Salome Cummins moves her hands across a book she’s reading and says the words aloud.
It’s a story about a postman talking about his day and delivering mail. She reads it out loud like any other student would in a classroom. Except there is one big difference between her and others her age – she’s blind.
She sat at a table at Starbucks in Blue Springs, running her fingers across the book, using braille, a former of written language for the blind, in which characters are represented by patterns of raised dots that are felt with the fingertips.
It’s something she had to learn when she moved to Blue Springs at 3 years old after Ann Cummins adopted her from an orphanage in the Eastern European/Western Asia country of Georgia.
She spoke Georgian until she moved to the United States and she not only had to learn how to speak English, but had to learn how to read braille. In a task that might be difficult for most, Salome picked it up quickly.
“She didn’t have access to braille in Georgia,” Ann said. “But when she came home, she learned really fast. She was writing letters and words. She was reading well before she started kindergarten, which is exceptional because she hadn’t had any books until we gave her the first one at the orphanage. By the time she was in kindergarten, she was writing sentences.”
“She worked really hard at it and she loves to learn.”
It didn’t take her long to speak English either.
“In six months, I was literally speaking English,” Salome said. “I still know some words (in Georgian).”
Now Salome, a second grader at Lucy Franklin Elementary School in Blue Springs, will go to a competition that’s based around it called the National Braille Challenge Finals on June 21-22 in Los Angeles.
She qualified in one of the 50 regional competitions in the U.S. and one in Canada and was one of the top 10 students in the apprentice division (first and second graders) to move on to the national competition. This will be Salome’s second trip to the competition, she went last year as a substitute.
According to the Braille Institute website, the educational competition was developed to help “students practice and hone their braille literacy skills.” Any student who is blind or visually impaired and is in grades 1-12 can participate. Contestants are divided into five categories – reading comprehension, spelling, speed and accuracy, proofreading and charts and graphs. Scores are given based on how well the students know the material.
“It’s like the regional one, but a little different,” Salome said. “There was a banquet and we got to dress up all fancy.”
She’s been practicing at home and at Alphapointe in Kansas City, reading books and has especially worked on improving her spelling skills.
“I had to go against second graders last year,” Salome said. “Trying to beat second graders was hard. I have more of a chance of doing better (this year).”
When Salome goes to the competition, she hopes to at least get third place, she said.
“Winning would be awesome,” Salome said. “But if I could at least get third, that would be awesome, too, because at least I would know what place I got (awards are only given to the top three highest scorers at the competition).
“Last time, I was like, ‘What place did I get?’”