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August 28, 2009
Dear President Obama:
I have been blind since birth. By the time I was a year old, while my parents were not sure what caused my blindness, they did know that my eye condition was permanent. I was extremely fortunate because my mother had incredible inner strength and believed that you accepted what God gave you and figured out how to make life work. We visited the Maryland School for the Blind for several days when I was a toddler. She went to seminars and learned about Braille and that blind people could attend college and such.
At the age of five I started kindergarten at the Maryland School for the Blind, where I learned to read. First there was the alphabet. I already knew how to say the ABC’s but to be able to read them? That was exciting. Early in that year my parents ordered a Perkins Braillewriter (a machine with six keys used for writing Braille). It was primarily handmade and wouldn’t arrive for a year. So in the meantime I continued learning my alphabet and read my first real book, Three of Us, where Ann played; the dogs, Rex and Skip, ran; and a little boy, whose name escapes me, did other things. I was excited because I was reading, just like my sighted sister, who was three years older.
My mother came home from the post office one day shortly before I started first grade with a huge box, at least it seemed gigantic to a six year old. It was my Braillewriter. Our whole family opened it and practiced writing with it. For the next couple of years my mother wrote Braille letters to me almost every week when I was away at school. I went to school on Sundays and returned home on Fridays. While I learned much and had a very positive school experience, I found leaving my family quite difficult during those early years. I truly looked forward to those Braille letters from home. As I grew and my Braille skills improved, I used it in all parts of my life. I read Braille music in order to memorize piano pieces for recitals and to play for my parents and their friends. With my Braille Bible, I took part in Sunday school activities.
When I went to college, I used spiral notebooks and took Braille notes in all of my classes. That same method served me well in my career as a federal human resources specialist. I used Braille to take notes on daily activities and meetings and to label files. Throughout my life I have used Braille as much as a sighted person uses a pencil and paper or picks up a book or magazine to read. I take messages and write grocery lists in Braille. My recipes and craft books are in Braille.
Without a doubt, of all the ways I have used this method of reading, the times I have been most grateful for having been given the opportunity to learn Braille were the minutes and hours spent reading to my sighted daughter when she was little. We had books with print and Braille pages. Those times were special.