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Barbara Hadnott
Jackson, Mississippi

August 24, 2009

Dear President Obama:

Being independent has always been important to me. When I was a child, this meant competing with the kids in my neighborhood and with those attending the Mississippi School for the Blind. In college it meant being recognized as an honor student and being able to participate equally in extracurricular activities along with my peers. As an adult, and this was the biggy, it meant securing a professional job and owning my own home. I truly wanted my independent status to be an example to other blind people, especially my older and younger sisters. Knowing Braille has been one of the most essential skills resulting in my achieving these goals.

In life the small things are what we sometimes take for granted. One of those things is a window. This has been something that has always fascinated me. Whether the window had a screen on it or not, I could still see out of it. Even with limited eyesight I could see that a lot was out there.

The point is that, not only is a window a porthole or glass casement, it is an opening, a chance, an opportunity. When you look at it this way, I could see through the window clearly.

The first window to get my attention was the Braille book. I was five years old when I was introduced to the Braille code by way of a Braille primer containing the alphabet. The title of the book was Up the Sound Ladder. Through later reading books I had fun with Dick and Jane and traveled through new streets and roads. It was great. I had access to all of my books throughout elementary and high school thanks to the American Printing House for the Blind (APH). When I was young, I came to know that APH was an important part of my life. For a good long while I thought that APH was the only printing house for the blind in the entire world. Even now, when I hear someone say "Kentucky," I immediately think of 1839 Frankfort Avenue in Louisville, APH’s address.

Another small thing in life is a candle. A candle gives light so that one may see his or her surroundings. During my college years Braille was the candle that helped me see my way clearly. My Perkins Brailler and Braille paper were the high-tech products that saw me through various difficult situations. This candle provided the light of hope that enabled me to achieve excellence in speech and Spanish. It sparked the flames that kindled the coals of determination and encouraged me to participate with the Jackson State University Choir, the media center, and the campus radio station. I was able to transcribe the choir songs and do all of my media and production projects using Braille. I graduated with honors after maintaining my status as a Dean’s List Scholar for four years.

After college I looked for a job. Braille served as still another small thing for me--a bridge. Moving from the classroom to the workplace was no easy matter. My ability to read and write Braille with speed and accuracy assisted me in bridging the gap between school and work. Proficiency in contracted Braille was the key. Again the Perkins Brailler, pocket notebook, slate and stylus, Braille books and magazines, and a Braille watch were my tools for seeking competitive employment. I was able to gather information, follow job leads, prepare for interviews, write resumés, learn to use the computer, and present myself professionally and confidently.

Upon obtaining a position with the Disability Determination Service, Protection and Advocacy, and Goodwill Industries during my career, the bridge led me to the Addie McBryde Rehabilitation Center for the Blind in Jackson, Mississippi. Now because of Braille I am the candle in the window looking over the bridge that leads the way to independence for other blind people.

As an instructor of advanced communications I am sharing my knowledge and skills in word processing, the Internet, email, notetakers, Braille translation and embossing, and text-to-speech translation. Yet another and final small thing that we take for granted is a cable. Just think about it; a cable transmits, supports, and makes connections to information, resources, and options. The Braille Datebook, Braille Plus, and Dymo Labeler have enhanced my abilities to teach others to become more independent in the world of access technology. Braille literacy has been the number one factor in my being one of the thirty percent among the blind who are employed in the competitive workforce.

Today, when I look at my life, I am truly blessed to know and use Braille. I am living independently in my own home, and I am involved in many activities in my church and community. I am also a leader in the National Federation of the Blind of Mississippi. The window, the candle, the bridge, and the cable all have affected my life in countless challenging and rewarding ways. Yes, Mr. President, Braille literacy is important. Please help us by supporting and advancing our campaign.

Barbara Hadnott