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Braille ChallengeNC Braille Challenge 2012 Logo


NC Braille Challenge Finalists chosen

Out of over 900 contestants from 42 states in the US and 2 Canadian Provinces, two of our participants in the Northern California Braille Challenge are joining the 58 other finalists in Los Angeles on Saturday, June 23.  We will be rooting for these two Apprentice finalists:

Monserath Espinola, Seaside CA, age 7, school grade 2
Patricia Figueroa, Daly City CA, age 7, school grade 2

If you are interested in learning more, please go to the Braille challenge web site at  In addition, in the photo gallery on the Braille Challenge site you will see pictures of our event.
We will keep you updated after the June National event. 


Watch video highlights of the event

The 2012 Northern California Braille Challenge was attended by a record number of 24 participants and 190 extended family members, teachers of the visually impaired and guests connected with the blind community.  The event was hosted by Vista Center in collaboration with California School for the Blind and San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind.  Santa Clara Valley Blind Center donated their facility for the day and the venue proved to be a perfect setting for this action-packed day.  Junior Blind of America also served on the planning committee.  The participants were supported by local agencies and CSB, all with the common goal, to promote the development of braille skills for school age youth, and to build a supportive community for blind and visually impaired youth to help them thrive.

Apprentice ContestantsThe Braille challenge is Braille Institute's national reading and writing contest in braille and a great way to motivate blind and visually impaired students to practice their literacy skills.

The event held on March 3 was more than a competition; it was a celebration and learning experience for all. 

Caitlin HernandezOur program included a keynote speech by past Braille Challenge national winner, Caitlin Hernandez.  She discussed, with insight and humor, the importance of balancing braille literacy skills with access technology.

Listen to 2012 Keynote Speech, Caitlin Hernandez (Time: 12 minutes, MP3 file)

The contestants left on a high note for their respective testing sessions.  Volunteer proctors were Teachers of the Visually Impaired and lifetime braille readers. 


Presentation, Dr. Sharon SacksMeantime, the parents and other guests attended a presentation by Dr. Sharon Sacks, PhD, Director of Curriculum, Assessment, and Staff Development from California School for the Blind.  Her talk focused on the success factors for blind and visually impaired youth. Her engaging talk covered the strategies parents and teachers can use to support the achievement of success for blind youth. Presentation, Dr. Sharon Sacks (Time: 53 minutes, MP3 file) Dr. Sharon Sacks PowerPoint Slide Presentation


Google Self Driving VehicleLunch proved to be enjoyable on many levels.  We were treated to a viewing of Google’s self-driving vehicle.  Students had their pictures taken in the vehicle and it is easy to imagine that at some point in the future, some of these students will have one of the vehicles for their very own.


Score RoomAfter lunch, the participants returned to complete their testing, and our group of volunteer Scorers continued busily scoring completed tests.  A glimpse into the score room provides us with the career possibilities for the youth who participated in the Braille Challenge. The careers for the scorers who were blind included an attorney, a college professor, a court transcriber, a community outreach representative, an adaptive technology teacher, a braille transcriber, an independent business owner, and a braille instructor.  This broad spectrum of careers is proof that braille literacy leads to gainful employment for those who are blind or visually impaired.

Technology PanelThe afternoon program was a panel of blind technology users discussing the educational and recreational benefits of Apple products.  Richard Rueda, Director of Transitional Services, Jr. Blind of America, led the panelists as they offered tips and demonstrations of the unique features of Apple iPhone, iPad and other products, and described the accessible nature of each. Apple Tips Sheet 

Braille Bee, Ann GellesWhile tests were being scored we were treated to one of the most entertaining activities of the day.  Blind and visually impaired youth were invited to participate in a Braille Bee led by Ann Gelles from California School for the Blind.  As each student demonstrated his/her spelling ability with no fear of being in front of over 100 people, we were clapping as a student correctly spelled the word using proper braille contractions, and commiserating when someone was eliminated for incorrectly spelling a word. 

Dr. Stuart Wittenstein with award recipientDr. Stuart Wittenstein, Superintendent of California School for the Blind, awarded the winners in each of the five categories.  In addition to first, second and third place winners, all participants were recognized.  All were winners that day.

Most importantly, we felt a solid sense of community and a glimpse into the promising future for all of the participants. Their sense of confidence and joy were so apparent it was contagious. watch video highlights of the event

Listed below are the winners and honorable mentions for each of the five age categories.  In addition we want to extend our thanks to our collaborating partners, CSB and SF Lighthouse for the Blind.  Special thanks to Santa Clara Valley Blind Center for the use of their facility, and to the sponsors for the Braille Challenge.


Varsity: 1st place Janie Brunson, 2nd place Michelle Yoo

Jr. Varsity: 1st place Santiago Hernandez, 2nd place Connor Wong
Sophomore: 1st place Sean McGee, 2nd place Alexia Arriola, 3rd place Rio Popper – Honorable Mention: Manuel Castillo, Luis Castillo, Iman Awad, Shyanne Vasquez

Freshman: 1st place Alex Aguilar, 2nd place Jiselle Yanez, 3rd place Rocco Romeo – Honorable Mention: Natalie Charles, Mario James Chitwood, Ethan Fung, Shianna McClendon, Jack Veliquette

Apprentice: 1st place Monserath Espinola, 2nd place Paty Figueroa, 3rd place Melina Mendoza – Honorable Mention: Tyler Riley, Heidi Ruiz-Contreras

2012 Braille Challenge Photo Gallery

Full length video that includes the complete keynote speech and all contestants receiving their medals and prizes.


California Pizza Kitchen


National Braille Press

Perkins Products

Santa Clara Valley Blind Center

Seedlings Braille Books for Children

Silicon Valley Council of the Blind


Access Ingenuity

Junior Blind of America

Silicon Valley Council of the Blind