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Braille Challenge

Northern California Braille Challenge

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Exciting New Update:

Luke Pilar, National finalist walks toward podium to receive his regional awardNorthern California Braille challenge  contestant, Luke Pilar, is on his way to the Nationals!  Luke is a sixth grader from San Bruno and this will be his second time competing at the Braille challenge Nationals.  Luke will be joined by his family and his teacher, Jane Unger, of San Mateo county.  We will all be rooting for you Luke and most of all have a blast!

2018 Northern California Braille challenge
A Day Filled with Excitement

On March 3, 2018, 25 youth age 6 to 19 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 a great turnout and over 160attended including contestants, families, Teachers for the Visually Impaired, volunteers, speakers, proctors and scorers.  As you can see by this list, the community comes together to cheer on the contestants and learn from each other. 
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 and SF LightHouse

NC Braille Challenge  contestants  grand entrance

The day began with a parade of the participating youth entering the auditorium, led by a group of 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. Contestants and Audience listen to Introductions

Keynote speaker

Keynote Speaker, Cricket BidlemanCricket Bidleman, a five-time National winner of the Braille challenge delivered the key note address to the students.  She shared how she learned braille and English at the same time at the age of four.  This accomplishment was just one in a list of many accomplishments.  She is currently a Freshman at Stanford University, and since her parents also attended Stanford, they were certain Cricket will also attend.  She shared many stories of how braille is an important part of her life, both personally and academically.  Cricket summed up her talk by assuring the contestants that they can do anything they put their mind to and they are all winners. (Listen to keynote speech.)

Morning Workshop

Braille Institute's Maria Saldivar leads workshopMarie Saldivar, National Programs Coordinator for the Braille Institute of America joined us to discuss and demonstrate the new application titled iBraille.  It will be available in the Apple apps store soon and it is designed to help individuals practice their braille skills in a fun format and get feedback.  She brought iPads with the app loaded and many of the parents and youth attending tested it out.  All said it will be a great tool and fun as well.

Contestants head off to their braillers

Lunch time fun

Volunteers Serve Pizza donated by California Pizza KitchenThe lunch included pizza donated by California Pizza Kitchen and contestants and families had time to visit and catch up with each other.  Michael Parker from access Ingenuity and Lesley gibbons from Sterling Adaptives came to join us for the lunch break to answer questions and demo their braille products.  Ashley Broussard from Cane and compass was on hand to show off her T-Shirts that highlight cane travel skills. 


Afternoon Panel

Transition to college panel discussionThe afternoon panel was titled “Transition to college – Wisdom from visually impaired and blind College students and Recent Grads”.  Caitlin Hernandez, Derek Czjadka, Cricket Bidleman and Tiffany Zhao all shared their insights about selecting the right college for their needs, completing the applications, handling social situations and self-advocacy skills for working with their professors.  It was informative and at times funny and parents and teachers as well as students in the audience surrounded them after the panel to    ask additional questions.(Listen to panel discussion)

Post-Contest Games and entertainment

Male contestant plays dartsYoung female contestant tries her hand at bowlingWhile awaiting the final tests to be scored, the contestants had the chance to play audio darts; a game where the dart board announces what the player hits on the board.  They also had the chance to try a variety of adaptive physical education activities to burn off steam after the completion of the contests.

Four girls  sing song from the movie Frozen, acapella!Our Regional is known for impromptu performances given by contestants.  A group of girls sang in perfect harmony one of the songs from the movie Frozen (listen tothe quartet's beautiful harmonizing.) 

We were also treated to an amazing performance by Miles Lima who played the piano and sang “Hallelujah”, by Leonard Cohen (listen to performance).

Award ceremony

Jennifer Hirsh Receives Teresa Postello AwardWe began the award ceremony with a new and very special award given to a Teacher for the Visually Impaired.  In honor of Theresa Postello, who passed away last year, we have begun the “Theresa Postello Award for Excellence in Braille Instruction”.  Theresa was a huge and long-time supporter of braille literacy and the Braille    Challenge.  The award was presented to Jennifer Hirsh of Monterey.  It was a total surprise and she was honored and very touched for being selected.

First Place Varisty Winner Ethan FungThe contestant award ceremony began with each participant who did not place came forward to receive an Honorable Mention award.  They received medals as well as a mug from the SF LightHouse. 

The 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 50 youth who participate in the National braille Challenge at the Braille institute in Los Angeles. 

2018 Northern California braille Challenge Finalists by Age Category


First Place:                Christa Tran
Second Place:          Mariya Patel
Third Place:               Sasha foot


First Place:                Miles Lima
Second Place:          Maggie Ralph
Third Place:               Darren Ou


First Place:                Luke Pilar
Second Place:          Logan Maschke
Third Place:               Teresa Liu

Junior Varsity

First Place:                rocco Romeo
Second Place:          Monserath espinola
Third Place:   Mario James chitwood III


First Place:                Ethan Fung
Second Place:          Kaitlyn Austin
Third Place: Nikhil Dadlani


A special THANK YOU to the sponsors for their generous food and prize donations for the 2018 Northern California Braille Challenge.
California Pizza Kitchen           Pier 39
CuriOdyssey                                Planet Granite
Happy Hollow Park and Zoo    National Braille Press
Humanware                                  Noah’s Bagels             
In-N-Out Burgers                         Tech Museum
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom    
Seedlings Braille Books for Children


Thank You to our Generous Donors for Your Support!

Photos of the 2018 Northern California Braille challenge

Facebook video of the day's event