Recent advancements in technology have made life easier for all types of people with disabilities. New devices and apps have made it possible for those with visual impairments to access information and navigate the world in ways never imagined a hundred years ago. But regardless of the ease of use that audio books and the like provide, braille reading is still an essential skill for the blind and visually challenged.
On March 1, Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired will host the Ohio Regional Braille Challenge. Students from across Ohio in grades 1–12 will compete with one another in a series of five skills contests: braille reading and comprehension, speed and accuracy, spelling, proofreading, and tactile graphics.
“This is something that we’re looking to just build and grow and I think it has a lot of potential,” says Clovernook Center president and CEO Chris Faust.
In its 18th year nationally, the Braille Challenge encourages blind and visually impaired children to show off their braille skills in competition with others from across the country. Top-scoring students at the Ohio Regional Braille Challenge will earn cash prizes, along with the chance to compete in the Braille Institute of America’s Braille Challenge Finals, to be held in Los Angeles in June.
Clovernook Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired has been providing various life-enriching programs and opportunities for those with visual impairments since 1903. As the world’s largest volume producer of braille materials in the world, it is fitting that the Ohio Regional Braille Challenge would take place here for the third year in a row.
“The kids come from all over the state. In the past we’ve had young people from Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus,” says Kathy DeLaura, event chair for the Ohio Regional Braille Challenge.
“The theme for this year is ‘Superheroes’ because all of these kids are superheroes,” adds DeLaura. “They have overcome amazing challenges in order to be there, which is a credit to their parents and their teachers as well as the kids.”
“I’m excited for the Braille Challenge to highlight the importance of Braille for the visually impaired,” says Faust.
“A lot of people don’t understand, but braille forms the foundation for people to create sentence structure. It helps with their thought process and it helps people to effectively communicate,” he continues. “With audio, the amount that is retained is significantly less than when they read braille.”
DeLaura concurs. “Reading is fundamental, and if you can’t see, braille is fundamental. It is really the only tool that’s out there for people who are blind and visually impaired to pursue literacy,” says DeLaura.
Far more than just a contest, the Ohio Regional Braille Challenge takes on an air of celebration and kinship, complete with a procession led by bagpipers, a proclamation from the City of Cincinnati, a choral concert by Clovernook’s choir, and various workshops for parents and teachers.
“It truly is a celebration,” says Faust. “Yeah, they’re going to work hard, and they’re also going to play hard — and that’s what we want them to do. We want them to enjoy it. It’s all about encouraging them to continue their learning and growth in braille, which is really going to help them down the road.”
“People that learn braille — it’s been documented that they have higher levels of education, rates of employment, and also levels of pay,” he continues.
“There is a 70% unemployment rate for people that are blind and visually impaired. So the more people we can get to learn braille, the more likely they’re going to be educated, the more likely they’re going to be employed and earn a sustainable living. And that’s really our goal — to empower all them to be full participants in their community,” Faust says.
This year’s workshops are set to include programs on legislative issues, 3-D printing, and use of smart phone apps, among other offerings.
As for braille’s place in this brave, new world of technology, Faust is optimistic and excited for the future.
“There are some really cool things coming out that are going to increase the amount of materials available,” he says.
“Braille is not just a function of the embossed pages. The number of printed braille pages will decrease, but the amount of available materials via downloads is going to increase,” he says. “People would assume braille is going away. Braille is going to evolve.”
For more information about the Braille Institute of America’s Braille Challenge, visit www.braillechallenge.org. To learn more about Clovernook Center, visit their Facebook page. Those interested in registering a student for the Ohio Regional Braille Challenge may email [email protected].