A Nebraska girl who is legally blind has been selected as a finalist for a national writing competition sponsored by the Los Angeles-based Braille Institute.

10-year-old Mellany Fernandez of South Sioux City loves writing stories. The Harney Elementary School 5th grader has already written 12 of her very own stories.

“Mostly like fiction and fantasy,” she told CBS affiliate KMEG.

Fernandez has optic nerve hypoplasia which means her optic nerves aren’t fully developed.

“She can see lights and shadows. She gets around great though [using a cane], even just being able to see that,” says her father, Mario Andrade.

Despite her visual impairment, Fernandez refuses to let it keep her from reaching her goal. She was just selected as one of 50 students for the 2020 Braille Challenge Finals, an annual competition for visually impaired youth that celebrates Braille literacy.

Fernandez, who has been practicing on her Braille writer since first grade, prepared for the Braille Challenge at the encouragement of a teacher.

“My special ed teacher would…like at school, she would take me and put in me in a class and practice everyday,” she says. “I read stories and I have to like find an error and then I do 40 spelling words.”

Unfortunately due to COVID-19 restrictions, the academic competition won’t take place in Los Angeles this year like usual. Instead, she’s competing from her hometown of South Sioux City.

On Saturday (July 10), she was cheered by fellow students and teachers as she entered the school to take a test for the Challenge.

“If I don’t start crying…I’m very proud to be her teacher. She’s a joy,” said her teacher, Becky Rieken. “I think she kind of surprised herself by doing as well as she did. We’re so proud of her.”

The final results will be announced later this month. The awards ceremony will follow on July 31.


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