Meredith Day said she won’t be nervous when she competes next week in the National Braille Challenge.
The 12-year-old Finksburg resident, who is visually impaired, is a veteran of the annual contest, after all. Meredith is making her third appearance in the competition, and has finished first for her age group before. She’s competing at the Sophomore level this year, after placing in the top 10 in 2019.
Meredith takes all of her success in stride.
“It’s more just for fun,” she said. “I’m not really nervous anymore because I’ve been doing it for so many years. I just kind of do it every day, I don’t really worry about it as much.”
The Braille Challenge, a program of the Braille Institute, is the only academic competition in the U.S. and Canada for blind or visually impaired students grades 1-12. The two-stage contest is designed to motivate them to emphasize their study of Braille, a tactile writing system use by the visually impaired, while rewarding their success with fun but challenging local and national events.
Students complete preliminary testing across the country from January through March in hopes of qualifying for the top 50 spots available in the national competition and the opportunity to compete against the best.
Meredith is one of four students who competed in the 2020 Maryland Regional Braille Challenge that qualified for nationals. The regional competition took place Feb. 8 at Maryland School for the Blind near Overlea, which is where Meredith will be taking her national challenge next week.
“I think it’s really important to have a very positive image of the Braille community, that we’re doers and we’re able to get out there and give back to society,” said Chrissy Day, Meredith’s mother. “Just because they’re blind ... they’re just differently abled. They can still be very successful, and it is wonderful to show the world that she does a great job. Very proud of her.”
Contestants are divided into five categories and tested on fundamental Braille skills such as reading comprehension, spelling, speed and accuracy, proofreading, and charts and graphs.
Meredith said she has been involved with similar contests for several years, thanks to her MSB Braille teacher and a connection to Jackie Otwell, the Maryland Braille Challenge Coordinator.
“My Braille teacher works very closely with her,” Meredith said about Otwell. “She knew about the Braille challenge from the very beginning. She told my mom about it ... mom came to me and said, ‘There’s this Braille contest. Do you want to be in it?' I’m like, ‘Sure, why not?' And I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Meredith said Otwell will be her proctor when she takes the national challenge July 14 at Maryland School for the Blind. From there, her tests will be scored remotely, and there’s a virtual awards ceremony scheduled at the end of the month.
“The Braille Challenge is a rigorous competition,” Otwell said in a MSB news release. “I am so proud of our national qualifiers and wish them the best as they compete at the national level.”
Meredith said she’s excited to be competing once again, but she’s also looking ahead to next year ― she’ll be old enough for the Junior Varsity level, which means competing against older brother Derrick.
“He likes to think he’s better, but I have doubts about that,” Meredith said.
The Day family enjoyed a recent vacation, where Meredith said she brought four novels to finish over the eight-day trip. Day said if her daughter’s not playing in the water she’s in a comfortable outdoor chair breezing through her books.
“She might devour two novels a week,” Day said. “Her hands are always on the dots ... she lives the life of a Braille reader.”
The national competition, which is celebrating its 20th year, is typically held in Los Angeles in June. The coronavirus pandemic altered those plans, however, and the contest switched to being held remotely at various locations.
Day said she doesn’t think a different setup will hinder Meredith’s chances to perform well. Having fun is the focus, they said.
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“My husband and I, we teach our children that the sky is the limit,” Day said. “We let them try it, and if they’re successful, super. If they’re not successful, just try something else. We try not to let their blindness limit what they can do.”