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OKC residents win medals in Oklahoma School for the Blind’s regional Braille Challenge

By Darla Shelden, City Sentinel Reporter —

OKLAHOMA CITY – Three Oklahoma City residents, Elbin Carrillo, Julio Valdez and Ben Middleton, earned medals and prizes during the 2021 Oklahoma Regional Braille Challenge® hosted by Oklahoma School for the Blind (OSB). 

Thirty-two competitors participated, 11 for the first time.

Carrillo was the top winner in the Braille Challenge® contest. He earned a gold medal in the varsity category for grades 10-12 and the highest overall score among all sophomore, junior varsity and varsity level competitors. 

Carillo also won a Victor Reader Stream handheld media player and recorder donated by Humanware, a global digital technology development company.

Valdez, a sophomore, earned a silver medal in the varsity category and Middleton, a junior, won a silver medal in the transition 2 category. 

All three are Oklahoma School for the Blind students.

Braille Challenge® is a national program sponsored by the Braille Institute of America, a nonprofit organization that eliminates barriers caused by blindness and severe sight loss.

Traditionally, Braille Challenge® occurs on a single day on the OSB campus in Muskogee.

This year testing occurred over a month, which permitted smaller testing groups, fewer volunteers and flexibility for student absences due to illness or weather.

Contestants in the apprentice, freshman, and transition categories completed braille tests in spelling, reading comprehension and proofreading.

Sophomore, Junior Varsity and Varsity contestants answered questions about charts and graphs, reading comprehension and proofreading, and listened and transcribed passages into braille.

Volunteer teachers for visually impaired proctored the competition, which was scored by Faye Miller, Oklahoma School for the Blind orientation and mobility specialist and Braille Challenge coordinator. 

“The Braille Challenge gives students opportunities to demonstrate skills vital to their employment success and future independence,” OSB Superintendent Rita Echelle said.

The Braille Institute will invite 50 finalists to compete virtually in the National Braille Challenge from June 28 to July 11.

Nationally qualifying contestants have advanced 25 times since 2003 from the Oklahoma School for the Blind’s regional competition to the national finals.

In 2019, three Oklahoma competitors qualified to compete at the national level: Richelle Zampella, Katelynn Zampella from Muskogee, and Hunter Kelley, a contestant this year from Claremore.

Contestants received goodie bags with items donated by the Braille Institute and other sponsors. Frank Dirksen provided t-shirts.

Brailled certificates of appreciation and general performance feedback will be mailed to families and educators in May.

Additional Braille Challenge sponsors include Oklahoma School for the Blind, Liberty Braille, Nano Pac, NewView Oklahoma, Oklahoma Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of Blind and Visually Impaired, Oklahoma Council of the Blind, Ruth Kelly Studios, Reliant Rehabilitation, Sapulpa Lions Club, Seedlings and SERVPRO.

The Oklahoma School for the Blind, a division of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services, is the statewide resource for the education of students who are blind and visually impaired.

Residential and commuter students meet all state-mandated education requirements and receive specialized instruction in Braille, orientation and mobility, optimum use of low vision, adaptive equipment technology and tactile graphic skills not readily available at other public schools in the state.

The school maintained a 100 percent graduation rate in 2020.

OSB provides hundreds of free services each year, including free evaluations and consultations, for students attending local public schools, their families and local school staff.

For more information about the Oklahoma School for the Blind, call 877-229-7136 toll free or visit osb.k12.ok.us.