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Blind River Forest Student Advances to National Literacy Challenge

Visually impaired sixth grader finishes first in regional literacy competition, now set for national challenge.

He may have been born with a vision impairment, but sixth grader Alexander Traub doesn’t let the disability hold him back from literature.

"He meets challenges head-on and he perseveres when he is
presented with something that is challenging," said teaching assistant Mari Burda.

While he requires Braille to read, his favorite hobbies include reading science fiction and mystery novels, and doing anything related to computers.

Traub is such an adept reader and writer that he’s qualified recently as one of just 12 students in his age group for the national Braille Institute’s annual Literacy Challenge, having taken first place regionally in the fifth and sixth grade level in February.

Once school is out next month, he’ll fly to Los Angeles for the national competition on June 24. Traub admits the competition is intense, but he enjoys the challenge and fast pace of reading and then writing answers on his Braille keyboard.

“It just comes naturally to me because I’m used to typing fast,” Traub said.

Participants receive a combined score for four categories: reading comprehension, spelling and grammar, charts and graphs, and speed and accuracy. About 800 students from first through 12th grades participate in the preliminary round annually.

Traub grew up in River Forest, although attended specialized schools for vision-impaired students so that he could focus on mastering Braille. Last year, he began attending Roosevelt to get a more mainstream experience. The new environment is something he has enjoyed, especially socially.

“Before I had about six people in my class,” Traub said. “In a more mainstream environment, I get to know more people.”

His mother, Chicago Public Schools teacher Suzanne West, said Traub has also benefitted from staying closer to home in River Forest and making school friends that live nearby.

Traub uses a BrailleNote tablet computer that plugs into a computer and can even print a hard copy of what he types into Braille. West said she hopes the Literacy Challenge can draw attention to the need to maintain Braille nationally.

Braille literacy has declined to the point that just 20 percent of blind children use Braille, due in part to a shortage of qualified teachers, according to the National Braille Press, a Boston-based nonprofit group. “Braille is the only medium for true literacy,” said the group’s website.

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