Braille makes life better for people with vision loss: Student competition and poetry reading events highlight the impact of braille literacy

San Jose, CA – February 18, 2022: Of all the literacy issues in America, braille literacy is the most underrated and overlooked. Advances in technology haven’t replaced the need for people with vision loss to learn to read using this vital medium.

Peter Mindnich, president of the Braille Institute of America says, “Braille is a crucial tool for many blind and visually impaired students as it opens the doors of literacy and drives education advancement and future employment opportunities.” For those born blind, braille is the primary means to acquire basic language proficiencies (grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.) essential for academic and career success.

Vista Center, a nonprofit serving people living with vision loss, is offering two programs at its San Jose location (101 N. Bascom) on March 4 and 5 that illustrate the importance of mastering braille, and how braille literacy drives success in school and career.

1) Friday, March 4 at 6pm, the public is invited to a poetry reading with Susan Glass, who has been blind since birth. She’ll share how braille positively influenced her life and how access to literature through this tactile language transformed her life. Now retired after a successful career in editing and college instruction, she’ll read from her new award-winning book of poetry, The Wild Language of Deer, of which the Boston Globe wrote: “something almost otherworldly hovers at the edges of these poems, a quiet attunement that brushes humbly up against the big mysteries.“ Tickets are $25 (or $50 with a signed copy of the book), include refreshments and are available online.

Student using headphones and typing on a braille machine

2) The next day, Saturday, March 5, dozens of students from around the Bay Area will compete in-person to be among the top braille students in North America. The 2022 NorCal Regional Braille Challenge will run 9am-4pm and is co-hosted by Vista Center, California School for the Blind and LightHouse for the Blind & Visually Impaired. Learn more at


Two students linking arms and holding white canes

Joining over 1,000 others across North America to celebrate braille skills, dozens of blind and visually impaired students ages 6-19 will gather in San Jose at Vista Center (101 N. Bascom) to test their braille skills in five categories: reading comprehension, braille spelling, chart and graph reading, proofreading and braille speed and accuracy. In addition, an award will be presented to the braille teacher of the year.

The Braille Challenge® is sponsored annually by the Braille Institute of America and is the only national reading and writing contest in braille for students who are blind and visually impaired. Regionals are open to students of all abilities, giving even emerging braille readers a chance to engage with experienced students, and/or reach a personal best score.

It’s also a chance for students to experience success in mainstream schools (rather than in schools for students who are blind and visually impaired), to make friends and share their hopes and challenges with peers. But for those top academics, the NorCal Regional Braille Challenge is the first step to the coveted national finals Braille Challenge competition held at the Los Angeles headquarters of the Braille Institute, where 50 finalists with the highest scores from around North America will embark on another daylong competition to test their braille skills alongside their peers.

Mindnich adds: “With more than 1,000 students expected to participate in the Braille Challenge this year, we continue to be more inspired each year by the passion and commitment of each contestant.”


Photo of Susan Glass at Gamble Gardens in Palo Alto

Every morning, when Susan Glass takes her guide dog Omni out for a walk around the neighborhood, her head is filled with new ideas and inspiration for her writing. Born blind, Susan was an enthusiastic student, aspiring to be a forest ranger or veterinarian, but writing became her avenue to connect with those around her.

“I learned how to type on a standard typewriter in the 6th grade. My resource teacher said I could type my homework each week, and it wouldn’t have to be brailled. My classmates had penmanship lessons, but they didn’t know how to type. This was a way I could be a writer and connect with sighted people.”

Susan achieved many childhood milestones – without vision – like cooking and sewing, with help from Vista Center in San Jose. Her mother, who also loved music and poetry, would often drive Susan there after school to work on homework and enrich her mind through reading at its Braille Library.

“The community at Vista Center helped me fall in love with reading and writing. I’d sit on the carpeted

floor for hours, buried under piles of braille volumes, while I tried to decide what books to take home to read. My first after-school job was at that library, where I learned how to catalog and shelve books.”

Working at the Braille Library evolved into a lifelong career as an English professor and published author. After teaching many years at San Jose State University and West Valley Community College, she established herself as a prominent writer in the blind community, co-editing the Blind Californian Magazine for the California Council of the Blind and the AABT Briefs newsletter for the American Association of Blind Teachers.

Her new book of poetry, The Wild Language of Deer, won the Elyse Wolf Prize from Slate Roof Press. Her poems have appeared in Snowy Egret, The Broad River Review, Birdland Journal, Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California, Honoring Nature: An Anthology of Authors and Artists Festival Writers, and elsewhere.

Susan held a residency at the Cummington Community of the Arts in Massachusetts and received her MFA from the University of Massachusetts/Amherst. After teaching many years at San Jose State University and West Valley Community College, she now co-edits the Blind Californian Magazine for the California Council of the Blind, and the AABT Briefs newsletter for the American Association of Blind Teachers. She and her husband John, who both serve on the board of Vista Center, share their home with her guide dog Omni, whose combined work ethic and silliness ensure that all three remain irreverent, active, and loved.

Join us at Vista Center San Jose on Friday, March 4 at 6pm to enjoy a private reading from The Wild Language of Deer. Tickets are $25 ($50 includes a signed copy) and are available at

Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired empowers individuals who are blind or visually impaired to embrace life to the fullest through evaluation, counseling, education and training. A nonprofit founded in 1936 with offices and low vision clinics in San Jose, Santa Cruz and Palo Alto, Vista Center serves over 3,700 people with vision loss aged 3-107 annually.

Located in Fremont, California School for the Blind provides a multitude of services to blind and visually impaired children and young adults across the state.

Founded in 1902 and located in San Francisco, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired promotes the independence, equality and self-reliance of people who are blind or have low vision.

Braille Institute of America is a nonprofit whose mission is to eliminate barriers to a fulfilling life caused by blindness and severe sight loss, serving tens of thousands of people of all ages each year through an array of integrated educational, social and recreational programs and services designed to help people with vision loss lead enriched and fulfilling lives. For additional information, please visit