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August 22, 2009
Dear President Obama:
My Braille story is incremental. I use Braille every day, but I have come to it in stages. When I was first diagnosed, I was instructed in Braille once or twice a week. My teacher came for forty-five minutes three days a week. I was to learn cane travel, Braille, and all of the other adaptive techniques in this short amount of time. My teacher often missed days in the Winter. So I learned to read with one hand rather than two. I performed well in high school, college, and at the University of Chicago Law School. I didn’t use Braille much.
I found a job as an assistant corporation counsel with the City of Chicago Law Department, and I started appearing in court. I was in trouble. I had no way to read in front of the judge. So I gave myself a crash course in Braille. I read every extra moment I had in order to achieve enough competency to read quotations or citations to the judge. I read almost everything from shorthand notes or outlines. I began reading Braille for pleasure with the Harry Potter books. It took me more than a year to get through them.
In 2006 I was elected as the affiliate president of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois, and in 2008 I was elected to the board of directors of the national organization. Now reading outlines and small quotes wasn’t enough. I needed to be able to deliver entire reports and speeches before large audiences. So I gave myself another crash course in reading Braille. I practice my speeches and reports over and over, but I do read them from Braille word for word. I don’t lose special turns of phrase or structure as I would if I were to present ad hoc from an outline.
I can read one hundred or so words a minute. Do I wish I were faster? Yes. Do I wish I had had better instruction at the age of twelve when I first learned Braille? Of course. But none of that means that my Braille is not essential to me every day. I use a BrailleNote. My calendar and case notes are in Braille. I speak all over the country from Braille texts. I continue to present to judges from Braille. Braille is still an essential tool despite my unusual method of mastering it. I cannot imagine actually succeeding in my job without it as one of my tools.