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Alena Roberts
Corvallis, Oregon

August 27, 2009

Dear President Obama:

I am a perfect example of why all low-vision children should be taught Braille. I learned when I could still read print, because my parents and teachers knew that I would need it one day.

I can remember the day I was told that I was going to be taught Braille. "Braille?" I thought. "I don't need Braille. I can still read print." My mother and father didn't agree. They said that I would need it at some point, and it would be better for me to learn it while I could still read print rather than waiting until reading was impossible for me. I didn't want to hear it at the time. High school was hard enough without having the burden of learning a whole new way to read. But I was a teenager, and I didn't make the rules. So I learned, and by the end of my sophomore year, I was proficient in grade two Braille.

Flash forward to my senior year in high school, and I finally started applying my Braille skills. One of my favorite things to do was crafts. I really enjoyed doing latch hook rugs. My vision had deteriorated, though, to the point where I couldn't read the patterns anymore. But since I knew Braille and had a Perkins Brailler, I was able to Braille out my patterns a couple of lines at a time thanks to my mom and dad's help, and then I worked on the rugs myself. Knowing that I didn't have to give up my craft because I couldn't read the pattern was really empowering.

That was my first leisure-based use of Braille. It wouldn't be until my junior year in college, though, that I actually started using Braille in a school setting. That year I used a Braille textbook for my statistics class, which helped me to understand the concepts better. I also had many of my worksheets and short reading assignments put into Braille. Using Braille was just one of the many tools that helped me to graduate from college.

Now that I'm out of school, I still use Braille on a regular basis. For me, Braille is more than just reading and writing; it is how I stay independent and enjoy things. My two favorite hobbies right now are knitting and board gaming. I use Braille to help me with knitting by Brailling out all of my patterns by hand. The great thing about knitting patterns is that they are just letters and numbers. There aren't any funny symbols that I would have to have a sighted person decipher. For board and card games I use a slate and stylus to add Braille markings to cards and other tactile markings on the board to help me know where to put my pieces. Many people may think of these two activities as visual, but with a little modification most things can become blind-friendly.

It makes me sad to know that only 10 percent of blind children in my country are taught Braille. Reading is one of the fundamental parts of any child's education, and I can't believe that we think it's acceptable to have Braille literacy rates as low as they are. I may not have been happy about learning Braille when I did, but I wouldn't be where I am today without it.

Alena Roberts