Rising SM East freshman Audrey Bethay wins first place in National Braille Challenge

Leah Wankum - July 5, 2019 9:00 am
Audrey Bethay (center) with her parents, Kris and Walter Bethay, at the National Braille Challenge. Photo via Twitter

For the third time in eight years of competing, rising Shawnee Mission East freshman Audrey Bethay has won first place in her division at the National Braille Challenge.

Ever since first grade, the Prairie Village native has gone on to nationals. Twice she has placed first in her division — the first time when she was much younger and the second was two years ago.

“It’s kinda fun because it’s very suspenseful; you don’t know how you’re going to do every year,” Audrey said. “And so to finally win and to have that accomplishment is really fun.”

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The National Braille Challenge took place June 21-22 at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. For winning first place, Bethay received a braille display, which hooks up to her smartphone and reads everything on the screen in braille.

“We’re super excited that she won because it means a lot to her,” said Kris Bethay, her mother. “She can’t play sports. She can’t compete in anything except for this, as far as something that is really huge and very important to her. It’s pretty impressive.”

Audrey is tested in spelling, proofreading, reading comprehension, speed and accuracy, and reading charts and graphs. She most recently attended Indian Hills Middle School.

“Audrey is a gifted student and Braille reader,” said Jeri Hile, Bethay’s vision instructor since kindergarten. “But beyond that, she is a hard worker who puts in the time to study and prepare for the competition.”

Kris said her daughter does well at the braille challenge each year. For instance, last year, she took home an award for having the best overall reading comprehension among all competitors in all age divisions.

“Every year we get a little nervous about regionals but at the same time, every year she’s made it,” said Kris. “But once she goes out to nationals, obviously the competition is a little stiffer.”

With the vision she still has, Audrey enjoys reading lots of books, playing piano and writing her own stories with a fellow Braille-reading student. Kris said her daughter picks a variety of topics, from Harry Potter and other fiction works to psychology textbooks.

“She’s interested about so many different things, and it fascinates me, just her IQ level and what she knows about different topics,” her mother said.

Audrey hopes to be a lawyer one day.

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