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August 28, 2009
Dear President Obama:
I began learning Braille in kindergarten and have been reading it almost every day for fifty-one years. Nearly all of my text books were in Braille through high school. Without a doubt having access to Braille had a significant influence on the quality of education that I received. Not only was I able to compete on terms of equality with my sighted peers, I was the valedictorian of a high school class of two hundred and fifty students.
During my childhood and adolescence I took piano lessons for several years. I was taught Braille music and memorized the notes to songs that I practiced and played. Memorization was instrumental in sharpening my memory; a sharp memory has been a skill that has been useful to me to this day. I continued to use Braille at the community college, undergraduate, and graduate levels. I obtained associate's, bachelor's, and master's degrees and received honors at every level. I could not have done this had I not been literate in Braille.
Being a Braille reader has also been instrumental in my ability to find work and to remain gainfully employed for more than thirty years as a social worker, psychotherapist, and quality manager in a for-profit mental health agency. Again Braille has been an integral part of my work. The days when I have not used Braille on the job have been minimal.
Braille plays important roles in other areas of my daily life too. I use it to take notes, make lists, write letters, label items, and copy recipes. It is difficult for me to imagine what my life would have been like had I not learned Braille. I believe I have achieved full integration into society because of my exposure to Braille. I question whether I would have been able to be as successful academically and professionally if I were unable to read Braille.
It is outrageous and appalling that only 10 percent of blind children in America today are learning to read Braille. I was able to achieve because I was taught to read. It is imperative that our nation act aggressively to reverse the Braille literacy crisis in America so that today’s blind children can be empowered, have a chance to achieve, and have an opportunity to stand side by side with their sighted peers and become the leaders of tomorrow.
Mary Ann Rojek