Vincent Pedulla is nothing short of rhapsodic when talking about the beauty of braille. As a District 75 teacher of visually impaired and blind students and the UFT chapter leader for Vision Education Services, Pedulla considers braille to be to the blind what reading and writing are to the sighted. “The reality is that braille is the typewriter, the computer, the pen, the book,” he says. “It’s tactile, elegant and freeing.” Those words are from a man who knows what he’s talking about. Due to a congenital condition that affects the retina, Pedulla is legally blind and didn’t receive his first portable braille notetaker until he was 28. “It was absolutely thrilling,” he says. Fitting then that he was instrumental in organizing the first — but not the last — New York City Braille Challenge, an academic competition for the visually impaired, held on Jan. 30 at the Children’s Lab School in Sunnyside, Queens. Sixteen-year-old Gabriella Mendonca, a junior studying music at Manhattan’s Talent Unlimited HS for the performing arts, was the winner of her division. “I was so excited, not because I won but because braille is so, so important to us,” says Gabriella, who lost her sight as a toddler. “It was so fun, too, because I got to meet and talk to other visually impaired and blind students from all over New York City.” Gabriella was among about 20 students, in elementary through high school, who competed in four categories, from reading comprehension to figuring out how to decipher charts and graphs. “I taught my classmates how to write their names in braille,” Gabriella says laughing. “They thought it was really cool. I agree. It is really cool.” More than 100 supporters turned up to back the students in the competition, including teachers who came in on their day off to score tests so the awards could be given out that very day. For caregivers, there were seminars on the challenges of rearing a visually impaired child and the services available.
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