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August 27, 2009
Dear President Obama:
I have been totally blind all my life. From birth until the age of five, I lived in rural Maryland and spent much of that time playing with my older and younger brothers--climbing trees, playing in the barn loft, and being fascinated by the sound the cornstalks (much taller than I) made on windy days. But when the bookmobile came to our town and my brothers borrowed books to read, there was nothing for me until I started kindergarten and learned Braille.
My parents believed I would be better educated at the school for the blind, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from our home, and, since my father could not find work close to the school, I stayed there during the week and came home on weekends. When I was old enough to make the roundtrip home and return to school by bus, there were several hours between the end of our classes Friday afternoon and when I needed to depart the campus for the bus station. Some of my friends and I would gather, and I would read aloud to them. It was understood that none of us would read further in that book until we got together the following Friday. I don’t remember how long this group met. It certainly provided many opportunities to develop proficiency in reading, and I now am considered one of the best Braille readers in the country, reading aloud in Braille as quickly as a proficient sighted person can read print.
Since all my books had been in Braille until graduation from high school, college was a struggle for me. I had no experience working with recorded books, and I had no way to learn unusual word spellings, proper formatting of term paper footnotes, and required math and foreign language courses. Physics was an absolute nightmare.
I worked part-time during college as a telephone solicitor for Olan Mills Photography Studios, and my colleagues and boss were impressed that I could read the prepared script as evenly and fluently as they could. I was able quickly to write names and phone numbers taken from the phone directories in use at that time.
After graduating from college, I began seeking employment, and, in all the jobs I have held from 1972 to the present, Braille literacy has been a major key to my success. After working full-time as a medical transcriptionist for several years, I decided to enroll in a three-year course of study and became the first totally blind court reporter in the country. I have worked as a court official and as a freelance court reporter, and I had to read back recorded material at the request of judge or counsel.
When my son was born, Braille made it possible for us to read together. Initially I read to him while he played with the paper, but later I could monitor his reading progress as he read in print and I followed along in Braille. As a parent being literate meant independence for me with the expectation that I would do what all parents do, using Braille as they used print.
I married twenty years ago and have lived in different parts of the country, going wherever my husband’s job promotions took us. It was often easier for me to pursue a different career than invest the time needed to achieve court reporter certification for a particular state. Thus, in my work as a rehabilitation teacher, Braille was essential in making appointments with blind children and seniors in a twenty-eight-county section of northern Missouri. Braille was useful in taking notes during client meetings, writing agency-required reports, and ordering services and materials that would help our customers live independently in their communities. I worked as a receptionist, and in addition to the usual duties associated with that position, I reviewed periodicals on blindness, passing along items of interest to my colleagues.
In my volunteer work with the National Federation of the Blind for the past thirty-five years, I have given speeches, prepared reports, and organized fundraising and legislative events. In working with parents of blind children, my level of literacy is what they want to see for their children. I enjoy knitting, particularly delicate, lace-weight shawls, but I could not do it without transcribing the complicated patterns into Braille.
My employment is now home-based medical transcription because I like the work and the flexibility that working from home offers. I rely on Braille as much as I ever did—keeping a required log in case the one I keep on the computer crashes. Technology has its place, but, if I want your name and number, I have a way to write it myself.