[tabi] article from today's Democrat on blind 9-year-old in Tallahassee

  • From: "Chip and Allie Orange" <acorange@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <tabi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 25 Mar 2015 11:29:20 -0400

Tallahassee 9-year-old lobbies for Blind Services 1398299490000-Sean-10-31 

 Sean Rossman, Tallahassee Democrat 

9:34 p.m. EDT March 24, 2015 



A Tallahassee 9-year-old has taken the lead on helping other children like
her get the support they need to live better with their vision impairments. 

Paloma Rambana politely gave her spiel to lawmakers at the Florida Capitol
on Tuesday, asking for $3 million for underfunded Florida Division of Blind
Services programs that serve children between the ages of 6 and 13 with
rehabilitation and education services. 

Paloma was born with a rare condition called Peter's Anomaly, which causes
an opacity of the corneas. Her parents, Tallahassee attorneys Neil St. John
Rambana and Elizabeth Ricci, opted her out of the risky corneal transplant
surgery; instead doctors created new pupils in both Paloma's eyes in a
procedure called an iridectomy. She is still considered legally blind with a
20/200 vision, meaning what people with 20/20 vision can see from 200 feet,
she sees from 20 feet. 

Paloma met with the chairmen of the House and Senate budget committees, Rep.
Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala - a strong supporter of Florida Association of
Agencies Serving the Blind (FAASB) - and Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee.
Paloma, the star of the show, rambunctiously spun about the 4th floor
Capitol Rotunda, eagerly showing others how her reading device works and
asking her mom for pieces of gum. 

DBS funds programs for children from infancy to age 5, and from 14 to age
22, but the age group in the middle has missed out on funding for basic
needs. Paloma is one of 340 children who fit into the age-6-to-13 gap that
doesn't receive any state funding, forcing local agencies like the nonprofit
Lighthouse to use other funding sources to serve them. Like many, Paloma
stopped receiving services at age 5. Now her parents pay out of pocket for a
private vision teacher, along with magnifiers and her hand-held reader she
named Lucille. 

Compared to many in the state, Paloma is fortunate to be able to keep
receiving some services, even though it's coming out of her parents'
pockets, said Thomas Griffin, a lobbyist representing FAASB. 

"The majority of participants, once they reach the age of 5, enter into the
school system and that's the extent of the program and the education that
they're able to receive that's specific to issues related to being visually
impaired," he said. 

Paloma, a student at Maclay School, uses the reader to magnify the world
around her. At school she uses a $3,000 CCTV to help her read. When her CCTV
broke a few years ago, DBS couldn't afford to replace it; she's been
borrowing one from the Lighthouse, but it lacks the periscope needed to see
around the classroom. 

"It just means a lot more attention, a lot more intervention at school,"
said Ricci, who guided her daughter around the Capitol on her lobbying day.
"But she's such a charmer, it makes it very easy." 

Ronee Silverman, FAASB president, said programs provide children technology
training and experiences that help them socially and prepare them for
employment. But if they're out of the programs for several years, they may
get left behind. 

"They don't have sufficient training within the school system, so the
children her age would normally come into our programs at 14 and they're
already years behind," she said. "So it takes us years to catch them up to
where they should be." 

Ricci and Rambana have made their own efforts to help members of the blind
and visually impaired communities. They started a research fund at Bascom
Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, where Paloma is treated, and a scholarship in
Florida State University's College of Education for those studying to be
teachers of the visually  impaired.

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