The Braille Challenge

Changing the Lives of Youth Since 2001

By Jessica Minneci

            It is difficult to fathom how understanding a six-dot cell and its accompanying combinations of dots can bring children of all ages from across the US and Canada together, all of them yearning to prove their mastery of the Braille code. Yet, in mid-June of each year, the Braille Institute hosts the National Braille Challenge in Los Angeles for the top 50 children with the highest scores in their category.
            Beginning in 2001, children who are blind and visually impaired from grades 1-12 have competed in regional rounds of the Braille Challenge. They are tested in the categories of proofreading, reading comprehension, speed and accuracy, charts and graphs, and spelling. Winners receive a ribbon and cash prize. In May, the top 50 contestants are selected and participate in the national round in June. After the contestants and their families arrive in L.A., the weekend kicks off with a welcome party followed by a day of competition. At night, everyone attends the award ceremony where cash prizes and assistive technology is awarded to the winners, sometimes by a celebrity guest.
image shows Jess and three friends posing
 for a picture at the Braille Challenge
            Having been a finalist in 2012, 2014, and 2015, I can attest to how amazing an experience the National Braille Challenge was. Although there was a different theme and group of participants each time, the magic of my adventures in L.A. was never dampened. Meeting other children who were visually impaired and my age is a rare pleasure as most of us are few and far between. Everyone has a different visual impairment, background, and story. Hearing all of them is both exciting and exhilarating.
            Added perks include free Braille books, enthusiastic volunteers, and rekindling old friendships as new ones are formed. The icing on the cake, I’ve found, is stepping out of your comfort zone, pushing yourself to meet new people and do the best you can even if it means your friend wins. After all, the challenge is about something bigger than winning prizes. It is about promoting Braille literacy, showing others your love of braille, and thanking all of those individuals who taught you to read and write. Braille is the system by which people who are blind define words. Without it, we would not have a voice.
            For these reasons, I find myself relying on my fingers to read instead of always listening to spoken text. I covet the few Braille books I own and save my money to buy more. I am appreciative of the Braille skills I possess because I know that not everyone has the opportunity to learn Braille. Therefore, I thank the Braille Challenge for their kindness and contributions to my academic and professional success for I don’t know where I would be today had I not started competing in 2008.

 Jess Minneci is a senior at Seton Hill University and an intern at APH. 
She is a three-time National Braille Challenge participant and has 
previously volunteered with ACB. She is a poet and aspiring 
novelist who enjoys filming youtube videos about young adult 
novels and spending time with her guide dog Joyce.


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