Collinsville student competes in National Braille Challenge

News-DemocratJune 20, 2013 

A Collinsville Middle School eighth-grader is one of only 60 students competing in the National Braille Challenge on Saturday in Los Angeles.

It's the second time Kaitlyn Hall of Collinsville has competed in the event, which is a national competition for blind and visually-impaired students from the United States and Canada.

"I think being able to go to nationals is really, really cool," Kaitlyn said.

"I'm so excited for her," said her mother, Laurie Hall. "She does such a good job. She never gets nervous."

Kaitlyn has a rare genetic disorder called Leber's congenital amaurosis, which caused her to be blind since birth. Kaitlyn's twin brother Will Hall, who attends Gateway Christian Academy, does not have the disorder.

"He's completely normal," Kaitlyn said. "I used to joke he stole my sight when I was younger, but then he got glasses and I had to stop that joke."

Kaitlyn said she is sometimes made fun of at school for being blind. "I'm weird, and I'm proud of it," she said.

Kaitlyn is looking forward to competing in the Braille challenge, which will test her skills in different categories including reading comprehension, proofreading, Braille spelling, chart and graph reading and speed and accuracy.

Kaitlyn said speed and accuracy is the hardest category, because she has to transcribe a story into Braille at a fast pace. Participants use an adaptive device called a Perkins Brailler, which is like a Braille typewriter.

"It's like having someone read something to you and trying to write it as fast as you can," Kaitlyn explained.

To earn her place in the national competition, Kaitlyn won a Regional Braille Challenge in Missouri in March. The National Braille Challenge is sponsored by the Braille Institute of America and is held to promote Braille literacy and proficiency and raise awareness about the importance of literacy for all children.

Participants are competing for up to $2,500 in cash prizes, trophies and the latest Braille equipment. Three winners will be recognized in each of the five age groups.

Kaitlyn enjoys attending public school.

"I'm not a big fan of summer vacation," she said. "You don't get to learn anything."

Kaitlyn's Braille teacher, Ellen Nicholl, translates assignments provided by her teachers into Braille and translates what Kaitlyn does in Braille for her teachers.

Kaitlyn has been working with Nicholl since kindergarten. "She's awesome," Kaitlyn said, "and she knows a lot. I get a lot of my knowledge from her."

Hall said her daughter also works with an orientation and mobility specialist who helps Kaitlyn maneuver around her school with a cane.

"She does really good in school," Hall said.

Kaitlyn said her favorite subject is English, because she enjoys reading and writing stories. When she grows up, she's considering being a teacher or an author.

Kaitlyn is also a big Cardinals baseball fan, and she enjoys listening to the games on the radio. Her room is decorated with a slew of Cardinals items including pictures on the wall, bobbleheads, stuffed animals and autographed memorabilia.

Kaitlyn's favorite player is Carlos Beltran. "He's the best player on the team in my opinion," she said.

In addition to listening to Cardinals baseball games this summer, Kaitlyn is looking forward to attending Camp Barnabus in Purdy, Mo, in July. Camp Barnabus is a Christian-based camp for children and teens with life-threatening illnesses or disabilities.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 618-239-2562 or (*16*)

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or (*16*)

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