And The Winner Is

Photo of students writing braille

By Dave Hyde

It gets busy for me this time of year. Right after New Year’s, we start working on the Braille Challenge and the Braille Olympics. These two events are only similar in that they involve the use of braille, and that they occur together.

The Braille Challenge is a nation-wide competition. Students from first grade through high school seniors take tests to determine the best sixty braille readers and writers in the United States and Canada. The younger students test in spelling, reading comprehension, and proofreading. The older students get to drop the spelling, but add tests in charts and graphs, along with speed and accuracy. This last requires them to braille from dictation, which we all know is a difficult thing to do. The best students get to go to Los Angeles in June for the finals. That competition selects the best of the best, and honors them with prizes.

The Braille Olympics is different. WSBVI (the school) oversees these fun games where the emphasis is on doing the best one can, playing hard, having fun and winning medals. It changes every year, but a few games are favorites. The Braille Relay takes place in our gym. Teams of students are formed, and one by one, each member runs down, writes on a braille writer, and runs back to the team. The winning team is the one who gets down and back the fastest. It is not a quiet game.

Name That Contraction takes place in our auditorium. The proctor calls out a braille symbol and the teams, using six people, form that symbol by standing up. It moves fast!

Of course there are other activities:  Swimming in the evening, table games, and a dance. And it all starts again on Friday morning.
There are games for sorting, writing, reading, discovery, and anything else the creative staff of our school can put together. Then finally it is time for the awards. It is exciting, as students from our school, and all round the state clank as they walk since, after all, you don’t want to win just one medal.

Kids have fun at these events, as do their parents. The real benefit, however, cannot be measured in scores, or counted in medals. It is the proof to our blind and visually impaired children that they are not alone.

Parents and students share their experiences. They trade ideas, talk about their future, meet blind adults, and form friendships. Those of us who get to help run these programs year after year get to see how they grow up, and watch the little ones who were unsure of themselves at the beginning become self-assured (and sometimes difficult) teenagers. They help mentor the younger students, and pass on the things they learned.

If your child was not able to come for the Braille Challenge or Braille Olympics this time, think about it for next year. It always happens around Valentine’s Day, and we guarantee a great time.

David Hyde is a Parent Liaison and the Professional Development Coordinator at WCBVI. You can contact him by email at or by phone at (608) 758-6152 or toll free 1-866-284-1107 x6152.