By Catherine Cheng, AKOM Writer
Paloma Rambana was inspired to lobby for Florida Association of Agencies Serving the Blind after she realized visually impaired children in her age group were left out of current legislation. Her campaign resulted in the signing of a one million dollar bill. Read on to find out more about Paloma and her story.
AK: Please tell our readers a little more about your condition. What is it like to live with impaired vision?
PR: It’s called Peters Anomaly. I have 20/200 vision which means that what an average person can see from 200 feet, I can see from 20 feet. I had my pupils made surgically when I was a baby.
I’m a regular person. I like to sing, I like to swim and I like to play with my sister.
AK: What measures do you take to cope with it?
PR: If I need help I use my devices – Lucille and Cecile, magnifiers that help me see in the classroom or when I’m doing homework.
AK: What type of equipment and or classes do you use to help you see better?
PR: I don’t take vision classes anymore because Florida does not fund my age group. It funds ages 0 to 5 and 14 and up but not where I am, 6-13.
AK: Do you ever feel frustrated about your vision? If so, how do you stay positive?
PR: I don’t get frustrated. I always stay positive. I like to think happy thoughts. I’m lucky that my parents can pay out-of-pocket for tools such as Lucille and Cecile.
AK: In your opinion, why is it important for everyone to be able to access good vision?
PR: 80% of learning comes through vision. Having good vision helps people be creative, read, and build stuff.
AK: Previously, Florida’s legislation did not fund the Division of Blind Services for children in your age group. Could you tell us a little bit more about Florida’s legislation and how it affected you? What inspired you to lobby?
PR: Before, Blind Services was funded in pieces, not as a whole. So that meant I was not included in the funding once I turned six.
There are over 900 children like me in Florida. My inspiration was when my friend Ms. Kim Foster from FAASB (Florida Association of Agencies Serving the Blind) asked me to come lobby for her organization.
AK: What was the lobbying process like?
PR: The lobbying process was exciting and a new experience for me. I went to the Capitol and met with 13 legislators in one day. I told them my story and showed them how to work Lucille, my little handheld magnifier. I got to meet the Governor and Lieutenant Governor and learned about the budget and what a veto is. The Governor gave me a trading coin.
AK: What type of activities did you have to participate in to successfully campaign for your cause?
PR: I organized a march from The Department of Education to the Capitol. While we were marching, we chanted “clap, snap, clap, fund the gap.” Then I gave a speech. I quoted Helen Keller who said “as one we can do so little, together we can do so much.”
AK: What were the most difficult aspects of lobbying? How did you overcome them?
PR: It was hard talking to people that I had never met before but I got used to it and started having fun. When it was all over, my mom took me out for a giant cupcake.
AK: You helped lead a march to rally for funding for visually impaired children. Tell us a little about how you helped plan the march and how it went. Will you lead another one?
PR: I told my family and my friends at school and mom put notices on Facebook and Twitter. The march went successfully and it didn’t rain. We had about 100 people. It was amazing to have so many people marching with me that day. I felt special and proud. Afterward we got a private tour of the Florida House of Representatives.
We will have another march in December with even more people now that PalomasDream.com is up and @FundTheGap is on Twitter. The 2015 walk will coincide with the FAASB Vision Summit during legislative session.
AK: You’ve been successful in getting Governor Scott to start funding Division of Blind Services for children in your age group. Are you satisfied with this result? Where do you wish to go from here? Tell us about your current successes and your future goals.
PR: I asked for $3 million but we received $1 million. I am very happy that we received that amount (half will recur every year). It’s a success but there is still work to be done. What I would really like is if we received $8 million – that would be enough to cover all 921 children.
AK: Were there any people who helped you on your journey? If so, who were they and how did they encourage you on your campaign?
PR: My family and my vision teacher Ms. Jennifer helped me a lot. My best friend gave up her birthday to march with me.
AK: What advice would you give to our readers about following their dreams and making a difference?
PR: Think about your idea, talk it through, and share it with the world with the help of your family and friends.
AK: Is there anything else you would like to add?
PR: You can change the world at any age. Go ahead and do it even if you have a challenge.