Moving Forward with Unified English Braille in the United States

By D'Andrea, Frances Mary | Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, November-December 2015 | Go to article overview

Moving Forward with Unified English Braille in the United States


D'Andrea, Frances Mary, Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness


A quarter of a century ago, a white paper was submitted to the board of the Braille Authority of North America (BANA). The paper--authored by braille pioneers Tim Cranmer, researcher and creator of the Cranmer Abacus, and Abraham Nemeth, inventor of the Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Science Notation--described the need to streamline the braille codes being used in North America and outlined the concept of a "unified" code that could include symbols and rules for all contexts. What began as a BANA research project soon became an international effort as seven countries comprising the International Council on English Braille (ICEB) worked together to develop such a code. The ICEB committees, consisting primarily of braille readers, worked for over a decade to develop Unified English Braille (UEB), which by 2004 was deemed sufficiently complete for individual countries to adopt. Soon after, South Africa, Australia, Nigeria, and New Zealand adopted UEB; Canada adopted it in 2010, and the United Kingdom adopted it in 2011. Ireland has now joined ICEB, making it the eighth country to take part in the implementation of UEB. Since 2004, the United States has monitored the implementation of UEB around the world, and it remains an active member of ICEB.

After a great deal of deliberation, in November 2012, the United States member organizations of BANA voted to adopt UEB in the United States. After additional consideration and discussion, the implementation date was set for January 4, 2016. At that time, the official braille codes for use in the United States will be UEB, Nemeth code, the music code, and the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). The BANA Board created a UEB transition task force to identify immediate, intermediate, and long-term tasks and to begin work on a large number of assignments. For example, the BANA website was updated to create a UEB page, UEB example documents were produced so more people could become familiar with the code, and outreach efforts were conducted to inform constituents about the transition to UEB.

PHASES OF IMPLEMENTATION

BANA has been working toward implementation of UEB in the United States in four phases:

I. 2013: Information year--BANA developed and disseminated information about UEB and gathered input from constituents.

II. 2014: Infrastructure year--BANA and other organizations planned for procurement and production of braille materials in UEB and developed training materials.

III. 2015: Instructional year--Readers, producers, and educators become proficient in UEB.

IV. 2016: Implementation year--All new transcriptions will be produced in UEB; educators will teach the code. Devices and software will fully and accurately incorporate UEB.

The BANA Board consists of representatives of 18 member organizations, but there are others who are part of the national braille community. A UEB transition forum was established for national organizations outside of BANA to participate in planning the implementation efforts within their organizations. The forum consists of delegates selected by organizations such as the Association of Instructional Resource Centers for the Blind and Visually Impaired; the National Prison Braille Network; the National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities; the Council for Exceptional Children; VisionServe Alliance; and many others. Delegates represent their organizations at face-to-face meetings that have been held in conjunction with the Annual Meeting of the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) and through an electronic discussion group. Together with BANA, the transition forum helps disseminate information and shares resources.

NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS OFFER RESOURCES AND TRAINING

At the time of this writing, four months before the implementation date, it is possible to look back at the great progress that has been made in a relatively short time. …

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