyk Confections, these peanut-free, 1.5-ounce bars are slightly larger than the World's Finest bars that we've been selling. We have four kinds of milk chocolate: with roasted almonds, creamy caramel, crispy rice, and plain. We still receive a limited amount of dark chocolate, but with almonds rather than plain. To purchase or help sell candy bars, or to order Meltaways, please contact me by calling 888-652-5333 (leave a message to be forwarded to me, or look me up on our Membership List to call me directly), or send email to


Or, choose one of our other options! We're selling bags of nut mix as part of our Easter Sale. These come with either sweetened dried cranberries or with chunks of dark chocolate. You can also purchase Kirkland nut bars (contains a sprinkle of salt and a little chocolate) and bags of Welch's Fruit Snacks (2.2-ounce bags of chewy fruit-flavored candies, in the following flavors: Mixed Fruit, Island Fruit, Apple Orchard Medley, Strawberry, and Berries 'n Cherries). The nut mixes, nut bars, and Welch's Fruit Snacks are all $1 each. To place an order, contact me as listed above.


As you've probably heard by now, I've returned from training with my new guide dog, Janie. She is an amazing dog! We look forward to seeing everyone at our April meeting!




by Mike Keithley


Below are three legislative imperatives for 2019, distributed by ACB at the Legislative Seminar last February.


These imperatives address national issues, not local ones.


Next month I plan to update an article I wrote several years ago concerning finding out who your city, state, and congressional representatives are, and how to contact them.


ACB Legislative Imperatives

Imperative 1: Autonomous Vehicles


We are now at an exciting technological place regarding transportation. The potential for the use of autonomous vehicles for people who are blind is closer than ever. Such vehicles are already being tested in multiple cities. However, it is critical that these cars remain fully accessible, and that individuals who have the most to gain through such technology are not forgotten.


In the last Congress, blindness organizations and the auto industry supported legislation that would establish working groups to focus on accessibility, and prevent discrimination in operating such vehicles based on disability. ACB calls on Congress to move forward with similar legislation that will continue to drive this technology forward.


Imperative 2: Accessible Durable Medical Equipment


Advancements in health technology have resulted in a watershed of durable medical equipment (DME) that monitors vital health activity and conditions such as diabetes, which is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States. However, a failure by the DME industry to make devices accessible has raised serious health concerns by those living with such conditions who are blind and visually impaired. For instance, devices such as glucometers have notoriously been a challenge for diabetics who are blind. This can all change through the development of accessible DME interfaces, like smartphone apps and other devices capable of using nanotechnology that can incorporate simple accessibility solutions. Congress can play a role in ensuring that such technology adheres to the latest software technology standards, such as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) provide assurances that accessible DME devices make their ways into the hands of individuals who are blind and visually impaired.


Imperative 3: Low Vision Aid Exclusion


In November of 2008, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) promulgated a regulation that has had a detrimental impact on the lives of countless individuals who are blind or visually impaired. The Durable Medical Equipment, Prosthetics, Orthotics, and Supplies (DMEPOS) Competitive Acquisition Rule contains a provision entitled "Low Vision Aid Exclusion" which states that all devices, "irrespective of their size, form, or technological features that use one or more lens to aid vision or provide magnification of images for impaired vision" are excluded from Medicare coverage based on the statutory "eyeglass" exclusion. ACB is well aware that this extremely restrictive reading of the "eyeglass" exclusion has resulted in the denial of vital assistive devices for seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries who may have disabilities. The expansion of the eyeglass exclusion has prevented access to devices such as handheld magnifiers, video monitors, and other technologies that utilize lenses to enhance vision.




by Aaron Espinoza


Saturday, February 23:

The thing that really stood out to me about the public board meeting was the interim Code of Conduct policy that applies at ACB events. The policy is intended for ACB members, staff members, guests, volunteers, presenters, vendors, exhibitors, contractors, and sponsors. If you attend any ACB event, you are agreeing voluntarily to abide by this code of conduct. Prohibited conduct includes any form of harassment, discrimination, intimidation, and retaliation, regardless if it is verbal or online. Anyone that believes he or she is a victim of the code of conduct violation, or that has witnessed behavior that has violated the code of conduct, is strongly encouraged to report behavior to the ACB executive director on site at the event, or as soon as possible thereafter. Investigations may be conducted by ACB, an independent party, or a combination of both. Violations may result in removal from, or denial of access to, any ACB sponsored future events, meetings, or activities. Any ACB member who is found in violation of this code of conduct policy may also be subject to additional actions from ACB, including suspension or expulsion from the organization.

The policy was passed, but there was a good amount of debate about the language. The main point people brought up was if someone violated the code of conduct, the issue would be put out publicly to the whole ACB to know about it. It was introduced by our own Jeff Thom.

We thanked the hotel for letting us host are Mid-Year meetings there for the past years. Soon the hotel will be torn down to build condos.

An anonymous donor provided ACB with funding to upgrade and update furniture, wall hangings, and other items for the national office. People need to see that the national office is a nice and professional-looking organization.

The new director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs was introduced: he is Clark Rachfal, formerly from National Industry's for the Blind.

The Delta Gamma Foundation donated $10,000. Eric Bridges, Executive Director, said one big project the money has been spent on is redesigning

For the last year, The Audio Description Project has been working on the concept of development of a certification process for audio describers, to identify and develop the skill set for audio description and audio description consultants. ACB will be working with the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals for this project.

The ACB History Committee is digitizing photos and marking them.

ACB members voted in favor of elimination of 14 C certificates, with special safeguards in place that will protect employees currently receiving sub-minimum wage compensation. This goes back to resolution 13 from 2013. Also something that I really liked is that AIRA is giving ACB members free access on Capitol Hill so we can get around if we don't have sighted guides. I am not great at O&M, so this really helped me.


Sunday, February 24

We broke out into two different sessions. The first one was about fund-raising ideas that have worked for your chapter. Some good ideas I took away were MMS, direct mailing, goods swapping, and Dancing with the Stars. The last two made $5,000 and $30,000 in profits for their chapters. We also talked about how to recruit members. One good idea I took away was providing flyers to public bus transit drivers to give to blind and low vision people when they see them on the bus.

Chris Gray (past ACB president) and Jeff Bishop (board member) were on a diabetes panel answering questions from the audience after giving a talk beforehand.

Question: How do I use the Libra glucose monitors?

Answer: There is a series of podcasts called Let's Talk Libra. Episode 3 will describe in detail how to use the sensors. Sensors are what you put in the back of your arm for 11 to 14 days, depending on the model. It's very accessible.

Question: Are we making any progress whatsoever in terms of creating more accessible Insulin Pumps?

Answer: No.

Question: Both groups, ACB and NFB, have a large number of members who have diabetes. Is this something you guys will work together on?

Answer: That would be a great thing to do. I can't predict the future.

Question: Is there a fear of making glucose monitors accessible because of potential lawsuits if a blind person has a bad experience?

Answer: No, they don't fear that. There are already accessible monitors. The managers of the manufacturers of these companies just don't want to go to the trouble. Also, they can't get through the process of the Food and Drug Administration to get their product approved.

Dan Fry from AIRA talked to us about their service.

Zoom was demonstrated to us.

Someone from the FCC answered questions from the audience.

Question: You can get a video-described program podcast on one day, but when you try to watch the same video using On Demand later on, it does not have audio description. Why is that?

Answer: I don't have the answer to that. The audio track is there for them to include it in the On Demand video.

Question: Are there any DVR boxes that are accessible?

Answer: Broadly, yes. Whether or not that DVR box will work with whatever system you are running is a whole different question.


Monday, February 25:

This was the day that we prepared for our Tuesday Capitol Hill visits to legislators by reviewing the issues.



A Call To Writers!

by Mike Keithley


Yes, we're talking to you!  You haven't written anything since that high school history term paper? You don't think you can write more than a shopping list? You like reading, but never thought about writing? Well, the New Writer's Group is for you!


What do you want the world to know? Think about it, and keep this date open: May 1, 2019, 7:30 PM PDT. Details to follow.



EVENT CALENDAR: April through May, 2019

Compiled by Mike Keithley




Tabard Theatre shows: To order tickets, call the Tabard box office at 408-679-2330 and speak to Marilyn Watts, or visit SVCB members and Blind Center clients should use Discount Code BC27 when ordering. Performances take place at The Tabard THEATRE, 29 North San Pedro Street, San Jose.


Shows described by AudioVision: For all San Francisco productions (Golden Gate and Orpheum Theatres, Tickets are generally on sale four weeks before the production opens. To charge tickets and reserve receivers, call 888-746-1799 (SHN Theaters), or fax your order to 415-581-2121 and ask for AudioVision tickets. If you have any questions, please email


The monthly "Let's Talk Low Vision" conferences from CCLVI can be accessed as podcasts at


Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors: Departs every Sunday at noon from Pier 40 in San Francisco. Call 415-281-0212 for information and reservations, or visit


Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program (BORP): BORP believes that everyone should have access to the unique challenges that outdoor recreation provides, and makes every effort to accommodate each person's needs, including providing transportation and volunteer support. For event listings, call Lori Gray at 510-843-4398, or visit




Apr 4, 7 to 9 PM: SVCB Board meeting, call-in 800-662-6992 with ID code 1184109. If you're not on the Board but wish to attend this meeting, please contact President Susan Glass.


Apr 5-28: QUEEN OF THE MIST, Tabard Theatre, see notes.


Thurs Apr 11 to Sun Apr 14: 60th California Transcribers and Educators for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CTEbVI) conference at the San Francisco Airport Marriott in Burlingame, CA.


Apr 16, 5:30 to 7 PM: Let's Talk Low Vision, Comparison of AIRA versus Be My Eyes, 712-432-3447 with ID code 145330.


Apr 20, 9:30 AM to 1 PM: Monthly meeting.


Apr 26, noon: SVCB newsletter deadline.


Apr 26 and 27 at 8 PM and 28 at 2 PM: HERSHEY FELDER: A PARIS LOVE STORY, descriptions by The Visual Voice, TheatreWorks, MVCPA.


Apr 28, 2 PM: HAMILTON, descriptions by AudioVision, see notes.


May: Healthy Vision Month.


May 2, 5:30 to 7 PM: SVCB Board meeting.


May 7, 5:30 to 7 PM: Breast Cancer Support Group, call-in: 605-715-4920; ID: 2776167. For questions, call Lori Scharff at 516-887-1336, or


may 18, 9:30 AM to 1 PM: SVCB membership meeting. Elect delegates for CCB Conference and Convention.


May 21, 5:30 to 7 PM: Let's Talk Low Vision, Curious About Convention.


May 24, noon: June SVCB newsletter deadline.