Daniel Brookshire doesn’t have a history book because he’s blind. His friends copied maps in class Monday at Nimitz Middle School in Tulsa. Because he couldn’t participate, the teacher gave him another project. He wasn’t resentful or angry, but he just wanted to be a part of what was happening. He wanted a textbook in Braille. "You guys can see the shape of the moon,” he said. "You guys see things with your eyes. I see things with my hands.” Daniel is one of several students statewide who are missing Braille textbooks this year, advocates and teachers said. Parents say the state is at fault. State officials say the districts are to blame. Either way, Daniel still doesn’t have a history book. More than 200 visually impaired students go to school in Oklahoma, said Cathy Holden, rehabilitation director for NewView Oklahoma. The tedium of doing classwork in braille requires blind students to work harder just to keep up, Holden said. When they don’t have books, they’re at risk of falling behind. Parents get angry. Teachers get frustrated. Students get discouraged. "It’s not legal,” she said. "It’s not right. It’s wrong in every way.” "These are kids who have every right to the same schooling that other people do,” she said. Holden is organizing a meeting day at the Capitol on Jan. 29. State agencies, advocates, parents, educators and students will gather to figure out how to better deliver services to children who need them. "It does take more money,” Holden said, "but they’re our children. We’ve got to figure this thing out.” Daniel’s mother, Cindy Brookshire, knows his schooling costs more because he is blind. She doesn’t want him to get anything extra — just the same. "He loves to read,” she said, "and he learns well by reading.” Daniel has been blind since age 2. A brain tumor on his optic nerve resulted in two surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and blindness. He was left with a little light perception in one eye and a little bit of the tumor left in his head. He is a good student, she said. He is becoming more independent all the time. He works hard in school and excels at reading, Chinese and other subjects. He reads often at home. Some of his favorites include The Boxcar Children stories and "The Giver.” He likes to read his Bible, a 20-volume text. "Braille is important because it’s just like sight,” Daniel said. "You guys depend on (sight). We depend on Braille.” Daniel said it’s hard for him to keep up when the class moves on and he doesn’t have a Braille book to keep pace. "Sometimes we do plays in class. I like to read. I’d like to have a part in this.” It’s unacceptable that students may not have access to the supplies they need, said Verna Ruffin, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for Tulsa Public Schools. The district has hired two full-time Braillists to translate books and class work into Braille and to translate the students’ work back into text. "Our students are not without the appropriate resources because even if they would not have the actual textbooks … our Braillists are able to take the lessons and translate it in Braille,” Ruffin said.
State looks to districtsState officials say money is available and that districts simply need to ask for books. Most Braille textbooks in the state come free from the Accessible Instructional Materials Center of the Oklahoma Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. The center has a $450,000 budget — $250,000 from the state Department of Education and $200,000 from the state Department of Rehabilitation Services. That budget has held steady through the recession, said Jody Harlan, spokeswoman for the Department of Rehabilitation Services. Braille books are expensive but necessary. "The only thing more expensive than accommodations for people with disabilities is illiteracy,” Harlan said. If students are without books, it’s because teachers and district officials didn’t order on time or don’t know about the program, Harlan said. "Rather than a budget problem it apparently was a lack of knowledge about the program that prevented those individuals from getting the services they could have had,” Harlan said. "I really didn’t see anything that DRS needs to respond to in terms of a budget situation. It just looks like we need to continue our outreach.” District officials need to plan ahead for their blind students, said Shelly Hickman, public affairs director for the state Department of Education. Funding for Braille books is available, and federal stimulus money has added thousands of dollars for special education. "We have more money now than we’ve ever had before in terms of providing services to special needs students,” she said.
‘It’s very disheartening’Nevertheless, some blind students are still without books. Missing books puts a strain on teachers and school staff, said Patricia Cox, a teacher for the visually impaired and an orientation mobility specialist in Tulsa. "It’s caused the work to fall back on the Braillist and the teachers for the visually impaired,” Cox said. "We are responsible for making sure the students have the material in that format. By law it’s our responsibility to do that.” Cox and her colleagues work with about 60 students throughout the district. About 40 of them are Cox’s clients. Cox has a blind son attending Tulsa Memorial High School. Her son is still missing some books. "It’s very disheartening,” she said. Blind students should always have access to their school books in Braille, said Lauren White, president and chief executive officer of NewView Oklahoma, formerly the Oklahoma League for the Blind. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case, she said. "It’s a strain,” White said. "No doubt. It’s a strain on our public school system. But the students have a right.”