Putting Their Braille Skills to the Test: Nation's Top Blind Students Compete in Unique Academic Competition

Jun 28, 2008, 01:00 ET from Braille Institute of America

    LOS ANGELES, June 28 /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
 28, 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/20080628/CLSA006 )
     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 8th Annual
 National Braille Challenge(TM) took place on Saturday, June 28, 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 was 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.
     "The 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 more than 500 students throughout
 the country during a round of preliminary testing. Following the
 competition an awards ceremony will be held at the Universal Hilton 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.
     Although the stakes are high, the National Braille Challenge(TM) serves
 to bridge the gap between a unique group of students from across the
 country. "Most of the participants are the only blind student in their
 schools," 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