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Nation's Braille Whiz Kids Compete In Unique Academic Competition

LOS ANGELES , June 22, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- On Saturday, June 22, the top blind students from across the United States and Canada met in Los Angeles to 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®.

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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 13 th Annual National Braille Challenge® took place on Saturday, June 22 , from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., at Braille Institute's headquarters in Los Angeles, located at 741 North Vermont Avenue. The participants, ages 6 to 19, competed in challenging categories requiring them to transcribe, type and read braille at a furious pace using a device called a Perkins Brailler.

"This competition is unique in that it tests a very specific skill. It gives us the opportunity to bring the issue of literacy for blind children to the attention of the public," said Nancy Niebrugge, director of The Braille Challenge. "Most of the participants who make it to the national competition are the only blind students in their school. They go through their entire lives being the exception. The Braille Challenge® gives them the opportunity to build camaraderie among kids who have shared similar life experiences."

This year's competition featured a diverse group of high achievers from across the country. 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 challenges. They were chosen from among more than 1000 blind students—representing 39 states and three Canadian provinces—during the preliminary round at Regional Braille Challenge events held across the country .

Each category of The National Braille Challenge® was designed to test participants' braille skills in several areas—reading comprehension, braille spelling, chart and graph reading, proofreading and braille speed and accuracy—all of which blind students need to master in order to keep up with their sighted peers. The first- through third-place winners in each age group received awards ranging in value from $250 for the youngest group to $2500 for the oldest. In addition to these prizes, Freedom Scientific Corporation donated the latest adaptive equipment for the winners— the Focus 40 Blue—an adaptive computer device with a refreshable braille display . And all first place winners also will receive an iPad, sponsored by Palmer Langdon, to help them stay connected to the digital world.

"There have been questions about whether braille can survive the digital age, but literacy will never become obsolete. We're seeing braille merge with new technology to give blind readers access to more information than ever before," said Niebrugge. "The kids who participate in this competition are going to be well placed to keep up with the challenges of living in the 21 st century because they have mastered a form of literacy that has been around for nearly 200 years."

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