By Pablo Jaime Sáinz
La Prensa San Diego
SAN DIEGO — Ricardo Herrera lost his sight when he was one and a half years-old, due to an eye infection. But that hasn’t been an impediment for him to succeed and to achieve what other kids his age haven’t even dreamed about.
Ricardo, who is now 12 and just completed sixth grade, learned to read at age four, plays several musical instruments, and has excelled in school.
Now, this past Saturday, June 23, Ricardo was the only Californian in his category to represent the state in the National Braille Challenge, a national academic competition for blind students in the nation. The competition is specifically designed to challenge and motivate students, while encouraging them to continue their study of Braille, a method that is widely used by people who are visually impaired to read and write.
This is the first time Ricardo is a finalist. He’s been chosen from among more than 900 of the top blind and visually impaired students to travel to Los Angeles to test their Braille skills.“I feel a sense of excitement, mostly a desire to continue doing what I love to do: Learning,” said Ricardo, who attends Marston Middle School, a school in San Diego that has a special program for visually impaired students.
Just like Ricardo, 60 blind and visually impaired students, ages 6 to 19, compete in different academic categories.
Each category is designed to test their Braille skills in several areas. Every participant will receive a trophy for their efforts, but the first- through third-place winners in each age group will also receive a savings bond in value from $500 for the youngest group to $5,000 for the oldest.
“This competition is important because it shows how essential literacy is for blind students,” said Nancy Niebruggi, a program coordinator for the Braille Institute of America, which sponsors the competition. “In fact, less than 10 percent of blind Americans can read. The goal of the challenge is to show these kids that through Braille literacy they can succeed and have a bright future…”