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August 28, 2009
Dear President Obama:
I am fifty-two years old, married, own my own home, raised two children, work as a research professor, and am blind. I am also illiterate. Like many other blind people, I had some vision as a child, not enough to read print, but enough that no one thought of teaching me to read Braille. As a result I grew up a nonreader. Instead I listened while material was read aloud to me. As a consequence, to this day I struggle with spelling. It was only last month that I learned that the words "descent" and "dissent" are two different words.
Today only 10 percent of blind children in America are learning to read and write Braille. This limits their ability to acquire an education and prepare for a productive life. In economic terms the consequences of illiteracy are devastating: approximately 70 percent of blind adults are unemployed. Yet of those who do work roughly 90 percent are Braille readers.
Blind children and adults face discrimination based on society's lack of understanding about the ability of blind people to compete. We cannot allow illiteracy to add yet another barrier to full participation. This is why we, the members of the National Federation of the Blind, are asking for your help. We need you to direct special education programs to insure Braille instruction for blind children in America. We need you to direct the vocational rehabilitation program to make Braille training a priority for newly blind adults. We need you to direct programs providing services to older blind Americans to include Braille in the core services they receive so they can again take charge of their own lives and live independently with dignity.
The National Federation of the Blind is taking the lead on confronting the Braille literacy crisis in America, and we need your help. We need you to direct resources in support of Braille literacy, and we need you to believe in the ability of blind people to live and work and contribute like others.
Increasing Braille literacy will enable many more blind people to work. That will be good for blind children and adults, it will be good for our country, and it is the right thing to do.
Fredric K. Schroeder, PhD