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August 28, 2009
Dear President Obama:
In my lifetime I have had the good fortune to learn to read and write Braille fluently, and my positive experiences with Braille are numerous. It has been difficult choosing which experience I can share with you. I am honored to relate the following story:
Shortly after graduating from college, I had the opportunity to teach Braille to adults of all ages. They had become blind as a result of diabetes, auto accidents, and many other medical conditions. One memorable student was an eighteen-year-old woman whom I will call Gina. She had become blind shortly after undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor. From the beginning she was an enthusiastic and diligent student, but she also presented me with a challenge. “I like Braille,” she said, “but could it ever help me obtain a job? Could I ever read fast enough?” Then she challenged me further, “Can you read just as fast as anyone else?” I took a large volume down from the shelf and turned to a story about Sir Roland, a young knight who had been assigned the humble task of guarding the castle from intruders while his fellow knights had the more prestigious and exciting jobs of actually going off to battle. Sir Roland was at first disappointed in his assignment, but he ended up becoming a hero, since he saved the castle from several crafty intruders.
I read the story with as much expression as I could, and I changed my voice to represent the various noble and villainous characters. Gina asked me to record that story for her so that she could listen to it whenever she needed to be re-inspired. About ten years later Gina called me out of the blue to let me know that she was an itinerant Braille teacher for blind children. When the conversation ended, she added, “Oh, by the way, I still have the recording of the Sir Roland story, and it still keeps me inspired.”
Just as Sir Roland was assigned to guard a precious old castle and became a champion, let us all be champions of a two-hundred-year-old system that still offers the best shot at literacy and employment for those who are blind. Advances in technology for the blind may seem more exciting, but they don’t provide us with the basics such as grammar and spelling. We must hold onto the solid castle known as Braille, or we will lose the war against illiteracy. Our assignment is crucial.
Braille has figured prominently in my paid and volunteer work. It has enabled me to do rehabilitation teaching, to record audio books for private libraries, to produce voice-overs for radio and cable TV, and to serve as a liturgist in my church. Every single day I can think of reasons to be thankful that I learned Braille.
January 2009 was the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille, the boy genius who invented our marvelous literary system. Like Sir Roland, Louis Braille was a champion. Let’s do everything we can to preserve and promote his tried and true invention.
Chris Ann Cuppett