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August 27, 2009
Dear President Obama:
My name is Scott LaBarre. I am forty-one years old. I am an attorney with my own law practice. I have a wonderful wife and two small children, ages six and four. We own a home in the Denver suburbs. Our lives are good. If I told you nothing else, you would think that my tale is like that of many professionals living their version of the American dream. My story, however, is different in one major respect. I am blind and have been so since age ten when a virus took my vision in less than a month.
The blind in our nation face an unemployment rate exceeding 70 percent and are among the poorest in our society. My story is much different due in great measure to the fact that, as soon as I returned to school after becoming blind, I learned Braille. Without this critical tool and the literacy and independence it brings, I would not be able to practice law successfully and earn a living for my family.
Quite frankly, I cannot imagine the world for a blind person without Braille. If you cannot see well enough to read print as easily as one with normal vision, no viable substitute for Braille exists. Braille allows you to learn to spell, construct sentences, and access a tool that brings with it the same benefit as paper and pencil. Even though we live in a highly technical age, will we ever tell children to stop learning to write with a pencil or read the printed word with their own eyes? The answer is no. Yet that is exactly the message we send to the blind youth of America, as evidenced by the fact that only 10 percent of blind children are being taught Braille.
Braille is a significant part of my personal and professional life, and I cannot fully describe its total influence in my world. For me I could never appear before a judge and jury without my notes and other documents at my fingertips. I could not memorize the thousands of pages of exhibits or listen to some audio version of them in my ear as I attempt to speak articulately, persuasively, and authoritatively to the court.
On a personal level I treasure nothing more than the time spent with my two young children, Alexander and Emily. Every night before bed I read them a story. Last night we floated down the river with Baloo and Mowgli as I read the Jungle Book. If I didn’t have Braille, I wouldn’t be able to take on this simple task that so many American parents take for granted and that plays a major role in helping my children learn and become literate.
This year we celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of Louis Braille’s birth and the literacy tool he invented. We have commemorated his life and great contribution by causing to be minted the Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar through a Congressional measure that you undoubtedly supported in 2006 when you were a senator. We in the National Federation of the Blind joyously celebrate this Braille anniversary, but we also know that a great deal of work is left to be finished before the blind of America have an equal education and are truly literate. Without the literacy that Braille brings, many opportunities will remain closed to the blind of our nation. President Obama, join us in celebrating this occasion and work with us to bring the American dream to all of us who are blind through Braille literacy.
With warmest regards,