2023 New Jersey Regional Braille Challenge
We had a blast at the 5th Annual New Jersey Regional Braille Challenge! Braille readers ranging in ages from 8 to 17 and hailing from five counties flexed their braille skills in a series of reading and writing contests. We congratulate each of them for taking the Challenge!
This year’s event included a very cool pop-up makerspace facilitated by Ian Matty and students from the Mountain Lakes Public Library Makerspace. The kids and adults loved exploring the 3d-printed games and activities created by Ian and his students. Another exciting addition to this year’s New Jersey Regional Braille Challenge was a panel discussion featuring blind and low vision college students sharing insights from their educational journeys. Ida Behreini, a computer engineer and volunteer with the National Homework Hotline, led an engaging discussion that generated a host of great questions from attendees.
Big thanks to Jasmine Chu (Rutgers University), Robby Dahill (Stevens Institute of Technology), and Tyion Lashley (Rowan University), for being such excellent panelists.
2022 New Jersey Regional Braille Challenge: Back In-Person!
2021 Remote New Jersey Regional Braille Challenge
2020 New Jersey Regional Braille Challenge
VISTAS partnered with the National Federation of the Blind of NJ to co-sponsor the 2nd annual New Jersey Regional Braille Challenge. Thanks to this new collaboration, we were able to offer a full day of activities, including parent workshops, vendors, live tactile drawings, and hands-on science activities. There was a little something for everyone at the New Jersey Regional Braille Challenge! The number of contestants also doubled this year! Every one of them worked hard on the contests and enjoyed the social activities. It was great to have so many happy contestants, families, and friends from the blind community at this year’s Braille Challenge! We thank all of the volunteers who helped make the entire event possible.
2019 New Jersey Regional Braille Challenge
The first annual New Jersey Regional Braille Challenge was a great success. Thirteen contestants in 1st-11th grades participated in this unique opportunity to sharpen their braille skills and have fun! Each of them worked very hard to complete several reading and writing contests over the course of the day. They also enjoyed socializing and making new friends.
The special day capped off with a closing ceremony full of great music, happy people, and inspiring words. Special guests included musicians, Mr. Ray and John Ferdinan; Linda Melendez from the NJ Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind; Kristen Witucki, educator and author; and Kaleigh Brendle, multiple-time National Braille Challenge finalist and winner from New Jersey.
The first annual New Jersey Regional Braille Challenge was a wonderful experience for the contestants, their families, and our volunteers!
Reflections and Tips from Kaleigh Brendle, National Braille Challenge Winner
Monique interviewed Kaleigh Brendle, a 15-year-old high school student from New Jersey. Kaleigh is a seasoned Braille Challenge contestant who won 1st place at the JV Level of the 2018 National Braille Challenge. In this interview, Kaleigh talks about her experiences with preparing for and taking the Braille Challenge. She also provides some great tips and encouragement for kids who will be taking the upcoming NJ Regional Braille Challenge.
Monique: How long have you been doing the Braille Challenge?
Kaleigh: Ten years. I started when I was six years old.
Monique: And was last year your first year winning at Nationals?
Kaleigh: It was my first time winning 1stplace. But I placed in the top 4 multiple years.
Monique: Besides the encouragement that you must have received from your parents and TVI, what motivated you to do the Braille Challenge?
Kaleigh: I always loved reading braille, and I liked that the Braille Challenge gave me an opportunity to be around and socialize with other braille readers.
Monique: How has the Braille Challenge helped you to become such a good braille reader/writer?
Kaleigh: Thank you! Honestly, the day of the challenge itself is not as important for that as all the preparation for the Braille Challenge. About a month before the Challenge I spend a few hours every weekend preparing. I try to do a practice test every day.
Monique: It sounds like you really have to practice intensively to be able to reach and do well at the national level.
Kaleigh: I know some kids who do really well and make it to the National Competition who don’t do as much practice as I do. I guess everyone has their own way of preparing that suits their needs. I am the kind of person that likes to plan and be prepared for whatever may happen during the Challenge. So, I feel like I need to spend a lot of time preparing. This past year I actually did not get to practice as much.
Monique: What are some strategies you have learned over the years that may be helpful to other students taking the Braille Challenge?
Kaleigh: To prepare for the challenge, use the Braille Challenge practice tests provided on the Braille Institute website. There are old tests from previous years for all categories. You can have your TVI download and emboss them for you.
Also, time your practice tests so you can get comfortable with the times given for each challenge contest.
During the Braille Challenge, it’s important to have extra braillers handy! We have to type so much and so fast, so sometimes braille writers get jammed or otherwise malfunction. I went through four different braillers at the last National Challenge!
Don’t compare the material you finish with that of others, because it’s not an accurate reflection of your performance compared to theirs. They may have finished more, but that doesn’t mean what they got to is accurate. Everyone’s working pace is different.
(Additional, contest-specific tips are listed at the end of the interview transcript.)
Monique: What is the most challenging contest for you?
Kaleigh: Probably Reading Comprehension, and maybe Charts and Graphs would be a close second. A lot of people may think the Speed and Accuracy contest is the hardest, but it’s actually my favorite. It feels like a sport! I love how it’s like a race against the clock.
Monique: What message do you want to give students who may be taking the Challenge for the first time?
Kaleigh: Have fun with it! Scores are just a number on the page. They don’t actually encapsulate your braille ability. Just fact that you are taking the Braille Challenge is an accomplishment and recognition of the fact that you already are a capable braille reader. Use the opportunity to make new friends. Get telephone numbers of the new friends that you make so you can keep in touch. Some of my best friends are kids that I met though the National Braille Challenge. The choral group that I started was formed at Nationals where I connected with different kids all around the country who also had an interest in music.The Braille Challenge is something special and unique for visually impaired people, and it is something that sighted people don’t have!
A Few More Contest Tips from Kaleigh:
*Always practice your spelling skills. Even though the Spelling contest goes away after the Sophomore level, kids at the JV/V level should still keep up with their spelling skills. They will encounter some long, difficult words in the Reading Comprehension test.
Speed & Accuracy:
*Slow down the rate of speech on your Victor Reader Stream or Book Port to help you keep up with the dictation without having to stop it so much.
*Don’t worry if you don’t finish everything. It is okay if you have to work at a slower pace, accuracy is important too. That’s why it’s called Speed and Accuracy.
*Some kids read the questions and then read the passage. Other kids skim through the passage and then reread it.
Charts & Graphs:
*You will have to read maps and charts that you may not be used to reading. Practice using maps and charts from textbooks. Don’t just scan the maps first; be sure to get to know the content well before going to the questions.