By Evelyn C. McDonald
October 15, 2018 6:35 p.m.
If you were downtown last Friday afternoon, you might have seen a dark-haired young girl signing books in front of the Book Loft. The girl, Paloma Rambana, is not only amazing but has an incredible story to tell. For one thing, she is probably the youngest lobbyist to ever storm the Florida legislature.
Paloma was born with a rare eye condition, Peter’s Anomaly. It means that she has limited vision and is in fact legally blind. Paloma can distinguish colors and shapes close up but her vision is about 20/200. She and her parents live in Tallahassee.
As she was growing up, Paloma had teachers to help her learn to navigate the world. She had devices such as magnifiers that enabled her to read. She had them, that is, until she became 6 years old. At that time, Paloma and her parents discovered what she calls The Gap.
Visually impaired children in Florida received assistance through programs funded by the state. This assistance covered them from birth to 5 years old and from age 14 to 18. The Gap affected children from 6 to 13 where no state aid was available. To Paloma, this didn’t seem right.
It’s easy to understand how this could happen and it’s not attributable to any malice on Florida’s part. Probably funding was provided at separate times to the two groups and no one realized there was The Gap. Paloma decided to do something about it. It’s important to note that she was 9 years old when she decided to become a lobbyist supporting the Florida Association for Agencies Serving The Blind.
Paloma talked to state legislators, including Dennis Baxley and Alan Williams. She armed herself with the facts, the need, and a small briefcase. She wasn’t seeking a new law but a Legislative Budget request. Eventually Governor Scott signed the budget that included $1.25 million to go into children’s programs at the Division of Blind Services. This included funding in years to follow.
As her lobbying efforts became known, Paloma used every opportunity her increasing fame offered to explain the issues and the needs of visually impaired children in the state. She has a website – www.palomasdream.org where you can read about her and the issues she supports. She’s 13 now and grateful for what she has been able to achieve but intends to keep up the fight and, as she says, survive sixth grade.
I’ve interviewed a number of people for the Observer but this was one of the most articulate and inspiring interviews I’ve done. She has a book, Paloma’s Dream, that tells her story with intelligence and humor.
Evelyn McDonald moved to Fernandina Beach from the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. in 2006. Evelyn is vice-chair on the Amelia Center for Lifelong Learning and is on the Dean’s Council for the Carpenter Library at the UNF. Ms. McDonald has MS in Technology Management from the University of Maryland’s University College and a BA in Spanish from the University of Michigan.