SALT LAKE CITY -- Colt Riley was hoping to win second place at the Utah Regional Braille Challenge on Friday.
The 11-year-old fifth-grader from Farr West said he was excited to test his skills in reading and spelling.
"I did it last year," he said. "It was so much fun. I'm excited because, if I win second place, I'll get $5."
Colt, along with dozens of other Top of Utah visually impaired children, spent most of the day fine-tuning their Braille skills and competing with others in several categories, including speed and accuracy, listening and transcribing, spelling, reading and interpreting graphs and charts.
The Utah Foundation for the Blind and Visually Impaired sponsors the event, said Merrilee Petersen, board member of the foundation and coordinator of the Braille Challenge.
"This is a regional competition where the kids come in and participate in a series of challenges," she said.
"At the end of the day, we rank the scores and give out prizes. Those with the highest scores get to go on to the national competition in June, which will be held in California."
Noah Cella, 10, of Syracuse, said he hoped to improve his Braille reading skills during the challenge.
"I have a little bit of trouble, but I'm getting pretty good at it. I'm hoping to get better," he said.
"I am excited because I like being around other kids who are blind, and a lot of them can do things so fast. We also get a pizza break, and that's pretty cool."
The Braille Challenge is the only national academic competition for blind students in the country, Petersen said.
Its purpose is to encourage blind children of all ages to fine-tune their Braille skills, which are vital to their success in the sighted world.
Kids ages 6 to 18 competed in the five categories, Petersen said.
The top scores in the preliminary round will advance to one of 60 spots available for the national competition at Braille Institute's headquarters in Los Angeles.
Every student received a medal, T-shirt and gift bag. Those with the top scores received ribbons and a small monetary prize.
"This year, we're using a Victor Reader Stream instead of a tape recorder, so it's a lot nicer," said Kortnee Barton, 12, of Syracuse.
"It's pretty simple to use. It's like a little recording device, but you listen to things."
Kortnee, who is hoping to take first place again this year, said the competition is a great way to continue learning and keep up with new skills.
"I really have a lot of fun, and I get to see a lot of my friends," Kortnee said. "I've been doing this since I was in the first grade. Last year, I won a ticket to Lagoon."
Of all literacy issues in the country, Braille is the most overlooked and underrated, Petersen said.
Advances in technology have not replaced the need for visually impaired children to learn to read through the use of Braille, she said.
In fact, studies show that only 30 percent of blind adults gain full-time employment, but 90 percent of those who beat the odds are Braille readers.