Through The Braille Challenge, Blind and Visually Impaired Students See Their Way Toward Helping Others

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On Friday, February 22, 2013 at 9 am, twenty-four blind or visually impaired students will compete in The South Florida Regional Braille Challenge at the Wingate Oaks Center located at 1211 NW 33rd Terrace, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33311. The Braille Challenge® is the only academic competition of its kind in the United States and is designed to help blind students prepare for a future in the sighted world.

Twenty-four students who are blind or visually impaired from across South Florida will meet this week to test their Braille skills in an academic competition unlike any other. The students will take part in the South Florida Regional Braille Challenge. The Braille Challenge® is the only academic competition for blind students in the United States and is a national program of the Braille Institute of America. It serves to encourage children of all ages, who are blind, to fine-tune their Braille skills, which are essential to their academic and employment success in the sighted world.

What is also essential for success in our society is the ability to feel empathy and compassion for others by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to better understand how they feel. It is also essential to treat others kindly based upon that understanding. In a world that is now suffering from an empathy crisis, many young people are not given the opportunity to directly experience empathy and to learn from it. However, the Broward students who are visually impaired undertook a unique project to not only enhance their reading skills but to also help their fellow students who are visually impaired.

The OCHO Project: Read for a Need, an award winning national program founded by author Marilyn Perlyn, is a character based service-learning project dedicated to improving literacy, encouraging a love of reading, and teaching kids that you help yourself when you help others. It gives students an opportunity to address community literacy issues by providing books for kids to have at home, thus providing them with an opportunity to enhance their own reading skills.

The project is designed to encourage children to earn OCHO coupons when they read books and do academic literary activities. Each coupon is then used to acquire a book of their choice at the free book fair that is part of the program. What is particularly unique about this year's Braille Challenge is that the participating children, who for most of their lives have been the recipient of empathetic feelings, have now been exposed to children like themselves who do not have many Braille books of their own at home. The Broward students earned books not only for themselves but also for students from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. The significance of what they learned was that their blindness did not impair them from helping someone else.

Books provide for the OCHO book fair were purchased through a generous grant from the Broward Education Foundation and the Leo Goodwin Foundation. Volunteers transcribed 100 of these books into Braille. It was the students' perseverance and dedication to both reading and helping others that earned them the honor of hosting the free book fair for this event. In addition to Braille books, students also earned electronic and digital books to further expose them to current technology. Students who are blind and visually impaired need a variety of “tools” in their toolbox. With all of the advances in accessibility for users with disabilities, ensuring these students access to electronic and digital media will further encourage their desire to read for both pleasure and learning.

Students were asked to read The Biggest and Brightest Light, the book written by Marilyn Perlyn, in order to learn about empathy and giving to others. Khyree Federick, a Broward student, said, “That book helped me read and taught me to be nice to other people.” Sidnaya Ginsburg, a Teacher of the Visually Impaired for Broward County Schools, said, “This project has really helped us teach our students about understanding others. They feel great knowing that they can give to their fellow competitors by earning free books for them!” Catherine Salazar, another Broward student, has attended many school book fairs but never one that had books that she could read independently. She said, “I can’t wait to see all of the different Braille books!”

Supporting Foundations

The Broward Education Foundation serves as a catalyst for educational excellence by investing in the future of Broward’s students, teachers and schools by encouraging community support and utilizing community resources. As a nonprofit arm of the School Board of Broward County, Florida, BEF raises funds to enrich education throughout the school district.

The Leo Goodwin Foundation is focused on providing financing to non-profit organizations that covers a wide range of charities including educational endeavors in Broward County schools. One hundred percent of the funding goes to program services, medical research and education.

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Amanda Gordon (Braille Challenge)
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