Friday, March 16, 2007

Budget cuts will be fought by the visually impaired

The blind and their advocates are vowing to fight tens of thousands of dollars in proposed cuts to programs that provide access to books and newspapers for the visually impaired. Gov. Deval Patrick's $26.7 billion budget proposes cutting $100,000 from the Braille and talking book library program at the Perkins School for the Blind and $18,000 from the $390,000 talking book program at the Worcester library. "This is the way blind people have access to information," Paul Parravano, who works in the president's office at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the Boston Herald.

Parravano, 55, who is legally blind, said he calls Newsline, a state-funded service that plays recordings of newspaper articles, at least a dozen times a day. "It's like you just pick up the newspaper. I pick up the phone," he said. Less money for the Perkins library means fewer books for fewer people, said Steven Rothstein, president of the Watertown school. Thousands of people use the library each year, but it could serve thousands more, he said.

A Patrick spokeswoman said the governor's budget makes cuts across the board as he tries to close a projected $1.3 billion deficit. "We understand that behind every dollar is a person and unfortunately we had to make cuts to several agencies," Cyndi Roy said. "And we're glad this one wasn't as severe as it could have been." She noted that former Gov. Mitt Romney cut talking book funding by $263,000 last year, but Patrick restored it when he took office.

State Sen. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre, a member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, called access to talking books a civil right and said the programs should be at least level funded. Patrick has been accused of excessive spending on his official car and office furnishings. "It's sad to see he has money to go out and lease a Cadillac and he decides to make a cut in books for the blind," said Bob Hachey, president of Bay State Council for the Blind.


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