Blind students taking on competition in robotics event

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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (KCRG TV9)- Good vision may be one of the more important senses someone needs to build a complicated mechanical robot and use it in a competition.

Members of the "Dark Side" team talk with an inspector at the robotics competition in Cedar Falls on Thursday, March 23, 2017. (Dave Franzman/KCRG-TV9)

But a team made up mostly of blind students connected with the Iowa Braille and Sightsaving School in Vinton is challenging that notion by taking part of a regional robotics competition in Cedar Falls this weekend.

Organizers with First Robotics Competition think another team with visually-impaired students may have taken part in another event once in another state. But they believe this is a first in Iowa.

Danny Grimes, a blind student from Iowa City West High School, is the one who asked Braille school instructors if they could form a team.

He says they have something to prove.

"We can do it and we'll show other visually-impaired students. That's our goal," Grimes said.

Team members call themselves "Dark Side" and the slogan on the back of their shirts reads "May the braille be with you."

Three members are totally blind and three others have only very limited vision. Two can see.

Most of the components they used to assemble the robot contained braille labels.

The team members who can see will do the actual steering during competition. But all the team will help the robot perform certain tasks that earn points.

Sara Larkin, an instructor with the school for the blind, says the students are getting a lot out of the event.

"They've already got so much out of it. It's just amazing. Most of them had never used a power tool, a screw driver or a hammer before," she said.