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Helen Stevens
Gouldsboro, Pennsylvania

August 28, 2009

Dear President Obama:

My name is Helen Stevens, and I am currently a junior at Harvard, studying abroad in Hamburg, Germany. I have been a Braille reader all my life. As a child I was fortunate to have been taught Braille. I have enough vision to see large print and to be able to see a computer screen with magnification software. My teachers could have decided that this was good enough for me, and they could have left me with only those resources to function in school, which is what happens to most children who can see well enough to make out print of any size. However, my print reading is very slow, because I can see at most a few letters at a time. While my knowledge of the print alphabet is very useful and while I think it is important that I did learn to read and write print, had I tried to use print as my primary means of reading and writing, I could never have excelled at school.

My teachers realized this and chose to teach me Braille, something that is sadly rare. With Braille I can read as quickly as sighted students. I became an avid reader as a child and have gained much from what I’ve read. In school I could participate in class, reading aloud like everyone else and learning to spell words as I felt them on the page. In high school I learned Braille math and science symbols so that I could take calculus and advanced placement physics and chemistry, and I could read well enough to complete the heavy reading loads for advanced English and history courses.

In college I was not afraid to take math classes or a course in computer programming, where my use of Braille aided me in learning the syntax that is essential for producing useful code. Knowing Braille has also greatly aided me in learning foreign languages. I read Braille in German, allowing me to learn German spelling, capitalization, and punctuation, knowledge that will be crucial for completion of coursework this year. I have also briefly studied Spanish and Arabic, which I could not have done well without Braille. Without Braille I am certain that I would not be where I am today since I could never have learned as well and would never have enjoyed learning and reading as much. It saddens me to think that there are many students who have never had the opportunity to read well and thus reap the benefits of literacy, students who might have been where I am, except that no one ever gave them the chance.

Helen Stevens