February 21, 2022
Guest blog by Camryn Gattuso, past Ohio Regional Braille Challenge participant and winner. Clovernook Center asked Camryn to write about her experiences at the Braille Challenge and any tips she has for future competitors.
When I was a child, my grandma would read to me and put my fingers on the braille words of the books to follow along with the story. I had a wonderful support system growing up, and when I was in the third grade I was one of only 10 freshmen from the United States and Canada with the highest overall score to qualify for the National Braille Challenge. I don’t really remember much from my time in Los Angeles except that it was 2010, my teachers and parents went with me, and I fell asleep during the last part of the competition. Even falling asleep, I almost made it to first place! My young body did not adapt well to the 3-hour time change from the Eastern Time Zone to the Pacific.
Six years later, I participated in the Ohio Regional Braille Challenge at Clovernook Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired. The event gathered students from across the state, so I had the chance to reconnect with a couple of students I knew from the Ohio State School for the Blind, which I visited during the summer for their week-long summer camps. From 2017 to 2018, I was in the Junior Varsity group was in the Varsity group from 2019 to 2020. These groups are based on both grade and skill level.
The last year I competed was 2019 and I won the overall prize, which included a special gift from Menus4All, a company that prints braille menus to restaurants that don’t have one yet. This form allowed me to choose a restaurant, of my choice, to create a braille menu for. I was also interviewed by WKYC, a television station out of Cleveland, Ohio to talk about the event and my experiences. The reporters visited me at my high school and I enjoyed being able to share my journey with them.
The best advice I can offer to students who might be interested in participating in the Ohio Regional Braille Challenge is to make it a habit of reading different genres every day. Read everything from fiction like science fiction and fantasy to nonfiction like autobiographies and history and beyond. In addition, I would recommend going over the practice materials, specifically the sections on proofreading and comprehension. The main focus of the competition is to challenge yourself and to be fluent in braille; see how many words you can write on an 8-1/2 by 11-inch sheet of paper without making a mistake. This is because the speed and accuracy portion of the Braille Challenge will require you to listen to a passage and write down precisely what you hear. When it says “capital,” you capitalize the word or phrase. If it says, “new line,” remember not to write that because it’s only telling you to go down one line because of the size of the paper.
The same thing applies to when it says, “new paragraph,” “exclamation mark,” “period,” or “comma.” Simply write the punctuation symbols. Also, there will be a proctor in the testing room who will read a set of instructions out loud for you to hear before the beginning of each section. These are very specific instructions, so listen attentively. Each section of the competition is timed, but you don’t need to complete every single question; try to do as much as you can before the time runs out, or before you are told to remove the paper and turn in your test sheets for scoring.
Usually, there be several opportunities for you to get to know other participants in your group, as well as ice-breaker activities. However, in an effort to keep participants guests, staff and volunteers safe, Clovernook Center will not be able to host the 2022 Ohio Regional Braille Challenge in person this year. In keeping with this year’s theme, “Camping on the Braille Trail,” Clovernook Center is taking the challenge on the trial and allowing students to compete individually. Read more information about how participants will compete this year.
I have hope for the future that everyone will be able to gather in person soon so you can meet new friends and enjoy the pizza, ice-breakers and bagpipes – until then, I encourage you to continue to practice your braille skills for next year!
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