Blind children deserve more from isle public schools
Why is our Department of Education resisting efforts to ensure that blind and visually impaired children in Hawaii have the same opportunity to learn to read and write Braille that sighted children have to learn to read and write print? The DOE publicly claims support for the intent of Braille literacy bills that have been introduced in the state Legislature: House Bill 1839 and Senate Bill 2732. Yet it proposes amendments that would have the effect of significantly weakening if not destroying this critical (to the blind) legislation.
The original legislation contains language which says "The Legislature finds that it is crucial to ensure that each blind or visually impaired child has the right to learn to read. This right includes provisions for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille appropriate to the child's current and future literacy needs."
In amending the legislation, the department strikes this language, replacing it with the following: "assist blind and visually impaired children by (1) Establishing standards of Braille proficiency and instruction."
The DOE weakens the bill even further by deleting provisions that would "Require materials to be provided in a computer-accessible format capable of Braille reproduction" and "Require the certification and recertification of teachers in accordance with Braille literacy standards."
We are astounded at the DOE's efforts to remove the following important provision from the Braille literacy legislation:
"Teacher certification: As part of the certification and renewal process, teachers certified in the instruction of blind and visually impaired children shall be required to demonstrate competence in reading and writing Braille. The state agency responsible for such teachers may not issue or renew a license to teach the visually impaired unless the applicant demonstrates, based on standards adopted by the National Library Service of the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress, that the applicant is proficient in reading and writing Braille."
In light of the foregoing, we are compelled to ask whether or not our Department of Education is truly interested in a bright and promising future for our blind and visually impaired youngsters. Education for blind children is vital. They, too, have a right to a full life with hopes and dreams of a future filled with a good education allowing them the opportunity to move on to higher education and ultimately a good-paying job, living as competent, integrated taxpaying individuals.
National statistics show that only 10 percent of blind children in this country are being taught Braille. Seventy percent of the adult blind population is either unemployed or underemployed. Of the 30 percent who are employed, 90 percent read Braille. Is this not proof enough of the criticality of Braille to the success of our blind youngsters?
The National Federation of the Blind has been in existence for more than 65 years. Its leaders and the majority of its members are blind. Through the NFB's efforts, 33 states have already passed laws that ensure the right of blind children to quality Braille instruction.
The Hawaii affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind believes that it is high time for Hawaii's education system to follow the lead of these states.
Nani Fife is president of the National Federation of the Blind of Hawaii.