First Blind Man To Scale Mt. Everest Will Help Verizon Build Awareness of Literacy Issues

WASHINGTON - Erik Weihenmayer, a blind athlete who has climbed the tallest peak on each of the world's seven continents, has joined Verizon in its campaign to improve literacy.

Weihenmayer, who was the first blind man to scale Mt. Everest, will become a Verizon Literacy Champion, joining a distinguished group of accomplished individuals -- including jazz musician Al Jarreau, New York Giant's Tiki Barber and Wheel of Fortune's Vanna White - who are serving as literacy advocates.

Verizon partners with celebrities who use their fame to bring attention to the critical problem of low literacy and to raise funds for the issue.

Verizon Literacy Champions are part of the company's signature philanthropy program - Verizon Reads - which works to create awareness and raise funds to support literacy.

"As a former teacher, I know that literacy is the key that unlocks the potential of every child," said Weilhenmayer. "The ability to learn, to discover and to succeed is tied to the ability to read."

Weilhenmayer, 32, is an accomplished athlete, author, and a role model for many blind people. He is a former middle school teacher and wrestling coach.

Born with a retinoschisis, a rare genetic disorder that left him blind by age 13, Weilhenmayer battles to push past the barriers created by his blindness, a story that he tells in his book, Touch the Top of the World. In addition to climbing, Weilhenmayer is an active skier, marathon runner, skydiver and scuba diver, and was a star wrestler in high school. Weilhenmayer has earned numerous awards, including induction into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and ESPN's ARETE Award for courage in sports. To learn more about Weilhenmayer visit www.touchthetop.com.

"Erik truly is an inspiration," said Andy Brown, executive director-Verizon Reads. "He is a man of achievement who also recognizes the importance of teamwork and of having the right skills - such as the ability to read - to realize one's goals. Erik will be a wonderful partner for Verizon's literacy-awareness campaign."

As a Verizon Literacy Champion, Weilhenmayer will focus on promoting a new career, Braille textbook transcriber, and raising general awareness of the needs of blind and low-vision schoolchildren for timely access to textbooks and learning materials. Promotion of the transcriber career is part of an effort by the American Foundation for the Blind that is underwritten by Verizon Foundation.

According to the National Adult Literacy Survey, 92 million adults in the U.S have low or very low literacy skills. Other studies have found that more than eight of every 20 adults with low literacy live in poverty compared to only one in 20 with strong literacy skills. Taken together these facts indicate low literacy is both widespread and detrimental.

Most experts also believe the reality, pervasiveness and negative impact of low literacy is not as widely recognized as it should be. In part this is because vast numbers of the very people who have low literacy skills have learned to cope while hiding their struggles from friends and family. Shame and fear of ridicule are barriers that block people in need from seeking help. Building understanding of the issues surrounding low literacy is a central goal of Verizon's Literacy Champion program and is a major step towards a solution, as is raising funds to support organizations that combat low literacy with education.

To learn more about Verizon Reads, visit www.verizonreads.net or the company's philanthropy press kit at www.verizon.com/news.

Verizon Communications

Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) is one of the world's leading providers of communications services. Verizon companies are the largest providers of wireline and wireless communications in the United States, with 135.1 million access line equivalents and 30.3 million Verizon Wireless customers. Verizon is also the largest directory publisher in the world. With more than $67 billion in annual revenues and approximately 241,000 employees, Verizon's global presence extends to more than 40 countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia and the Pacific. For more information on Verizon, visit www.verizon.com.