[nfbwatlk] Ready to be a Braille winner, Seattle Times, June 24 2010

Nightingale, Noel Noel.Nightingale at ed.gov
Fri Jun 25 13:59:31 CDT 2010


Ready to be a Braille winner
A 12-year-old Federal Way girl will be the only person from Washington in this weekend's National Braille Challenge, with contestants competing in reading comprehension, Braille speed and accuracy, proofreading, spelling and reading tactile charts and graphs.
By Carly Flandro
Seattle Times staff reporter

Su Park lugged her heavy Braille typewriter to the kitchen table, sat down and raised her hands to the keys.

"Give me any sentence and watch how fast I can type it," she said to a room of visitors.

In seconds, the 12-year-old noisily tapped out the sentence and asked for another.

Su is practicing for the National Braille Challenge. She is one of 60 U.S. and Canadian students selected from nearly 800 competitors to attend the contest in Los Angeles, and is the only contestant from Washington.

Su, a Federal Way Public Academy sixth-grader, will compete Saturday to win the grand prize - a $3,000 savings bond and a note-taking device.

Contestants compete in reading comprehension, Braille speed and accuracy, proofreading, spelling and ability to read tactile charts and graphs.

"Daunting, isn't it?" Su asked. But she is used to challenges.

Su was born prematurely in South Korea and developed an eye disorder called retinopathy of prematurity that caused her to become almost completely blind.

She describes the disorder matter-of-factly, explaining there were extra vessels in her eye that the brain tried to pull away, and in doing so pulled at her retina. That created scar tissue, which degraded her vision.

As she got older, Su and her mother, Eun Kyoung Hong, began looking into educational opportunities for blind children. They weren't happy with what they found, so they moved to the United States. Neither spoke English.

Su picked up the language quickly, though, and also has learned Braille.

"It's easy," she said. "I just have a natural knack for learning."

Su does well in school and says geometry is her worst subject since she's unable to visualize the shapes.

Yet, she said being sightless has opened up "a whole new world" for her.

She can do things her peers can't - like identify people by smell and draw pictures using a Braille typewriter. She knows if someone is using a pen or pencil by how it sounds on the paper, or a fork or spoon by listening to the sound as it is set down.

She also knows when people are smiling by the tone of their voice.

Su also writes fantasy novels. She describes her characters with emerald green eyes and bronze hair - colors she's never seen but knows they're right.

"I always use color," she said, "because my stories would be boring without it."

Contest Director Nancy Niebrugge said the competition was created in part to help reverse a trend of decreasing Braille literacy among legally blind youths.

In the 1950s and 60s, Niebrugge said, 40 percent of all legally blind youths were using Braille. Now, that number has dropped to 10 percent.

"[The competition] is also very important socially," Niebrugge said. "It's gives people an opportunity to meet other blind children and their parents."

Carly Flandro: 206-464-2108 or cflandro at seattletimes.com

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