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August 28, 2009
Dear President Obama:
Braille has been a valued friend of mine for nearly six decades. My parents told me at an early age that I was blind, but I knew I could see. I could get around the house, visit the neighbors, recognize large objects, and identify colors. Then came Kindergarten. That’s when I found out how much more the other kids could see than I could. For one thing I could not read even large print without holding it up to my face. Even then I could see just a few letters at a time. I was slow. My nose was stained with ink. I wondered if I could ever learn to read. I desperately wanted to learn. I had blocks at home in the shape of print letters. I could arrange them in alphabetical order, and I had learned to use them to make short words. That was home. School was different. I was disappointed and ashamed.
My predicament did not go unnoticed, and by first grade my parents had enrolled me in a special school for the blind. Thank goodness! I learned a lot there, but Braille was the most important skill taught to me at the school for the blind. I remember being skeptical about Braille at first—convinced that print was normal. By second grade, however, I realized that Braille was miraculous. I could read fast without eye strain, and I became an avid reader. I could read Braille almost everywhere--in any light or without light. Reading was fun; as a bonus, I also learned spelling, punctuation, sentence and paragraph structure, and more that is not easily learned from recorded books.
After the eighth grade I was enrolled in my local public high school, and Braille came with me. In high school I used live readers and recorded books. Braille, however, became more important than ever. It was essential to my progress in mathematics, science, and foreign languages. I also took my notes in Braille in and out of class.
Following high school, I went on to graduate from Harvard with a degree in American history. My dream was to become a lawyer, and I was fortunate to be able to attend law school at Northwestern. Again Braille served me well as my primary notetaking method. For instance, I used Braille to structure my moot court oral arguments.
I’ve successfully practiced law for nearly forty years. I now use computers and other modern technologies—yes, and Braille too. In fact computers and Braille printers now make Braille more available than it has ever been. Preparing Braille outlines for my oral presentations is easier than ever before. I also use Braille to deliver formal speeches. I can easily read my Braille text without ever having to lose eye contact with my audience. Trust me, this can be very effective--maybe even better than a teleprompter.
Braille literacy has helped me and my family live the American dream. That is why it saddens me to know that too many of today’s kids with some residual vision are not taught Braille in school, because they can read bits and pieces of print at slow speeds under ideal conditions. That is not literacy, and it is not acceptable.