Unified English Braille Is Here with the New Year

Change Can Be Uncomfortable

It always seems that, just when we have learned how to do a task with a great deal of confidence, there is someone out there in the world who comes up with the bright idea in order to make changes and improvements to how we are successfully doing things. We are creatures of habit by nature. So learning to do something in a new way seems to be uncomfortable or even unwelcome. If you have been using a personal computer for several years now, you will recall that every time software developers update their products, there is always going to be a new learning curve in order to accomplish those things that you already feel comfortable in doing. So why upgrade to the latest software development? You know that you can wait on the upgrade for the newer features of the software but at some point in the future, you will have to make the decision to learn to navigate the newer functions of the more recent version. And, of course, you will eventually have to upgrade to their latest and greatest version of the products in order to gain access to technical support when problems arise.

When you finally decide to upgrade, your initial response may be uncomfortable or even negative however, as you learn about the advantages of the newer features, you begin to adjust your thinking and eventually accept the changes and improvements of the newer version as what is comfortable. You discover that tasks can be performed more easily and it becomes difficult to remember how the older versions of the software limited your productivity. When you look back at the skills you have learned, you realize that you have accumulated valuable computing skills. Typing on the keyboard is still typing with your basic knowledge of finger placement and location of the keys. Your earlier knowledge of printing and saving documents are basically the same as in earlier incarnations of the software. And those basic skills that you first learned when you decided to learn how to use your personal computer are the foundations for all that you are able to accomplish now.

Close up of male hand reading braille text.

Advancements in Technology Enhance Braille Usage

So what does your experience with upgrading your personal computers software applications have to do with Unified English Braille (UEB)? No doubt, we live in the age of technology and we must change and adapt to the new opportunities and avenues of access that are opened through technological discoveries. Think about when Louis Braille (1809-1852) first invented the braille code and where our knowledge of technology was at that time in history. He could have never imagined that his braille code could be mass produced with braille embossers (printers) or that some sort of computer would be invented that would allow for individuals to both use braille for reading or writing from our modern assistive technology devices.

Picture of individual using Braille Note Taker

You will no doubt have many questions about the adoption of Unified English braille which will be fully adopted on January 4th of this year. As you read on, you will find answers to some of the following questions that you may have as we move forward into learning new ways of reading and writing braille.

Braille Authority of North America

Who is the Braille Authority of North America and what is their purpose? There are sixteen member organizations that make up the membership of the Braille Authority of North America. Representatives from These organizations represent Braille producers, transcribers, teachers, and consumers. BANA’s mission is to assure literacy for tactile readers through the standardization of braille and/or tactile graphics. The purpose of BANA is to facilitate and promote the teaching, production, and uses of braille. They make known and publish rules, make interpretations, and render opinions pertaining to braille codes and guidelines for the provisions of literary and technical materials and related forms and formats of embossed materials now in existence or to be developed in the future for the use of blind persons in North America.

Changes to the Braille Code

Why make the changes to Unified English Braille? As technology has advanced, it has become apparent that some of the rules and uses of the English Braille American Edition (EBAE) literary braille code had become problemmatic. One of the main issues is in what is known as back translation. This type of translation is best described when you are using a braille input device to send text to your computer. As you type using the six-key input device, some of the contractions that you used within the EBAE code will translate incorrectly as they are converted into print. Think of the word “middle.” Now, if you use your braille input device and use the dd contraction from the EBAE code, the printed results on your desktop screen will read “mi.le” because the dd also can be represented as a punctuation sign for the period. That is why the dd contraction has been eliminated in UEB. With the EBAE literary braille code, the sign for italics was used interchangeably for other print formats such as bolded text or underlined text. UEB provides new symbols to more clearly represent the actual formatting that can be found within the printed document or text.

What are some of the changes that I will notice right away if I have been reading the English Braille American Addition (EBAE) literary braille code? The letters of the alphabet as well as using the number sign with the first 10 letters of the alphabet to represent numbers remain as they were in the EBAE literary braille code. You will immediately notice that nine of the contractions from EBAE have been eliminated: ally, ation, ble, by, com, dd, and into. The contraction for o’clock (o’c), has also been eliminated. Some of the rules from EBAE have been eliminated or changed. The rules found in UEB are more flexible when using contractions and can be used more often in words that previously were not permitted to use because of EBAE rules. You will notice that the contractions or words that were unspaced when they occurred next to each other, no longer are spaced together: and, for, of, the, with, and a. There are also new symbols for formatting that take into account many more of the features that have been eliminated from transcribing materials from print to braille. You will find that reading UEB does not slow your reading ability when you become comfortable with the relaxed use of contractions and newer uses of the nine eliminated contractions.

Current Braille Books and Literature

What will happen to the current brailled books that have been transcribed in the BANA literary braille code? The books that have already been produced with the EBAE literary braille code will remain in circulation. However, as of the 4th of January 2016, all newly brailled materials will be transcribed in UEB.

Braille Math and Science Codes

Will there be changes to the Nemeth math and Science code? At this time, there are no plans to transition to unified English braille.

Learning Braille for the First Time

What if I do not know any braille at all and I want to learn how to read it. Will I have to learn both EBAE literary braille rules and UEB rules in order to use it? If you are just getting started with braille, the first steps you will need to consider is something called tactile readiness. These are skills that you need in order to effectively touch braille and track with your fingers. The next steps include developing the ability to distinguish the formations of the raised dots within each braille cell. Once you have gained proficiency with tactile readiness, you will begin to learn the letters of the alphabet and some punctuation marks and a few braille signs which do not have a printed equivalent. This level of braille knowledge is considered as grade 1 braille. You should not encounter any problems between EBAE or UEB.

As you learn more about braille and using contractions, it would be a good idea to know how some of the uses of EBAE rules were used in translating text into braille. But, you will find that the rules for UEB are more relaxed and when you learn part-word contractions and whole-word contractions, it is much more logical to understand the rules for UEB.

Who can I contact in order to get started in learning braille? If you are interested in learning braille, you can contact the Hadley School for the Blind for information and an application for enrollment. These are distance education courses. So, you will need to keep in mind that you will be working independently and personal self-motivation is required. If you need the assistance of help with instruction from a peer, you might consider contacting your local Center for Independent Living (CIL), vision rehabilitation center or your local chapter of the American Council of the Blind for more information. you can also find a list of resources from the American Foundation for the Blind that can direct you to specific organizations and services.

Resources for Current Braille Users

I have been reading and writing braille for some time now. So, where can I locate resources for transitioning to UEB? You can contact the National Library Services (NLS) or log on to your on-line BARD account and simply type in the subject search box the words “Unified English Braille.” After pressing the go button, you will find a brief list of all newly brailed books available in UEB. One of the titles from the list of books is very helpful. “The ABC’s of UEB” provides a nice overview of the changes with UEB. You can also submit an email message to request The UEB Reader by sending an email request to Kim Charlson at BANA. Her email address is: kim.charlson@perkins.org. The Hadley School also offers a course entitled “Transition to UEB” for students who are proficient in reading contracted braille. Please note that this course is NOT a beginner course. Also, if you would like to obtain a downloadable file of the Rules of Unified English Braille, you can visit the NFB website.

The Bigger Picture of UEB

What is the bigger picture for adopting UEB? With the adoption of UEB, the United States will join these other English speaking countries: South Africa, Nigeria, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom. With a truly unified braille code, the possibilities are very exciting for sharing brailled materials and resources with other countries. If you think about the fact that less than 2% of all of the worlds printed texts are available in braille, the ability to have a common braille code sets the stage for sharing with our fellow braille readers throughout the world.

So, how do you feel about changes in the current braille code? Are you a braille user? Have you investigated the UEB code? If so, have you found it easy or hard to learn? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

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Braille resources in honor of World Braille Day