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August 25, 2009
Dear President Obama:
While these are among the most perilous times our nation has ever known, they are simultaneously times of unprecedented opportunity for many Americans. It is difficult to fathom, therefore, that an illiteracy rate among blind American children today should be as high as 90 percent, yet that appears to be what we face.
I am both a blind consumer and blindness professional, teaching adults and young people how to travel independently. I use Braille as a matter of course every day, often three to four sources of Braille. I perform devotions using a Braille daily booklet called Our Daily Bread; I read a weekly magazine entitled Syndicated Columnist Weekly in order to keep up with current news and opinions; and I regularly read books in Braille of a professional, religious, or leisurely nature. But this wasn’t always the case.
I have been totally blind now for more than twenty years, having lost my sight from infantile cataracts, detached retinas, and secondary glaucoma. Before that, as a schoolboy, I was able to read print, albeit with difficulty. My education suffered greatly, at least partially as a result. Although I was taught the Braille code as a child, no one insisted that I practice it or use it regularly. I suspect that the same opinions about Braille existed when I was a kid--Braille is simply too slow, complicated, and difficult to teach. In addition to struggling with print, I listened to cassette recordings of my lessons, but this is passive learning and does not result in literacy because of the inaccessibility of spelling and punctuation.
Not until my early twenties was I faced with the real prospect of going through the rest of my life without being able to read and write effectively. I made the decision to buckle down and develop my Braille skills. This was unquestionably the most intelligent decision I ever made. I can attest to the well-founded statistic that, among those of us who are working and engaged in productive life, 90 percent are competent Braille readers. I am proud and grateful to be among this group.
I am therefore naturally passionate about making Braille instruction available to all blind citizens in our country. I earnestly believe that doing so will make a measurable difference in turning recipients of social welfare into productive members of our communities. As a professional I give my talents and skill to this effort in what I do on the job. As an activist I give of my time, resources, and efforts to this end, and I urge your investigation of these facts in order to address this urgent need.
With an appreciation of the dire concerns of our nation, with great faith in your ability to address the needs of our citizens, and with an understanding of the times in which we are living, I honestly, sincerely, and humbly ask your support of the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind and its allies to correct this atrocity.