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Members of Missouri's chapter of the National Federation of the Blind will visit the Capitol this week in their annual lobbying effort to remind lawmakers of their special needs.

They include more access to Braille materials for students, improved salaries for vocational rehabilitation counselors, and accessible voting in all elections.

"Our 2018 legislative agenda makes evident the NFB of Missouri's commitment to increase employment among the blind and to remove barriers to full participation in society," said Shelia Wright, president of the NFB of Missouri, in a news release. "Blind people have to contend with an unemployment rate of 70 percent.

"Blind people who know Braille are more likely to be employed."

So, as they have pushed in previous years, the federation wants lawmakers to "provide schools with better tools to ensure blind students have more access to Braille instruction," Wright explained.

State law already recognizes Braille — a system of raised dots that can be formed to represent letters, numbers and punctuation marks — as the equivalent of print.

And the law said no blind person shall be denied instruction in Braille, but it allows school districts to conduct evaluations to determine whether print or Braille is the most appropriate method for reading and writing for a given student.

"Far too often, print is determined to be the most appropriate reading medium because the process used in making evaluations is flawed," the NFB said in its agenda documentation, "and because the strong preference of teachers and school administrators is to teach what they know and use the resources easily available to them."

The federation wants lawmakers to modify existing state law so it requires school districts to use a research-based assessment for determining what tools a blind student will need.

"Knowing the resistance we have seen from special education administrators, we firmly believe that adding 'standardized' to the definition of assessment to be of great importance," the federation told lawmakers. "We know hundreds of adults and many children who have been denied the opportunity to learn Braille.

"A research-based, assessment could have avoided their education being compromised."

The federation also wants lawmakers to remember there is education outside of the classroom, and "the Vocational Rehabilitation counselors with Rehabilitation Services for the Blind are valuable assets who contribute to the success of blind Missourians."

Unfortunately, the federation is telling lawmakers this week, "the salary afforded to these valuable professionals is markedly less than the Vocational Rehabilitation counselors for those with other disabilities through the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation," even though the work is essentially the same.

"For years Rehabilitation Services for the Blind has had a problem attracting and keeping highly qualified counselors with a master's degree and a level of experience that translates into quality, competent, dedicated and effective counselors," the federation explains, urging lawmakers to raise RSB counselors's pay to match the their Division of Vocational Rehabilitation counterparts.

"This would result in retention of highly motivated and empathetic individuals."

During their lobbying work, the National Federation of the Blind members also want lawmakers to protect their right to vote privately and independently, using non-visual access voting machines.

They're required in federal elections by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

"We ask that they be used consistently in all elections," the federation said. "The cost of setting them up should be minimal since text-to-speech options are available.

"Concerted efforts are made to get voters to the polls — Missouri should assure that when they arrive, they have the means to cast their ballots privately and independently."

The federation said not requiring the machines to be used in all elections would violate the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.


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