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.