A student looks up from test taking during the 2020 Northern California Regional Braille Challenge.

The Brilliance of Braille Challenge 2020

Photos by Sarika Dagar

Every four years, there’s a leap day and every three years, the LightHouse hosts the Northern California Regional Braille Challenge. This year, those two events coincided. On February 29. the Braille Challenge titled, Leap into Literacy, took over LightHouse headquarters.

The Braille Challenge is a North American contest that tests the braille skills of students in grades K-12. Students are drilled in five categories: reading comprehension, proofreading, spelling, charts & graphs, and speed & accuracy. If a student has one of the top scores in their testing level across the nation, they advance to the finals.

This year LightHouse partnered with the Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the California School for the Blind to present the challenge for the Northern California region.

The day kicked off with attorney and LightHouse board member Michael Nuñez, sharing how he uses braille on-the-job and how it was vital to his success throughout his education, from elementary school to law school. He explained that braille helped him to master legal terms and concepts in a way that screen readers and human readers could not. “To me, braille provides independence and freedom,” he said during his keynote speech.

LightHouse Youth Employment Services students were runners during the competition: taking completed tests from the examination rooms to the scoring room. They also observed and noted the leadership and decision-making skills needed to put an event of this kind on in order to discuss it as a group later. Frank Welte, Senior Accessible Media and Braille Specialist at the LightHouse, served as a scorer. He said, “I have been a volunteer scorer for many years. I keep coming back because it is an opportunity for me to apply my professional skills as a certified braille transcriber and to express my passion for braille for the benefit of the next generation of braille readers and their families. Besides, the event generates a lot of positive energy, and it’s just plain fun!”

Students entertained their families, teachers and other guests with music and singing while the tests were scored. Afterwards, prizes were awarded. February 29 only happens once every four years, but the Braille Challenge shows one reason of many why braille should be used and celebrated every day.