The Braille Authority of North America (BANA) voted at its November meeting (2012) in Los Angeles on whether to adopt Unified English Braille (UEB) for the United States. The attached FAQ document is helpful at beginning an understanding of what UEB is and what the changes are.
Frequently Asked Questions
Braille Code Change for the United States
Q. Where did the idea of braille code change come from?
A. The braille code has changed many times since its creation in the 19th century. Changes have been made to assist braille readers in better understanding the text being communicated and to allow the production of braille to become more efficient. In 1991, more than 20 years ago, Dr. Abraham Nemeth and Dr. Tim Cranmer presented a paper to BANA discussing the urgency of the need to unify the various braille codes used in North America. The development of the computer braille code in the late 80s had created yet another set of braille characters for common symbols such as the dollar sign, the period, and the comma. The desire to create a unified code was partially in response to the perceived complexity of having multiple symbols for the same meaning. Later that year, BANA initiated a project to act on the recommendations in the Nemeth/Cranmer memorandum; that project became international in 1993 when BANA invited participation by the International Council on English Braille (ICEB). This process led to the development of the Unified English Braille Code (UEBC), which became known as UEB (Unified English Braille).
Q. Would changing the braille codes bring any real improvements?
A. Making changes to the braille codes would help braille readers, braille transcribers and producers, and teachers of blind students in a number of ways. For example:
- More consistency, less ambiguity, and fewer exceptions to braille rules would make braille easier to produce and would remove some barriers to learning braille.
- The ability to show more symbols in braille would give the braille reader better access to the same information that is available to print readers.
- Computer translation and backtranslation could be produced more quickly and with less human intervention than currently required.
More accurate computer translation from print to braille and from braille to print would:
- Reduce the errors and ambiguity experienced by those reading contracted braille on refreshable braille displays, which are the equivalent of a screen on a computer or mobile device
- Improve the backtranslation of braille that is written using electronic devices, so that braille users can write in braille to communicate easily and accurately with non-braille users
- Increase the timeliness of many types of braille production by permitting braille transcribers to focus more on advanced aspects of braille production rather than spending time on routine matters
- Reduce the labor required in braille production, allowing teachers to spend more time working with the students instead of brailling materials for their students
- Mitigate, to some extent, the difficulties experienced by a reader who is required to read computer-produced braille that has been prepared by someone who has not been trained in braille transcription
Q. How much would braille really change?
A. The literary code would be easily read by those familiar with the current braille code. The following list is not comprehensive, but is provided to give a general sense of how literary braille would change:
- The dot formations of letters and numbers in the literary code would stay the same as they are today.
- Out of the current 189 contractions, nine would be deleted to make room in the code for greater consistency and less confusion in the representation of other symbols. The nine eliminated contractions are: ally, ation, ble, by, com, dd, into, o'clock, to.
- Some rules for when and when not to use contractions would be changed. Some contractions would be used more often than they are now.
- Words that are currently written together such as "and the" would be spaced apart as they are in print.
- Most of the punctuation would remain the same, but some would change; for example, the opening parenthesis would become dots 5, 1-2-6 and the closing parenthesis would be dots 5, 3-4-5. This means that braille, just like print, would have separate and unique symbols to differentiate opening and closing parentheses. The period would be shown as dots 2-5-6 so that, just like in print, the same symbol is used regardless of whether it means full stop, decimal point, or dot.
- Some symbols, such as asterisk, percent sign, dollar sign, and degree sign, would change. Some of the newer symbols, like copyright, trademark, and crosshatch, would remain the same.
- The methods of indicating emphasis, such as italics, boldface, or underlining, would be changed. These attributes would not be shown more frequently than they are in current braille, but now a braille reader would be able to distinguish, for example, whether a word is in italics or was underlined.
- A major limitation of the base literary code we use today is that there is no good way to show the math symbols that sometimes occur in everyday writing and may or may not be related to actual math at all. Operational symbols such as plus and equals that do not currently exist in the literary code would be added.
- The rules for formatting of headings, paragraphs, contents pages, and other items involving spacing or placement on a page would not be affected.
- It would no longer be necessary to switch into a special code to read and write web and email addresses.
Q. Why can't we just modify existing code?
A. BANA has made small changes to the literary braille code from time to time. More and more, however, proposed changes would result in conflicts with existing codes.
Q. Would all the other codes we use now disappear?
A. No. The Nemeth code would still be available for use wherever it is needed. The music code and the International Phonetic Alphabet code would not be affected. Books and materials that have already been produced in older codes would still be available for readers who want them. Nothing would be removed from circulation in the near future.
Q. How hard would it be to change existing translation software?
A. UEB is already built into the Duxbury Braille Translation software and into popular refreshable braille devices, such as products from Freedom Scientific, HumanWare, and HIMS. It is also available for the Mountbatten Brailler. Individuals using iPhones or iPads with refreshable braille displays can use UEB now because it is available in the VoiceOver screen reader that comes with every computer or mobile device sold by Apple.
Q. Would all the old braille books still be usable?
A. Existing braille books would remain in libraries and still be quite readable.
Q. How long would the braille code change take?
A. A change to UEB would not happen overnight. Careful planning would be undertaken to determine the best ways to introduce teachers, transcribers, students, and general readers to the changes in the braille code. Full implementation would no doubt take many years.
Q. Where can I get more information about UEB?
A. More detailed information about the background of BANA's consideration of code change will be published over the next few weeks. Additionally, information about UEB can be found at http://www.iceb.org/ueb.html.