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August 27, 2009
Dear President Obama:
If someone had told me ten years ago that I was soon going to be blind, it would have sounded to me like a foreign language. Prior to losing my sight, I was an independent, self-sufficient, and outgoing person. The youngest of five siblings, I was the first person in my entire family to attend and graduate from college. At the time this accomplishment was an important milestone personally and for my family, but the struggles I overcame in earning my diploma would prove just as valuable to me as I learned to deal with my blindness.
My freshman year was a complete disappointment. Away from home for the first time, I had difficulty adjusting, and everything seemed dismal and bleak. Unable to focus on academics, my first semester grades sent me into total shock. Afraid my parents would be devastated upon receiving these embarrassing grades, I immediately called home to explain. My father, who had worked overtime to put me through school, exhorted me to take advantage of the opportunity I had been given. Not wanting to disappoint my family or myself, I vowed to work as hard as possible in order to succeed. With this determination and the support of a strong religious faith, I devoted myself to my studies. By my third semester I had made the Dean's List, an accomplishment that bolstered my self-confidence. For the first time I truly realized that I possessed the ability to succeed.
After graduating from college with a bachelor's degree in history, I eventually began working as a teacher's aid at an elementary school on the Camp Lejueune, North Carolina, Marine Corps base. In 1999 at the age of twenty-seven I contracted a rare case of meningitis, which without warning took my sight. Suddenly I found my world turned completely upside down. I had been self-reliant for many years, and I was now faced with the prospect of becoming dependent on my family. Wracked with self-pity, I sat at home, unable to deal with my new reality for months. Slowly, though, my strong-mindedness and assertiveness--always two of my most prominent attributes--began to take control, and I eventually sought out a local rehabilitation center and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). Later I enrolled in the E.H. Gentry Technical Facility, where I would learn the fundamentals of living with blindness. There I realized that one of the most important aspects of adjusting to blindness is the re-acquisition of competence. Braille literacy, computer literacy, good orientation and mobility skills, technology skills, and independent living skills are all important to an adequate adjustment to vision loss. I dedicated myself to mastering all of these skills, and after much time and effort I was able to regain my prized self-sufficiency.
From the minute I attended NFB state and national conventions, my life changed in countless ways. The NFB helped me to modify my attitudes. This was the first time I was with peers who were coping with the same disability. Although it was difficult and frustrating at first trying to learn how to read an entire book using only six dots, I soon came to enjoy and appreciate being literate. Since joining the NFB, I have been given the opportunity to serve as secretary of the Mobile local chapter for five years. After being a two-time National Federation of the Blind of Alabama (NFBA) scholarship recipient, I was appointed by the former NFBA state president as advisor to the Alabama Association of Blind Students, where I mentor and advocate for student rights. In addition I also serve as chairman of the NFBA state scholarship committee. This committee is responsible for providing support to blind students who are trying to make a difference. Joining the NFB gave me confidence in myself and has made a great difference in my life. Since joining the NFB, I have been inspired and motivated by family and friends to continue with my education.
Although I had always dreamed of becoming a history teacher, losing my sight has propelled me to take a different and more personal approach than I had previously anticipated. My impairment has inspired me to work one-on-one with people who are disabled and coping with blindness. I want to encourage them and offer them proof of what can be accomplished. Now I am pursuing a second master's degree in vision rehabilitation therapy at Western Michigan University. I hope to advance my knowledge of blindness rehabilitation and improve the quality of life for all blind people. Moreover, I am currently employed with Veterans Affairs in Birmingham, Alabama, as a vision rehabilitation specialist intern. In this capacity I provide personal adjustment training to wounded veterans who have lost their vision serving our country. Included in this training is instruction to veterans about the importance of Braille literacy and ways to incorporate it into their daily activities.
The obstacles that I have faced in life have served to strengthen my determination and resolve, and I will use those attributes to become an excellent teacher. I am confident that my past experiences and sincere dedication to promoting Braille literacy and independence for all blind people will allow me to succeed.