June 20, 2013
With the help of the Lyme-Old Lyme Lions, Mike Rouillard, a Lyme-Old Lyme High School junior who has been visually impaired since birth, will compete in the Braille Challenge Finals in Los Angeles.
Three years ago, Mike became a finalist in the national 2010 Braille Challenge, held at the Braille Institute in Los Angeles, CA. The Braille Challenge, often compared to a national spelling bee for sighted students, was created in 2000 to promote Braille literacy. With help from the Lyme-Old Lyme Lions Club, a local, non-profit organization that supports eye-related research and assists the vision-impaired, Mike made the trip, exhilarated in knowing he was chosen from so many. Contestants were treated to a welcoming reception dinner on Friday evening and spent all day Saturday testing. The tests were challenging, with little time allowed to complete each section. There was an awards banquet dinner on Saturday evening, where the winners are announced. Unfortunately, he was not to win that year.
In March of this year, US and Canadian service agencies and schools for visually impaired youth hosted regional Braille Challenge qualifying events for more than 1,000 students. 60 students—the top 12 in each of five age groups—were chosen to compete in the finals. Mike is again one of the 60—and the only one from the state of Connecticut—to make it to the final round. The competition will be held in Los Angeles on June 21 and 22.
Mike plans a career in computers or information technology, adding, “I might also expand this and teach technology to visually impaired students.” The trip fits right into the plan. Financially, though, things are a bit tough. Mike’s dad has been working in upstate New York, and he is only able to come home on weekends. To make the nationals, the family must pay for airfare, meals, and other expenses. _____________________________________________________________________________________
The Braille Challenge
Contestants range from grades 1-12 and are divided into 5 age groups: apprentice, freshman, sophomore, junior varsity, and varsity. Mike is in the varsity group. Students compete using a typewriter-like device called the Perkins Braille Writer, which has 6 keys and a spacebar. Different combinations of these six keys form all 26 letters of the alphabet, numbers, foreign language symbols, music, and anything else that sighted people can read and write. The contest categories include:
• Speed and Accuracy (sophomore, junior varsity, and varsity)
Contestants listen to a tape-recorded story and transcribe it into Braille. Contestants are ranked based on the number of correct words (including punctuation) they transcribe from the page. A point is subtracted for each word that contains one or more mistakes, including missing or extra words.
• Spelling (apprentice and freshman)
Contestants are asked to spell Braille vocabulary words correctly. Points are earned for each correctly spelled word. Extra points are given for additionally Brailling the contracted version of the word correctly. Contracted Braille is a shortened form of some words. This significantly decreases the amount of room that Braille takes up on the paper, since Braille is about twice the size of print. If you had a 10 page book, it would be about 20 pages in Braille.
• Chart and Graph Reading (sophomore, junior varsity, and varsity)
Contestants read raised-line images called tactile graphs and earn points by correctly answering a series of multiple-choice questions about the content.
• Proofreading (all age groups)
Contestants read a series of Braille sentences, some with grammar, punctuation or spelling errors. Contestants are asked to choose the multiple-choice option that is Brailled correctly.
• Reading Comprehension (all age groups)
Contestants read a story in Braille and then answer 10 multiple-choice questions.
In each age group, contestants in first, second, and third place will be awarded a cash prize. First place winners also receive an iPad and a refreshable Braille display.
For more information about the Braille Challenge, visit www.braillechallenge.org.
View the Lyme Times article by staff writer Kimberly Drelich.