Braille Monitor                                                                                January 1986



The Right to Literacy

by Claudell Stocker

Topeka, Kansas
October 18, 1985

Dear Dr. Jernigan:

I have been intending to write to you for some time now and thank you for helping me to see options I might have in making a decision as to whether I would stay in the field of rehabilitation teaching. I decided not to give in or give up but stay in and join with NFB for the strength I needed.

I was asked to speak at our recent NFB state convention in Wichita and felt afterward I would like to share with you some of the things I said.

Thank you again for helping me to renew my efforts in this field.

(Mrs.) Claudell S. Stocker
Communication Department
Kansas Rehabilitation Center for the Blind

The Right to Literacy:
Every Citizen's Right

Over a century and a half ago a young French lad named Louie Braille put together six raised dots that flung the door of literacy wide open for all people who are blind to become competitively literate with their sighted peers! Educators from all the world flocked to France to examine this method and take it home to their schools for blind children. Yet, in our own literacy-loving country of America, we face the shocking figure of twenty-five percent Braille literacy rate among legally blind citizens. How can this be true? I say blindness is no excuse for illiteracy. The only excuse anyone can have is 1) not enough intelligence to learn, 2) not wanting to learn, and 3) not having the opportunity to learn. It is number three that I would like to address.

Almost every state in this country currently has a rehabilitation or orientation center for the blind, all states run rehab teaching services to provide home study, and all states are mandated to teach blind children. The vast majority of the blind population became blinded in adulthood, and they are the vast majority of the illiterate blind in the USA. Modern science has provided surgery for cataracts, medication to arrest glaucoma, laser to delay blindness in diabetics, and is correcting and preventing blindness from birth defects in newborn children. However, this same scientifically oriented society is blinding more people in auto, hunting, and industrial accidents than ever before. For the past twenty-five years I have lingered as a rehab teacher in the quagmire of the aftermath of our society's handling of rehabilitation opportunities for those citizens who have become blind.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was a naive, optimistic young teacher, I asked my agency superior why there was only twenty-five percent Braille literacy among the blind and was given answers such as, "The field is young and underdeveloped--We haven't had time to develop good teaching methods or curriculum--There are no graduate schools to teach teachers--Money is a problem--Braille is difficult to learn Some people are too old or too sick to learn--We have no certifying body to guard our performance." I was told to have patience and all would come about, and we would be able to raise the literacy rate.

Twenty-five years later I'm still waiting. But I'm tired of waiting and have become disenchanted with all the great efforts of science, the poor use of government money by rehabilitation programs, the failure of the certifying organization to monitor agency programs, the little credence and political motivation of teacher's certification. I'm disillusioned that many graduate schools of O and M and rehabilitation teaching programs are turning out poorly prepared teachers. But perhaps I am most disappointed when I hear of newly blinded people remaining Braille illiterate because a blind or sighted rehab teacher has told them, "You only have to learn enough Braille to write the alphabet--Don't worry about Braille. You can use a tape recorder--You have diabetes and diabetics can't feel to learn Braille--You're too old to learn Braille." Such hogwash! If a teacher's attitude is such, no wonder young people coming into the field of teaching put down the importance of Braille. Any teacher, worthy of the name, realizes that Braille is the only true way a person who is blind can become totally literate.

Could it be that some of those teachers who hold such powerful and influential places in the lives of newly blinded adults and blind children are afraid to try better teaching methods or develop healthier attitudes towards Braille because they are, even unconsciously, trying to keep the blind in a subservient and dependent position? Such thoughts are so foreign to my thinking I sometimes want to go home and never return to my job as a teacher in a rehabilitation center. I tell myself my conscience will no longer allow me to be associated with such possibilities. But then if I quit, would my conscience be clear? Would I be happy to just put away twenty-five years of my life? If it is so all-important, why am I quitting? Quitting would certainly not raise the literacy rate.

It took me twenty-five years to realize that I had always had an "NFB" personality. It was time to join a group who would not tell me to, "Be patient; everything will be okay"--a group who would support me in demanding that agency supervisors hire teachers for healthy attitudes as well as college degrees--who would demand that we see each student as a success with potential to compete in the so-called "sighted world"--a group who would support me in research to discover better teaching techniques and to develop a more successful teaching curriculum.

So after talking to numerous NFB members, whom I personally respected, I decided not to quit but join. I was never recruited or coerced to join, but as Dr. Jernigan told me, "If you feel this way, you might consider joining in our cause." I now feel, with new energy, that I shall continue every chance I have to speak out and challenge my fellow professionals to use every effort possible, to provide more and better opportunities for newly blinded people to master literary Braille and reach their right to literacy.