CUSD student takes third place in Braille Challenge finals

By Magda Hernandez

If you look into Lynn Wu’s future, you might see it shaping up to be quite bright.

The 13-year-old, who graduated from Las Flores Middle School and will be a freshman at Tesoro High School in the fall, placed third in her category in the Braille Challenge finals. She learned of her accomplishment during a live remote awards ceremony.

“When it was time to announce the third-place winners in each category, I was caught off guard when my name was among the other names that were called,” Wu said. “The astonishment that I had felt originally was quickly replaced by joy and excitement.”

She and her family waited for the announcement anxiously for a few weeks after the final test.

“Lynn was surprised at first, but when the initial shock faded, she was beyond excited,” said Wu’s mom, Carol Wang. “To say that we were overjoyed and proud of her for her accomplishment would be an understatement.”

One a regional level, Wu is one of 10 finalists in the Junior Varsity category for seventh, eighth and ninth graders in the only national braille reading and writing contest for blind students. She is one of more than 1,100 contestants who started out in different age categories. Wu’s accomplishment is nothing short of impressive.

This is the second time Wu’s participating in the challenge, which tests students’ speed, accuracy, reading comprehension, charts and graphs. Each student listens to a passage through headphones and has to type it on a braille writer within a set amount of time. The Trabuco Canyon teen said she practiced this year but was still surprised to learn she was a regional winner.

“I think that helped me a lot,” she said of all her prep work. “I was more confident this year.”

And, she made her parents very proud.

“I was so excited to hear she made the final,” Wang said. “She worked very hard.”

Wang said that when her daughter first lost her sight in fourth grade following a brain tumor surgery, she was worried about her future. But, while not being able to see comes with challenges, it didn’t seem to slow her down much. Wu learned braille in a year, continues to play the piano and violin, loves to read (she recently finished “Gone with the Wind”), swim and socialize with her friends.

“Some people think that it looks so hard that they couldn’t learn it,” she said of braille. “In reality, if you had to learn it, you can. If you put your heart to it, you can learn anything.”

Wu has also maintained a 4.0 GPA and has continued enjoying her school experience.

“My teachers are very good at adapting in school so I would still get the same information. All my classmates are really supportive as well,” she said. “I feel really comfortable at school. Everyone helps when I need it, and they’re all very nice.”

Jana Hertz, a braille transcriber for the school district who’s been working with Wu for the past few years, said she had an almost perfect score in the regionals.

“She’s super, super, super smart,” Hertz said. “She’s amazing. She’s an amazing kid.”

Hertz has been involved with the Braille Challenge since the event promoting braille literacy began 20 years ago.

“The kids love it because it’s an opportunity for them to meet with their peers and to show off their braille skills,” she said. “There’s a lot of camaraderie that goes on, there’s a lot of competitiveness that goes on. At the regionals, it’s always a fun day of activity.”

The sense of community is a big aspect of the challenge. Wu said she enjoys talking to peers from other parts of the state about things such as accessibility issues or technology that her peers in school can’t relate to.

Claire Stanley, a former CUSD student who won the challenge years ago, has been in touch with Wu and cheering her on, couldn’t agree more.

“It’s just a fun activity for blind students to get to participate because our sighted friends don’t get to participate,” she said. “It’s just ours.”

Unfortunately, this year, the coronavirus got in the way of some of the camaraderie. Typically, the Braille Challenge finals happen at University of Southern California, but this year, because of COVID-19, the last part of the competition happened remotely. Wu took her test at her proctor’s home.

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