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Sherrill O'Brien
Tampa, Florida

August 28, 2009

Dear President Obama:

I am sure it's second nature to you to jot down a phone number, spontaneously write down someone's name and email address, or read a few pages of a book when you can't sleep. Well, that's what Braille allows me to do. It's a simple tool, but if I had not been a student at the Illinois School for the Blind as a young child in 1951, I might not have had the opportunity to have this basic human right.

I am writing this letter to you on my computer, and I am using my text-to-speech program. Unfortunately many teachers of blind children today are convinced that the computer is good enough for their blind children. But the computer does not allow me to write my choir anthems in hard copy Braille, which in turn enables me to participate in my church choir. Being able to write and read Braille fluently allows me to stand up in front of my church congregation as a volunteer and read the lesson for that Sunday. It allowed me to stand up in front of my high school class in 1964 and read the speech I had written as my class's valedictorian. Using Braille allowed me to write lesson plans when I was selected as a graduate assistant and taught English to foreign students at the University of Illinois. Braille let me learn how to fill out a scorecard when my dad taught me how to do that after I began to follow the Milwaukee Braves starting in 1958. Braille gave me the chance to write stories as a child and keep a diary of vacations our family took.

Braille enabled my mom, who learned it when I was a child, to put countless birthday and now anniversary cards into Braille throughout my life so that I could keep them and look them over without having to wait for sighted assistance. Braille allows me to label my CDs so that I can pick one out without having to go through them at random. Can you imagine not being able to pick out your CDs or records? Some of the things I've mentioned here are not life-altering, while some certainly are. But, without the ability to have had these countless experiences, my life would be poorer, and I would be much more dependent on others. Indeed Braille has helped to fill my life with confidence and joy.

Yes, the computer has enhanced my life. I use a text-to-speech program daily, and of course I enjoy Google. But only Braille can give me the freedom of labeling medications, allow me to read in public, or let me read minutes as the secretary in a meeting. Only Braille can enrich my life to this extent. This is what our blind children today desperately need in order to make their lives as meaningful as those of their sighted peers. For parents or teachers to decide that Braille is unnecessary or too difficult is a tragedy--not just a blip in the education of the blind child. Sighted kids don't have the option of deciding whether to learn print. Unless a child who has some remaining vision is extremely comfortable with reading print, the only reading option which will enhance his or her chances for employment and a fulfilling life is Braille. When my mom and dad gave me a Braille book for Christmas or when I was reading a book in the dark in our car on vacation, nothing in this world could have made me happier. Please help to give this right to today's blind children and adults.

Thank you for your thoughtful attention to my letter.

Sherrill O'Brien