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.



Filed under: National Technical Braille Committee

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