The National Federation of the Blind filed a complaint with state education officials yesterday alleging that blind children in Baltimore are graduating from public schools as functional illiterates because they are not being offered the proper training and technology at their schools.
At a news conference at the national headquarters in South Baltimore, Denzel Ferges said he graduated in June from Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School but will need to get further training in Braille and technology to be able to continue his education and realize his goals of becoming a physical-education specialist and opening a recording studio.
Ferges, 17, said he and his parents fought to get him Braille instruction, but he had it only in seventh grade. Ferges, who does have some sight, said he can read large-print books, but often they didn't arrive in the beginning of the school year. In addition, he said, reading them is slow going, and he believes he would be able to keep up better if he had learned Braille.
"I wish I could read my speech, but I was not taught Braille so I have to remember my whole speech," Ferges told the crowd, which included a couple hundred blind students who are gathered for a conference in the area this week.
City schools spokeswoman Edie House said the school district received the complaint and it is being reviewed by counsel. The Maryland State Department of Education has an investigative staff that looks into special-education complaints. The state is expected to issue an opinion in several months. In its complaint, the Maryland affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind says that students are not being properly evaluated to find out what skills they need to do well and that they are not properly trained in how to use Braille and how to get around with a white cane, both skills that make students more independent.
The NFB also calls for the district to give blind students better access to technology that would allow them to use computers and the Internet.
Most of the blind and visually impaired students who attend city public schools have been required to attend regular classes at one of three designated schools: Garrett Heights Elementary, Federal Hill Middle or Mervo.
Melissa Roccobono, president of the Maryland affiliate of the NFB, said it is difficult for blind students who have some sight to read a novel, textbook or notes for a test, although they are expected to do so. "Blind students are not second-class citizens," she said.
Parents of blind children have long been concerned about education, which has led the NFB to put together a national task force, according to Marc Maurer, president of the NFB. Only about 10 percent of blind children are taught Braille in the country, he said, and the figure is even lower in the city. He said systemic changes are needed.