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Melissa Riccobono
Baltimore, Maryland

August 27, 2009

Dear President Obama:

My name is Melissa Riccobono, and I am a former professional school counselor, an educational consultant with Discovery Toys LLC, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, a wife, and the mother of my soon to be three-year-old son, Austin. I am also totally blind, and I have been reading and writing Braille since I was four years old. Braille has made it possible for me to achieve the American dream, and it continues to ensure my place as a productive member of society.

During my elementary school years Braille allowed me to learn to read and write along with my sighted peers. It allowed me to complete homework assignments independently, take notes and report to my class as a representative for student council, discover the joy of reading novels, and even sing in my school chorus. As I grew older, Braille enabled me to participate in middle and high school forensics, poetry readings, piano lessons, middle and high school chorus and to graduate from high school with honors.

In college I used Braille to take notes and study for countless exams; write papers; take down phone messages and other information on the job; keep track of addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses of friends far away; and write to and receive letters from a certain special someone. Once again Braille made it possible for me to graduate with honors and in a way to begin a serious relationship with that certain special someone.

In graduate school I took notes on clients in Braille, read countless Braille journal articles, and took notes using Braille for my master's thesis. By the time I earned my master's degree that certain special someone was my husband, and we were able to read our wedding vows to one another in Braille. When I was a professional school counselor, I used Braille in all asspects of my work--to schedule appointments with students; to take notes on teacher, parent, and student concerns; and to read books and other documents in classroom lessons, in small group sessions, and with individual students. Now that I have resigned my position as a counselor in order to stay at home with my son, I still use Braille every day. It allows me to read recipes and cook meals for my family. It helps me keep track of the information I need in order to run my own business and makes it possible for me to complete my duties as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. But, most important of all, Braille is the one thing that enables me to read books to my son and to pass my love of reading on to him. It is the one thing that I can use when I have the time, however limited, to curl up with a great book or interesting magazine article.

As you can see, Braille has been with me for almost my entire life, and I know I will continue to use it every day as long as I live. Braille is the tool that has made much of my success possible, and it makes me furious that 90 percent of blind children do not have the chance to put this overwhelmingly powerful tool in their own toolboxes. Where would this country be if only 10 percent of all citizens were literate? What could our country become if 100 percent of blind children and adults were literate in Braille? These are the questions I urge you to consider when thinking about the Braille literacy crisis in America. Please do what you can to champion this cause to allow all blind people an equal chance at school, in employment, and in pursuit of their own dreams.

Melissa Riccobono