These Kids Rocked It!

Contest rewards Braille literacy

Braille Challenge » Some 52 blind, visually impaired students met to showcase their skills.

By Natalie Dicou

The Salt Lake Tribune

They can't see words on a page, but reading is at their fingertips, thanks to Braille.

Fifty-two students, who use their sense of touch, not sight, when settling into a cozy chair with a good book, met at the Utah State Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired last week for the annual Braille Challenge. The students, from ages 6 through 17, tested their ability to decipher the raised dots that make up the code, in a competitive setting.

"I like the challenge," said Alyssia Christensen, a Skyline High senior and Braille Challenge veteran. "I like being able to increase my speed and accuracy every year. I like to be able to increase my ability to read charts and graphs. And it just shows me what I've learned over the year."

Running their fingers over tiny bumps, the young Braille readers took several timed tests, which assessed their skills in areas such as reading comprehension, spelling, chart- and graph-reading, proofreading, and speed and accuracy.

They typed their answers using a Perkins Brailler, a machine that resembles a typewriter but has only nine keys, which blind readers press in combination to create the dots that represent letters. The top scorers took home ribbons and small cash prizes.

The Utah Foundation for the Blind and Visually Impaired has sponsored and conducted the contest for six years so kids like Alyssia will continue to improve their Braille skills. Learning Braille, like learning to read, can determine a person's future success, according to Braille Institute of America studies. Thirty percent of blind adults work full-time, and 90 percent of those who do are Braille readers, the institute says.

"[The Braille Challenge is a way] to promote Braille and encourage students, but also to reward them for that special effort of learning Braille," said Merrilee Petersen, Utah Foundation for the Blind and Visually Impaired activities coordinator.

It's also just plain fun. Students ate pizza, played games and heard live music.
Alyssia sat with several friends, snacking and cracking jokes during some downtime. She had her friends in stitches.

"That's what I'm known for," she said of her jokester personality. "It's so much fun. I love hanging out with people."

Petersen says the event gives students a chance to socialize with others who have similar challenges. "Many of them are in school districts that have five out of whatever, 10,000 kids, who read Braille, and they're definitely not in the same school," Petersen said. "So, when they come here, and they see their friends that they only see twice during the year, they really get close to them."

East High senior Sabrina Zarogoza's favorite test is reading and comprehension, but perhaps the main reason she takes part is "it's a great excuse to hang out with your friends."

While some students participate for the fun and games, others view the Braille Challenge as a high-stress event with a trip to the national finals on the line -- the top 60 scorers in regional events advance to the finals in Los Angeles in June.

"It's nice when you do win," said Churchill Junior High eighth-grader Caroline Blair, "but I don't have to win."

Some participants were born blind. Others can see fairly well now, but they have progressive diseases that will one day rob them of their sight. Learning Braille, for these "dual readers," is a preemptive measure.
Edison Elementary School fourth-grader Anthony Duran is learning both types of reading.

"I feel like I accomplished a lot," he said after handing in one of his tests.
Tiffany Lord, a Salt Lake City School District teacher for the visually impaired, works with Anthony.

"We are doing Braille so, if in the future, he does lose his vision, he will have a way to be able to read," said Lord, noting Braille might be his only way to "access the curriculum" later.

Braille Challenge Winners:
Varsity » Burgon Jensen, Midvale
Junior Varsity » Matthew Robinson, Beaver
Sophomore » Kortnee Barton, Syracuse
Freshman Novas » David Ashton, Lindon
Freshman » Marley Passey, Taylorsville
Apprentice Novas » Kalea Acuna, Ogden
Apprentice » Brianna Medina, Salt Lake City


Becky said...

Awesome -- Congratulations to each of them!

Daisy said...

My fair state (Wisconsin) runs its Braille Challenge in conjunction with its Braille Olympics. My teen came home with several medals and lots of memories!

LutzFam said...

My girls were there! Yay!!!

Julie said...

That's my son you have there at the top of this post. They are all truly amazing kids.

UPBC: Utah Parents of Blind Children said...

I missed this article, thanks for posting Deja