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: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20070623/CLSA010 ) 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