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Transition Forum for Unified English Braille (UEB)

As you are probably aware, the COSB Board has appointed me to represent COSB on the Board of the Braille Authority of North America (BANA).  In that capacity, I attended the Transition Forum for Unified English Braille (UEB) in Louisville In October and summarized that meeting in a presentation at the COSB Business meeting the next day.  I will repeat some of that information below for those who couldn't attend the business meeting.  In addition, I just returned from my first BANA Board meeting, also in Louisville, and have more information from that meeting.

 I hope that in this message and future ones, I can assist COSB’s schools and programs in preparing for the transition to UEB.  With some planning and forethought on our part we can make this a smooth transition for our students and our staff members over the next few years.  The UEB is not so much a new code as it is an update and revision of our currently used English Braille, American Edition (EBAE).  However, we do need to be proactive in assuring our staff members are learning about the changes so that they will be ready when they need to start teaching the new code to students.

 First, I encourage you, your curriculum leaders, and braille instructors and producers to bookmark the following page: and visit it often.  On this page, you will find the documents which will give you an overview of UEB, and a guide to planning to the transition.

 Second, my summary of the UEB transition forum as I reported it at the COSB business meeting follows:

 1.   The movement toward unifying the braille codes began in 1991 at the suggestion of Drs. Abraham Nemeth and Tim Cranmer.  They proposed a new braille code where symbols were consistent across codes (for example, only one braille sign for a dollar sign).  The advantage to this idea was evident in the early 90s and now even more so as technology can make more braille available if the code is more consistent.  This is particularly true for back-translating of braille to print (e.g. a blind person enters a document using 6 key braille entry and back-translates to print for his/her non-braille reading teacher or supervisor).  The UEB solves these issues by creating consistent signs (dot 4, S is now the dollar sign universally) and eliminating 9 signs and changing some rules which made back-translation confusing and difficult.

2.   In November 2012, the United States became the last of the English speaking countries to adopt the UEB.  Other countries, including Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, have been transitioning to UEB for years and we can learn a lot from their experiences.  In fact, the CNIB website has an entire transcriber’s course and exam to learn UEB which is a free download (the link to that course is on the BANA page I mentioned above).

3.   On October 16, 2013, 48 delegates from 31 agencies and organizations met in Louisville to discuss the beginnings of the transition to UEB.  The group was enthusiastic, positive, and had a “let’s get it going” attitude.  The broad strokes of a plan emerged as follows: the year 2012-2013 was about information; the year 2013-14 is for building infrastructure; 2014-15 will be for instruction and training; and 2015-16 is for implementation.  The consensus for this timeline was not reached easily. There were several delegates who wanted the United States to jump into UEB immediately and others with a more measured approach.  Eventually, there was a consensus that by Monday, January 4, 2106 (Louis Braille’s birthday) the United States should reach a “tipping point” by which future materials should be produced in UEB.

4.   Among the activities underway to provide infrastructure are: Hadley is preparing courses in UEB: a new programmed instruction in braille in being written in UEB; presentations are being made at schools for the blind and also at pre-conference workshops at CTEVBI and Getting in Touch with Literacy; BANA will attempt to get a “dear colleagues” letter from the U.S. Department of Education.

 At the recent BANA Board meeting, BANA affirmed its agreement with the January 2016 implementation date.

 While BANA has taken a leadership role in implementation, BANA is itself made up of individual entities (like COSB) who each must make our plans to help move this effort forward.

 What’s first?  Educate ourselves.  Please use the information on the BANA webpage to get started.  Educate our staff members, and then each school can become a resource to its state and region.

Question:  When do we start to teach UEB to our students?  Consider that Australia decided to implement UEB in the early grades first, so that those students started with UEB from scratch.  And Australia took 5 years to fully implement.  Also consider that by the 2016-17 school year, textbooks and standardized tests should be created in UEB and our students and teachers will need to be ready.

I've laid a lot on you in this overlong message and there is much more to discuss, but I will stop here and ask for your questions and comments.  Please share this information with your staff and let’s find ways to discuss this together.

Stuart Wittenstein, EdD
California School for the Blind
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