Federation of Blind offers its legislative agenda

Members of the Missouri House of Representatives recite the Pledge of Allegiance as they begin their annual legislative session Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, in Jefferson City, Missouri.(AP Photo/David A. Lieb)
Members of the Missouri House of Representatives recite the Pledge of Allegiance as they begin their annual legislative session Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, in Jefferson City, Missouri.(AP Photo/David A. Lieb)

Members of the National Federation of the Blind will present their legislative agenda to the Missouri General Assembly early this week.

Several dozen members of the NFB Missouri chapter are expected to visit with lawmakers beginning Tuesday and continuing Wednesday.

Rita Lynch, a member of the Jefferson City chapter, said one of the goals is to get the Legislature to support universal teaching of Braille (and other skills) for all blind learners.

Lynch, who learned to read Braille early, was able to work for the Rehabilitation Services for the Blind for about 23 years, she said.

"We need to receive proper education, just like other people do," Lynch said. "We have been trying to work on the education of blind children for a really long time."

NFB, which is a community of members and friends who believe in the hopes and dreams of the nation's blind, released its legislative agenda before meeting with lawmakers.

The organization said only about 10 percent of blind children receive the benefit of learning to read Braille.

Acknowledging learning to read is one of the greatest accomplishments of man, if blind people are to succeed, literacy must be a part of their skill set, an NFB news release said.

Braille is the "finger equivalent" of what most people see with their eyes.

"Only when literate are we able to meet the challenge of expanding our knowledge on a wide variety of subjects and gain an understanding of our world. By using Braille, we are able to read things for ourselves," the release said. "While audio and electronic means of access are essential to living in our society in the age of advanced technology, there is no substitute for reading something yourself."

Knowing where to use punctuation, and understanding how to spell, are fundamental skills, especially for white collar job seekers.

Too often, the release said, print communication is forced upon students who are functionally blind, but have some sight; although those children may not be able to use the communication form. They pay the cost in eye strain, headaches and the inability to read rapidly or for long periods.

"Our blind children soon associate reading with discomfort and real pain," it said.

Most blind people who are employed know and use Braille.

"Getting and keeping a job relies on skills. Fundamental among these are reading and writing," according to the release. "Audio and video enhance the lives of our citizens, but they do not replace reading and writing, especially for blind folks."

A comprehensive approach to enhancing the educational experience for all students with blindness or low vision is the right thing to do, and is necessary if the blind youth of today are to compete with their peers in the future global market, it said.

NFB supports several bills offered in the General Assembly this year.

HB 2150, sponsored by Rep. Brenda Shields, R-St. Joseph, if passed, would require that blind children and visually impaired students receive an individualized education plan that specifies results from evaluations on reading and writing skills, and should include need for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille.

"All instruction in Braille reading and writing shall be sufficient to allow a student to effectively and efficiently communicate at an appropriate age level," according to a summary of the bill.

The bill includes guidance for instruction of Braille and use of non-visual accessible assistive technology. It requires districts perform an orientation and mobility evaluation, and includes guidance for the evaluation. It requires educators hired to teach Braille, accessible assistive technology, and orientation and mobility hold valid certificates, as outlined in the bill.

HB 2150 will help create an equal and fruitful learning environment for children, the NFB agenda says.

House Bill 1564, sponsored by Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, has "one essential function, to remove the word 'certified' from the law regarding correspondence with blind pension recipients," the agenda states.

The well-intentioned inclusion of the word has caused significant expense to the state and blind recipients, who are often forced to travel to the post office to pick up mail that otherwise would be found in their box.

"This is something in the state statutes that is a no-brainer," Lynch said. "We just want it to be regular mail."

For years, the NFB has championed bills that would allow blind people to vote securely and independently, without relying on a sighted person for assistance.

The group also intends to encourage lawmakers to require accessible medication labeling -- possibly using technology that creates labels that provide an audible output, Braille labels or large print.