A month from today, Briarwood Elementary sixth grader Audrey Bethay and her family will be in Los Angeles. And Audrey will be prepared to show off yet again that she’s one of the top braille readers in the country.
Bethay has yet again advanced to the Braille Institute’s annual Braille Challenge finals, a competition that challenges readers with visual impairment to demonstrate their proficiency in five categories: reading comprehension, spelling, chart and graph reading, proofreading, and speed and accuracy.
Bethay, who started learning to read braille when she was 3, has been a perennial contender in the competition, and took first place in the Apprentice Division when she was in second grade. This year she’ll compete in the Sophomore division, which includes fifth and sixth graders. Just nine other students from across the country qualified for the finals in the division.
“It’s super exciting,” said Audrey’s mother Kris. “The challenges get harder and harder every year, as they add new categories.”
Sergio Oliva, Director of National Programs for the Braille Institute, said the annual event is designed to motivate students with visual impairment to hone their braille skills, which is a key component of success for students after high school.
“A lot of time, for the visually impaired, it can be very scary to go to college, and the research has shown that the stronger your reading skills, the better your chances of success,” Oliva said. “Part of the Braille Challenge is trying to prepare students for the college level and demystify higher education for families with students who read braille.”
Bethay learned the fundamentals of braille as a pre-schooler at the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired. She has been attending Shawnee Mission schools since kindergarten.
Two other students from Johnson County, Brooke Petro of Leawood, and Ashlee Thao of Overland Park, qualified for the finals as well.