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Braille ChallengeNC Braille Challenge Logo

Northern California Braille challenge
A Record Breaking Day

On February 28, 2015, 26 youth age 6 to 17 years old, came out to test their skills for the Northern California Braille Challenge, an event created by the Braille Institute of America.  This was the most participants we have had in the 14 years Vista center has been involved in hosting or co-hosting this event.  Over 100 family members and teachers as well as members of the community also attended to cheer on the students and to participate in informative presentations and panel discussions.  We had over 70 volunteers who served as proctors, scorers, and event helpers.

The event was held at the Santa Clara Valley Blind Center, who donated their facility for the day and the planning of the event was in collaboration with California School for the Blind, Junior Blind of Northern California and SF LightHouse.  The day began with a parade of the participating youth entering the auditorium, led by a group of ten puppies and their raisers from Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael.  Each student was recognized by name and enthusiastic applause from the audience definitely set the stage for celebrating the youth’s commitment to learning braille.  LisaMaria Martinez, Director of Community Services for SF LightHouse was the key note speaker for the Opening Ceremony.  Her uplifting and fun talk listed the reasons why learning braille is not only important for school and life; it is cool to know braille.  Dr. Stuart Wittenstein, retired Superintendent from California school for the Blind, led the group through an uplifting pledge to do their best as they are already winners.  The youth left the auditorium on a high note, ready to take on the three to four tests designed for specific age groups.  The tests include Spelling, reading and comprehension, Proof Reading, and for the youth age 10 to 18, they also completed Speed and Accuracy and chart and Graph Reading.

Contestants transcribing while listening to bookportsWhile the students were taking the challenge, parents and teachers attended a morning presentation and an afternoon panel discussion.  The morning presentation was conducted by Dr. Sharon Sachs, Ph.D., Superintendent of California School for the Blind, entitled “Beyond Reading and Writing-Lifestyles of Braille Challenge Finalists”.  Her talk emphasized how providing all types of life enrichment opportunities translates into overall success for blind and low vision youth.  Dr. Wittenstein led a lively post-talk  discussion where the audience asked questions and offered their own experiences. 

Panel DiscussionThe afternoon panel discussion, entitled “Activities for Blind and Low Vision Youth Around the Bay”, included panelists Lynda Johnson, representing Vista center’s Youth Group services, Jamie Gump, Youth Coordinator from SF LightHouse and Rob Schulenburg from Junior blind of Northern California.  All three shared examples of activities offered to blind and low vision youth and how these activities help to build relationships, social skills and a sense of community.

The lunch time was enhanced by the Google Self-Drive Vehicle and discussion from representatives from Google.  Everyone wanted their picture taken with the car and it was fun peeking into the future of transportation.  After the Contestants singing song from the movie, Frozencompletion of the tests, youth were invited to participate in a fun game developed and facilitated by Ann gelles, from California School for the Blind, entitled “Who Wants to Be a Braille Millionaire”.  We were even entertained by an impromptu performance of a song from the musical Frozen, from a group of girls from the Sophomore Group.  These fun activities enabled the scorers to complete the scoring of all of the tests and to determine the First, Second and Third Place winners for each of the five age groups. 

First Place Winner, Varsity, Santiago HernandezThe awards ceremony began with inviting each of the “Honorable Mentions” to come individually to the front of the auditorium to receive a special medal and a gift certificate.  The winners from each category were then invited to come up individually and accept their trophy and a special prize, ranging from Visa Gift Certificates to a Victor Reader Stream from Humanware. 

The day was special for everyone and many thanks to the Sponsors noted below and our group of amazing volunteers.  In May, we will learn if any of our participants are selected to be one of the sixty youth who participate in the National braille Challenge at the Braille institute in Los Angeles.  Stay tuned for these details in May.  Congratulations to all who came and challenged themselves and also who left with a feeling of satisfaction and sense of community.

Audience Applauding

2015 Northern California braille Challenge Finalists by Age Category


First Place:                Teresa Liu
Second Place:          Logan Maschke
Third Place:               Jayna Navarro


First Place:                Rasheed Ali
Second Place:          Melina Mendoza
Third Place:               Luke Pilar


First Place:                Mario James Chitwood III
Second Place:          Monserath Espinola
Third Place:               Rocco Romeo

Junior Varsity

First Place:                Ethan Fung
Second Place:          Sean  McGee
Third Place:   Nikhil  Dadlani


First Place:                Santiago  Hernandez
Second Place:          Connor  Wong


A special THANK YOU to the sponsors for their generous support of the 2015 Northern California Braille Challenge:
California Pizza Kitchen
National Braille Press
Santa Clara Valley Blind Center
Seedlings Braille Books for Children
Silicon Valley Council of the Blind
Braille Institute of America for creating and administering the Braille Challenge

View All 2015 NC Braille Challenge Event Photos

The Contest

2012 Apprentice contestants having funContest categories included reading comprehension, braille speed and accuracy, proofreading, spelling and reading tactile charts and graphs.
Unified English Braille (UEB) Option to be Offered for Grades 1-2 for 2015
Since both the United States and Canada have now adopted Unified English Braille (UEB) as their official code The Braille Challenge will be offering a UEB option for the Apprentice level only in 2015.

This means students in grades 1 and 2 had the option to choose this year. Game contestantThey could take all three contests in EBAE (the current English Braille American Edition) or in the new UEB code, but may not mix the two. Eligibility for Finals will not be affected. Students who earn the top scores, regardless of code selection, will advance to the Finals. An uncontracted option will be available for both codes.

To learn more about UEB, and to find tutorials and sample documents, please visit the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) website

Additionally, there is a new APH Quick Tip video regarding the American Printing House for the Blind's implementation plans for providing k-12 tests and textbooks UEB.

What is Braille Challenge?

ThPresenter and contestant  posing with awarde Braille Challenge® is an academic competition unlike any other.  Created and managed by Braille Institute of America, this two-stage contest is designed to motivate blind students to emphasize their study of braille, while rewarding their success with fun-filled, but challenging, local and national events. Any visually impaired student who reads braille is eligible to participate in the regional event.  Contests are proctored by volunteers.  Each contestant receives a brailled certificate of appreciation and general feedback on their performance, which will be sent to families and educators by the Braille Institute   in May.Past Grand Procession



Questions?  Contact Alice McGrath at or call 650 858-0202, ext.  130.