Braille Monitor                          January 2020

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Time for Action for Blind Students

by Kathryn Webster

Kathryn WebsterFrom the Editor: Kathryn Webster is the latest in a long line of young men and women who have been chosen by students to head the Federation’s student division, the National Association of Blind Students (NABS). Kathryn is intelligent, motivated, poised, friendly, and welcoming. She is everything we could want in a Federation leader, and here is her most recent contribution to our magazine:

On Friday, December 6, 2019, blind students across the United States of America marveled at the great news of the introduction of the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act (HR 5312.) To parents, this will encourage their blind children to shoot for the stars because they would be welcomed with open arms in higher education. To educators, this would provide mentorship and support because, let’s face it, we all don’t have the answers but want to accommodate our students. To leaders in the disability community, this would be paramount because the push for accessible and inclusive education is top of mind, as it very well should be. Most significantly, for blind students this monumental piece of legislation would level the playing field so we have equivalent opportunities to our sighted counterparts in the classroom and beyond.

As president of one of the most proud, determined, and mighty divisions of the National Federation of the Blind—the National Association of Blind Students—I applaud Congressman Phil Roe (R-TN) and Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT) for harnessing the value of this legislation and introducing it to the House of Representatives in hopes of driving it to majority support, and ultimately, implementation for the benefit of our students. We are eager to push efforts forward to ensure all students, who are blind or otherwise print-disabled, have full and equal access to university course materials such as textbooks, research equipment, and online learning platforms.

I’d like to share one small example in an attempt to illustrate moments where accessibility would have furthered one’s reach in attaining aspirations. In my pursuit to attain a bachelor of science in Data Analytics and Statistics, I struggled to comprehend concepts covered in a high-level statistics course during my time at Wake Forest University because of the lack of accessible materials. The inability to grasp visual topics had nothing to do with my mind and brainpower; instead, it had everything to do with inaccessible textbooks and graphical measuring tools. Blind students are forced to push courses to the following semesters; encouraged to take other, more text-heavy classes; asked to do less than our peers, simply because accessibility is not advertised as a possibility when it truly is an option, and a needed one. This bill would limit those barriers, while making sure colleges and universities had somewhere to turn in exploring solutions to create inclusion in the classroom.

The National Association of Blind Students leadership and membership vehemently applauds the introduction of this bill, and we will put forth all efforts to educate, spread awareness, and broaden understanding of our capabilities as contributing and active members of society.

It is our time to take action! I am leaning on our communities to push this bill forward.

  1. If you are a blind student: write a paragraph about your experience in the classroom, whether an access barrier or one of those rare and fortunate encounters with positive accessibility, and share your remarks with board member Trisha Kulkarni by emailing trishak.nfb@gmail.com.
  2. If you are an educator, parent, or ally: contact President Kathryn Webster at nabs.president@gmail.com to learn more about how you can support this effort.
  3. If you are a congressman: we need your voice to ensure our students receive equal and adequate education, allowing them to shine and contribute as we all eagerly desire to do.

We are beyond excited to witness an initiative that could change the landscape for blind students for years to come, and we deeply appreciate any support and assistance in making this possible.

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