Thirteen-year-old Julia LaGrand of Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, in Grand Rapids, Mich., won the national title at The Braille Challenge reading competition hosted by the Braille Institute this year. LaGrand, who has been blind since birth, has been reading competitively for seven years.
With its annual challenge, the Braille Institute promotes Braille reading for people with blindness, encouraging reading not only for literacy but also to promote employment later in life. Readers of Braille are more likely to find a job after graduation than those who do not learn to read Braille.
LaGrand and her family traveled to the national reading challenge, hosted this year in Los Angeles, Calif., on June 17, after winning the local state competition. Competitors were able to listen to a band performance, attend seminars and participate in some other opportunities in addition to the challenge events. Contestants were judged on reading comprehension, Braille speed and accuracy, and ability in proofreading, spelling and reading tactile charts and graphs. LaGrand and four other contestants were all recognized as first-place finishers.
When asked about the competition, LaGrand said, “Braille reading is important and the competition is a good way to emphasize this.”
LaGrand is a student at Grand Rapids Christian Middle School and has been reading Braille since kindergarten. Her mother, Melissa LaGrand, has found it to be a nurturing environment for her daughter’s education.
“The Grand Rapids Christian Schools have been hugely supportive of Julia,” she said. “They celebrate her achievements and provide the support she needs to develop her abilities. The effort required is considerable, as all her materials need to be available in Braille. The [Educational Support Services] program has amazed us with its comprehensive support, not only academic but social. And teachers have gone above and beyond in order to teach in a way that includes Julia.”
LaGrand also plays the violin and the piano. She started violin with a private teacher at age 5, and piano at age 7. She just recently began studying jazz piano with Fred Knapp, a professional musician who also attends Eastern Avenue CRC.
“I prefer to play by ear,” LaGrand said, “but I do read Braille music too. Right now I read all my piano music in Braille but I learn my violin music by ear.”