Austin 5th-grader competing for top honors at Braille Challenge Finals

Texas News

AUSTIN (KXAN) — When it comes to competing and overcoming challenges, an Austin fifth-grader hasn’t let anything stand in his way.

Leo DeSantis was just 5 months old when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that led to him becoming visually impaired, but the 11-year-old hasn’t let that stop him from achieving some extraordinary tasks.

“When I first started my brailling was like this,” said Leo as he slowly typed on his Brailler.

As the saying goes, practice makes perfect, and perfection is what Leo is trying to achieve as he prepares for the Braille Challenge Finals.

“Now it is like this,” said Leo as he typed even faster. “This is my third year being a finalist.”

Competitors at all grade levels are tested on fundamental Braille skills such as reading comprehension, spelling, speed and accuracy in the competitions.

Out of more than 1,000 competitors across the US and Canada, there are only 50 left, and Leo is one of them.

“Practicing speed and accuracy a lot because that one has been hard for me,” Leo said.

Feeling his way through a sentence he typed out, he checks to make sure it’s correct. Once he confirms his work, he moves on.

“Braille is to me what print is to you,” Leo said.

His parents are his biggest supporters and have been with him every step of the way.

“Very proud,” said Emily DeSantis, Leo’s mom. “I think he is becoming the person we always wanted him to be.”

Leo took a test for the finals Thursday and will hear how he did in a few weeks.

Finals are traditionally held in Los Angeles on the campus of the University of Southern California. However, this year’s finals testing and surrounding events will be conducted remotely, with finalists testing in their hometowns and the closing award ceremony held via live stream.

Closing ceremonies are set for July 30 and will be streamed on Braille Institute’s YouTube Channel.

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