Media Minute – Braille Challenge

Campus Activities Media Minute Braille Challenge

An adolescent checks the braille she wrote on a Perkins Brailler in a room with other students at tables with Perkins Braillers.

In a few short weeks, TSBVI will host the Central Texas Braille Challenge Regional competition! The Braille Institute developed the Braille Challenge as the only academic competition of its kind for students who are blind or visually impaired. It’s not just a competition but an opportunity for students to come together, socialize, and have fun! TSBVI has been involved in regional competitions for nearly 15 years! This post will feature media of students competing on all levels in the Regionals and the Finals!

According to the Braille Institute website, “Any blind or visually impaired student in first through twelfth grades who can read and write braille is eligible to participate in the Braille Challenge. Contestants are divided into five categories and tested on fundamental braille skills such as: Reading Comprehension, Spelling, Speed and Accuracy, Proofreading, and Charts and Graphs. Students can compete in the Braille Challenge Regional events, which are typically held from January through mid-March throughout the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom but only the top 50 students (10 in each category) with the highest scores are invited for the final round – two days of competition, on the University of Southern California campus.” TSBVI’s magazine Texas SenseAbilities has covered the Braille Challenge in the Fall/Winter 2015 issue. We have also done two Sense of Texas podcasts related to the Braille Challenge, one in January 2020 with Sergio Oliva, Vice President of The Braille Institute and an interview with TSBVI student, Jackie, and a more recent episode in September 2023 recorded by TSBVI Superintendent Emily Coleman at the 2023 Braille Challenge Finals Ceremony where three students from Texas competed, Levi C., EmmaGrace O. who won second place in Junior Varsity, and Leo D. with Leo winning first place in the Sophomore division and earning the Harley Fetterman Award for Excellence in Charts and Graphs!

Braille Challenge Regionals have been held in Central Texas since 2006, sponsored by the local Education Service Center Region 13, TSBVI, and other local organizations. Students attending TSBVI Comprehensive Programs compete alongside their peers from Central Texas while students around the state who are being served in their district compete in Regionals in their area. Special guests are invited to present to students and their families each year including Ryan Honey, former Director of Digital Programs and Media of the Braille Institute who did a session on film production, John Bramblitt, Texas artist who is visually impaired who presented and did an art activity with participants, and Moaz Khan, a martial artist who is blind and did a Tae Kwon Do demo and lesson. In 2017, volunteers from University of Texas Austin Nanomanufacturing Systems Center (NASCENT) and Nanosystems Engineering Research Center (NERC) came to lead STEM activities with the students and they have returned every year since.

Harley Fetterman was a student who served in his local community and beyond. He attended TSBVI Short Term Programs and excelled in Braille. Carolyn Mason was his Teacher of the Visually Impaired. Harley won 1st place at the Central Texas Regional Braille Challenge 7 out of the 8 years he participated which meant he made it to the Braille Challenge Finals in California that many years. At the Finals, Harley won 3rd place in 2013 and 2nd place in 2015! Sadly, Harley passed away in 2016. He was known and loved by many. Harley’s family created Harley’s Wallet, a non-profit charitable organization that supports children in need and their families with a focus on kids who have cancer and/or are blind. The organization provides T-Shirts for the Central Texas Regional Braille Challenge, sponsors the “Charts and Graphs Awards” for the Central Texas Regional Braille Challenge and the Braille Challenge Finals in California, and helps provide airfare to any Texas student that qualifies for the Braille Challenge Finals in California. Please check out the Harley’s Wallet website to see the many more ways they help children, their families, and the community. Also, Judy K. Johnson wrote a brilliant biography on Harley, “The Exceptional Harley Fetterman.” The book is available online and for purchase on the Harley’s Wallet website. All proceeds of book sales go to Harley’s Wallet.

Many students from Texas who won in the Braille Challenge Regionals and advanced to the Braille Challenge Finals have been celebrated in the media. Joyce B. advanced to the Finals in 2021 and was covered by ABC and the Houston Chronicle. Audace M. advanced to the Finals in 2020 and was covered by Fox and the Abilene Reporter. Leo D. first advanced to the Finals in 2018 and was interviewed by KXAN, then again in 2020 and and he was covered by KXAN. In 2021, Leo returned to the Finals a third time and won first place! His story was covered by KXANKVUE and KXAN again after he won the competition.

Be sure to cheer on the students participating in upcoming Braille Challenge Regionals across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom and congratulate them, their staff, and their families for the hard work and dedication it takes to compete in the Braille Challenge! Spread the word about this amazing event!