Dean Denniston can’t imagine life without books. He reads more than 100 of them every year, thanks to services he receives through the Perkins Library.
“Without the availability of recorded or talking books, I would have had to leave school,” he said. “My life would be much more insular, uninformed and incomplete.”
Denniston, who is blind, was a speaker at the eight annual Blind Legislative Information and Networking Day (B.L.I.N.D) on March 25. In all, more than 100 people gathered at the State House in Boston to meet with legislators, show support for state programs for people who are blind and share their own personal stories of how state-funded services have helped them.
For Denniston, it was an opportunity to speak out for the Perkins Library.
“Funding of the Perkins Library is essential to its continued existence,” he said. “When you visit your local representatives, tell them how important it is for them to continue funding these programs.”
More than a dozen Perkins students and staff attended B.L.I.N.D. Day, including Community Programs Director Teri Turgeon, who spoke about the importance of special education services in preparing students for future employment.
At Perkins, which receives some funding from the state’s special education circuit breaker fund, programs like the Pre-Employment Program are helping students who are blind obtain the skills they need to succeed in the workplace, she said.
“When we think about success after graduation, so much of it starts in school,” she said. “I realize that as legislators and advocates, you have many competing demands, but I would argue that there is no greater investment than our children.”
Social worker Ilanarei Gross described how rehabilitation services she received from the Carroll Center for the Blind helped her come to terms with her vision loss and regain confidence in her abilities.
“Nine months after I finished the rehab program, I’m working full time in my private practice, I travel to and from work independently, and I’m an equal partner with my wife in household chores,” she said. “I’ve taken back my life.”
Among the legislators in attendance was Representative Paul Donato of Medford, who received the 2016 B.L.I.N.D. Legislator Award for his work on behalf of people with disabilities.
“He listens, he learns and he advocates for people with disabilities,” said Perkins Library Director Kim Charlson, who presented the award.
In his acceptance remarks, Donato recalled the impact of his visit to Perkins School for the Blind during a special event for lawmakers in early March.
“It was an opportunity to understand what blindness is about and the work that is done by organizations like Perkins that serve those who are visually impaired,” he said. “They aren’t ‘people with disabilities,’ they’re people with abilities, who have a disability.”