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Janet Shields
Midlothian, Virginia

August 26, 2009

Dear President Obama:

When I was asked how Braille has influenced my life, a rush of many different ideas came immediately to mind. Here is the story of a person that is very close to my heart.

My daughter Jennifer, a high school student in the Commonwealth of Virginia, has been a Braille reader since the age of three. She is an honors student at Clover Hill High School and is a straight-A student. I believe without a shadow of a doubt that Jennifer has been so successful because of her early introduction to Braille. She has used Braille as her primary method of reading and writing her entire life. In short, Braille is literacy for the blind.

Although there have been many struggles for equal treatment within the public school system, Jennifer has forged ahead and been steady and strong in her quest to be just like her peers. Reading is a fundamental right that many folks take for granted. Listening to a book is not literacy, and having Braille as a means to read everything has been the key to Jennifer's success. With a Braille display for her computer and a Braille notetaker, she is ready for anything that is tossed her way in all of her classes and has performed extremely well. These successes are not just in her academic life but in her social life as well. She has always been an avid reader and has been reading above her grade level since she began to read books about Tim and Pam in preschool.

As the last few Harry Potter books jumped off the shelves, Jennifer was able to read her Braille copy that arrived the same day that her sighted peers received their books. She was able to preorder her books online, and they were waiting on our doorstep the first day they were officially for sale. This reflects how far we have come, but we still have much work to do.

Her appreciation of Braille does not stop with reading. She is also a talented writer and poet. Some day she aspires to develop a career using her talents by becoming an editor or writer. She was recently recognized by the Richmond Area Reading Council for her poem "The Chestnut Tree."

I could continue raving about my daughter's talents and accomplishments, but the fact of the matter is simple. Because of her early introduction to Braille and her constant quest to be just like her peers, Jennifer has benefited greatly from the use of Braille in her life. Recently Jennifer was chosen as a finalist to travel to California to compete in a national Braille contest--the National Braille Challenge. She scored in the top third of her age category. This demonstrates that, if children are given the opportunity to succeed, they will do just that.

Thank you for your attention and for giving me the chance for you to take a small glimpse into our lives and learn the way Braille has made a tremendous difference to our special someone.

Janet Shields