LOS LUNAS — Click, clack, click clack.
Ninth-grader and Los Lunas resident Faith Switzer, who was born blind, often spends time writing away on her Braille-writer whether it be short stories or nature journaling.
Both her stepmother and younger sister admits she is a little heavy handed when she gets to writing with the clicks from the typewriter-like machine echoing through their home.
However, all that practice led her to be a rising star at the annual Braille Challenge, which has students compete for speed and accuracy on the Braille writer among other activities, such as charts and graphs, and reading comprehension.
Switzer competed in her fourth go at the Braille Challenge finals as one of the 50 finalists. This year, she competed against other seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders in the Junior Varsity category. The winners were announced during a live stream on July 30, but unfortunately, Switzer did not place.
As the only competitor from New Mexico, Switzer achieved one of the highest braille literacy scores out of more than 1,000 competitors across the United States and Canada, qualifying her for nationals. She has come out on top during every regionals she has competed in, and although she has never won the national competition, she did take second place her first year competing in 2016 as a second-grader.
While she did receive a practice passage for her Victor-Reader to prepare for the regional competition, Switzer said most of her practice for competition is wrapped into activities she already enjoys doing daily.
“I like to write a lot on the Braille-writer any ways. I don’t consider it preparation to do that,” Switzer said, adding she only practiced about two hours in total prior to competing. “Really, the only thing that I would consider preparation was the speed and accuracy practice SD and reviewing the book of symbols.”
She said one of the ways she enjoys passing time is through nature journaling.
“I normally go outside, sit somewhere — I listen,” Switzer said. “I can see some things, just not color. So I could tell you there is a tree right behind you and a tree to our left. I can see a few things like that and I’ll listen to birds, cars and animals.”
While Switzer began competing in second grade, her journey learning Braille began at a much earlier age. She started to learn tactile Braille — essentially raised images— at 18 months old and knew how to read and write the Braille alphabet by age 3.
“I remember being 3 years old and sitting with my preschool teacher — her name was Ms. Melody, she’s one of my favorite teachers. I remember sitting with her and typing the alphabet all the time,” Switzer said.
Her technical vision instructor saw potential and pushed her to begin competing in the Braille Challenge while she was still in elementary school.
In addition to typing, Switzer also knows how to handwrite Braille using a slate and stylus, which is written right to left instead of the traditionally left to right in order for the bumps to appear on the paper correctly.
“It’s much slower than normal Braille,” Switzer said. “But this is how Louis Braille learned to write. He actually invented this technique, which if I were him I would have not invented this technique, but hey.”
Switzer said, “If you’re brave enough,” you could actually write a letter using this technique, but her attempts in the past were met with too many mistakes that could not be erased, unlike the Braille-writer which can be erased if need be.
“It’s a lot more convenient if you’re going to a conference or convention and you carry this to take down somebody’s phone number to contact them,” Switzer said of the smaller, two-line slate and stylus.
In the fall, Switzer will attend the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Alamogordo as she begins high school. She will have room and board at the school Sunday night through Thursday night weekly, and will continue to spend weekends with her family in Los Lunas.