Red Deer is home to Alberta’s braille champ for three years running.
Caden Johnson, Grade 6 student at Westpark Middle School, took home the top prize at the Alberta Regional Braille Challenge put on by the Braille Institute in Calgary last Friday.
Braille is a system of raised dots that people who are blind or vision impaired can read with their fingers.
Twenty students from across the province competed in spelling, reading comprehension, and proof reading to find both spelling and braille errors. Older students also compete for speed and accuracy while translating an audio file, and do charts and graphs.
“It’s pretty fun competing but there’s a lot of practice. I’ve been practising for like the last two months straight,” said Johnson who practised at lunch, recess and after school.
Caden was born with Leber’s congenital amaurosis. The rare disorder is a genetic eye condition that affects the retinas, causing severe vision loss and light sensitivity. He wears sunglasses all the time because of the sensitivity.
The 11-year-old said he owes his success to his educational assistant Helen Beatty.
“It’s definitely because of Miss Beatty, my educational assistant. She taught me braille. I wouldn’t have won if she wasn’t with me.”
He’s taking a break from his studies while he waits to find out next month if he qualified to compete in the North American competition in Los Angeles for top 50 regional winners.
Johnson, who started learning braille in play school, competed in Los Angeles in 2017.
“When everyone else was learning the print alphabet, I was learning the braille alphabet,” Johnson said.
Danille Hamelink, who works with about 70 visually impaired students across central Alberta, said there is a extra layer of complexity to braille. It includes a standard shorthand, for example every letter also represents a word when it’s not touching other letters.
“Most people don’t know about that part of Braille and that’s what makes it tricky,” said Hamelink, a teacher of the visually impaired with Central Alberta Regional Collaborative Service Delivery.