PHOTO/CAPTION: Governor Symington signs the Arizona Braille bill, and Lindsey McHugh smiles in appreciation while other members of the NFB of Arizona look on.
by Bruce A. Gardner
From the Editor: Bruce Gardner is the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona.
I am both pleased and proud to announce to the world that Arizona has joined the ranks of the now twenty-nine states which can boast the existence of a strong, comprehensive Braille Bill. We have even added a little twist which, as far as I know, has not been adopted in any other state.
During the past few years the NFB of Arizona has been able to gain increasing support in the state legislature through legislative luncheons and other personal contacts. Our hard work has now clearly paid off; but even so, the ease with which we moved through the legislature is nothing short of astonishing.
The bill itself is based upon the national model, which has enjoyed the support not only of the NFB but also of the other major organizations both of and for the blind. Our work in drafting the Arizona bill was also a joint effort. The NFB of Arizona worked with the Arizona Governor's Council on Blindness and its member organizations. The task force which drafted the bill was chaired by Dr. Jane Erin, head of the University of Arizona's master's program for teachers of the blind.
Our bill (now state law) includes a presumption that each blind student needs Braille; states that, even if only one member of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team wants Braille instruction, then it will be taught; provides that book publishers wishing to sell text books in Arizona must supply a disk from which Braille books can be produced; and requires that the special ed teachers of the blind must pass a national Braille competency test or an Arizona competency test if a national test is not available.
The special Arizona twist is this: While several state Braille laws now require that book publishers supply the state with computer disks, these provisions generally apply only to elementary and secondary schools. Thanks to Dr. Erin (she thought of it, we didn't), our law also requires that publishers selling to community colleges or universities must furnish the disks.
The remarkable legislative progress went like this:
Bill introduced, February 4; heard by House Education Committee on February 12 (passed fourteen to zero); heard by House Rules Committee on February 18 (passed thirteen to zero); full House vote, February 26 (passed fifty-four to zero); heard by Senate Education Committee, March 13 (passed six to zero); heard by Senate Appropriations Committee, March 26 (passed nine to zero); heard by Senate Rules Committee, March 31 (passed six to zero); and passed by the full Senate on April 14 by a vote of thirty to nothing. The Governor signed the bill into law on April 22, 1997.
Special thanks must go to Miss Lindsey McHugh of Tucson. Lindsey is a blind nine-year-old who read Braille for both the Senate Education and Appropriations Committees. A couple of usually gruff senators remarked that they did not think it politically wise to vote against the bill in view of Lindsey's outstanding testimony.
At the signing ceremony Lindsey McHugh read a brief statement to the Governor and the press. She said:
On behalf of the blind of Arizona, we of the NFB thank you, Governor Symington, for having this ceremony and for signing our Braille bill. We are also grateful to Representative Schottel for all of his good work in guiding the bill through the legislature. This Braille bill is the first step in improving education and training for the blind in Arizona. Next, we have to fix rehabilitation training programs for blind adults.
We of the NFB of Arizona still have a lot of educating to do to convince parents that partially blind kids will be much more literate adults if they learn Braille when they are young. But this new law will bring true literacy for our blind children one big step closer.