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August, 27, 2009
Dear President Obama:
I became blind as a toddler due to retinal blastoma, a type of cancer that affects the optic nerve. Understandably my parents were shocked and concerned about the loss of my vision. They believed, however, that my blindness would not prevent me from achieving my dreams. I was blessed to be the youngest of six children, and my siblings ensured that I was treated equally. My parents held high expectations for all of us, and my blindness was not viewed as a limitation but merely as a characteristic.
From an early age my parents instilled in me a love for reading. My mother read to me from infancy and knew that literacy would be a key to my success. Since I could not read print, she and my father realized that learning Braille was essential and began exposing me to it from an early age. I was fortunate to have an outstanding teacher who taught me Braille beginning in preschool. I was expected to use Braille in my regular education classroom alongside my sighted peers, who were using print. My parents and teachers taught me that Braille was as effective and efficient as print. My use of Braille was not viewed as amazing; It was simply seen as a tool. I was expected to read regularly to build my speed and vocabulary.
I have many happy memories as a child of curling up with a good book. Reading popular books in Braille so that I could discuss them with my friends was wonderful. In school I was able to read aloud in class when called upon, and I was able to deliver speeches using Braille notes. Because I loved to read, my spelling, vocabulary, and overall knowledge increased. I was also able to excel in classes in math and science because I could efficiently use Braille. Reading was an outlet--a door to worlds full of adventure.
Today I am the executive director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, a premiere training center for blind children and adults. I use Braille constantly throughout my day to prepare reports, read correspondence, take notes, and administer the agency. I also use a Braille display to access information from my computer. Although technology has been useful to everyone, it does not replace the need to learn Braille. Without the gift of literacy I would not have been able to succeed in college or obtain the job I have today.
Our agency works with countless children and adults who have been denied access to Braille and who are illiterate as a result. The tragedy is immense. The literacy crisis among the nation’s blind is staggering. Can you imagine trying to maintain employment, raise a family, run a household, or participate in social or recreational activities without being able to read or write?
Through my work as treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind, the nation’s largest consumer organization of the blind, I have met thousands of individuals whose lives have been limited because of their inability to read and write. They cannot complete simple tasks at work, write down a grocery list, read notes for a presentation, or read to their children. This travesty cannot continue.
I know that you are a champion of social justice and equality. President Obama, I urge you to help us end this crisis. Blind children and adults deserve the right to be literate.