Friday, February 09, 2007

Reading with a special touch!

Their fingers hustled back and forth from the pages on the table to the six-key Braille machine in front of them.

No one seemed to mind the random sound of keys striking the beige paper for 25 minutes as students completed their individual tests.

It was the third challenge of the day, but for most of the students, their concentration remained intact.

Thirty-six students from Utah school districts and Utah School for the Blind competed at the Utah Foundation for the Blind & Visually Impaired in Salt Lake City at the third annual regional Braille Challenge.

"I got kind of nervous until the test started, and then I just relaxed,'' said fifth-grader Caroline Blair. Born blind, Caroline began learning Braille when she was 3. The students in grade levels from kindergarten to high school tested their Braille literacy skills through reading speed and comprehension, Braille proofreading and Braille charts and graphs challenges.

UFBVI started the regional challenge in conjunction with the Braille Institute in California in an effort to promote Braille skills among Utah's blind students.

"We want to encourage students to learn Braille. It's a lot of work and we want to reward them for learning it," said Merrilee Petersen, Braille Challenge coordinator.

The event also gives students a chance to interact with other visually
impaired students. Petersen said often they may be the only ones in their schools who may know Braille or be visually impaired.

Marla Palmer brought her two visually impaired children, Megan, 10, and Adam, 7, and family friend Asia Fowler, 8, to the challenge.

"All three can visually read large print but we wanted them to learn Braille so when their eyes get tired they have an alternative way to read," Palmer said.

As their eyes get tired, letters seem to get smaller, the children said. "I see double," Asia said.
By noon some of the younger participants were happy to be finished with their challenges. For 8-year-old Asia, her proofreading test was a bit more difficult than she expected.

"It was too hard and I didn't understand what to do," Asia said. The second-grader, who began learning Braille in preschool, was born without pigmentation in her eyes due to a form of albinism.
"It's all finished and it was fun. I feel pretty good," Asia said.

Top students from each age group receive prizes. The top 70 scorers across the country are invited to compete in the National Braille Challenge.


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