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the Unified English Braille Code

Quite a few years ago, there was a flurry of activity in the blindness community regarding a project which proposed to combine various braille codes into a single writing system. For those who are unfamiliar with braille, I'll do my best to provide a little background. Since there are a limited number of characters that can be formed with six dots, the braille characters get "re-used" in various contexts to represent different characters. For example, when writing text like this entry, a particular character represents the left parenthesis sign. When doing a math problem, that same character represents the number seven. Many sighted people are concerned that this need to exchange characters becomes confusing for braille readers. I have personally never found it to be confusing; but it is these concerns and difficulties with computerized translation which have prompted research regarding a potential "unified English braille code" which would eliminate the need for different literary, mathematics, and computer codes as well as standardize English braille across the world.

The debate a few years ago resulted in a loud outcry from the organized blind movement in the United States; and it has been a while since I've heard anything about the UEBC. Work has, apparently, continued on the project; and I have learned that the debate is not so quiet in other countries. What I don't know is how blind people in those various countries are responding to the UEBC.

Below are some general links regarding the UEBC. I am from the U.S., and my links are to U.S. resources. I'd be interested if anyone would like to comment with their own country's links and/or thoughts on the UEBC. I'll post my own thoughts later--homework is calling.

International Council on English Braille
This page includes an overview of the history of the UEBC project and links to papers from the early 1990s. There are also links to sample documents in UEBC.

UEBC information page from International Council on English Braille
This page, also linked from the above site, includes a statement about the status of the UEBC project and links to information about UEBC symbols, decisions made since the 2004 ICEB conference, a number of listservs for discussion of various topics.

Focus Group Research on the Implications of Adopting the UEBC (PDF)
This is an article from the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness that appeared in 2006. The UEBC hasn't gone away.

Literary Braille Code vs. UEBC (PDF format)
This article summarizes concerns that have arisen in research done by the Braille Authority of North America.

A Comparison of the Frequency of Number/Punctuation and Number/Letter Combinations in Literary and Technical Materials (PDF format)
An interesting little study. The title is self-explanatory.

Studies of Braille Reading Rates and Implications for the Unified English Braille Code
This article will cost you $5.95 to purchase. If you have access to a library, it may be worth reading via the library instead. I include it here for those who don't.

article from The Braille Forum, March, 2006
This is Winifred Downing's perspective on the UEBC. She is a blind person and raises some intriguing issues, acknowledging the difficulties that have prompted this research but also challenging sighted professionals who are largely responsible for the project.


Apr. 14th, 2008 08:46 pm (UTC)
I wonder why they don't just drop all numbers, including literary. It wouldn't really make numbers any more difficult to learn, and it would solve a lot of the issues it's causing with math and correct spacing and such.
Apr. 14th, 2008 08:51 pm (UTC)
I think they opposed dropped numbers because of concern for the effect this change would have on older braille readers. For a time, fewer younger people were being exposed to braille. Thankfully, this seems to be changing. I think that if changes are to be made, we need to focus more on future readers. Current codes would take a while to filter out, so people would still be able to read their favorite magazines or whatever for quite some time. JMO, of course.
Apr. 14th, 2008 08:56 pm (UTC)
To clarify, I'm not suggesting that the needs of current braille users are not important. I just think that if the code is too cumbersome, braille literacy will suffer over time. There are already too many people who believe there is no place for braille in a modern classroom.


Sarah Blake LaRose
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