Braille Monitor                 June 2022

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Of Braille and Beanstack, Contests and Collaboration

by Sandy Halverson

Sandy HalversonFrom the Editor: Sandy Halverson and Braille so often come together in a sentence that it is hard to differentiate between them except that Sandy is complex enough that she is not as easily read and understood as Braille. Her heart and her conviction are transparent, and all of us are the better for her commitment. Here is what she has to say about the most recent Braille Readers are Leaders Contest:

The need for a children’s Braille reading contest was identified by the National Federation of the Blind in the mid-1980s to promote Braille literacy among blind students and encourage increased production and distribution of Braille material. Although I was never a contest participant, I have had multiple opportunities over the years to be involved in supervising and compiling the results of the contest. That work started with hiring a reader, who read hundreds of print pages of Braille Readers Are Leaders entry forms and reading logs and helped me determine contest winners. Then came computer-generated contest participant entries, a different way for me to parse the same data. This year we have come up with even a better way to slay this dragon; we are working with Beanstack as the primary mechanism for gathering contest information. Since the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults currently produces and distributes annual free Braille calendars, continues to promote a monthly Free Braille Books Program for school-age children, and compiled a tactile art supplies kit to encourage blind children and adults to experiment with art, it seemed reasonable to include the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest as one of our programs.

When we became aware that many summer reading programs for children found it more inclusive to judge reading contest entries by the number of minutes spent reading instead of page counts, we began testing the three most popular reading platforms used by libraries and determined that Beanstack was the most accessible for screen reader use. Its staff was eager to answer our questions, include features to meet our contest parameters, and is pleased to be working with us to make improvements we continue to identify.

Whenever there is transition from a relatively well-known process to a totally different system, things will not always happen as anticipated. How many would register? How many prizes would we need, and by whom would they be provided? How many participants would need assistance getting their information recorded in Beanstack? What kind of grand prize would be worth reading lots of minutes to win? With the support of the National Federation of the Blind, we formed a Braille Readers Are Leaders Committee to research possible prizes, define reward levels for minutes read, grand prize entries at certain milestones, and determine which producers of Braille products might consider being donors. The American Printing House for the Blind quickly responded with its willingness to give two Chameleon 20-cell Braille notetakers; Seedlings and National Braille Press gave gift certificates, and Horizons for the Blind provided a variety of tactile pictures labeled in Braille. These were of animals, birds, and flowers at a greatly reduced price. Additional art and Braille-related prizes were provided by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults.

We used email and social media to recruit contest participants. Following contest announcements, we began hearing from parents of blind children and teachers of blind students. A parent asked, “I haven’t received my daughter’s shirt yet. I was wondering if it had shipped yet? I was hoping to film a morning announcement with her wearing the shirt so that she could teach the other students about the contest and reading Braille.” A middle and high school Braille teacher at the Indiana School for the Blind who registered fifteen students said, “Thank you for keeping this amazing contest so successful. It is so important to highlight our Braille readers!”

By the end of the contest, 508 participants had registered and 280 had submitted reading logs. This was the largest number of participants we have ever had, representing thirty-six states, one APO military family, and a Canadian Braille reader reading a total of 471,770 minutes.

On March 4, in recognition of Dr. Seuss’s birthday, the first, second, and third place winners were announced at an American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults Facebook Live event. In addition to the prize packets sent to all participants, winners received a check for $25, $15, or $10 depending on placement.

The winners for the 2021-2022 contest are: Adult, first place, Carol Ann Weeks, South Carolina, with 30,525 minutes; second place, Nicholas Wilcox, Iowa, with 28,356 minutes; third place, Angela Randall, Ohio, with 28,322 minutes. Kindergarten and first grade, first place, Mila Chow, California, with 1,588 minutes; second place, Hope Gernster, Montana, with 1005 minutes; and third place, Jane Gacioch, Missouri, with 855 minutes. Second and third grade winners were first place, Maeve Erb, Utah, with 1,585 minutes; second place Baylynn Lluveres, Minnesota, with 1,524 minutes; and third place, Madison McCombs, New York with 1,224 minutes. Fourth and fifth grade winners were first place, Gabriel Wahlberg, Florida, with 5,000 minutes; second place, Narjis Karimipour, Louisiana, with 2,713 minutes; and third place, Salome Cummins, Missouri, with 2,599 minutes. Sixth through eighth grade winners were first place, Divanai Miguel, New Jersey, with 9,402 minutes; second place, May Resendiz, Indiana, with 8,433 minutes; and third place, Amare Laggette, North Carolina, with 3,755 minutes. Ninth through twelfth grade winners were first place, Faith Switzer, New Mexico, with 2,925 minutes; second place, Hayden Roswell, Colorado, with 2,505 minutes; and third place, Maria de Nooy, Michigan, with 1,928 minutes.

Luis Villanueva from Maryland read 155 minutes and earned our Breaking Reading Limits Award which is presented to a participant who has overcome significant barriers to reading Braille.

 Our Facebook Live event ended with the grand prize drawings for the two APH 20-cell Chameleon Braille displays. Our adult winner was Elizabeth Rouse from South Carolina, and Faith Switzer from New Mexico was our high school student.

The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children had received a very generous donation specified for technology for blind students and asked that a winner from each of the remaining categories be drawn to receive either a Focus 40 Braille notetaker or the IRIE Braille Buddy embosser. These winners were Boon Dumrong, grades 6-8, Washington; Salome Cummins, grades 4-5, Missouri; Madison McCombs, grades 2-3, New York; and kindergarten-first grade, Jane Gacioch, Missouri. It was a privilege to contact each winner, assuring parents that I was not a telemarketer and that their child really did win something of great value! Several parents expressed appreciation for the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults and the National Federation of the Blind for our interest in their children and the opportunities and programs we provide.

As a child I loved having hard-copy Braille books under my fingers, whether on my grandmother’s front porch, on a bus, or in bed until I heard my mom get up to put the book away. Darn the noise of those turning pages! These days, refreshable Braille displays make it possible and convenient to have access to as much Braille as we can manage, and many of our school-age contest participants have choices we did not have. So, no matter how many school districts insist that using recorded books or screen-reader computer technology are better than Braille as a primary means of reading and learning, our Beanstack minutes logged show a tremendous and exciting commitment to Braille literacy.

There will be another Braille Readers Are Leaders contest during the 2022-2023 school year. The American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults is pleased to partner with the National Federation of the Blind to strengthen Braille literacy and to create opportunities to put Braille in the hands of blind children and adults.

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