Warren Student Places Second in National Braille Reading Competition

Posted on 09/08/2020
Salome Cummins

Like many of her classmates at Warren Elementary, Salome Cummins attends her classes, finishes her homework, and plays with her friends. She will talk your ear off if given the chance, has a bubbly personality, loves meeting new people, is incredibly smart, and has a contagious smile. During the summer months, Salome competed in a reading competition and finished second in her age group. Salome’s reading materials were a little different than what you might find in her school’s Learning Commons though, as her books are printed in Braille. Salome is legally blind.

Salome participated virtually in The Braille Challenge, which is coordinated by the Braille Institute in California. Students compete within the same age group from all across the nation. Age groups compete in a variety of different categories, like reading comprehension, vocabulary, speed and accuracy, proofreading, and charts and graphs.

Having competed before, Salome still enjoys the challenge of the contest. “The Braille Challenge is cool because, even virtually, it’s always fun,” said Salome. “Whatever the year is, and whatever the place I get, the Braille Challenge is always fun.”

“The Braille Challenge has become one of Salome’s favorite events of the year,” said Ann Cummins, Salome’s mom, and also a teacher of the visually impaired and an orientation and mobility specialist with the District. “She is a very quick learner and after she learns something she never forgets it. The Braille Challenge has been a wonderful opportunity for her to compete with other kids who are also great readers. It has given her something to work diligently to achieve that is really fun.”

While those who learn Braille must learn to read and write just like any other language, Braille has its own unique challenges. “The complexities of developing the sensitivity of touch to be able to discriminate among dot configurations and mastering the rules of formatting and structure make Braille a challenge to learn,” said Kevin Hollinger, teacher of the blind. “The Braille Challenge serves to broaden people’s perspective in that we must expect competent literacy for children with visual impairments and tackle the inherent difficulties often faced in the typical education curriculum, as well as the Expanded Core Curriculum.”

In a typical year, finalists and families are given the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles to attend educational sessions, roundtable discussions, networking opportunities, and more. Qualifiers compete in their category and await their scores and ranking at an awards ceremony. Due to travel restrictions this year, the event was held virtually and the Braille Institute coordinated and trained proctors to administer the test locally while maintaining the integrity of the test.

Salome’s second-place wins means a little more than a certificate and some bragging rights, though. Statistics show that approximately 78% of legally blind individuals are not employed, or are employed under their abilities. Through the continuing support and education of her teachers in FHSD and the push of her previous teachers in the Kansas City area, Salome had a strong backing force supporting her literacy and independence. Their guidance and support will ensure that she is one of the 22% of happily employed individuals who are legally blind. “The Braille Challenge enables everyone involved in a child’s education to see the tremendous commitment needed to promote not only literacy but a level of self-determination and advocacy which will last a lifetime,” said Hollinger.

“The Braille Challenge likely offered Salome the opportunity to see the benefits of hard work and the thrill of competition,” said Hollinger. “Oftentimes students who have a visual impairment cannot participate in the same activities or events, or share in the same life experiences due to the limitations of the absence of sight. But, when you put 50 kids in a room and connect their families and support the professionals working with them, something significant happens - HOPE!”

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