Iowa teen wins her age division at national braille competition
August 19th, 2013 by Ric Hanson
An Iowa student won first place in her age division at this summer’s National Braille Challenge. Fourteen-year-old Lauren Thomson of Adel (who attends school in Earlham), was one of over a thousand students who participated in the competition. Carrie Thomson, Lauren’s mother, says the students were given four tests, with 50 minutes allotted to complete each test. “The whole program was created to promote braille literacy and promote braille for visually-impaired and blind kids throughout the country,” she says. “And so each test is just to promote that and to really encourage the Braille reading.”
One of the three tests graded the speed and accuracy of the competitors. “It’s kind of like dictation. You have to Braille-out what you hear,” Carrie Thomson says. “Then charts and graphs — you read the questions and you find on the chart the answers.” The other tests gauge reading comprehension and spelling accuracy. Lauren started learning braille when she was three and a half years old. She won first place in the “junior varsity” division for seventh, eighth and ninth graders.
“When they tell you your daughter’s blind when she’s four months old, you have all these fears,” Carrie Thomson says. “And then you watch her grow and see everything she’s capable of — she’s just a great kid.” Carrie Thomson says Lauren is an “active” teenager and her blindness has been just a “minor inconveniece” according to her mother. “She’s in choir. She’s in band. She’s played volleyball in seventh and eighth grade with her team. She’s able to serve the ball and did amazingly well,” Carrie Thomson says. “She was in the school play this last year. She loves to water ski, snow ski. She loves to ride her bike.”
Lauren is starting ninth grade at Earlham Community Schools and Lauren’s mother says she and her husband set “high expectations” for Lauren. “We ususally push Lauren a little bit harder than we might even push her sister, who is sighted, just because we always say that she is setting an example and setting the bar, showing people that you’re capable of doing everything they are,” Carrie Thomson says. “It just might a little extra work, a little extra adaptation to make it happen.”
All of the students in Lauren’s class in Earlham have computers. Hers is an iPad equipped with special software that allows her to “speak” to her teachers and classmates using the iPad. Lauren used what’s called a “Perkins Brailler” during the competition this summer in Los Angelos. It’s a lot like a manual typewriter, with a key for each of the six dots of the braille code, plus a space key, a backspace key and key to advance to the next line.