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Competing in Braille

SELPA teacher Tanya Gonzalez with braille student Diego Caperon

Diego Caperon has a naturally competitive streak, and this desire to win helps motivate him to work hard. This recently paid off with a first-place victory at the regional Braille Challenge. The 6th grader at La Mirada Elementary School in San Ysidro prepares mentally in much the same way other children would when preparing for a competition. However, physically, his practice looks very different as he prepares for the Braille Challenge with a lot of the work involving his finger speed. “It’s basically like when a football team is getting ready for the Super Bowl,” he said. “You have to practice a bunch.” Students across the state who are blind or have visual impairments participate in the Braille Challenge each year. Our regional competitors get help from their teachers in the four special education local plan areas (SELPAs) that the San Diego County Office of Education operates, in addition to their usual lessons. Diego recently won first place in his age group at the regional level. He will go on to compete in the semi-finals in events such as typing speed, comprehension, and proofreading.” I felt really good because the practice I had done didn’t go to waste,” he said.

This is the second time that Diego has gotten first place in his age group. The first time was when he first competed at age 8. The annual Braille Challenge was developed by the Braille Institute to motivate students to practice and hone their braille literacy skills, which are essential to academic and employment success. Diego said he looks forward to the Braille Challenge each year and is particularly excited about the return of the in-person finals in June after two years of virtual finals. He has been competing in it since 2018. Diego said he doesn’t often get a chance to interact with other students with visual impairments, so the challenges are great opportunities to connect.” It’s awesome!” he said. “It’s like a huge party with work at the beginning of it. I like seeing friends that I haven’t seen in a long time.” South County SELPA teacher Tanya Gonzalez regularly works with Diego on his Braille and helped him prepare for the challenge. Gonzalez said she tries to make their lessons fun and practical at the same time.“We’re definitely preparing Diego to be ready for whatever he wants to do,” Gonzalez said. Braille reading and writing isn’t necessarily fun unless we make it that way. We have an opportunity to give our students a challenge that highlights their skills.”

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