Monday, March 26, 2007

The visually impaired get support from lawmaker!

When a group of blind and vision-impaired advocates came to the House to press their issues today, they went to the top.Wielding white-tipped canes and guided by service dogs, the group found a champion in Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican and the speaker pro tempore.“We want to thank you for coming to our convention,” said Kathy Davis, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida. “You have been a real hero.”

Baxley is the father of a 20-year-old adoptive son who is blind and the founder last year of the 25-member “Vision Caucus” of the House, lawmakers dedicated to getting more services for the blind. The caucus includes Rep. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee, who has a son who is visually impaired.The federation’s legislative agenda includes increasing the penalties for motorists who strike blind pedestrians in crosswalks, making the state’s “My Florida” Web site easier to read for the visually impaired, and encouraging more Braille instruction for blind students.

Baxley has a bill (HB 883) that would make it harder for school administrators to offer alternatives to Braille instruction, but he gently suggested to a group of advocates meeting in his office that its success is still up in the air.The Department of Education is studying the measure, but the bill has yet to move through the education committee, and time is running out as the current session nears the halfway mark, Baxley said.“Around here, a bill has a 10 percent chance of surviving.

Sometimes it takes four or five years,” Baxley said. “But I’ve learned that just by filing a bill, you can start an important discussion.”Baxley promised to continue working the legislation, and jotted down notes about improving the state’s Web sites.


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