My Work as NFBC Legislative Assistant
By Chad Allen, NFBC Legislative Assistant
For the last two years I have worked with Don Burns as the Assistant State Legislative Representative for the NFB of California. These years have been very productive as we have worked on seven bills that the NFBC has sponsored. These bills have covered topics including: Braille literacy, non-visual access to voting machines and point-of-sale (POS) retail machines, website accessibility and the critical lack of qualified teachers of the visually impaired in our California public schools.
The NFBC has spearheaded the crusade for Braille literacy for all blind children. California public schools have slighted the instruction of Braille skills to blind children over the last few generations. As a result, there is a 90 percent rate of illiteracy among today's blind students. Both Nancy Burns, president of the NFBC, and Don Burns, NFBC legislative representative, have focused their energies on this current crisis.
I have a clear understanding of the importance of Braille literacy as my own experience as a student with a visual disability mirrored the experience of these kids today. During my school years I experienced the early stages of RP. Reading printed materials was becoming more and more difficult. I could still enjoy the outdoors and ride a bicycle. However, I only participated in these activities during daylight hours and in places that were familiar to me. I did not receive the opportunity to learn the skills that I would require to lead a future life of freedom and independence. Mobility skills using a white cane and the reading and writing of Braille were topics that were never mentioned by my teachers, counselors or school administrators. I am saddened by the fact that many of our blind children in California are also being denied the opportunities to learn these indispensable skills.
There is an enormous amount of ignorance in our Capitol about this crisis. Legislator's aides continue to express shock and concern when Don and I discuss the rampant illiteracy among California's blind students. Many legislators comment, "We have all this Braille on the doorways and elevators in our Capitol building and the state is not even teaching kids how to read it?" Don's response to this is to produce a Braille alphabet card. He briefly explains the six-dot matrix and then helps them to decipher the secret word at the bottom of the card. His final message to the legislators is that they have learned more Braille in this brief session than 90 percent of the blind children in the state. The reactions to this information by our legislators and their aides gives me hope that perhaps they hear our message.
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