State looks to districts
State 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.”