The Spanish National Organization for the Blind, or ONCE, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary, won Spain's prestigious Prince of Asturias Concord Prize on Wednesday.
ONCE won the prize because of the "extraordinary work" it has done in helping achieve "the social integration of millions of disabled people," the jury said.
The organization's work serves "as an example for numerous international initiatives that have followed its valuable experience," the jury said.
A total of 37 organizations, including the African Union, the International Council on Monuments and Sites and the Fulbright Program, were candidates for the prize, the last of the eight awards handed out annually by the Prince of Asturias Foundation.
The Concord Prize, according to the Prince of Asturias Foundation's Web site, recognizes people or institutions "whose work has made an exemplary and outstanding contribution to mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence among men, to the struggle against injustice, poverty, disease or ignorance, to the defense of freedom, or whose work has widened the horizons of knowledge or has been outstanding in protecting and preserving mankind's heritage."
ONCE was founded in 1938 with the goal of helping blind people work for a living and not become dependent on public support, thus improving the lives of the blind and those with other visual impairments, the foundation said in a statement.
The organization enjoys the recognition and protection of the Spanish government for ONCE lottery ticket sales, which generate income for the group and create jobs for members.
The first drawing of the popular ONCE lottery took place on May 8, 1939.
ONCE provides the more than 71,000 blind and seriously visually impaired people living in Spain with assistance, most of it free, ranging from rehabilitation to financial assistance and specialized education.
The organization also works internationally via its ONCE Foundation for Solidarity with the Blind People of Latin America, or FOAL, which was founded in 1998 with the support of the Ibero-American Aid Fund created in the 1980s.
FOAL operates in 19 Latin American countries, assisting more than 121,000 blind students and providing job training to more than 52,000 people over the past four years.
The Concord Prize carries a cash award of 50,000 euros (about $66,000) and the winners also receive a sculpture by Joan Miro that represents and symbolizes the prizes, a diploma and an insignia bearing the foundation's coat of arms.
Past winners of the Prince of Asturias Concord Prize have included the "Heroes of Fukushima," English theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking, the American Foundation for AIDS Research, the World Network of Biosphere Reserves and British author and "Harry Potter" creator J.K. Rowling.
The prizes, which Spain's Crown Prince Felipe will hand out later this year in the city of Oviedo, are regarded as the Ibero-American world's equivalent of the Nobels. EFE