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Tai Blas
Des Moines, Iowa

August 26, 2009

Dear President Obama:

Braille plays an essential role in the literacy of the blind. Only 10 percent of blind children are able to read Braille. Although some vision-impaired children can read large print, a large number cannot do so efficiently. Their inability to read Braille leaves these youngsters completely illiterate. As sighted audio book readers can attest, audio books are no substitute for being able to read printed materials.

I was born several months premature, weighing only one pound. My premature birth caused my blindness. I was one of the fortunate few who began learning Braille at age four. As is true of learning a foreign language, Braille is much easier to learn at a young age. My special education teachers realized the importance of Braille, and they introduced the code wherever they could throughout my environment: on storage cubbies; on building blocks; on toy fruits and vegetables; on educational flashcards; on food and spices at home; in art, physical education, and music courses; and as labels for everything I touched. Their creativity allowed me to meet the same literacy goals that my peers were required to meet. The high expectations of those around me compelled me to read everything I could get my hands on.

Although I am blind, I am still largely a visual learner, meaning that I get much more out of tactile feedback than from auditory feedback. I could not have passed algebra, geometry, chemistry, biology, earth science, or trigonometry without the use of Braille textbooks and graphical representations of what my sighted peers were seeing. I did well in college and throughout my graduate studies in public administration. I earned my master's degree with honors. I now use computers with Braille displays and Braille PDAs daily, and I am thankful to have had an opportunity that too many people go without.

I now work as a transition specialist helping blind youth prepare themselves for college and careers. Weekly I encounter students who are unable to read efficiently. I stress to them the importance of learning Braille, but they do not see the need for it because they are getting by, reading large print. I try to prepare them for the significantly larger amounts of reading they will need to do in college and on the job.

Tai Blas