Visually impaired students were feeling good, putting their fingers to the test in this year's Illinois Regional Braille Challenge.
On Thursday, 24 students convened at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired in Jacksonville in a day-long regional event, competing against each other and hoping for a spot at the national competition.
The Braille Challenge, a national program of the Braille Institute, is the only academic competition for visually impaired students in the United States and Canada, with divisions for elementary to high-school levels being tested in a variety of reading and writing skills.
Winners in Thursday's competition were: Daniel Bein from Fisher in the apprentice division; Cody Boys from ISVI in the freshman division; Darren Garland from ISVI in the junior varsity Division; Sela Cornell from Wilmette in the sophomore division; and Breanna Carpentier from ISVI in the varsity division.
While these students were the best in their divisions, only the top 60 students among all who participate in regional events will be invited to the national competition in California.
Coordinator and ISVI elementary educator Darla Chambers said 12 ISVI students competed and 12 traveled to the school from around the region.
"The competition is they have speed and accuracy, listening to an audio passage being read and they have to braille it exactly as they hear it," she said. "Then they have proofreading several paragraphs; charts and graphs; reading comprehension and the younger students do spelling in contracted and un-contracted braille."
Braille uses several contractions, for example spelling the word "the" as a single cell. The charts and graphs category asks students to read tactile graphs and answer questions on them.
Chambers said the national competition will be held in the summer, but it will be a few months before all regional events finish and the national top 60 are announced.
The event Thursday marked the second year its has been in Jacksonville.
"The reason I started putting it together, five years ago we took our students to the St. Louis School for the Blind and to Chicago for our students to compete in their braille challenges. And then Chicago disbanded their competition so I wanted to keep it in Illinois, so I decided to start it."
While advancements in technology are helping the visually impaired without requiring proficiency in braille, but literacy is just as important for the blind as it is for everyone else.
"It's worth it, because we want to promote braille and we want to promote literacy among students," Chambers said. "There's more devices they can use now … but you're still going to use braille anytime during your day, so we want to keep students skilled so they can use it any time they need it."
Cody Bozarth can be contacted at 217-245-6121 ext. 233 or on Twitter @JCnews_Cody
Jacksonville Journal Courier