How often can someone claim they are the best in the country?
Although he’s too humble to say it, Nathan Deeds, an Iowa Educational Services for the Blind & Visually Impaired student from Williamsburg holds these bragging rights about his big win in California.
Deeds, who will be a junior this fall at Williamsburg High School, won First Place, Varsity Division, at the National Braille Challenge competition held at the University of Southern California June 24-26. He, along with Khanh Tran, another IESBVI student, advanced from the Iowa/Regional Braille Challenge competition this spring to finalist level in Los Angeles. Tran will be a third grader at Pence Elementary in Fairfield.
“This win is all him (Nathan),” said Lori Banos, an Iowa Educational Services for the Blind & Visually Impaired certified orientation and mobility specialist and a teacher for the visually impaired. Banos noted she and Deeds’ school paraprofessional ensure his schoolwork is accessible to him, “but he puts in the time and does the same level of work as sighted peers. I’m so proud of him.” Deeds and other winners were awarded a Focus 40 Refreshable Braille Display.
There was a two-year COVID-19 lapse for this in-person national competition, and although the regional contests continued and finalists were named, they could not compete to determine finalist winners. Deeds, however, had scored high enough in the charts and graphs category in 2020 and 2021 that he was eligible for the national competitions, if held. Deeds again showcased his charts and graphs skills this year, not only earning a trip to California, but he won all-around first place in charts and graphs while there.
“Varsity is the highest level, so we could say he is the best in the entire country,” said Beth Pieters, literacy consultant with IESBVI. Pieters helps facilitate IESBVI student participation in the event.
Tran’s performance was also impressive. “Khanh is a student who took to reading like a duck to water,” said Christina Freeman, his IESBVI teacher of the visually impaired. “He enjoys challenging himself and is always up for learning something new. He looked forward to going to Los Angeles to make new friends. I am very proud of him and all of his accomplishments.”
Only 50 total finalists from the United States, United Kingdom and Canada earn the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles and compete in divisions based on age. There are five categories for competitors. Ten top scorers in each category became the finalists. More than 800 youth, in first – twelfth grades participated in the Braille Challenge regionals this year. The Iowa Department of the Blind sponsors the regional competition for Iowa. This year, 16 IESBVI students registered for the challenge.
The Braille Challenge is the only academic competition of its kind in North America. Its goal is to motivate students to hone and practice their braille literacy skills such as reading comprehension spelling, speed and accuracy, proofreading and charts and graphs.
Read the story Khanh’s hometown newspaper wrote about him here.