In 2001, Natalie Castro stood on stage at the very first Braille Challenge® awards banquet and listened as they announced her as the winner of the top prize — the best of the best in the country.
This past June, Natalie was back on stage, not to receive a prize, but as a surprise guest to announce this year’s first place winner — and as an inspirational speaker reminding this year’s young contestants about the importance of mastering braille.
Having lost her vision at age eight to optic nerve damage, Natalie credits her ability to read and write braille with allowing her to pursue her love of reading, keep up with her studies at school and, of course, win that first Braille Challenge top prize.
Natalie recalls how the braille competition provided her first real exposure to other visually impaired young people. “Having grown up in a rural area, it was an awesome experience to be around kids my age who were reading braille,” she said. Since skills training for the blind was limited in her community, she wasn’t sure she would even measure up.
The whole Braille Challenge experience gave Natalie the confidence to apply to the University of California, Berkeley, where she received a BA in psychology with a minor in disability studies. She later earned an MA in rehabilitation counseling from Western Oregon University, which led to an internship and then a position at the Oregon Commission for the Blind.
While audio tools are convenient, Natalie says, braille’s tactile (perceived by touch) properties are a critical skillset for someone with sight loss. Braille helped her succeed in college and, today, enables her to view a client’s information when she meets with them.
Natalie’s achievements since winning the 2001 Braille Challenge make her an inspiring role model for the importance of learning braille.