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Amber Holladay
Ruston, Louisiana

August 28, 2009

Dear President Obama:

Braille has changed my life. As a sighted child I grew up in a family of seven children, three of whom are blind. My mother is also blind. When I was young, it took me a long time to realize that not all children get to have blind people in their families. Just like any other mother, my mother took care of us when we were sick, taught us that we had better clean our rooms (or else), and read us stories about princesses and villains. She read the Braille on the pages instead of the print, and we learned the joy of literacy.

My three blind siblings were lucky to grow up in an age when disabilities and handicaps can be made into inconveniences instead of lifelong sentences of beggary and degradation. Two of my three siblings were blind, with just some light and color perception. They learned Braille in kindergarten, and they continued to learn and grow in their literacy skills at the same rate as the other children in their grades.

My third blind sibling was unlucky--he was only legally blind. He had enough vision to read print. In kindergarten he learned to read and write print at the same pace as his classmates. His teachers saw his progress and were glad that they had made the decision to allow him to be a normal child. As he progressed in school, the print became smaller and reading became more difficult. His grades dropped drastically. He no longer felt normal. Although my brother obtained training in Braille in his early twenties, he is still struggling to finish college, find a job, and fulfill his dreams. My other two blind siblings both have full-time jobs. One has a master’s degree and teaches in Hawaii. The other decided to forgo college and travelled all over the world to France, Canada, and Australia before settling down.

This is how Braille changed my life. I refuse to stand by idly and watch while children are denied the right to learn to read and write in a format that will benefit them throughout their entire lives. I refuse to allow children to be told they are not normal if they cannot read print. And I refuse to let illiteracy become an obstacle for anyone who is working hard to achieve his or her dreams.

In six months I will finish the master’s degree courses so that I can teach Braille to blind children in public schools. If I can teach one child that literacy is normal, regardless of how it is achieved, I will feel that I have made a difference. If just one child learns to read because of my efforts, I will consider myself successful.

Braille changed my life. It has the power to change the lives of blind children everywhere if they are given the chance to learn it. A blind child who aspires to become a ballerina, join the circus, or grow up to be the first blind president of the United States will need to know how to read. In these enlightened times children cannot be allowed to grow up to be illiterate.

Amber Holladay