Blind Kids Follow the Dots to Success

Nation's Top Blind Students Compete in Unique Academic Competition

Jun 23, 2007, 01:00 ET from Braille Institute of America

    LOS ANGELES, June 23 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Of all the literacy
 issues in America, braille literacy is one of the most underrated. Most
 people see the little dots created by Louis Braille in 1824 as something of
 a novelty. They glance over them as they punch in their ATM passwords.
 Comedians make light of their use and ponder their placement in areas
 frequented by people with sight. But for thousands of blind and visually
 impaired children who use those dots to connect themselves to the darkened
 world around them, braille is their passport to success. On Saturday, June
 23, not because of their blindness, but because of their ability to succeed
 in spite of it, the top blind students from across the United States and
 Canada put their knowledge of the braille code to the test in the only
 national academic competition for blind students in the country -- The
 National Braille Challenge(TM).
     (Photo: )
     Sponsored by Braille Institute of America, the competition serves to
 encourage blind children of all ages to fine-tune their braille skills,
 which are essential to their success in the sighted world. The 7th Annual
 National Braille Challenge(TM) took place on Saturday, June 23, from 9:30
 a.m. to 3 p.m., at Braille Institute's headquarters, located at 741 North
 Vermont Avenue, in Los Angeles. The participants, ages 6 to 19, competed in
 challenging categories requiring them to transcribe, type and read braille
 using a device called a Perkins Brailler. Each category is designed to test
 their braille skills in several areas -- reading comprehension, braille
 spelling, chart and graph reading, proofreading and braille speed and
 accuracy -- all of which they need to master in order to keep up with their
 sighted peers.
     "We know that employment numbers for blind people are significantly
 lower than those of sighted people in the same age group," said Nancy
 Niebrugge, director of the Braille Challenge(TM). "But 90 percent of blind
 people who are gainfully employed are braille readers, and that's very
 telling. It's essential that blind children learn to read braille at an
 early age."
     This year's competition featured a diverse group of high achievers --
 from athletes to musicians to junior activists. Most were born blind,
 others lost their sight due to cancer or viral infections, but they all
 share a tenacity that drives them to succeed in spite of their disability.
 They are the top 60, chosen from among nearly 500 students throughout the
 country during a round of preliminary testing. Following the competition an
 awards ceremony was held at the Sheraton Universal Hotel, from 6 to 9 p.m.
 The first- through third-place winners in each age group received a savings
 bond, ranging in value from $500 for the youngest group to $5,000 for the
 oldest. In addition to these prizes, Freedom Scientific donated the latest
 adaptive equipment for the winners -- a pocket PC with a braille display
 called a PacMate. NBC4 also sponsored the Braille Superstar Award for
 Excellence in Reading Comprehension.
     Although the stakes are high, The National Braille Challenge(TM) also
 serves to bridge the gap between a unique group of students from across the
 country. "Most of the participants are the only blind students in their
 school," said Niebrugge. "They go through their entire lives being the
 exception. This competition gives them the opportunity to build camaraderie
 among kids who have shared similar life experiences."
     If you would like additional information on the National Braille
 Challenge(TM) or any of the participants, please contact Courtney Goines,
 media relations manager, at (323) 663-1111, Ext. 3176.

SOURCE Braille Institute of America