Prague, the Czechlands, 20 February 2016

People may wonder why it seems to be necessary to compete in reading and writing Braille while there are no similar competitions for ordinary print. The answer is simple enough: print literacy is compulsory - one is required by law to learn reading and writing in school. Braille literacy, on the other hand, is NOT compulsory: a blind child or adult is, as a rule, given a choice whether he/she should learn to read and write Braille. Funny, isn’t it? But such are modern, politically correct times. On the more serious note, the results are disastrous: Instead of mandating Braille literacy for all legally blind children and adult students, we have been discussing worldwide why Braille is becoming less and less popular. According to recent U.S. statistical data, only some 10% of blind Americans are Braille literate; the same roughly applies to all advanced countries.

To slow down this unfavourable trend, Czech Blind United organizes biennially national contests in Braille literacy skills. The most recent competitions have included electronic Braille events, i.e., working with devices that display Braille not on paper but on a special input/output computer periphery. This lightweight unit (a prominent example of which is EasyLink12Touch, manufactured by a Polis company Harpo) can display up to 12 Braille characters at a time; by using the unit’s navigation keys, a reader can scroll any text to be seen on a computer screen and/or mobile device display; the input keys make it possible to write and edit text without having to resort to touch screen control.

This year, Czech Blind United welcomed five competitors. They were challenged to check their reading, writing, editing and sharing skills – all depending on their Braille literacy.

First, they were asked to read aloud a 100-word piece. Their resulting time ranged from 1 minute 39 seconds to 2:30. Next, the competitors wrote a dictation exercise of 300 characters where any incorrectly entered or omitted character represented a penal point. This task appeared to be more demanding than reading as no participant achieved the goal of 300 correctly entered characters, the worst being 278 while the best was 299; unfortunately, one of our competitors retired from the contest at that stage.

Now comes the toughest assignment: the participants open a file of 16 poetic lines randomly sorted. They are required to sort them correctly in 30 minutes, in which effort one or two clues may help them: some lines (verses) are numbered and there is also poetic rhythm and rhyme that account. Each correctly placed line brings 10 points. Well, the results have demonstrated true difficulty of the task: only one contestant earned full 160 points, the others ranging from 0 to 60.

Lastly, the participants were required to share their output (dictation and editing) with the master computer of the jury. No special difficulty here, though one competitor had a minor problem.

The final placings are as follows:

oKarel Giebisch with 425 points is in the fourth place;

oJiří Sádovský with 514 points is in the third place;

oZdeněk Bajtl with 557 points is in the second place; and

oLuboš Zajíc with 658 points is the winner.

Messrs. Sádovský, Bajtl and Zajíc have secured their participation in the International Visegrad Braille Contest to be held in Prague in late April 2016 under the sponsorship of International Visegrad Fund .

Front face in the middle jury chair Rudolf Volejník, contestants on both sides - around the table on the left side Luboš Zajíc in the front and Jiří Sádovský behind, on the right side Zdeněk Bajtl in the front and Karel Giebisch behind

Left to right: contestants Karel Giebisch and Zdeněk Bajtl

First three contestants, left to right: Jiří Sádovský, Zdeněk Bajtl, Luboš Zajíc

Zdeněk Bajtl reading

Front face in the middle jury chair Rudolf Volejník, on the left from him contest manager Jan Urbánek, contestants on sides - around the table on the left side Luboš Zajíc in the front and Jiří Sádovský behind, on the right side Zdeněk Bajtl in the front and Karel Giebisch behind

Contestants left to right: Luboš Zajíc, Karel Giebisch, Zdeněk Bajtl, Jiří Sádovský

Karel Giebisch writing

Left to right: contestant Jiří Sádovský and contest manager Jan Urbánek

Jiří Sádovský writing

Left to right: contestants Luboš Zajíc and Jiří Sádovský

Detail of contestant's hands

Luboš Zajíc writing