by Robert Gardner
From the Editor: Our Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest was expanded last year to include a category for adults. People wanting to improve their skills were encouraged to form teams to support and encourage one another. In this account we share our surprise in winning, the bonds formed by reading aloud to each other, and the joy and accomplishment of one team and the individuals in it.
"Here's a package for you," my wife said, handing me a box large enough for a new pair of shoes. "It's from the NFB National Center. Did you order something?"
"No," I said, mystified. After cutting through the packing tape and fumbling through the packing peanuts, I pulled out...what?
My wife took a peek. "It's a plaque," she said. "Wow, you're Team of the Year."
I stood there, stunned. Our team had won the 2009-2010 adult Braille Readers Are Leaders Team of the Year Award. This had been the first year for the adult contest, and we were the winners. I could hardly believe it.
The ABLE Group was formed in the fall of 2008 from within the Blackhawk Chapter of the NFB of Illinois. ABLE stands for Access to Braille Literacy for Everyone. Our goal was to increase our Braille skills by getting together weekly and reading aloud to each other. We'd usually have four or five people involved, and all of us were in the Beginner category, meaning all of us had plenty of opportunity to improve.
Group member Lois Montgomery told me, "Meeting with the ABLE Group every week and encouraging each other to improve our reading and writing skills has definitely reaped benefits for all involved. Though I'm not a speedy reader and will probably never be one, I focus on the fact that I am literate. I think back to the time when I couldn't see print and didn't know Braille. This motivates me to advocate for Braille literacy.”
In the fall of 2009 our group read about the new adult category in the NFB Braille Readers Are Leaders competition and the fact that we could form a team. When quizzed, the members of the ABLE Group unanimously wanted to enter the contest--and we became the ABLE Team. We charged forward with five people joining the team. Enthusiasm was high. We continued to meet face to face each week and kept in touch by phone and email. Articles sent out by those coordinating the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest were passed around electronically. We even turned one of our weekly meetings into a travel exercise by riding the bus to a local restaurant and having an ABLE Team Christmas party.
Jean Rauschenbach's story is unique but has some elements that are universal amongst the group. She said, "I attended BLIND, Inc., learning the skills to become a successful blind person. They changed my life and improved my self-esteem. Because of learning these skills, especially Braille, I had the courage to go back to school at the age of fifty. I am literate again! I take notes on a Braille notetaker and can read out loud what I have written—if haltingly. It is so great to be able to have notes to go by when giving presentations in classes. My speed is still slow, but I know that it will improve as I read Braille more and more."
Jean continued, "Being on the ABLE Team was a challenge during the school year, but I decided to concentrate my time on reading a book for school. I spent a good deal of time on reading, but it paid off by increasing my reading speed. Sometimes we need the challenge of pressure to make us do what we might put off to another time."
At the start of the contest each of us had goals, but soon we noticed that the competition had spurred us all to exceed them. When Lois Montgomery began to pile up pages read, she was encouraged to enter the individual reading award competition. As the Leader Board was posted in the latter stages of the competition, we found Lois on top. And wow, what a fantastic ending to the competition! Lois took number one in the beginner category. She read around three thousand pages during the two months of the contest.
Team member Patrick Olson said, "Braille provides a way for me to enjoy a book or document without straining my eyes with large print. Reading Braille gives me much more satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment than an audio book provides." As a side note, Patrick and team member Jana Hergert had let their Braille skills slide before joining the ABLE Group. With a year of work on the team, both of them cemented their understanding of the contractions and probably doubled their reading speeds.
Last spring I was shocked when I first held the plaque signifying that the ABLE Group had won Team of the Year. Here we were, in our little corner of Illinois, and we had been selected out of all the teams across the entire country. I immediately grabbed the phone and relayed the news to team members. I then had to contact several people at BLIND, Inc., where I learned Braille. One of my greatest pleasures was a personal phone call to my Braille instructor, Melody Wartenbee, to thank her for all her patience and perseverance.The Braille Readers Are Leaders adult contest brought the ABLE Team closer together and increased our dedication to improving our Braille skills. The contest pushed us all to write more, read more, and increase our commitment to Braille literacy. The ABLE Team will continue to meet, inspired to reach new levels by the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest.