Councilmember’s Corner: Giving blind and visually-impaired students a fair shot

My meeting with Shawn Calloway and Libra Robinson, advocates for people with disabilities who helped design the Blind Students Literacy and Education Rights Act of 2018.

by Brandon Todd

Earlier this month, after meeting with members of the Ward 4 and DC blind community, I introduced legislation that would improve Braille education for blind and vision-impaired students in DC public and public charter schools.

The Blind Students Literacy and Education Rights Act of 2018 ensures that students’ Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) include provisions for Braille education and consider both current and future literacy. It is intended to fill the gaps in the existing Braille program, which blind and vision-impaired advocates tell me is not currently meeting the needs of students.

This bill responds to a concern that visually impaired children are pushed to use visual aids and devices that help them read print, but when vision significantly deteriorates or is lost, these individuals are left illiterate and forced to learn Braille as older children or adults, which can be extremely challenging.

The legislation establishes a robust Braille education system, including standards for Braille proficiency and instruction, a requirement that materials be capable of meaningful reproduction in Braille, and a requirement that teachers are certified in accordance with Braille literacy standards.

Our visually impaired and blind students deserve the strongest possible start and a fair shot in life. This legislation ensures we’re providing them the education they need to live full and rewarding lives. We can and must do better for the District’s 17,000 residents living with a visual impairment, including the over 1,000 under age 17.

If you agree that this must be a priority, I encourage you to share your support with the Council’s Committee on Education, where the legislation has been referred. I look forward to remaining a champion for the needs of people with disabilities, and will continue working to pass this impactful legislation into law.

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