A group of Ontario middle-school students has designed a computer app that can teach people who are visually impaired how to read braille.

It is estimated that only 10 per cent of blind children and adults know how to read braille. It is an illiteracy rate long ignored by technology developers who have created thousands of educational apps for the sighted.

But students from an Aurora, Ont., school are aiming to fill that void.

The students are part of FIRST Lego League, a worldwide organization that promotes science and technology to students between 9 and 14 years old. The organization encourages real-world problem-solving.

“We talked to various experts in the field, and they all told us that it filled a gap in the market place,” said participant Sebastian Villate.

Their design is a similar to the popular learning game Leap Frog, only it has an external braille sensor that attaches to a finger.

By learning the alphabet or even how to spell, the user earns prizes which are automatically dispensed from a treasure chest.

“It will open up a lot of opportunities for the blind community, as they will be able to read and not always rely on audio,” said Jenna Pezzack, a Grade 8 student.

The concept is so innovative, the students are being mentored by NASA scientist Ayanna Howard, who is also a robotics professor at Georgia Tech.

Howard has been helping the youth work through the kinks.

“It is actually very hard, learning all this programming language, and everything,” said Disha Prashar, a Grade 8 student.

However, time is running out to find potential glitches. Shortlisted from 500 entries, the program has been included among the top 20 innovations in the world by the Lego League.

“I’m certain that we’ll have it done, our prototype and have it functional,” Pezzack said.

The students will be unveiling their invention in St. Louis this month. If it makes it to the top 3, the students will travel to Washington to meet U.S. President Barack Obama.

With a report by CTV’s Peter Akman