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 Polish 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 28 seconds to 3:27. 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 only one participant achieved the goal of 300 correctly entered characters, the worst result being 293.
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 4 points. Well, the results have demonstrated true difficulty of the task: only one contestant earned full 64 points, the others ranging from 0 to 32.
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:
Bajtl Zdeněk with 478 points out of 480 (first place);
Sádovský Jiří with 445 points (second place);
Mašek Petr with 440 points (third place);
Dvořák Vladimír with 408 points (fourth/fifth place);
Budzák Jozef with 408 points (fourth/fifth place).
Messrs. Mašek, Sádovský and Bajtl have secured their participation in the International Electronic Braille Contest to be held in Poznan in mid-May 2018 under the sponsorship of International Visegrad Fund.
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