The Braille Monitor                                                                              October 2005

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Montana Governor Signs Braille Bill

From the Editor: On May 3, 2005, the Missoulian and other newspapers across Montana reported that the state’s Braille bill was finally law. Here is the text of the Missoulian story:

Schweitzer Signs Law to Give Braille Education a Boost
by Rob Chaney

Kayla Legare's fingers could read what Governor Brian Schweitzer's eyes couldn't see when he signed the Braille version of House Bill 438 into law Monday morning at Hellgate Elementary School. She read the Braille introduction to House Bill 438 during a signing ceremony Monday. The seventeen-year-old Helena student and business owner zipped through the legalese in the bill's introduction as quickly as any lawyer, feeling the bumps on the page just as a sighted person scans the ink on this page. The new law will make it easier for students coming after her to reach the same proficiency in Braille reading through the public school system.

That was good news for Hellgate Elementary fifth-grader Laura Beyer, who was working on Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins in Braille. "They cost a lot of money," Beyer said of Braille books. "You have to make a lot of phone calls or pull a lot of strings to get free books."

The legislation will pay for four new employees at the Montana School for the Deaf and Blind who will help other schools improve their programs for students with visual disabilities. In addition it provides funds for more electronic Braille transcription equipment and access to computerized textbooks and literature that can be reproduced in Braille script. That will be a direct benefit for Beyer and three other students with visual impairments at Hellgate Elementary.

"We've been pursuing a Braille bill for the past three sessions," said Jim Marks, government affairs director for the Montana Association of the Blind. "The third time's the charm."

This year Missoula Representative Rosalie Buzzas and Helena Senator Dave Lewis got the bill through the legislature. Through an oversight the words "blind" and "Braille" never appeared in the federal legislation dictating how people with disabilities should be served in schools until 1997, Marks said.

Until the mid-1970’s most blind children were taught in residential schools. When the trend shifted to mainstreaming, much of the expertise and library resources were lost, he said. "Schools would put a tape recorder in front of a kid and say, `That's good enough,’” Marks said. “Now we're starting to see a major turnaround.”

And tape recorders won't hack it according to Matt Castner, a blind Great Falls resident who created his own Internet business. Learning by listening is fine for subjects like history and literature, but there are limitations. "I'm a visual learner--no pun intended," Castner said. "Some things you need to have in front of you so you can learn to spell it. I'm terrible at remembering numbers in math, but when you have it on paper, you can feel where you're going. You can't do that on a tape recorder rewinding and fast-forwarding."
Legare has her own Braille transcription business, turning restaurant menus and agency documents into pages blind people can read. She said finding reading materials for the blind has long been a problem. "A lot of people just don't want to spend the time or money," Legare said. "We're trying to get people to realize we're as important as they are.”

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