Penticton middle school student participating in the BC Provincial Braille Challenge

Braille after brain tumour

Casey Richardson

A Penticton student who suffered a brain injury that has left him with deteriorating vision will be participating in the BC Provincial Braille Challenge on Friday, showing off his hard-earned knowledge of the tactile writing system.

Evan Samoyloff is in Grade 6 at Skaha Lake Middle School and has been learning braille since kindergarten. He dealt with a brain tumour at age 2, which caused him to lose most of his vision, except for about 15 per cent in his left eye.

While Samoyloff can read large print, it was important to have another medium to learn from, so he’s been working with an educational assistant and visual impairment teacher since starting school.

“My job is to support the student in the school, the classroom setting, with anything that is required for access to the curriculum. My job is to support the classroom teacher and the educational assistant braillist,” Lynn Langille, a teacher who works with Samoyloff and other students with visual impairments said. She currently works with seven students throughout the Okanagan area.

She added that Samoyloff is an excellent student, often getting As in his classes. However, continuing to learn braille this year has presented different challenges throughout the pandemic.

“It’s been a hard thing with changes in the past year, but I’m doing my best to adapt with it and the best I can,” Samoyloff said.

“I mean, I never imagined that I’d be teaching braille virtually on a camera, but we’ve been coming up with solutions,” Langille added.

She worked alongside Andrea Tank, who is Samoyloff’s education assistant and a braillist, throughout the pandemic to work in new ways to learn. At the beginning of lockdown, Samoyloff’s parents would step in during the zoom call to film his hands and help with learning.

Since kids have been back in classes, Langille and Tank collaborate with the virtual lessons.

“Evan is my focus, but I do work with other kids in the school as well, in the classroom. Then that way I can spread out a little bit and it doesn’t make Evan stand out having an adult beside him all time and Evan is very independent,” Tank said.

The Provincial Resource Centre for the Visually Impaired (PRCVI) puts on the annual challenge and provides teachers and assistance with any of their needed tools and resources.

Samoyloff said that while participating in the BC Provincial Braille Challenge this year, some things he found easy and others a bit more challenging. One portion with graphs and charts he hadn’t learned in math class yet, but he still went ahead and completed the questions.

However, he’s going to miss getting to connect with other students like himself since the groups won’t be getting together in person.

“[It‘s] very, very different, I would say. Not getting the see the kids, meeting new people, actually in persons seeing [their] bodies and how they do braille and how they’re with other kids their age,” Samoyloff said.

“He’s the only visually impaired student in Penticton using braille right now. To be able to get together with those other students is very powerful and is also meant to show him how much he really does know in the braille reading and writing,” Langille added.

The braille challenge is also an important event for students with similar situations to connect with one another.

“Everybody can just feel equal to also gain their confidence and have fun really,” Tank explained.

Langille explained that the students she teaches are called "low incidence population" because the numbers of people affected are low and unique.

“This is a very specialized field of education and disability, so that's why it’s so important to bring these students together whenever we can.”

Students can also join the competitive side of the braille challenge, which will see one student from BC going on to the North American Challenge.

To find out more information on the BC Provincial Braille Challenge, visit the PRCVI’s website.

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