Commentary: Unified English Braille

In a few months, blind Americans will begin seeing changes in materials printed in Braille. The Unified English Braille, or UEB, code will debut in January of 2016. This code was adopted in 2012 by the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) after more than 80 years of the inception of the first Braille code in the United States.

Braille is a system used by the blind and visually impaired to read with the fingertips. The standard six dot combination is called a Braille cell, and resembles the grid on a domino piece; The dots are numbered one through 6. Letters, punctuation symbols and numbers are written with a specific dot combination. For example, the letter a is written with dot 1, d is 1 4 5, m is dots 1 3 4 and so on. In addition, there are two main grades of Braille in the American system. Grade 1 consists of the basic letters, numbers and punctuation, while grade 2 is a form of word contractions. For example, the letter c written by itself stands for can, d stands for do and e stands for every.

Braille is not a separate language, but rather a form of writing that is available in Chinese, Spanish, French, and every foreign language you can think of. The Unified English Braille code was adopted in the United States in order to make a standard code for all English-speaking countries. Currently, American Braille is different than that found in all other countries where English is spoken. If I go to Great Britain, for instance, I will not know how to read all of the Braille symbols in their code.

In the new UEB code, certain punctuation symbols and grade two contractions will be eliminated. According to BANA, this will be done primarily to get rid of contractions that weren’t often used and to make improvements in the translation of Braille with computer software.

I can also read and write Spanish Braille, and from my understanding this is the code used in all Spanish speaking countries including Spain and Latin America. This is why I was actually surprised several years ago when I found out that American Braille is different than that of other countries where English is written and spoken. Like most Americans, I am used to doing things the “American” way! Maybe this would explain why I am so comfortable with the current Braille code used here.

Still, I’m glad that the United States decided to adopt the Unified English Braille code. As readers, we all expect to be able to read materials written in a familiar language regardless of where we are, and blind people should also have this privilege. There is no doubt that we will all need time to get used to this new code though. I know it’s not rocket science, and with practice and determination we as American Braille readers will master the new set of rules in no time. It sure will be nice to be able to travel to other countries knowing that in addition to speaking the same language, we will finally be able to read it as well! For more information about the Unified English Braille, you can visit BANA’s website for tips and resources.

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