American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Fall 2016       READING

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The Braille Challenge: Learning through Competition

by Deborah Kent Stein

Group portrait of the first-place winners in the 2016 Braille ChallengeFrom the Editor: Since the Braille Institute began the Braille Challenge in 2000, this annual event has invoked the lure of competition to promote the use of Braille. In 2011 the Braille Challenge received a Jacob Bolotin Award for service to the blind community, one of the highest honors presented by the National Federation of the Blind. To learn more about the Braille Challenge, visit <>.

"I began my career working with agencies that provide mentoring programs for at-risk youth," explains Sergio Oliva, director of national programs for the Braille Institute of America, Inc., in Los Angeles. "Blind youth fall into the at-risk category due to the high rate of unemployment among blind adults, estimated at almost 70 percent. Studies show that 90 percent of the blind people who do hold jobs are Braille readers. So what better way to help blind kids succeed than to promote the use of Braille?" The Braille Challenge emerged as a means to encourage Braille readers to achieve their highest potential through competition with their peers.

The Braille Challenge began officially in 2000 with a handful of regional contests scattered across the United States, followed by finals at the Braille Institute headquarters in Los Angeles. The contest grew year by year. Forty-seven regional competitions were held in 2016, taking place in forty-one US states and three Canadian provinces. Altogether 1,122 Braille readers took part.

Each regional contest is sponsored by a school or agency for the blind. Every regional contest has its unique flavor, but all adhere to the same basic rules and structure. On Braille Challenge Day the contestants are grouped into categories based on grade, from apprentices (grades 1-3) to varsity (grades 10-12). Within each category the students face a series of contests, or challenges: reading comprehension, spelling from dictation, and proofreading. An additional challenge for the high school students is the interpretation of tactile charts and graphs. "Graphics are used a great deal in high school and college courses," Oliva explains, "but Braille readers tend to have limited exposure to them. A lot of kids think they can't understand tactile graphics, and they try to avoid them. We've seen that they can improve a lot with practice. The contest helps motivate them to work on those skills."

At the end of Braille Challenge Day, the students with the highest total scores in each grade category are awarded prizes and certificates. The names and scores of the participants in each regional contest are then sent to the Braille Institute. The top ten winners in each grade category are invited to take part in the finals in Los Angeles.

Meredith Day, a third-grader from Finksburg, Maryland, was among the ten finalists in the apprentice category in 2016. On June 14 she traveled to Los Angeles with her parents and her older brother, who is also a Braille reader. Although the competition was the main focus, the trip was a memorable family vacation as well. "We went to Disneyland and California Adventure," Meredith recalls. "We went to Santa Monica Beach and Santa Monica Pier, too." The ocean was too cold for swimming, so they spent a lot of time at the hotel pool. "A bunch of kids from the Braille Challenge were there," Meredith says, "and we got to hang out together and make friends."

"The parents had a chance to get to know each other, too," Meredith's mother adds. "That was one of the best parts of the experience."

When asked whether she was nervous before the contest, Meredith said she was fine. "Mostly the Braille Challenge was fun. I liked the reading comprehension part the best. The stories were really interesting."

After the participants turned in their entries, a panel of judges tallied up the scores. Awards were presented at a formal banquet. The winners received cash prizes and Braille devices from HumanWare. Meredith Day came in first place in the apprentice category. She was the youngest first-place winner in the 2016 finals.

Improving literacy is one of the best ways to enhance opportunities for at-risk youth. Braille Institute remains deeply committed to the Braille Challenge and its focus on Braille literacy. It has touched the lives of thousands of Braille readers, helping them gain the tools they need to succeed.

Listed by category, the following are the winning finalists in the 2016 Braille Challenge.

First Place: Meredith Day, Maryland
Second Place: Faith Switzer, New Mexico
Third Place: Logan Strickland, Florida

First Place: Brooke Petro, Kansas
Second Place: Ian Receveur, Indiana
Third Place: Maggie Wehrle, British Columbia

First Place: Julia LaGrand, Michigan
Second Place: Joey Parra, Arizona
Third Place: Ryan Menter, Maine

Junior Varsity
First Place: Mitchell Bridwell, Indiana
Second Place: Richelle Zampella, Oklahoma
Third Place: Emily Bowe, Arizona

First Place: Cricket Bidleman, California
Second Place: Keisha Anderson, British Columbia
Third Place: Kate Antolak, Florida

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