The contents of this column reflect the letters we had received by the time we went to press, Nov. 5, 2010. Letters are limited to 300 words or fewer. All submissions must include the author's name and location. Opinions expressed are those of the authors.

** In Response to 'President's Message: School Days: Dark Days for Blind Children?'

Mitch Pomerantz's message could not have come at a better time. As a teacher at the California School for the Blind, I have seen many a student who is in our facility mainly because of the reasons that Mitch outlined. The school is the only residential school for the blind in California. It brings in blind and visually impaired children from all over California. Those students who stay with us receive a disability-specific IEP. These children often live in very small, semi-rural districts where a braille and O & M instructor are almost non-existent.

Other students came to us because they were receiving itinerant vision services at the elementary level, but not at the middle school or high school level. Then there are those students who come simply because their parents and even some of the districts have only recently heard of our school. A bill passed last year automatically makes CSB part of the referral packet of a child being referred for vision services.

Yet while CSB should be a place on the continuum, it should not be the only place. Educating a child at CSB is extremely expensive. Not only are we using specialized equipment and specially trained personnel to work with these children, but we are housing them, providing three meals a day, and even flying them home on weekends and holidays.

While I want to see as many students as possible come to CSB, I do not want them to come just because there is nothing for them in their own districts. A residential school for the blind is not for everyone. It is a far more restrictive environment, and its main purpose is to educate blind and visually impaired children with multiple impairments. Having a mix of kids who are high functioning enough to make it in their home districts at some point and those kids who cannot is not all that easy.

-- Alysa Chadow, Alameda, Calif.

** I wanted to express my concern in general agreement with the president's message in the August issue regarding mainstreaming of the blind, and lack of braille education. It is not blind children's responsibility to educate the rest of their school, nor the rest of the school's job to learn to accept blind children. They all are supposed to be getting a basic education. When I attended a blind school, I wanted to be mainstreamed. When I was mainstreamed, having the skills from the blind school allowed me to be successful. Doing that education without those skills would have been disastrous. The blind school I attended gave me so many experiences that no public mainstreamed setting will ever match that I don't think a comparison is worthwhile. When the blind schools are on the chopping block, I think the idea of separate education to gain minimum skills should be considered. It is not reasonable to expect our educators to have the skills for every situation and student, in every situation and class.

Here are just a few examples of things I learned or experienced at the blind school that would not have been possible in mainstream setting. Regular mobility training allowed me to navigate most settings without stress. Once-a-week training is no substitute for daily training at a young age. Reading braille effortlessly is something to be appreciated by any who can. Once per week braille lessons won't get you there. Physical education, including bowling, swimming, archery, and wrestling, was available with instructors who expected you could do it. Home economics taught good cooking skills, made me sew on buttons, etc. This just won't get done in most mainstream settings. Band was great, but getting teachers to provide braille music is not easy -- and we all can't memorize the music.

So we need to revisit the separate education concepts again without the false hopes and expectations we may have from philosophies.

-- Allen Hoffman, Fredericksburg, Va.

** Regarding Social Security's Accessible Formats

I am writing in regards to the decision that was made in the case ACB v. Astrue. I chose to have letters sent to me in Microsoft Word format. When I receive the CDs and read the information using my preferred screen reader, I feel very independent. Knowing the decisions Social Security is making regarding my SSI payments and the reasons behind those decisions is very empowering. In the past, I had to rely on someone to read the information. Individuals who are not knowledgeable about the rules and regulations of SSI tended to stumble and stutter their way through the letter. As a result of having the letter in a format I could independently access, I felt much more in control of the decisions that were made in my case.

Thank you for all the work you do to advocate for Americans who are blind or visually impaired.

-- Alexis Read, Rochester, N.Y.

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