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August 25, 2009
Dear President Obama:
I do not regret many things in my life. I have definitely made mistakes, but I don’t regret them because I’ve learned from them. The one thing that I do regret is that I was never taught Braille as a child. I was one of the 90 percent of blind children not taught Braille. Neither my parents, teachers, nor I believed it was important for me to read Braille. Why? Because I read print, and anything that helped me appear normal was important.
For as long as I can remember, I had to read by holding the book right up to my nose. My siblings mocked me for getting black ink on my nose, but this didn’t matter; I read print. Throughout my childhood I tried reading with various magnifiers, glasses, and large print, but these things didn’t really fix my problems. So I continued to read by pressing my nose to the page. I was an avid reader. In college I needed a video magnifier (a machine that enlarged the print) so that I could keep reading, but I still read lots of books. My vision changed, but I still read print. I had to strain my eyes, hold my head a certain way, and have just the right kind of light, but I could still just barely read print.
After I graduated from college, I started working, and, since I didn’t have to read anymore, I stopped. Of course the excuse that I made was that I’d just become too busy to read. It didn’t matter that I spent hours on end playing Solitaire on my computer--I just didn’t have time to read. When I did sit down in front of my video magnifier to read, it was tedious, and I lost focus. That was when I realized that I was illiterate and needed to come up with another solution. I learned how to scan books and read them on the computer, but this wasn’t the same. I didn’t readily know how to spell the names of the characters in the books I was reading. My computer wasn’t portable, so I couldn’t take the books with me. I couldn’t sit on my favorite comfortable chair or take the books outside. I couldn’t read aloud to my nieces, nephews, or other children.
That’s when I discovered a whole new world--Braille. Now the words were right there in front of me to touch and experience. This miracle didn’t happen overnight, but Braille has opened a whole new world to me as an adult. I use Braille to write notes from meetings, check the time, label DVDs, read magazines, look up phone numbers of coworkers, read books to my two-year-old buddy, Austin, and read notes for speeches. So why do I regret that I didn’t learn Braille as a child? I want to read faster. I want to be able to read my whole speech aloud. I want to be able to read the magazine article without losing focus because I read so slowly. I want to read longer books to blind kids and show them the benefit of reading Braille. I believe that some day I will get there, but, if I had learned Braille as a child, it wouldn’t be such a struggle. My story of regret is not the only one you’ll see. Many blind adults haven’t even discovered the value of Braille. My dream is that all blind children will be taught to read Braille--not just a mere 10 percent of them. I don’t want the blind children of our future to become illiterate because they weren’t taught Braille.