Winning a competition four years in a row could start to feel a little commonplace. But not for Nathan Deeds.
2023 marks the fourth year this soon-to-be-senior, who is served by Iowa Educational Services for the Blind & Visually Impaired, earned one of 50 spots to compete in the National Braille Challenge. Deeds, who attends Williamsburg Junior-Senior High School, competed in this late June event held at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
“I do not know that I get nervous about placing, but I am not exactly confident either,” Deeds said of his competition experience. “It’s always important to me I put in the best effort I can. If that turns out to make me eligible for an award, than that is just icing on the cake.”
Deeds has had a lot of icing on those cakes in recent years. Although he technically advanced to nationals from regionals in 2020 and 2021, national competition did not occur due to COVID-19. In 2022, he again advanced to nationals and won first place, varsity division, at the Los Angeles event. This year he was the sole finalist from Iowa and earned third place in the varsity division.
Active in extracurriculars, Deeds has a strategy to keep his braille skills sharp. He is busy with musicals, choir contests, speech and robotics and doesn’t have a lot of extra time to dedicate practice for the Braille Challenge. Instead, he continually prepares for competition by integrating braille into everyday life.
“I do not do a whole lot of work specifically to prepare for the competitions,” Deeds said. “Most of what I do is reading and writing braille for classes in school.” He said his free reading time probably contributes to his high braille scores as well. “One of the nice things about the Braille Challenge is I can put in as little or as much time as I feel I need. I think this makes it so that just about anyone can find time to compete,” he said.
IESBVI teachers of the visually impaired help Deeds and other students across Iowa who are blind or visually impaired prepare for the regional event, which is hosted by the Iowa Department of the Blind. The National 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. Students from the United States, United Kingdom and Canada compete in five age divisions at regional events. The 10 top scorers in those divisions advance to nationals. This year, more than 800 students competed in regional events.
Deeds stated he is pleased to have represented Iowa “well” at the national finals. “It is really special to know I am within the top 10 braille readers across several different countries,” he said. Before he left for competition, Deeds added, “I am looking forward to the finals and I promise to do my best for Iowa.”
IESBVI is Iowa’s provider of educational services for children birth through 21 who are blind or visually impaired. IESBVI contracts with Iowa’s Area Education Agencies and serves more than 650 students in local school districts.