An Ardmore native at the Oklahoma School for the Blind earned a silver medal for her braille skills.
The Braille Challenge, a competition created by the Braille Institute, held a regional competition at OSB this week. Zoie Zavala, a junior, snagged a silver medal in the transition one category, though she’s only been attending OSB and studying braille regularly since August.   
“I’m still in the process of learning,” Zavala said. “Until I came here, I didn’t remember any of it except the basic alphabet.”
She said competitors were split into two skill levels before the competition, which consisted of a writing portion and a multiple choice comprehension portion.
“When I first started, I didn’t think I’d even place,” Zavala said. “Everyone I know can read at a higher level of braille. I can only read at a third grade level.”
Zavala said at Ardmore City Schools, she used devices like a tablet that let her zoom in on text, and she only briefly studied braille.
“I started learning braille in second grade, but then I started getting made fun of,” Zavala said. “When I started coming here, I found it was a lot easier than trying to read print because of my vision.”
Her Occupation and Mobility teacher encouraged her to attend the school for the blind, but she was hesitant. Her family encouraged her to attend the school as well, but having to live so far from home was another deterrent.
“The O and M instructor I had kept trying to convince me to come because they could teach me more,” Zavala said. “At first, I wasn’t too happy about the idea, but I went to a summer camp here and within the first few days, I decided to come here.”
She said she’s learned significantly more than she would have in a mainstream public school since then and has improved her braille skills. Some of her classes focus on assistive technology, while others focus on independent living skills and braille alongside core subjects.
“I spent about a month or so in my own apartment at the school,” Zavala said. “I had to get groceries, cook, clean, and do everything you’d normally do.”
She said Muskogee is a long way from her home in Ardmore, and traveling back and forth on Thursdays and Sundays is a lengthy process, but she still feels deciding to attend the school was the right decision for her.