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Rosy Carranza
Baltimore, Maryland

August 29, 2009

Dear President Obama:

I grew up as the only blind person in a large Mexican family in central California. My parents migrated to the United States in the early 1970s in pursuit of the American dream. Upon their arrival they obtained employment working in the hot fields of the San Joaquin Valley picking grapes and other fruits. Earning less than $2 an hour, they worked tirelessly to give me the opportunities they had lacked in their own lives.

Aside from coping with the demands of being in a new country, my parents also struggled to find solutions to my failing vision. Possessing less than a sixth grade education and not knowing how to speak English left my parents feeling inadequate and intimidated; consequently, they entrusted my ophthalmologists and my special educators to make decisions that would help me thrive.

I navigated through the educational system led by the conventional approaches used to educate blind students at the time. Since I had some residual vision, I was not taught Braille. Instead I was armed with thick glasses, powerful magnifiers, and heavy large-print books. Even with the help of these things, I still had trouble seeing, and eventually my love for reading dwindled. With the loss of my literacy skills came many other losses--the loss of my self-confidence, the loss of my academic progress, and the loss of my dreams for the future. Yet most painful was the awareness that all of the sacrifices that my parents had made would be in vain; without being able to read, I would end up with the same limited opportunities that they had experienced in their own lives.

I graduated from high school unable to see well enough to read my own diploma. Depressed and uncertain of the future, I signed up to attend a boot camp for the blind. This program transformed my outlook on blindness and taught me Braille and other critical blindness skills—skills that I should have learned much sooner. Instead my school years were defined by the sleepless nights I spent crying about my vision loss, by the embarrassing moments I spent feeling inadequate because I could not read aloud when the teacher called on me, and by the looming feeling that I would always be a tremendous burden to my family and society.

Just as my parents had faced their fears to make a better future for themselves and for me, I too feel the same responsibility to change the future for blind children. It has been twelve years since I graduated from high school, and blind students today are still taught using the same failed approaches that were used to educate me. Through my work with the National Federation of the Blind I have met countless blind children, and I have witnessed their immeasurable potential fall through the cracks of the educational system and society. These students are smart, motivated, and ready to serve their communities; however, they are not being taught the literacy skills they need to contribute fully to the world. Essentially blind students are not emerging from school as products of their own abilities; instead, they are emerging as examples of the deficiencies in the systems that educate them.

President Obama, we need your help in creating a new educational avenue for blind students. We need a system that does not prepare blind students for a life of inequality. Instead we need a system that can help propel these students into first-class roles of productivity. In looking at my life and at the lives of my immigrant parents, I can see the amazing opportunities that our country has to offer. I sincerely hope that we can work to make sure that blind children have an opportunity to live the American dream.

Rosy Carranza