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By: Cyral Miller, TSBVI Outreach Director

Abstract: The Unified English Braille Code (UEB) creates updates to literary Braille in English. Braille readers and teachers need to become familiar with the changes that have been recently adopted.

Key Words: Effective Practices, blind, Braille, literacy, reading, UEB


Reading and writing literary braille in English is undergoing an important change. What's coming is a modified braille system known as the Unified English Braille Code, or the UEB. The UEB is based on the English Braille American Edition so current braille readers will not have to relearn how to read; there are differences in some contractions and new formatting and punctuation rules as well as some new symbols. Think of it as a system upgrade rather than a brand new code. The United States is a relative newcomer to this code. Even though it was first discussed in 1991 by the Braille Authority of North America, UEB was subsequently adopted by most English speaking countries that are part of the International Council on English Braille (ICEB) but not until 2012 did BANA vote to adopt UEB for literary braille - a vote that included maintaining the use of Nemeth code for mathematics and science notation . Since that historic vote, there have been national and state implementation groups actively designing timelines for changes to be phased in by braille producers, test developers and producers, transcribers, teacher preparation programs in their curricula, staff development training materials and other systems involved in braille for reading and writing in English. Information for this article and many resources are available at the BANA website: http://www.brailleauthority.org.

Why change the code?

In addition to the "complexity and disarray" involved in navigating between multiple codes that Drs Cranmer and Abraham Nemeth cited in their call for unifying English braille codes in 1991 , the growing use of computers since that initial discussion have led to both increased capacity to access braille, new kinds of computer-related terminology to convey, and greater need for easy print-to-braille software systems. There have been multiple adaptations to braille rules needed to accommodate the increasing requirement to express new kinds of information and print formats all while using the same 6 dots. Over the years, different English-speaking countries had evolved their own specialized rules and transcription formats. This limited access across nations even when the language was the same and the internet has broken down many geographical boundaries. The use of computer terms such as URLs had not been foreseen in the development of literary braille codes.

When does this start?

Switching all the interlocking systems that are part of producing braille materials is not an overnight process. On the national level, it was determined that a goal will be to have made substantial progress in implementing UEB for general use by January 4, 2016 (Louis Braille's birthday!). The American Printing House for the Blind, a major producer of braille and educational literacy materials, published its timeline for transition to UEB in July 2014, which states that APH will begin producing new textbooks in UEB in the school year 2015-2016. Other states and other producers have been developing their own plans. Texas held a statewide stakeholder group meeting in November 2014 and will publicize state-related timelines by early in 2015. On their website, BANA states that it "recognizes that the implementation of UEB will require major adjustments to the infrastructures that produce, deliver, and teach braille, as well as time and strategies for braille users to become familiar with changes in the code. BANA continues to work with leaders throughout the field to build a carefully designed timeline and coordinated plan. Detailed timelines are under development by individual organizations, and transition efforts are now being initiated."

It's important to remember that even while UEB is being phased in, many existing published materials are going to be in active use for many years that are not in UEB. There will clearly be a transition phase where different braille codes will be in use at the same time. The timelines that are being developed in each state are meant to ensure the smoothest possible transition, and that students and prospective VI professionals in training will be tested in the codes in which they have been taught.

What are the main differences between UEB and the code we are currently using in the US - the EBAE?

A comprehensive document that outlines the changes in the code is available at: http://www.brailleauthority.org/ueb/overview_changes_ebae_ueb.html

The most obvious changes are dropping 9 contractions: by, into, to, ble, com, dd, ation, ally and o'clock. The 'snugglers': A, and, for, of, the, and with will now be spaced separately. In general, the UEB is built on the logic that a symbol must stay the same in all contexts, so there are changes in punctuation and formatting in order to eliminate for example, that a period at the end of a sentence is noted with dots 256 but then that same set of dots is a dd symbol when found in the middle of a word. In print, the use of different visual and graphic organizers has become increasingly important for understanding the information on a page (or online). There are therefore other changes with UEB that are designed to provide information about the print formats to the braille reader. For example, there are unchanging symbols for backslash, bullet, and tilde, dagger, open and closed brackets, and new ways to indicate that a whole selection is in italics or bold or underlines. Web and email addresses can be written in UEB, with no switch over to computer code. These are just a few sample changes.

What kind of training will be available in UEB, who will teach it and what reference materials will be produced?

As noted above, at both the national level and the state level, there are groups seeking to develop training materials. There are already a number of useful training tools developed by other countries that switched to UEB before the US. Several of these are listed at the BANA website:

In Texas, the TSBVI has begun producing webinars with introductions to UEB and there are plans for offering online study groups for teachers as well as instruction for braille producers in the near future. Look for the archived webinars at the On-the-Go section of the TSBVI http://www.tsbvi.edu. The Education Service Centers will be offering training at the regional level as well.

Will UEB be available through refreshable braille displays? How will they be updated?

All braille translation software, such as Duxbury and Braille 2000 allow both UEB and English Braille American Edition (EBAE) braille for translation embossing. If a student uses a refreshable braille display, such as the Focus Blue, Braille Edge 40 and Brailliant with any screen reading program (including JAWS and VoiceOver) they can easily switch between UEB and EBAE. Notetakers such as BrailleNote, BrailleSense and Pacmates with refreshable braille displays also can switch between codes. The Mountbatten and other electronic braillewriters have support for entry and output in UEB.

Can I try UEB to see what it is like?

Of course! Go to the BANA website and look for the section with example documents in UEB: http://www.brailleauthority.org/ueb.html

I have questions! Where do I turn?

At this time, the very best source for a wide variety of resources on the UEB is the BANA website. BANA committees are developing new materials and keeping the site current. Each state will have a UEB implementation plan. The Texas plan will be posted widely on the ESC 11 Statewide Leadership for Blind and Visually Impaired Services Network webpages, on the TSBVI website, and other ESC VI related sites.