Calendar of Cool: First National Braille Challenge

Today marks the 13th anniversary of the first-ever National Braille Challenge. The National Braille Challenge is a unique academic competition created to encourage blind children to learn Braille, the written alphabet used by the blind. The competition tests students’ skills in various language arts subjects, and is open to students from the U.S. and Canada.

Blind by the age of three, Louis Braille modified a military code of raised dots and dashes into a working alphabet that blind people could read with their fingertips. In 1829, the Braille system was born, consisting of a six-dot cell for each letter.

Initially, people had to emboss each dot of each letter by hand using an awl and a special frame.

braille frame

Now, special typewriters called Braillers are available and can emboss Braille cells onto paper in much the same way a standard typewriter would use ink to make letters. A Braille typewriter is much more space-efficient though; it only needs seven keys!



Braillers aren’t the only machines that can print raised symbols onto paper. In Japan, paper money has similar raised marks so people can tell how much a bill is worth even if they can’t see it.

Much like visual readers, Braille readers can start learning to use the alphabet with big bright letters before they move on to smaller letters. Even young kids can start training for the National Braille Challenge!


An alphabet that opens up the world of literature, and a contest to inspire those who use it? Super cool.


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