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.

Filed under: National Technical Braille Committee

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