Well readers, several years ago, Mom told me about a newspaper article she read about a couple women who have a hobby of simply entering contests. I don’t remember the details of this article anymore, but I am guessing they didn’t win often enough to make a living out of this hobby, but I seem to remember that they won a fair amount of the time. This article has stuck with me, and rubbed off on me. I love entering contests! I have entered the adult Braille Readers are Leaders contest my sophomore and junior year, and plan to enter again despite the fact that it falls during the school year when I don’t have the time to read and thus never win. (I do plenty of school reading, but according to the contest rules, only pleasure reading can be counted). In high school, I entered a couple of writing contests, including one sponsored by Scholastic where you sent an essay on why you love the Harry Potter books, and the writer of the best essay won a trip to London for the release of a Harry Potter book that summer! (I think it was the fifth book that year). I didn’t win that contest, but a couple years later, I took third place in a contest hosted by the American Printing House for the Blind to celebrate their 150th anniversary, which won me a T-shirt. And of course, I buy lottery tickets every now and then. I know you have better odds of getting struck by lightning than winning the lottery, but somebody has to win! That person could be me someday!
This summer, I got wind of two contests to enter. The first was hosted by Humanware, the maker of my BrailleNote. All I had to do was write a story about how the brailleNote has made a difference in my life, an easy task since I love it so much and spend many of my waking hours using it. The top stories would be used on their web site to promote the product and the writer of the winning story could win a Trekker Breeze, a GPS device that I have heard other blind people rave about. I was hoping to win one to try it out. If I liked it, it would be an awesome thing to have to keep this self-confessed geographically challenged person from getting lost when I am living on my own, and I could buy a replacement when it wore out. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be out any money. Unfortunately, I didn’t win, and I haven’t even seen the winning story on their web site yet. But in my objective opinion, I wrote an awesome and I think creative story, so even though it didn’t win, I thought I would share it here.
Way back in the day when I started school, I had to do all of my assignments and take all the notes in class on a manual Perkins brailler. If you made a mistake, you either scratched it out with your fingernail and typed over it, or crossed it out by punching out full braille cells over the top of the mistake. Both of these options looked so sloppy to me that often I would just take out the paper and start over. Then when I was done with each assignment, my teacher’s aid had to transcribe what I had written in to print for the teacher. In addition, you had to punch the keys hard and as a result, it was loud! I will never forget how one day when I was in first or second grade, my teacher’s aid decided to take it in to the cafeteria to braille a worksheet for me during the lunch hour, and even over the deafening din of 200 chattering kids, I could hear her typing on it. While it was good for weight lifting and building arm strength, the heaviness of this machine wasn’t appealing either when I had to carry it to another room.
I dreaded the occasions when I would have to use a regular computer to type papers or do research. I learned how to type using a computer, but couldn’t type nearly as fast as I could with the braille code. Editing what I had written using the arrow keys or finding the information I needed on a web page was tedious. And don’t get me started on how annoying the screen reader voice was or how difficult it was to understand sometimes!
All of the handouts the teachers used in class had to be brailled for me, and since braille is embossed on thicker paper and takes up more space than print, I had to have a larger desk with shelves that could store thick binders while the other kids had light paper folders. By fourth grade, a normal backpack no longer fit all the homework I had to take home, so my teacher got me a suitcase on wheels. When I got to middle school and all of my classes were in different rooms, I had so much gear to carry between binders, the braillewriter and any textbooks I needed that I was given a cart to pull behind me through the halls.
To hear me talk about these primitive conditions, I probably sound like an old person, but actually, I am only 21 years old. Yet I feel as though I went from the dinosaur age to the modern age in an instant when I received my first BrailleNote my freshman year of high school. All at once, I was able to type a paper just as fast as a sighted person, erase a character with a simple backspace, even go back and quickly change a word or even delete a whole sentence with the cursor edit buttons above the braille display. I could sit in a regular desk and take notes in class typing no louder than a sighted person typing on a regular computer, and (shhh, don’t tell my teachers this, but if it was a boring class, the braillenote also made it a lot easier to be naughty and “stare at the clock” on my braille display without anyone noticing.) When class was over, I could put all of my things in to a normal backpack and hoist it effortlessly on to my back because all those handouts that once had to be on paper could be sent to me electronically and most of the books I needed could be downloaded from bookshare.org or scanned and sent to me via e-mail. Often times, I could turn in assignments via e-mail too or else simply hook the braillenote up to a regular printer and print them.
On the internet, I could find things just as quickly and efficiently as a sighted person with the braillenote’s more straight-forward key commands and read articles in peaceful silence.
Even my sighted parents noticed how quickly I took to the braillenote and loved it. I will be entering my senior year of college in the fall, and I still love it and have never attempted a day of class or an evening of homework without it.
I loved the Braillenote Classic that I had through my senior year of high school and the Mpower I had my first two years of college. But I have to say, the braillenote Apex I have now is the best yet with its light weight and built-in wireless internet connection so that I can access the internet from anywhere.
I plan to be a loyal life-long braillenote user because given how much this invention has changed my life in just the past eight years, I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for this technology, technology that in my opinion is the best technology ever invented for the blind.
The other contest I entered was the Bookshare Everywhere Summer Contest, hosted by, you guessed it, bookshare.org. The grand prize was an iPad, another product I have been wanting to play with, but don’t want to pay for in case I don’t like it. This grand prize went to the person who could guess the total number of books that would be downloaded from Bookshare over the course of the contest without going over. I just want to kick myself for missing this prize by a mere three books! Would you believe that my guess was 1,000, the official total was 1,007 and the winner guessed 1,002! But there were ways to win other smaller but still nice prizes.
Another way to win was to have the most creative entry for how each book made your summer fun. I only submitted two of these entries. I read a total of four books during the contest period. One of these books was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which I wanted to re-read after seeing the movie with my dad because I forgot what happened in the book. This book is available on bookshare, but I felt like reading the old fashioned paper version, so I couldn’t count it. The other book was Jaycee Dugard’s book “A Stolen Life”, and given the disturbing things she went through, I felt like it would have been disrespectful to use it for this kind of a silly contest. And of course, it did not make my summer fun. It gave me chills and nightmares.
The books I submitted entries for were the last two books in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series and my entries were not very creative. I forget what I wrote for the first book, but for the second book I wrote that it made my summer fun by giving me a deeper appreciation for how fortunate I am. At the time I read this book, I was doing my internship, which involved sitting in an air conditioned office for just four hours a day. When I got home, I had a huge lunch prepared with food bought at the grocery store and then could spend the rest of the afternoon on pleasure, quite the contrast to the hard work of the farm life Laura Ingalls Wilder recounts.
The final category was the most interesting place you took your bookshare book, and I couldn’t believe my fingers when I read the announcement of the contest winners yesterday and discovered I took the prize for this category! The first book I submitted, I had read during breaks at the governor’s office where I did my internship! For taking the prize in this category, I won an MP3 player, which will be mailed to me soon!
My dad likes to joke that we are destined to be losers because when we buy lottery tickets, it is rare that we have even one matching number. To win any money, I think you have to have three matching numbers. But when I told my mom that I had won this prize in the Bookshare contest, we both agreed that we have to buy a lottery ticket today!