Archive for May, 2012

Presentation by Christopher Gray

Technical Presentations to Braille Authority of North America

On April 28, 2012 the National Technical Braille Committee made a series of presentations to the Braille Authority of North America in St. Louis, MO. Each of these presentations is reprinted in this blog category. We hope you find them educational and useful.

Presentation by Christopher Gray, April 28, 2012

Good afternoon:

I am speaking before BANA this afternoon as a braille reader, a technologist, and a person with a deep interest in taking care of those blind people who might become technologists, mathematicians and scientists in the future. If we cannot increase the potential of capable blind children, then we need to wonder what we are about at all.

When I was a student, we lived through a change in our textbooks from the Taylor Code to the Nemeth Code. Later, I experienced code issues when attempting to read material brailled in a Nemeth-based computer code and from braille embossing terminals. Each showed very important aspects of braille code learning and use.

As a third grader, I wasn’t particularly gifted or interested in math and science. Switching codes at that time created further issues in my ability to understand and appreciate these disciplines. I would later discover that a significant part of my difficulty with math was related to understanding differences in spatial and linear presentations of material. I credit the the Nemeth Code in assisting me in finally grasping and being able to cope with these necessary differences in braille representation. We see example after example in UEB that demonstrates beyond the shadow of a doubt that the space required in UEB to present material makes the learning of math far more difficult and far less straightforward. Those presenters who came before me have made numerous points in this regard.

I would like now to address some related issues that have not yet been discussed. First, a great deal has been said about how wonderful the world would be if there was a single unified code across all English-speaking countries. On its face, this certainly sounds plausible. But, is it really? I have a number of reasons to talk with you about today that call this idea into serious question.

NOTE: I then present the paper “One Braille Code for the English-Speaking World?”

I mentioned to you earlier that I experienced problems as a reader between Nemeth-like computer braille and braille computer code generated by braille embossers and paperless braille products. The problem was essentially that completely different characters were used in each code. Also, the Nemeth computer braille did not honor a one-to-one representation as did the embosser code. This created a very frustrating situation for the reader.

As frustrating as that situation may have been, it was largely resolved by the advent of the Computer Braille Code, adopted by BANA in the mid 1980s and still in force today. What then are the implications to blind computer users with the potential adoption of UEB?

To provide a framework for this and attempt to formulate an answer, here is the paper “The Computer Braille Code, Computability and Unified English Braille”.

To conclude this second section, let me point out that the Nemeth Uniform Braille System does not share the same issues that existed for computer presentation with the earlier Nemeth Code. In fact, NUBS retains as many computer symbols as possible from CBC and it even borrows from CBC in its clever use of modes. It is these modes that preserve literary braille, virtually untouched, for the NUBS user.

Finally, it is the committee’s understanding that questions have arisen in BANA about the extensibility of NUBS when compared with the extensibility of UEB. The simple answer here is that each code is fully extensible. Both use the prefix root concept, and they are equivalent. Joyce Hull has prepared some text and quotations from NUBS that should help BANA in understanding extensibility more fully. The document is called “Extensibility of NUBS“.

Thank you for the opportunity of sharing this vital information with you today.

Presentation by Maylene Bird

Technical Presentations to Braille Authority of North America

On April 28, 2012 the National Technical Braille Committee made a series of presentations to the Braille Authority of North America in St. Louis, MO. Each of these presentations is reprinted in this blog category. We hope you find them educational and useful.

Maylene Bird April 28, 2012

Good afternoon. My name is Maylene Bird. I am a math teacher at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired with classes ranging from algebra 1 through calculus. Thank you for taking the time to hear our concerns today.

As we consider the adoption of a unified braille code, please remember that we must adopt a braille system that works for all braille readers – that includes braille readers in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics or STEM fields of study. I believe that the code you choose will directly affect the quality of math and science education that braille users receive.

The typical requirements for a general education high school diploma include four years of mathematics and four years of science. In the state of Texas those 4 years of required math include algebra 1, algebra 2, geometry, and a fourth year which could be pre-calculus, math models, statistics, or the like. Science classes typically include biology, physical science, chemistry, physics, or astronomy. Gone are the days where we need not be concerned about the level of math and science achieved in high school – not to mention the new state mandated tests which in Texas are part of the requirements for graduation.

Mathematics is a difficult subject for many students who are blind or visually impaired. Research by Clifford Adelman, (1999) and Richard O Hill, (2006) conclude that the highest level of math achieved in high school is directly linked to the likelihood of completing a college degree in any subject area; the more math a student completes in high school, the more likely he or she is to complete a college degree. Blind students struggle enough to learn math and science concepts in a general education classroom with sighted peers. Nemeth code is intuitive and organic. It represents math and science materials accurately in a way that is logical and makes sense. I find UEB to be more complex, difficult, and cumbersome with its upper cell numbers, numerous new indicators, longer expressions, the insertion of braille grouping symbols where there are none in print, the use of terminology that is not used by mathematics teachers, and the ambiguity of how to write fractions depending upon placement of a variable in the fraction.

Blind students also struggle with math frequently due to missing concepts over the years that were likely presented visually. The braille users frequently do not know Nemeth code very well and sometimes have not been taught braille early enough. These problems are sometimes due to the wide variation in TVI personnel preparation programs and state certification requirements, resulting in TVI’s who may be unprepared to meet the needs of their students according to research by Pogrund and Wibbenmeyer, (2008).

Please consider the following proposals:
1. Development of a new national TVI certification in conjunction with ACVREP, AER, and university preparation programs requiring two semesters of braille – both literary and Nemeth code- with a braille proficiency test in each area. NFB already has a National Professional Certification Board which offers competency tests.
2. Reconsider NUBS, and pursue more research into the viability and efficacy of NUBS, which appears to me to be a better code. The UEB code essentially eliminates our current technical code and starts over with a less efficient code.

Next I review some quotes from BANA sponsored research on the UEB code by Robin Wetzel and Marie Knowlton, (2006) that indicate additional research needs to be done before such an important and permanent decision can be made regarding a unified code.

Quote, “… the [UEB] study lacked input from professional braille users in the fields of mathematics and computer science.”
“To date, no studies have addressed the transcription and comprehension of graphic material in braille. The fields of geometry, trigonometry, and calculus rely heavily on graphics. Maps, charts, graphs, and diagrams also encode information in a manner that requires the use of lines, points, and areas, as well as text for labeling significant parts. A unified code needs to address this kind of information in addition to pure literary text.”
Many concerns from teachers are listed in one part of this research on UEB. Here are two of them:

1. “The teachers expected that the teaching and learning time for the new code would be slower, particularly in mathematics. Mathematics is already a difficult subject for most students who are totally blind to learn. Thus, if the code is adopted, the teachers believed, students would be required to learn a difficult subject and a more difficult code at the same time.”
2. “Given the data available from teachers’ current caseloads, only 10 to 30 percent of the population of students who are visually impaired will ever read braille. To make the system more complex would reduce that number even further. “
And “Perhaps some of the most significant research on any braille code needs to address a vast array of cognitive issues that are related to learning and using braille as a reading and writing system.”
Regarding the Holbrook and MacCuspie article in the September 2010 issue of JVIB, the conclusion was that “the participants believed that UEB could be effectively used by people who are employed in technical fields.” It should be noted that this was based on research of only five people as stated in the article. This calls into question the value of this research.
If we are to consider a unified braille system, please seriously consider the Nemeth Uniform Braille System or NUBS as presented to us as an option at the end of the three-part BANA article, The Evolution of Braille. In my opinion it is a superior code. It appears to make fewer changes to all portions of our current codes than Unified English Braille (UEB).

Presentation by Sara Larkin

Technical Presentations to Braille Authority of North America

On April 28, 2012 the National Technical Braille Committee made a series of presentations to the Braille Authority of North America in St. Louis, MO. Each of these presentations is reprinted in this blog category. We hope you find them educational and useful.

Sara Larkin (April 22, 2012)

Hello, I am Sara Larkin. I am a Math Consultant for the Iowa Educational Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired. I cover the entire state and have seen a rapid increase in the number of students taking higher level math classes in the state of Iowa. Much of this is due to the fact that the students have had a firm foundation in the Nemeth code and are able to efficiently read and write using this code. I am here to address the suggestion that students just switch to Nemeth when they get to higher level math classes.

The entire goal of this effort to change to UEB has been to create a code that unifies all current braille codes. The fact that some UEB supporters suggest retaining Nemeth for those who want to take higher level math classes, demonstrates recognition of the shortfalls of UEB in the scientific arena. Is it truly unification of codes if we are keeping one of the current codes because this so called “Unified” code can’t handle it? UEB is unable to handle technical material such as math and science beyond the basic level. If it is supposed to be universal, then why can’t it handle these areas? It instead creates a new literary code and leaves behind the need for a more technical code. In fact, now with the common core curriculum, students are learning advanced concepts like algebra and geometry even in the early grades.

We must not set the braille user behind his or her sighted peers by requiring the student to switch from the UEB code to Nemeth code when the math becomes too difficult for UEB to handle it. Instead we must use a logical and effective code from the start of a student’s education. It is important to be able to write high level math in order to be able to enter and be successful in any STEM career. Learning upper digit braille and then suddenly having to switch in middle school or high school would not be an easy change. How can we expect students, who would have been provided with UEB texts for 7 or 8 years of school, to suddenly discover that, if they want to take any normal junior high or high school math or science course, they will have to learn a different code, called NEMETH. This is a terrible time for a student to throw away all of that math braille and start over. All of a sudden symbols would have a totally different meaning. Fraction indicators would now become parentheses. Subscripts and superscripts would now become 5′s and 9′s. In fact, the operations, decimal point, parentheses, fraction indicators, subscripts, superscripts, and signs of comparison are only some of the symbols that would change. Most students, caught in this situation would throw in the towel and study something else. We know of several blind Ph.D’s who claim they depended very heavily on the Nemeth code to achieve their educational goals. Students will make a choice not to take high level math classes because of the need to learn a whole new code at the same time as trying to learn very advanced concepts. We currently have students taking Calculus, in fact, more than ever before. These students would not have been able to get that far if they didn’t already have a good handle on the Nemeth code before entering upper level math classes. If we adopt UEB, fewer students will take algebra and geometry. Without that algebra and geometry, they can’t even go to college.

On another level, let’s consider brain research. Learning both a new code and high level math obviously causes an unnecessary cognitive load that can impede the processing and understanding of mathematical concepts. This additional load happens within UEB due to the need for indicators to identify a letter verses a number since only upper digits are used. Working memory is acknowledged to be at a level of 7 +- 2 items (or bits) of information according to Kalet (2005). Many mathematical expressions easily exceed this limit in UEB which will undoubtedly affect the student’s ability to remember information accurately, manipulate it in problem solving, and ultimately to learn the math concepts. The first limitation of working memory deals with its ability to hold on to information. According to McGee & Wilson (1984), without rehearsal or constant attention, information remains in working memory for only about 15-20 seconds. By the time the student would read through an algebraic expression in UEB and begin trying to solve the problem most of that time would have elapsed and they would have to go back and try to figure out the details of the problems again.

Automaticity is the ability to perform a skill or habit automatically or unconsciously. Using the same symbol in 2 different situations such as number vs. letter is going to decrease the likelihood of automaticity especially if these symbols then change when a student would have to switch to Nemeth code. Currently, a student is able to quickly differentiate between whether a cell is a letter or a number by its position. If a student constantly has to think about whether the same symbol is a letter or a number also slows down their fluency. Again, fluency would be affected by this change from UEB to Nemeth. When referring to previous work students would need to constantly remind or ask themselves whether a particular cell is a letter or a number by looking at a second cell before making that decision. This would definitely decrease fluency and break up the thought process. The use of upper vs. lower digits will now be discussed more by Allison O’Day.

Presentation by Cary Supalo

Technical Presentations to Braille Authority of North America

On April 28, 2012 the National Technical Braille Committee made a series of presentations to the Braille Authority of North America in St. Louis, MO. Each of these presentations is reprinted in this blog category. We hope you find them educational and useful.

BANA St Louis 2012 Cary Supalo


I wish to spend a few minutes to discuss with you why I believe the proposed UEB Braille system is a form of regression in the literacy of the blind as compared to a form of progression. I myself have been a Braille reader since 1986. I learned it in middle school. As part of my education, I learned early on how to use the Nemeth Braille code. The Nemeth code is not a code that you learn all at one time. Rather, it is a code where you learn it as you advance into your math and science career. Thus, it is possible for a Braille reader who does not advance into math beyond basic geometry to ever need a larger understanding of the Nemeth code. This contributes to the fact that the more a person with a visual impairment advances into courses in the what are known as the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, (STEM) professions, which is rarely done, may explain why the Nemeth code in these more advanced technical areas is not appreciated. The majority of Braille readers today do not enter STEM career paths. Thus, the majority of the Braille users in the English speaking nations of the world do not have to learn extensive Nemeth code.

I however through my education as a Ph.D. chemist, was required to take courses through calculus 3, physics in the areas of mechanics and electricity and magnetism, and progressed into thermodynamics and quantum chemistry. I have a solid understanding of the higher more advanced areas of the Nemeth code. Thanks for my strong interest in STEM courses; I was able to do this. If it wasn’t for Nemeth code’s innate ability to use dropped numbers as part of its system thus freeing up the upper part of the cell to be used by mathematical functions. Dr. Nemeth’s strong background in mathematics is one of its greatest assets. This enabled Dr. Nemeth to create symbology for all areas of mathematics beyond algebra. The Nemeth code thus opened doors of opportunity for me to use a standard Braille code that could be used to Braille my technical materials. Without Nemeth Braille support that I received at Purdue University from the TAEVIS Braille production facility, I could not have pursued my chemistry degree.

Math and science by their very nature are challenging for most learners. Additionally, the 2-dimentionality of mathematics can be difficult for many learners to understand. Dr. Nemeth’s strong understanding of mathematics and a comprehension of the visual aspects of math symbols enhanced his ability to create notation that conveyed useful aspects of visual information to a Braille reader. For example, when the superscript symbol (Dots 4-5) is used in the upper part of the cell, this indicates to a Braille reader the superscript is raised in print. Further, the use of the subscript symbol (dots 5-6) in the lower part of the cell indicates to the Braille reader the number is dropped. The use of the (dot 5) symbol indicates to the Braille reader return to baseline. This is but one example of numerous that the Nemeth code has to offer math and science Braille readers.

Further, we all know the UEB requires the use of more Braille cells to convey the same information as the Nemeth Braille code. By requiring the use of more Braille cells I believe makes it more difficult for the Braille reader to learn the technical materials. Therefore, I would recommend that BANA should not consider the adoption of a Braille system that requires the use of significant numbers of additional Braille cells than is currently required in the Nemeth code. If this is done, I believe this will make it more difficult for students with visual impairments to fully understand mathematics and thus will discourage them from considering career paths in STEM. It is for this reason why I believe the adoption of UEB would be a form of regression as compared to a form of progression in the Braille literacy efforts today. I wish I had more time to discuss this with you; however I will defer to my colleagues. However, I am available for questions from any of you while I am here, or after the meeting. I would like to thank you all for your attention.


Presentation by Allison O’Day

Technical Presentations to Braille Authority of North America

On April 28, 2012 the National Technical Braille Committee made a series of presentations to the Braille Authority of North America in St. Louis, MO. Each of these presentations is reprinted in this blog category. We hope you find them educational and useful.

April 28, 2012


Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today about our reasons for opposing the adoption of UEB in its current form.


I am Allison O’Day.  I am a certified proofreader, and proofread mathematics and science textbooks transcribed in Nemeth code for the students in Minnesota.  I am also a Literary Braille Instructor for NFB, proofreading the Literary Braille Transcribing Course lessons for students throughout the U.S.


I was fortunate enough to be a mathematics and chemistry major in college.  The majority of my math books were transcribed in braille.  With a bit of training and reminding, I was able to transcribe in braille, using the slate and stylus, the problems being written and solved on the blackboard by the instructor.


Regrettably, the braille chemistry code had not yet been developed when I went to school.  I often think that I would like to go back and take all of my chemistry classes over again, aided by the use of textbooks transcribed in the elegant chemistry code.


The use of the upper part of the cell to represent numbers, I think, is the most serious flaw in the development of UEB.


When braille reading students in the early grades begin their study of math, they will be forced to make a deciphering decision that their sighted peers are not required to make:  Does this dot 1 represent the letter “a” or the number 1?  This decision is not necessary if a dot 1 is used to represent an “a”, and a dot 2 is used to represent a 1.


The use of upper cell numbers requires the use of number signs in all mathematics problems, no matter how simple.  For example, please see examples 1 and 2 of Sampler 2.  A simple vertical addition problem requires the use of 4 additional cells, 3 of which are number signs, and one for the use of a two-cell indicator for the plus.  In example 2, 2 and 4 additional cells are required for the UEB version compared to the Nemeth and NUBS examples, respectively.


The use of numbers in the upper part of the cell also greatly adds to the length of mathematical expressions, especially in algebra, linear algebra, and calculus, where alphabet-number combinations are frequent.  This makes UEB incredibly inefficient.  Terms with a coefficient followed by a variable quickly become much longer when using UEB.  In those mathematical situations where a letter-number combination occur, such as in 3x+4y = 10, the addition of two additional indicators is required for each term:  a number and letter sign.


Simple fractions in UEB, such as ½, are, admittedly, shorter by one cell than their Nemeth counterparts, but any variable involved ads a significant number of cells.  Please refer to Example 4 of Sampler 2 where the fraction x/2 requires 4 and 3 extra cells in UEB compared to the same fraction transcribed in Nemeth and NUBS, respectively.


Another area where a significant number of additional cells are required is in the transcription of chemical formulas.  See example 3 of sampler 2.  Because of the frequency of letters followed by subscripted numbers, followed by another letter and subscripted number, number and letter signs run rampant in these expressions.  Currently, in contrast to ueb, reading a chemical formula in Nemeth code flows easily from letter to subscripted number without the interruption of indicators.


In mathematics texts transcribed in UEB, number signs are required after exponents, parentheses, operation signs, etc. to distinguish between a letter or a number.  See Example 6 of Sampler 2.


In order for a student to be an active and successful participant in school, he/she will take notes on the class discussion.  Whether using a slate and stylus or braille notetaking device, the braille student in a mathematics or science class will be slowed down by the need to use letter and number signs to distinguish between each.


These represent only a portion of the impact that UEB would have on mathematics and science.  In BANA’s own Algebra comparison of UEB and Nemeth code, it took 180 more characters to transcribe a single page of algebra text.


And now, Susan Osterhaus will describe her experiences with UEB and Nemeth code.



Presentation by Susan Osterhaus

Technical Presentations to Braille Authority of North America

On April 28, 2012 the National Technical Braille Committee made a series of presentations to the Braille Authority of North America in St. Louis, MO. Each of these presentations is reprinted in this blog category. We hope you find them educational and useful.

Susan A Osterhaus, April 28, 2012


Hi, I’m Susan Osterhaus, and I think most of you know me. Thank you for letting us speak to you this afternoon.  In 1978, I came to the Texas School for the Blind certified to teach secondary mathematics, but with no knowledge of how to teach blind students and no knowledge of literary braille or of the Nemeth Code. My predecessor was long gone and none of the teachers at TSB could teach me the Nemeth Code, including the braille teacher at that time. They had always used the Taylor code, which they said did not support higher mathematics.


I started teaching myself the Nemeth Code, and I absolutely fell in love with it. It was very logical, and even included valuable symbols that were not available in print. Remember, even print was linear in those days. For example, when writing superscripts, there is a “going up” symbol, as well as a “coming back down” symbol. When you had to type on a typewriter or use ASCII, you did have the “^” (going up symbol), but there was no equivalent for coming back down.


When writing fractions linearly in print, it was horrible. You never knew when one fraction began and another ended. The Nemeth code had an open and close fraction indicator – ah true love! I had always been taught to speak math correctly so that anyone could write perfect math notes from just listening. Speaking from a Nemeth Code perspective made this so easy for my students. As soon as I would say “open fraction,” they were off and brailling the most complex fraction.


When I first came to TSB, the highest level of secondary mathematics being taught was the equivalent of a two-year pre-algebra class. Thank goodness I was ignorant to the belief at the time that the average blind individual could not do higher mathematics. I just knew that I had to learn how to teach these students. I had always believed in teaching with a multi-sensory approach and using tools with universal design, and low and behold this worked with my blind students. Once I learned the Nemeth Code, it was the glue that held the math together.


I was soon teaching a variety of high school math classes for students on both the more vocational track and the academic (or college-bound) track. As Maylene stated, over the years, math requirements have continued to grow more rigorous, and we expect that trend to persist. In 2011, a female braille student at the school scored a 5 on the AP Calculus exam – the highest score possible!


More and more of our students are succeeding in mathematics and going on to college, and they are successful there as well. We also see more students aspiring to go into the STEM fields – a once forbidden land of adventure for the average blind person.


If we lose our beloved Nemeth Code, I think mathematics education for the blind could be set back 40 years. I personally always thought that Nemeth Code could be the unified code – after all, I can write a Shakespearean sonnet in Nemeth, but I cannot write higher mathematics in literary braille.


However, even Dr. Nemeth feels the Nemeth Code could be improved to be more uniform and include all technical material. Therefore, when the time is right, I would be ready to move to his NUBS (Nemeth Uniform Braille System).


Remember, I found the Nemeth Code very easy to learn. However, upon studying the current UEB (Unified English Braille) manuals and examples, I find it difficult to learn (and thus teach), frequently ambiguous, and extremely long and cumbersome for working with mathematical expressions.


My Texas colleagues and I compiled the Braille Code Comparison, Part 1: Math and Science Samples of UEB, Nemeth, and NUBS, showing what an average Texas high school student would encounter, and we were shocked. However, we found that other non-STEM colleagues in the field were not comfortable with the math level. So, we compiled Part 2, which contains mathematics seen in your typical elementary school.


The first and second examples are simple addition problems taken straight from the current ICEB Technical Manual for UEB. You will notice that UEB allows you to write these problems in two different ways, whereas Nemeth and NUBS have one construct. The UEB code also uses a two-cell plus sign.


The third example is a simple chemical formula, where UEB interrupts the reading of the formula by placing a grade 1 symbol indicator in the middle of the expression because the subscript indicator “could be misread as a contraction meaning,” whereas NUBS places a notational mode indicator at the beginning of the formula. Nemeth needs no indicator.


Example 4 is a “simple numeric fraction” and the UEB version is actually shorter than either the Nemeth or NUBS versions. However, as soon as the fraction becomes a “general fraction,” in Example 5, the fraction format completely changes and occupies more cell space. By the way, these terms of “simple numeric fraction” and “general fraction” will never be used in the regular ed math classroom. These are unique to UEB.


In Example 6, we can see the progression of three different samples of superscripts. Nemeth and NUBS follow a systematic progression. UEB appears to be doing the same by placing a grade 1 symbol indicator before the superscript indicator until we get to the last sample, where it suddenly introduces a grade 1 word indicator and new grouping symbols that are not included in print. We think of these as “ghost parentheses.”


We hope that you will take the time to study these two comparison documents and draw your own conclusions.


Now, let me introduce Christopher Gray to complete our presentation.

Who wants change?

Who Wants Change and Why

Changing a system used for reading and writing is fraught with
contention and peril for those advocating such change.  Such is
the case with changes that have been advocated for braille

Some Overall Thoughts About Change

Stepping back for a moment, perhaps it is instructive to look at
such change in a broader perspective.  Consider for example
George Bernard Shaw’s society to revise the spelling and
alphabet of the
English language. His proposed alphabet is called the “Shavian
alphabet”. I bet most readers have never heard of or seen it.

In 1989, the National Education Association (a U.S.-based
organization) recommended use of the following spellings:  “tho
altho thru thruout thoro thoroly thorofare program prolog catalog
pedagog decalog”.  Really successful, eh? There are many similar
examples which date at least back to the late 1700s.

In a similar vein is the longstanding attempt to replace the
myriad western languages of the world with Esperanto.  This
effort began in 1887, but use of Esperanto can hardly be
considered widespread.

Considering Change to Braille

It is no surprise then that changes in braille, even minimal
changes, are slow to be either understood or accepted.  Very
minor changes made to the current BANA-approved literary code in
the 1990s are still a matter for complaint and protest by many
braille readers.  The changes contemplated in UEB are far more in
number and more far reaching in scope.

Who Is Most Interested in Changes to Braille

Perhaps the first group interested in changing braille that
should be mentioned are those involved with braille code
development.  After all, we spend great amounts of time working
on current codes to make them fit into new situations that
constantly arise.  We see deficiencies and we see how it could be
possible to bridge gaps between various codes to create a less
complex world for all readers.

The Transcribers

Another group with a vested interest in improving/changing
braille codes are those who transcribe braille texts.  Perhaps
more than any other group, transcribers are faced on an almost
daily basis with the need to create methods for presenting
material from print which is becoming more graphical over time
and whose ability to change is governed only by less imaginative
publishers and minds.

Teachers’ Views

Often, teachers have advocated for change because they want
braille to be as easy to teach and read as possible.  This desire
is driven particularly by the singular lack of braille education
provided to the teachers of the visually impaired today.  Because
teachers barely know braille at all, it is difficult for them as
a group to understand the more complex aspects of braille.

Readers Have Demanded and Received Changes to Braille in the Past

From time to time, specific groups of readers have come forward
and requested change.  The most recent and best example of this
in the current era is the adoption by BANA of the Computer
Braille code in the mid 1980s.  Blind users of adaptive
technology were required by that technology to use a code
radically different than computer transcriptions of that time.
Readers demanded a far stronger 1-to-1 representation between
print and braille texts.  They also wanted to be able to write
braille as they read it on braille displays or from the text
output of braille printers.  The Computer Braille Code largely
met these requirements and was applauded by the braille reading
and writing community affected by it. In the 1059s, students and
teachers of technical material requested and received braille
changes we know today as the Nemeth Code.  It met a need to allow
blind people to achieve and excel in technical subjects.

Who Least Wants Change

Unquestionably, the group of people who least want change and who
will least accept it are the older, generalist braille readers.
The majority of this group insists on holding a position that no
change be made to the literary braille on which they were trained
as children and use 50-75 years later in a largely unmodified
form.  Unrealistic as such a position may be, it is theirs and it
is held steadfastly and vocally.

This poses a tremendous challenge to any effort to unify braille
codes.  The question has had to be asked:  Can small enough
changes be made and braille codes unified and still keep readers
satisfied with braille?

Unquestionably, the answer is “yes”.  We see the proof of this
most directly in the Nemeth Uniform Braille System (NUBS), a code
which has been fully developed but is largely ignored thus far by
BANA.  In NUBS, one can write braille precisely as it exists
today, with no changes made, in general literary text.  Thus,
those readers most opposed to change don’t have to countenance
change at all unless they choose to read technical material.  Of
course, we have to recognize the increasing amount of such
material in all texts today, and it may be inevitable that even
general readers will experience some change over time.

The way that NUBS manages technical material is through the
creation of two modes:  a nontechnical mode i.e. current literary
braille; and a technical mode, braille not unlike both Nemeth and
the Computer Braille Code in use today.  Though a side point,
perhaps this is a good time to mention that the very idea of
modes and their effective use in braille came through the
development of the Computer Braille Code, a currently official
BANA code.  Modes have proven a very powerful means of separating
technical and nontechnical material due to CBC.  I believe we
would do well to concentrate more efforts in examining the use of
this mode in the larger context of unifying braille codes.

UEB could make far fewer changes to literary braille than it
does.  However, it has been tightly, some would say inexorably,
bound to certain strictures that disallow this to occur.  At the
very same time, UEB attempts to preserve what for technical
material is the Achiles heel of literary text, the use of the
numeric indicator along with letters representing numbers
throughout the code.

Because of these two factors, UEB has continued to gain no
traction in the United States.  First, it enacts far-reaching
changes to braille that affect the most average reader of the
most average, simple literary text.  At the very same time, it
retains the single greatest reason that braille has become
disunified in the United States and why technical code creation
became necessary in the first place.

Until BANA comes to view braille code unification with these key
factors in mind, their work will remain unaccepted by braille
readers, teachers and transcribers. With UEB, nobody gets enough
to make its adoption acceptable. Clear losers are the students
who must attempt to grapple with a symbol set for technical codes
that greatly increases a requirement to decipher dots rather than
learn technically oriented disciplines they need to achieve
success in life.

At the present time, it seems fair to say that the only group who
really wants change, assuming that change is their chosen UEB, is
BANA.  This leaves braille readers in a position where little
code development in technical areas has been undertaken by BANA
for the past decade and longer and where the voices of
transcribers and educators is being completely ignored. One can
only hope for an improved situation over time.

The Role of BANA Regarding Change

With regard to the consideration of change, one has to be at
least somewhat sympathetic with the predicament in which BANA
finds itself.  With limited resources and significantly competing
needs, BANA has tended to wish to focus on only one methodology
for achieving change.  Early in the process, it was believed that
the committee working on the basic philosophy of change could
come to some consensus about how that change would be achieved.
Alas, that was not to occur.  Further complicating matters was
the internationalization of decisions regarding change.  This
decision has proven to be the final nail in the coffin with
regard to any possibility of effecting positive and far-reaching
change to date in the United States.

Are There Other Relevant Questions

With this post nearly prepared for publication, I am wondering if
perhaps a different question should also be posed.  Who wants
change is certainly an important issue.  But, who needs change is
of equal and perhaps greater importance.  Depending on the
commentary people bring to this post, perhaps I’ll work on a
category with that name as well.

Unified Braille for All Offers Comprehensive Referral Library

June 18, 2012

For Immediate Release…

The Unified Braille for All website is pleased to announce that now we have the most comprehensive set of code books and training on Unified English Braille and the Nemeth Uniform Braille System anywhere in the world. Much of this material has been scattered around the web and available on
request from individual sources. Now, it is all available in one place for easy downloading and use.

“we have known for some time that a huge proboem in evaluating these two approaches for unifying braille codes in the United States is that the materials were scattered all over the United States, and in the case of one code, all over the English-speaking world with little understanding by most of how to get the information” said Chris Gray owner of the UBA website. “Getting this data into one place and one forum was critical for people to begin to study it and understand the implications of each
approach to unification.

All completed and important code documents are available in the Key Downloads Section at and we strongly urge you to study this material. It is the contention of UBA Press that if we are to improve braillle, the first step is to understand the approaches to braille unification and then accept the one that supports all readers of braille in the most optimal way possible.

Check out this critically important section of material to begin improving or enhancing your understanding of what braille unification means and how it reads under your fingers. After all, isn’t that the most important factor here?

For more detail and comprehensive background information on braille and braille unification, visit us on the web at or on Twitter at “unifiedbraille. You can also subscribe to our mailing list by sending an email note to Copyright (c) 2012 Unified Braille for All

UBA Press

April 25, 2012

For Immediate Release

The National Technical Braille Committee is finalizing materials today to present to the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) at its meeting in St. Louis on the afternoon of April 28, 2012.  The committee is composed of educators of the blind, braille proofreaders and technical braille users in the United States.

The committee will provide a series of modules discussing the presentation of technical braille materials for BANA’s consideration.  Focus is on math, science, chemistry and computer braille.  Discussion highlights on differences in Unified English Braille and the Nemeth Code, UEB comparisons to the Nemeth Code, the Nemeth Uniform Braille System, and the need to achieve the right balance if a transition is to occur between the current BANA adopted Computer Braille Code and any new system of unified braille.

The National Technical Braille Committee is dedicated to providing braille readers with a robust, readable system of braille that maximizes learning.  While committee focus is on technical material, the committee also recognizes and strives to preserve an optimal reading medium and environment for all braille readers at every level.

For more detail and comprehensive background information on braille and braille unification, visit us on the web at or on Twitter at unifiedbrailleforall. You can also subscribe to our mailing list by sending an email note to

Copyright (c) 2012 Unified Braille for All

Copyright © Unified Braille for All

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