Amy Buresh read the comments she had written on her electronic note-taker through her fingers -- quickly, professionally.
"There is a nationwide crisis in the education of blind children," she told state senators Tuesday: Ninety percent of students are not receiving enough Braille instruction to assure successful adult employment.
Buresh, who started learning Braille when she was 4, told senators she reads 300 words per minute, giving her a leg up educationally and professionally.
A blind person adept at reading Braille is more likely to be employed and financially independent, Sen. Bob Giese of South Sioux City said during a hearing of the Legislature's Education Committee.
Giese is sponsoring a bill that would require visually impaired students be taught Braille in the public schools unless their parents object.
Buresh's husband, Shane, spoke to senators without notes, because it is more difficult for him to read Braille quickly.
Shane Buresh first learned to read using large print and didn't start learning Braille until he was a junior in high school. He can read about 125 words per minute -- not fast enough to be comfortable using Braille notes.
"I do know Braille," he said. "I can still read to my son."
He is even a certified Braille instructor, but his slowness has "a real impact on my professional abilities and the things I can do,"
Almost two dozen adults, most with visual impairments, urged the Education Committee to change state law so all visually impaired students begin learning Braille early, in elementary school.
The proposal (LB754) is supported by the National Federation of the Blind and is part of a national movement to increase the number of students who become adept at reading Braille.
But professionals from public schools told senators a law change isn't necessary.
Now, a team of professionals and the parents decide whether a child will learn Braille or learn to read using print only, in what is called the Individual Education Plan, or IEP.
Parents can appeal if they disagree with the plan.
"I agree students need to be literate in Braille" but a mandate may mean the state runs out of teachers, said Jennifer Lee, vision specialists for Papillion Public Schools, pointing to a shortage of special education teachers.
The state doesn't need a change in law; it needs more teachers prepared to work with students with visual impairments, said Jane Byers, special education coordinator for Papillion.
"There are very few folks to choose from right now," she told the committee.
It's not appropriate to legislate one method for learning, said Mary Campbell, who was representing Lincoln Public Schools. Determining what is best for the student is the purpose of the IEP, she said.
Professionals also disagreed with the bill's requirement that all Braille teachers be certified through a specific national certification process. Many colleges and university have programs that train good teachers, Campbell said.
Reach Nancy Hicks at 473-7250 or email@example.com.