American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Fall 2023      WHAT'S NEW?

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Of Watches, Pages, and Healthy Competition

by Lisamaria Martinez

Lisamaria Martinez speaks at a podium. From the Editor: Early in the 1980s the newly formed National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) determined that a bit of healthy competition could encourage blind students to build their Braille reading skills. In partnership with the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, NOPBC launched the annual Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. With only a brief hiatus, the contest has been running ever since. In this article Lisamaria Martinez, coordinator of the 2023-24 contest, reflects on what the contest meant in her childhood and encourages Braille readers of all ages to take part this year.

It was 1988, and this seven-year-old blind second-grader from Oceanside, California, wanted nothing more than a talking watch. All the cool blind kids had talking watches! Fast forward thirty-five years, and this forty-two-year-old blind mom living in the San Francisco Bay Area, mother of three terrific kids, life coach, hiker, dancer, bookworm, cannot stand talking watches.
 
As a mother of three, I know now what my mom was up to when she insisted the only way I would ever get a talking watch was if I learned to tell the time using a Braille watch first. So of course, I had to possess a Braille watch and learn how to tell time. Yes, back in the eighties, we still learned to tell time by determining which way the clock hands pointed. We did not always have a screen flashing or digital voice announcing numbers.
 
I've been a mom now for twelve entertaining years. In that time I've learned that it is imperative for parents to have a sneaky streak in order to get their kids to do things. I learned this from the adults who raised me. When my mom told me I had to learn to tell time with a Braille watch, she was being sneaky, unbeknownst to me. I just thought this was one easily accomplishable step toward getting what I wanted. After all, what did my mom know?
 
Some of my earliest memories are of me with a book. When I was a small child and had sight, I had a series of small books my mom had ordered for me. I can't tell you what they were about, but I remember loving the feel of the books in my hands. I recall the joy I felt whenever I opened one of those books. I knew that between the covers an adventure was waiting to unfold, if I could only read.

I lost my sight right about the time I was learning to read. Literacy was taken from me and withheld for a couple of years. It wasn't until I was mainstreamed in the first grade, and I had a TVI and a resource room, that the gift of literacy was bestowed upon me again—but this time I was reading Braille!
 
I loved Braille. I loved reading. I still do. I thank my parents and my TVI and the Braille clerk in my elementary-school resource room for making Braille a reality 100 percent of the time. The resource room had a little library loaded with Braille books, and there was a beanbag or two for sitting upon. I loved running my fingers over the spines of the books. Some of the books were spiral bound. Some had hard covers, and others had soft covers. I would slip my fingers between the books to read the Braille titles and the names of the authors and how many volumes the books included. Each book was a challenge, an adventure, a journey to somewhere else. I had the wild idea of reading every book in that little library before I left my elementary school. Whether I reached that goal I do not recall, but I do know I put a good dent in that aspiration.
 
Because of my love of reading, my TVI told me and my parents about a Braille reading contest she knew I'd enjoy. She told us about the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. It is still going strong today, sponsored by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. I was eager to enter a reading contest and document the number of pages I read each day. I just knew I could win, because I was always reading.

My parents share stories about standing in my bedroom doorway, waiting to hear a page flip, so they could tell me I needed to put the book down and go to bed—it was one in the morning, and it was a school night! I used to read under my blankets at night so no one could see what I was doing. Who needs a flashlight to read under the covers when you know Braille?
 
At the end of three months, I had read 2,081 pages! I received a phone call telling me I had won first place in my category, and that I would be receiving seventy-five dollars! Of course, I was asked what I would use that money for. I remember proudly telling everyone I was going to buy myself a Braille watch so that I could learn to tell time, and then I would get myself a talking watch.
 
I can't tell you exactly when I discovered that Braille watches are awesome! They are elegant, quiet, and a must-have for the blind professional or parent. Really, they are a must-have for everyone.
 
My love for books and reading grew as I grew. Today I mostly consume audiobooks, but that is because I haven't found a way to read Braille while I do the dishes, sort laundry, and cook. When I can, I love to curl up around my Braille display, or with a hardcopy Braille book if I am truly lucky. I love to read to my kids. I love to follow along with them as they read aloud to me. I easily read 150 books a year!
 
Earlier this summer I was asked if I would be interested in being the project lead for the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. I said yes with no hesitation. Why wouldn't I want to promote this amazing contest and nurture the competitive spirit of blind kids and adults across the country? Best of all, I feel like I've come full circle. Once I was a contest participant. Now I have the pleasure of coordinating and helping organize the contest that strengthened my love of reading. Here is a chance for me actively to promote literacy for blind children. And who knows? Maybe thirty-five years from now, someone who won their level as a spunky seven-year-old kid will be taking charge of the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. That idea makes me smile!

If that idea makes you smile, too, I hope you will consider doing your part in shaping the lives of our future blind leaders. You can do so by promoting the contest to parents, teachers, and Braille readers at all levels. Information about the 2024 contest will be posted in December 2023 at actionfund.org, or you can learn more by calling 410-659-9315. Remember, Braille readers are leaders!

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