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Becky Shields
Midlothian, Virginia

August 27, 2009

Dear President Obama:

My name is Becky Shields. I am a sibling of a Braille reader who is currently sixteen years old. My sister, Jennifer Shields, was born with a condition called Leber's congenital amaurosis, which has left her blind. Ever since she was a young child, she has amazed me with her ability to maneuver through life and not let her condition hold her back. Through living with her and seeing her many struggles as well as triumphs, I have decided to become a special education teacher, and I am currently in my junior year at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, working on my master's in special education.

My sister, who is currently a sophomore at our local high school, Clover Hill High School, is in all honors classes, where she makes straight As. This would not have been possible if she had not been in an early intervention program that taught Braille at an early age. Through Braille she is able to be in all of the same classes as her peers and enjoy novels. She is also an amazingly talented writer. Although Jennifer loves to read, Braille books are not readily available to her. Because of this her Braille reading skills have started to dwindle as she struggles to find materials at her reading level. It is important to her, especially as she approaches the college years, to have materials she can read so that she can be a productive part of society. Studies show that 70 percent of blind people are not literate in Braille and the 30 percent that are have significantly higher employment rates as well as higher paying jobs.

I hope that, through this letter and the many other letters you will receive, that you realize Braille should be taught by highly qualified teachers (not the case in many states, such as Virginia, where teachers are required to take minimal classes to become qualified). Quality teaching is a very important issue among the blind as well as the general public, and is necessary to create more productive citizens. Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.

Becky Shields