By JEROD CLAPP
Ian Receveur is one of the country’s best when it comes to reading without his eyes.
The 7-year-old boy competed in the 13th annual Braille Challenge in Los Angeles on June 22. Out of 1,000 contestants in two countries, Receveur was just one of 60 to go to the national competition and just one of two in his age group. He may not have placed in the competition, but his mother, Marie, said he’s ready to train even harder for next year.
“He had a wonderful time; he’s just a little bummed that he didn’t win,” Marie said. “There are some kids in the competition who have been there every year since first grade. Some of them, this was their 12th time being there.”
At 3 months old, Ian was diagnosed with X-linked juvenile retinoschisis, a noncorrectable condition that causes the retina to split into layers. Marie said his left eye was removed when he was 2 years old and can only see shadows in the right eye.
At the age of 4, she said he began reading children’s books written in Braille, then followed with using a Perkins Brailler — a machine that allows writing in Braille. She said one of the classroom aides in Ian’s class, Patrice Rutledge, helped him learn Braille, and also helped him prepare for competitions.
Marie said in spite of the difficulties Ian’s had with his blindness, he’s worked hard to keep up.
“I am so proud of Ian,” Marie said. “He has had such a long, hard road and has been so adaptable with a good, positive outlook along the way. I’m thrilled that he gets this kind of recognition for what he’s accomplished. He’s worked so very hard and overcome a lot of things in his life. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Nancy Niebrugge, director of the Braille Challenge, said it’s not easy to make it to the national competition level. She said contestants have to qualify and win in regional contests before getting selected to go to the competition.
“They’re in the very top percentage of Braille readers for their age group to make the finals, especially for his age as a first-grader,” Niebrugge said. “It’s really an accomplishment for someone his age.”
She said children who can see have an easier time practicing their reading skills because words are everywhere, with things like cereal boxes, billboards and television. But blind children have to seek out the opportunity to learn better reading skills.
“Part of the idea of [the competition] was to give them extra incentive to learn,” Niebrugge said. “It’s critical for them to learn how to read and they don’t get as much opportunity to do that unless the opportunity is created for them.”
Marie said Ian had to learn more than words, letters and Braille’s unique contractions. She said he had to read tactile maps, which indicate land features such as rivers, like printed maps do.
After going to the competition and visiting LEGOLAND, Ian’s back home and ready to give it another go for next year.
“He’s just 7, but he said he’s ready to try harder next time,” Marie said. “It’s like every parent, you think your kid is smart and has learned a lot, but to see your child chosen out of 1,000 with 60 kids going, we think it’s pretty cool that they picked Ian.”