California Teen Wins Top Honor at Braille Challenge

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Sixty of North America's top blind students were put to the test Saturday in Los Angeles at the National Braille Challenge. Fingers flew across pages as the students showed their skills at reading comprehension, chart and graph reading, and transcription. This year's varsity division champion is Claire Stanley, 19.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Picture a competition of 60 kids speed-reading with flying fingers. North America's top blind and visually impaired students were put to the test yesterday in Los Angeles at the National Braille Challenge. They showed their skill at reading comprehension, chart and graph reading, and transcription. This year's varsity division champion is 19-year-old Claire Stanley of Orange County, California.

Ms. CLAIRE STANLEY (Varsity Division Champion, National Braille Challenge): All of us in the varsity level agreed that the hardest one is called speed and accuracy and that you have to listen to a tape and Braille out everything you hear as fast as you can and try to do as much as you can so you just, kind of, listen to a tape and type and fast-forward, rewind to go back where you were is probably the most challenging one we did.

ELLIOTT: This is Claire Stanley's second title. She won the Braille competition when she was in the junior varsity division in 2004. To prepare, she reads a lot and practices her contractions - the nearly 300 letter combinations used in Braille to save space.

Ms. STANLEY: We call them contractions but they're kind of like shortcuts. So, like "AC" is "according" or "AB" is "about," or if you put a specific dot in front of a letter, it's the word, like dot in front of W is "work." It's kind of like, a lot of people compared it to, like, a stenographer's shorthand that sort of thing. And so, there are a lot of rules to when you can use things or when you can't.

ELLIOTT: May I ask how you lost your vision?

Ms. STANLEY: Yeah. I have what's called optic nerve glioma and it's a brain tumor on the optic nerve, so when I was nine years old I lost most of my vision overnight. And went through surgery and chemotherapy and all that for it. So I've been pretty much almost totally blind since I was nine.

ELLIOTT: Claire said she had an advantage in learning Braille because she already knew how to read when she lost her sight. The National Braille Challenge is sponsored by the Braille Institute of America to bring attention to Braille literacy. Organizers say fine-tuned Braille skills are essential to a blind person's success in the sighted world. Claire Stanley agrees.

Ms. STANLEY: It's helped me, I know. It got me through my four years of high school with all my honors classes and I know it helped me get into college and it's going to help me in the next four years and then grad school so. I can't imagine not being literate in Braille because it helps so much with everything I do.

ELLIOTT: Claire Stanley starts college in the fall at the University of California, Davis. She plans to major in political science and hopes to go on to law school. All this, she hopes, in preparation for, perhaps, a political career in the nation's capital.

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