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Angela Matney
Charlottesville, Virginia

August 28, 2009

Dear President Obama:

Neither of my parents finished high school. My father, a coal miner, left school after the sixth grade. Both of my parents eventually earned GEDs. They were determined that none of their children would want for educational opportunities.

When mom and dad decided I would attend the same school as my brothers and sisters, they knew they faced an uphill battle to ensure that I would receive an accessible education. The school board told my parents that I would not be taught Braille until I reached the sixth grade. My parents understood that I would not be literate until I learned Braille. With the help of the National Federation of the Blind, they persuaded the school board to provide me with Braille instruction in the schools of our southern West Virginia community.

Zane, my Braille Instructor, was not a certified teacher of the vision impaired; in fact, she never attended college. She did hold a certification in Braille transcription. She began working with me when I was four years old. Under Zane's instruction I completed a Braille reading curriculum in addition to all the assignments given to my sighted classmates. Beginning in kindergarten I had extra lessons in the Nemeth Code, the Braille system of mathematical notation. I thought at the time that it was unfair that I had more work to do than my classmates. Now I am grateful that Zane and my parents understood just how important it was that I become literate.

Because I began learning the Nemeth Code at such a young age, mathematics was accessible to me. I eventually earned a bachelor of science degree and a master's in math, and I taught post-secondary mathematics courses. I am certain that I could not have done these things without Braille.

I recently graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law. In a few months I will begin my employment as an attorney in the business section of a Fredericksburg, Virginia, law firm. My facility with Braille will enable me to conduct legal research efficiently and to access crucial information in client meetings.

My parents were determined that their children would benefit from greater educational opportunities than those that had been available to them. The fact that one child was blind was immaterial. Because of their tenacity and Zane's dedication, I can quickly skim through restaurant menus, solve mathematical equations, scan legal articles for typographical errors, and read to my young nieces and nephews. I now realize just how lucky I was to receive phenomenal Braille instruction. I can only hope that one day soon my experience will be the rule rather than the exception.

Angela Matney