On Friday and Saturday, Feb. 26-27, Washington Talking Book & Braille Library (WTBBL) hosted the annual Washington Regional Braille Challenge.
The Braille Challenge, developed by the Braille Institute, is an academic competition held in the United States and Canada every January through mid-March. Students in grades 1 through 12 who are blind or visually impaired are tested on fundamental braille skills such as spelling, reading comprehension, proofreading, speed and accuracy, and charts and graphs.
This year’s Braille Challenge was a little different, however. Because of the pandemic, the competition was all-virtual. Plus, this year the Eastern Washington and Northwestern Washington regionals combined to form the Washington Regionals. Oregon did not host a Regional, so for the first time WTBBL welcomed Oregon students to the competition, like Audrey, 12, who was so excited to compete this year. Eli, 14 and a Braille Challenge veteran, said he prefers to participate in-person but appreciated being able to compete from the comfort of home.
So how does one host a competition like this online? WTBBL, along with volunteer proctors, families, and teachers from Washington State School for the Blind, sent each student a box of testing materials. Students were then split into “breakout rooms” divided by testing category and were proctored virtually. Those students who were unable to attend on Saturday or who preferred to participate safely in person were given the option to attend the Friday night meet-up on the 26th and take the tests with their individual TVI (which stands for Teacher of the Visually Impaired) in-person at a different time.
In addition, the Braille Institute provided “swag bags” complete with Braille Challenge-branded masks, hand sanitizers, and water bottles, and all the student participants were given WTBBL Braille Challenge T-shirts. Northwest Association for Blind Athletes led a heart-pumping virtual session of audio-described Zumba during the competition; and the Washington Council of the Blind’s Families Committee hosted an information session on Friday night highlighting upcoming opportunities for low-vision and blind youth in Washington.
It was great to see so many students participating, and they all performed amazingly well, even though they were miles away. WTBBL is grateful for the opportunity to host this year’s Washington Regional Braille Challenge. We look forward to next year and are already planning how to make the event even more inclusive.