By Kelly Werthmann

LITTLETON, Colo. (CBS4) – It’s the only competition of its kind in North America. A sort of “fingertip to fingertip” contest for students who are blind and visually impaired happened in Littleton on Thursday.

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“It’s very exciting!” 14-year-old Ty Gillespie, one of the competitors, exclaimed. “It’s a lot of work and I’m probably going to go home and sleep for the next 18 hours, but it is very fun.”

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Gillespie was one of more than 20 students from around the Denver metro area taking part in the Braille Challenge hosted at the Colorado Center for the Blind. Students are tested on fundamental Braille skills like reading, spelling, speed, accuracy, as well as charts and graphs.

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“Braille is key to literacy for blind folks,” Dan Burke, spokesperson for the Colorado Center for the Blind, explained. “It is the most effective and efficient way for blind people to read, just like sighted people read.”

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Burke added that the Braille Challenge is designed to get students interested in Braille and encourage a love for learning.

“It’s important for them to love doing Braille and feel good about doing it because that’s the thing that’s going to carry them through and build their knowledge,” he said.

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Some parts of the competition did prove tricky for a few students.

“I might have accidentally spelled some words wrong,” second-grader Caroline said. “But I guess it’s not that big of a deal.”

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And that’s absolutely right. The Braille Challenge is all about learning, and showing that the blind and visually impaired students are much more than what the eye can see.

“We’re kind of underestimated, I feel like,” Gillespie told CBS4 photojournalist Eddie Castro. “I feel that putting this on the news is very good because it raises awareness that we do things like the Braille Challenge.”

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This is the fifth year that the Colorado Center for the Blind has hosted the Denver metro area event. Top finishers of Thursday morning’s competition have a chance to advance to the 2020 National Braille Challenge in Los Angeles in June.

Kelly Werthmann