Shianne Ramsey recently got the red-carpet treatment in Los Angeles when she competed as a finalist in the National Braille Challenge.
Ramsey, 8, will be a third-grader at Cedar Hill Elementary School. She adores reading, especially Harry Potter books; likes to make pies, soups, brownies and Rice Krispies Treats; wants to be a biologist and a YouTube contributor someday; and if she could travel back in time, she would go to the 1980s for actor John Cusack — she didn't specify which of his movies might have inspired that.
She also has optic nerve hypoplasia, which means she's blind because the nerves connecting her eyes to her brain didn't develop properly. She compared her eyes to "an iPad without Wi-Fi."
Though she can tell the difference between lights on and darkness, she doesn't like it when people ask her what she can or can't see.
"Relax, guys, it's not a snake," she said she told fellow students when they reacted to her probing cane. She added she's given her peers "a little blind counseling" to inform them and challenge their misconceptions and stereotypes about blindness.
She learns Braille for an hour and a half each school day with her teacher for the visually impaired, Louise Whitworth. Shianne's favorite word in Braille is "relaxing," she added.
It's her Braille skills that got her to L.A. last month as a finalist competitor, after she took first place this spring in the regional competition for the National Braille Challenge of the Braille Institute of America.
That was her second try at regionals, having placed third the first time — not enough to qualify to go to California.
Before her flight had even landed, she said, the plane's crew announced to everyone on board who she was and what she was coming to town for, and that made her feel good.
"I felt really special when I came marching in with the USC band," she added of her and her competitors' red-carpet entrance to the challenge in front of an applauding audience at the campus of the University of Southern California.
Ramsey was one of 10 finalists in the elementary, or apprentice, division of the competition meant to encourage students to improve their Braille reading and writing skills, according to the Braille Institute.
The challenge has up to 50 finalists — up to 10 from each of the five age groups that extend through high school — and includes children from the United States and Canada. Ramsey represented Jefferson City as one of only two students from Missouri — the other, also with her in the apprentice division, was Salome Cummins, of Blue Springs.
Ramsey said she and her fellow competitors were tested on skills including spelling, proofreading and reading comprehension. She didn't place at finals, but she came home with a medal, pin and a poster that features a tactile portrait of her face that she can feel to see.
She and her family stayed in California an extra day and enjoyed the Pacific Park amusement park — especially the West Coaster steel roller coaster — at Santa Monica Pier.
Her weekend in L.A. fed her movie star aspirations, too.
"I am built for acting," she said.
She'll soon go to her first summer camp — a performing arts camp — through the Missouri School for the Blind.
"I just felt really special that I got to the finals and everything," she said. She attributed it to luck, but her great-grandmother Kathy Hurley credited her hard work.
Ramsey's mom, Sierra Vinyard, said Shianne reads at a fifth-grade level already.
"Braille is powerful. I'm telling you that right now," Shianne said.