With Braille Institute’s announcement of the 2020 Braille Challenge finalists, I reflect on many things. Not just the fact that
oh man, I feel old, but that Braille in its various forms, is literacy.
With the emergence of screenreader accessibility and distance learning, many students may have found themselves relying on screenreader synthesizers to get their work done. While this is amazing and completely necessary, I don’t want any Braille Challenge alumni and those who came before me and will come long after me to forget that knowing Braille is being literate. While having access to Braille materials may prove difficult, keep fighting for that accessibility. You have the right to hold a Braille textbook and to flip through pages like the rest of your sighted peers. You should know the joys of reading after lights out and falling asleep holding an actual book. And you should know the joys of participating in the Braille Challenge.
In 2006, I participated in my first ever Braille Challenge. Only eight at the time, I was nervous and excited. I didn’t practice like most finalists seemed to do—in fact, I think I was clueless. All I knew was that I was going to Hollywood! I got interviewed for newspapers, the news, and by Braille Institute staff on the days leading up to, and after. One journalist even described me swinging my sandaled feet during the competition as being relaxed and nonchalant. What they didn’t know was that I was just excited to be in Hollywood with kids my own age, showing off my little second grader Braille skills.
Wearing my favorite blue top, white skirt, and sparkly sandals, I went through the various tests, waving at my parents as we were shepherded past. I remember learning about Caitlin Hernandez, another alumnus who everyone adored, and for good reason. She was joyful, funny, and she LOVED to write, just my kind of person.
Throughout this experience, I met a few celebrities, went to City Walk in Universal Studios, and stayed in the Hilton hotel. It was certainly very swanky, but this is not why I fell in love with the Braille Challenge. I fell in love with Braille Challenge for everything it represents; promoting Braille literacy in all forms, bringing families together to experience their children simply shining in a category all their own, and most importantly, creating friendships and bonds that are, to this day, unbreakable. Kids from across the country and Canada have been able to be on the same level playing field and look past the blindness, instead focusing on what kids love, Harry Potter, music, books, and their own small joys. In turn, families connected with each other, finding strength, reassurance, and community for parents and siblings of kids with visual impairments. A reassurance that none openly spoke, but all recognized; oh my God, they can do this. They can be great. They, are, okay. We’re going to be okay.
Four years after my last ever Braille Challenge, I still hold friendships with other competitors close to my heart. Friends from New York, Canada, and across the country have been my lifeline to some semblance of normalcy and it all started with the Braille Challenge. So, I encourage you, student, parent, or teacher,—keep Braille alive. Keep literacy alive. Technology is amazing, but expensive technology will never replace the bonds, community, and joy that makes up Braille Challenge in its entirety. Braille Challenge was a beacon of independence, academic excellence, and just one of many pathways to success. I’ve moved across the state, gotten a guide dog, graduated community college, and now am moving onto university. None of this would have been possible if my parents and teacher of the visually impaired didn’t sign me up for that challenge back in 2006. Braille Challenge has changed my life. If you choose to compete, I hope it changes yours. If you competed alongside myself or will compete after me, I hope you remember those days with as much fondness as I do.
For more information on the Braille Institute and their services, please visit their website . for information on the Braille Challenge, visithere.