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August 27, 2009
Dear President Obama:
Before I started school, my parents and grandparents spent countless hours reading aloud to me. They read me all the children's classics: Hans Christian Andersen, The Blue Fairy Book, and Kipling's Just So Stories. I couldn't understand how they unlocked those flat pages to reveal such treasures, but I thought the secret would be unveiled for me when I started school.
To my disappointment the books in my classroom turned out to be nothing like our wonderful books at home. Instead of being flat, the pages of my schoolbooks were sprinkled with dots. As the days passed, however, I learned that words, sentences, and stories were woven into those dot-spangled volumes. As I mastered the Braille code, I gained access to the magical world of reading that I had hungered to enter.
Braille not only gave me the ability to read other people's words, it allowed me to write my own. When I was given my first slate and stylus--the basic tools for writing Braille--I grabbed a blank sheet of paper and wrote my first story. It was about a lost puppy, and it ran less than half a page.
Over the years I continued to read voraciously and to write my own stories. In my mid-twenties I left my job as a social worker in community mental health in order to write full time. My first book, a young-adult novel called Belonging, was published in 1978 by the Dial Press. To date I have written and published more than one hundred fiction and nonfiction titles for young readers. I do all of my writing in Braille, which enables me to review and revise my work independently. I then convert my Braille text into a print version for my editors. Years ago I typed my manuscripts on a standard typewriter. With today's computer technology the conversion process has been vastly reduced to a few simple keystrokes.
For me Braille has opened the way to education and meaningful work. It makes it possible for me to form my ideas into stories which I can send forth into the world. It is a heartache to me that the majority of blind children in the United States today are being denied this essential tool of literacy. With thousands of other members of the National Federation of the Blind, I call upon you to confront the Braille literacy crisis and ensure that the blind children of America will have the power of reading and writing at their fingertips.