American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
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Books, Braille, and the Excuse to Escape: The 2023 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest

by Sandy Halverson

Each participant is sent a Braille Readers Are Leaders T-shirt at the start of the contest. From the Editor: Sandy Halverson is a longtime Federationist from Virginia who serves on the board of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. For years she has been instrumental in planning and managing the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. Here is her account of the contest that concluded in late January 2023.

These days many of us take Braille for granted. Restaurants sometimes have Braille menus; most elevators have Braille floor selection panels and Braille floor indications at each stop. There is Braille on restroom doors and outside large meeting rooms. That being said, there are still too many situations where children are not being taught Braille in school. Many people who have some usable vision are still being told that they don't need Braille, that Braille is obsolete, that recorded material is preferable to Braille, and that technology will solve their literacy problems.

Yes, there is value in recorded material and the technology features that allow us to customize our notetakers or smartphones. However, these devices do not replace print for print readers, and we cannot let them serve as a substitute for Braille.

Participants who read for 250 minutes receive a Master Badge.The American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults has partnered with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) for our second Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest using the Beanstack platform. The contest aims to encourage daily pleasure reading and to celebrate the achievements of participants. During the forty-nine days of the contest, the 458 registered participants read for 608,627 minutes!

The contest gave participants a perfect excuse to escape into reading. They were invited to comment on their favorite fiction, autobiography, cookbook, or place to read. One student enjoyed "reading in the living room with mom and when I have time at school." Another person said, "I like reading to my dog, but she's kind of hyper and jumps on me and my book." Reading to a stuffed animal menagerie reminded me of one of the things I enjoyed in my childhood. Since the contest for this year is over, I hope the cookbook activity will motivate some to prepare a sampling of those yummy Braille recipes they discovered during the contest!
In addition to the categories for youth, we decided it was only fair for the adults to identify themselves as having novice, intermediate, or advanced expert Braille skills. Prize packs were only sent to K-12 students, but anyone who registered and completed the first reading activity received a T-shirt and a Braille calendar from the American Action Fund. Participants had multiple opportunities to be entered into the drawing for the two 20-cell Chameleon notetakers, donated by the American Printing House for the Blind. The prize pack sent to students included Braille-related items such as playing cards, a Braille fidget cell, and supplies for making tactile art.

A teenage girl reads Braille during the contest.The 2023 adult winner of the APH Chameleon was B.J. Snyder from New York. He was delighted to receive the notetaker and was pleased with the contest. Our youth winner was Mila Chow from California. She had watched the Facebook video that the American Action Fund had posted on Dr. Seuss's birthday to announce winners, and she was eager to get her hands on this exciting prize.

Cash prizes were $25, $15, and $10 for first-, second-, and third-place winners in each category. Our two Breaking Reading Limits winners will receive twenty-five dollars apiece. All checks have been mailed out, and we hope that our winners enjoy their earnings.

The 2023 Braille Readers Are Leaders winners in the youth contest are:

Grades K-1

First Place—Luise Schmidt-Eisenlohr, 2170 minutes, Virginia
Second Place—Max Tevanian, 1939 minutes, Maine
Third Place—Max Drake, 505 minutes, California

Grades 2-3

First Place—Geraldine Duque, 3258 minutes, Virginia
Second Place—Mikaela Murrey, 2488 minutes, Colorado
Third Place—Mila Chow, 2479 minutes, California

Grades 4-5

First Place—Narjis Karimpour, 6480 minutes, Louisiana
Second Place—Yakov Elbaum, 3582 minutes, New York
Third Place—Urijah Gonzalez, 3300 minutes, Oregon

Grades 6-8

First Place—Divani Miguel, 5717 minutes, New Jersey
Second Place—Mitchell Russell, 3787 minutes, Utah
Third Place—Ryder Sitch, 3520 minutes, California

Grades 9-12

First Place—C. J. Frazer, 6280 minutes, Minnesota
Second Place—Sierra Carreiro, 4031 minutes, Tennessee
Third Place—Anna Wester, 2649 minutes, Minnesota

Adult Contest Winners

Adult Novice

First Place—B. J. Snyder, 18,704 minutes, New York
Second Place—Donna Casteen, 15,767 minutes, Colorado
Third Place—Alfonso Simental, 9483 minutes, Colorado

Adult Intermediate

First Place—Robert Eggleston, 9981 minutes, Virginia
Second Place—Keri Getzinger, 8605 minutes, South Dakota
Third Place—Robert Gardner, 7204 minutes, Illinois

Adult Expert

First Place—Angela Randall, 33,660 minutes, Ohio
Second Place—Nicholas Wilcox, 25,965 minutes, Iowa
Third Place—Barbara Hammel, 18,153 minutes, Iowa

Breaking Reading Limits Award Winners

First Place: Madison McCombs, 1384 minutes, New York
Second Place—Stella Alford, 606 minutes, Indiana

We cannot adequately express our gratitude to the parents and teachers of blind children who continue to promote Braille reading, and to our NFB affiliates that publicly recognize local Braille readers and their families. We know that Braille Readers Are Leaders. Every year we work to improve the contest and the Beanstack accessibility. Thank you for your patience as we endeavor to ease the frustration sometimes experienced when logging minutes or sorting out computer issues that may occur. We hope you will spend part of your summer identifying books you want to read for our 2024 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest.

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