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Blind 2nd Grader Heading for National Braille Finals Competition in L.A.

  • Synopsis: Published: 2014-06-04 (Revised/Updated 2016-09-23) - Austin Schwan from House Springs Elementary School qualified for final round of Braille Challenge to be held in Los Angeles California June 20-21, 2014 - St. Louis Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired ( - 8770 Manchester Rd. St. Louis, MO 63144).

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Quote: "This kid is blowing my mind, says Teacher of the Visually Impaired at St. Louis Society for the Blind"

Eight-year-old Austin placed first in his age group at the Missouri Braille Challenge Regional event in February and is one of only 12 contestants in his category nationwide chosen to compete in the final round. For Austin, whose passion is reading dictionaries and technology books, the adventure will be a long way from the small town where he lives.

"This kid is blowing my mind," says Joyce E. Strother, Supervisor of Children's Service at St. Louis Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Strother, a Certified Orientation & Mobility Specialist and Teacher of Visually Impaired, has worked with Austin since he was age three. She routinely visits his school in the Northwest R-1 School District to help him learn new skills and practice his Braille.

"Austin averages a rate of 70-120 words per minute reading Braille, and he consistently receives 90 to 100 percent scores on Braille assessments," says Strother. "He likes to read technical instruction manuals and dictionaries so he can expand his knowledge of the world and high-technology.

"He is a sweet boy and also assertive," Strother adds. "When Austin had an issue with Encyclopedia Britannica's Braille software, he wrote a letter to Encyclopedia Britannica about it. He really wants an encyclopedia that he can read in Braille."

"Austin is inspired by the late Dr. Abraham Nemeth, an American mathematician who was blind, known for developing a system for blind people to read and write mathematics," notes David Ekin, ACSW, LCSW, president of St. Louis Society for the Blind & Visually Impaired.

"The Braille Challenge is exciting for contestants and their families, yet serves the greater purpose of informing the public about the capabilities of people who are blind," Ekin adds. "Everyone who knows Austin is thrilled that he is heading for the final round."

The finals will occur at the Braille Institute of America offices in Los Angeles. Austin will attend a welcome reception, stay at the Universal Hilton Hotel near Universal Studios and then participate in the finals on Saturday, June 21. The contest will be followed by an awards ceremony in the Hilton Ballroom. Austin will be accompanied by his mother Nichole Hibdon, and family friends.

The awards ceremony will be webcast live on the website People also can listen to a broadcast via the Audio Internet Reading Service of Los Angeles website A podcast of the final competition will be archived there for download.

"We will send Tweets to Twitter @BrailleInst and the Braille Institute will post the tweeted well wishes on a giant screen at the awards banquet," says Strother, adding, "Well done Austin! You have worked hard on your Braille and we are very proud!"

St. Louis Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired provides specialized services for students who are blind if their school district does not have other resources available. These include Teacher of Visually Impaired Services and Orientation & Mobility Services.

Founded in 1911, the Society enhances independence, empowers individuals and enriches the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired including children, adults, and their families. Its caring, qualified staff provides specialized vision rehabilitation, adaptive education, assistive technology and support services. The not-for-profit Society serves an increasing number of older adults who are newly visually impaired, blind or deaf-blind due to age-related eye conditions by providing specialized agency services and community activities. It is the only agency of its kind serving greater St. Louis, and the second oldest of its kind west of the Mississippi River.

Related Information:

  1. Louis Braille - Historical Perspectives - Thomas C. Weiss - (Jun 24, 2009)
  2. Full Screen Computer Braille Displays for the Blind - North Carolina State University - (Mar 29, 2010)
  3. Electroactive Polymer Full Screen Displays for The Blind - NCSU - (Nov 17, 2011)

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