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August 28, 2009
Dear President Obama:
Thank you for your outstanding leadership and commitment to achieving equality for all citizens. Today our nation faces a crisis for blind children and adults. Fewer than 10 percent of blind children today learn to read and write Braille. A shortage in teachers of the blind and misconceptions about the need to learn Braille contribute to the high rate of illiteracy among blind people. Approximately 70 percent of blind adults are unemployed or underemployed. Poor literacy skills are clearly a primary reason for this unacceptably high rate.
I have a degenerative eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa. Although I was diagnosed in my early teens and educators knew that my vision would progressively deteriorate, I was not taught Braille in high school. I struggled to keep up with my schoolwork as print became increasingly difficult to read. As a result, reading was not an activity that I enjoyed; it became a dreaded chore. My grades and self-confidence were negatively affected as my vision worsened.
After high school graduation I enrolled at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, the best training facility in the country for blind people. I was introduced to Braille for the first time, and I began to learn to read and write again. Fortunately I had an outstanding instructor who motivated and challenged me. As a result I now have the ability to use Braille in my daily life. I am no longer illiterate. If I had learned Braille in high school, however, my experience in college and beyond would have been vastly different. I would have had more time to develop my skills and increase my reading speed.
President Obama, I know that you are deeply committed to ensuring that all Americans have the opportunity to achieve and excel. Please help us stop the Braille literacy crisis for the nation’s blind. You can make a difference.