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August 25, 2009
Dear President Obama:
This letter is intended to share with you the importance of Braille in my day-to-day life and the lives of thousands of other blind people. My story is not a unique one, but it may help to illustrate the power of Braille, the need that remains, and the urgency America faces in finding solutions to the Braille crisis.
I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the son of an African American blue collar worker and an Anglo-American housewife. We had a strong family, but we grew up in a housing project in the South Valley of the city. Until age seventeen I had 20/20 vision, but I was mostly illiterate because I did not have a good educational experience (reading materials were not available), and I did not have good role models for literacy.
Being the illiterate son of a mixed-race family living in the Albuquerque barrios, my future was questionable. When I was seventeen, I was involved in a drive-by shooting which left me totally blind and devastated. As you might imagine, my prospects became even more bleak, and my hope for any sort of meaningful future was nearly snuffed out. Fortunately, after leaving the hospital, I was contacted by the New Mexico Commission for the Blind and I was directed to the training center in Alamogordo, where I was to learn Braille and the other skills of independence. I learned the literary Braille code and regained the ability to read. Through intensely focusing on Braille, blind role models encouraged me, challenged me, and helped me to increase my literacy skills. I was illiterate as a sighted teenager, and through Braille, not only did I gain the ability to read, but the ability to be truly literate.
Since then I have gone on to earn academic degrees. I have a PhD in rehabilitation education and research and a certificate in educational statistics and research methods. I am currently employed as a graduate professor at Louisiana Tech University. I am happily married, and I have two wonderful children. My older daughter has just been accepted into the gifted program. I am truly living the American dream. I am now successful for many reasons, and my access to Braille is primary among these factors.
Blind people in this country continue to face a 90 percent illiteracy rate, and only 25 percent of blind people are employed. Yet, for those who know Braille, employment and success are nearly a surety. Please do whatever is in your power to help us to promote the importance of Braille; help us bring it back from the perception of a historical relic and remind Americans that Braille is the avenue to literacy for the blind. We must work collectively to ensure that all children and adults in America, including the blind, have a right and access to literacy.
Edward Bell, PhD