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The Unified English Braille Code (Uebc)

Editor's Note: This item is reprinted from the website of the Canadian Braille Authority:


The UEBC project was initiated in 1992 by the Braille Authority of North America, whose braille usage is followed by the United States, Canada and New Zealand. The original intent was to explore the possibility of bringing together three of the official braille codes for various purposes, viz.: literary material (English Braille, American Edition), mathematics and scientific notation (Nemeth Code), and computer notation (Computer Braille Code).

In 1993, the project was adopted by the full ICEB (International Council on English Braille), and was expanded in scope to explore the possible unification of the braille codes that are used for those purposes in all member countries. At present, the braille codes used for English literary purposes are similar (though not identical) everywhere, and so substantial preservation of that code is one of the basic goals of UEB (Unified English Braille).

However, the codes used for technical purposes in the other ICEB countries are very different from those used in the BANA countries, so that now UEB can be regarded as bringing together the braille codes as used in different places, as well as those used for different kinds of notation. (The only kind of notation specifically exempted from consideration under the UEBC project is music, which is already covered by a well-accepted international code.)

The project comprises a UEBC Project Committee and several working committees as follows: Code Comparison; Extension of the Base Code (Basic Design); Contractions; Foreign Languages (when used within English); Formatting; Rules--Writing (Documentation).

As you can well imagine, combining rules from the two literary codes now in use and creating new symbols for computer, mathematical and scientific notation has taken several years. The basic principle intended is to have one print symbol for one braille equivalent regardless of the purpose of the code. It is hoped that this code will make braille more widely available and easier to produce.

There is still some opposition, particularly from those who feel that the Nemeth code for Mathematics and Science, currently used in North America and New Zealand, is a very good code which should not be abandoned. After much deliberation and debate, the International Council on English Braille (ICEB) agreed that the new Unified English Braille Code was sufficiently developed to be implemented in its member countries if they wished to do so. This body also approved the UEB code for international use.

While there is still some work to be done, there is a lot of excitement about UEB. It has no ambiguity, it follows print, it can express capitalization and text enhancements with increased clarity, and it should be easier to learn. It has also become increasingly apparent that, unless the UEB is implemented, its real value cannot be determined adequately.

When the ICEB made the decision to adopt the UEB as the international code for English braille, the following statements were made by two participants at the assembly:

"This is a historic day for equitable access to literacy by blind people in both developed and developing countries," said Dr. Frederick Schroeder, President of the International Council on English Braille. "We want to make braille more accessible for students, leisure readers and professionals: easier to learn, cheaper to produce, convenient to teach and more plentiful."

Speaking about the endorsement of Unified English Braille, Jean Obi, coordinator of the Nigerwives Braille Book Production Centre said: "Unified English Braille is a great step forward for educational opportunities for blind children in developing countries such as Nigeria. Braille is their key to literacy, but there is still so much to be done, as less than 5% of blind children in developing countries ever receive the gift of literacy through braille."

The Canadian Braille Authority is taking a leadership role by endorsing UEB for international use and by forming a committee to construct a plan for its implementation. While implementing the UEB will not be an easy task, the implementation committee is seeking the support of teachers of children, youth and adult educators, braille readers and braille producers.

The executive of the Canadian Braille Authority and its members believe that implementing the UEB will immediately benefit braille readers. Books that have already been produced will not lose their value. During the transition period, familiar codes will continue to be used if they are preferred by the braille reader, particularly for mathematical and scientific material.

The Implementation Planning Committee is anxious to gain the support of all stakeholders across the country. Any questions or concerns may be directed to either of the co-chairs: Darleen Bogart or Ann MacCuspie: For further information, contact Betty Nobel, President of the Canadian Braille Authority: Or visit the website of the International Council on English Braille (ICEB):

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