National Braille Competition

The University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles was the scene on Saturday, June 17, for the day-long Braille Challenge finals. This national competition is for low-vision and blind students ages 6 to 19. There had originally been 1,100 braille writers and readers in preliminary regional events that were held from January through March, and only 50 finalists living in 22 states in the United States plus from two Canadian provinces were able to compete in the finale.

The competitors had to translate spoken words and passages into lines of Braille on Perkins Braillers, which are machines similar to typewriters and are the world's most widely used brailler. Over 300,000 braillers have been sold to more than 170 countries. It was invented in 1951 by David Abraham, who was a teacher at the Perkins School for the Blind.

The participants also had to interpret graphs and charts, proofread passages, answer questions about selected readings, and transcribe selections as accurately and quickly as possible. The younger age groups also had to complete a spelling test.

The winner of the 10 finalists in the oldest age group, one of five groups, was Mitchell Bridwell, age 16, of Pittsboro, Indiana. His group included three other students from the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Bridwell starting learning how to read braille when he was just four years-old. He was born blind when a rare congenital condition occurred during the development of him as a fetus.

Also among the 50 finalists was Cricket Bidleman of Morro Bay, 18 years old. She began competing at age seven in 2006 and four times won those finals. Her age makes this her last competition, and she will now attend Stanford this coming fall with plans to study anthropology.

Previously, the Braille Institute in Los Angeles was the host for the competition since its beginning in 2000. This year, for the first time, the competition moved to USC so that the students and their families could experience being on a college campus.

The National Federation of the Blind reports that only 32 percent of blind or visually impaired people in the United States have a high school diploma or GED and just 14 percent have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Participants make many close friends when competing in the annual Braille Challenge and continue to keep in touch. These super students said that they aspire to be lawyers, teachers, chefs, musicians, or even president of the United States.




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