Braille is a writing system, not a language.”

History of Braille

Braille in Iron

Despite its public release in 1829, braille did not become the primary tactile code for readers who were blind until nearly a century later. In the United States ongoing debates about the tactile code to be used continued until 1917 when a slightly modified British version of the braille code was accepted. The "war of the dots" as it became known in organizations serving those who were blind, culminated in 1932 at a conference in London when the United Kingdom and the United States adopted standard (grade 2 or contracted braille as it is now known) English braille. Of course braille has continued to evolve over the years through the efforts of many dedicated professionals. They continued to refine the literary and music codes, created specific codes for mathematics, and responded to the need for braille computer notation.  

In the last few decades of the twentieth century, it became increasingly evident that significant changes in the braille code might well be warranted. The majority of children who were blind were being educated in public school settings with their peers who were sighted and the advance of computer technology and associated software programs resulted in a greater need for students to understand the nature of print notation. Furthermore, blind people were actively seeking and securing employment in the public sector. Braille translation technology and the tremendous advances in access to written material dramatically increased the need for braille readers to expand their range of reading materials. The existence of different tactile codes created increased demands on the cost of producing and procuring braille materials as well as on the complexity of code information a braille reader was required to learn and use.

In 1991 the directors of the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) acknowledged the difficulties inherent in having multiple codes and initiated the development of what has become Unified English Braille (UEB). Two years later BANA was successful, through its affiliation with the International Council on English Braille (ICEB), in having the UEB project internationalized and taken over by ICEB. This code development process has been on going since the early 1990s and committees continued to work on the refinement of the code and researched potential implications of implementation throughout the English-speaking world. In the spring of 2004, the ICEB considered UEB to be close enough to completion to be presented to its member countries as their national standard for braille. All ICEB member countries have since adopted UEB and are in varying stages of the implementation process.

In Canada, UEB was adopted in April of 2010 and the implementation process is well underway.

Benefits of UEB

The following list has been drawn from the experiences of other countries who have implemented UEB or who are in the process of doing so:

  • UEB has been well-researched and developed by braille experts over many years.
  • Unification of literary and technical codes means there is no need to learn additional codes for technical materials.
  • Ambiguity of braille signs is eliminated, meaning that braille characters no longer have different meanings in different contexts.
  • Harmonisation of numerous braille codes across English-speaking countries would allow for the sharing of resources, saving both money and production time.
  • Braille teaching resources can be shared among English-speaking countries using the same code.
  • More accurate translation from print-to-braille and braille-to-print, making it easier for sighted teachers to access the work of their Braille-using students.

UKAAF and UEB

In association with UKAAF, a list has been formed to discuss issues surrounding Unified English Braille (UEB).

There are currently many questions being asked, some of a quite technical nature, and it is hoped that it will be possible to gather these together in the form of an FAQ or knowledge base.

Since UEB has been adopted almost world-wide, we hope that the experience already gained by those who have been using UEB for some time, will be passed on to newer adopters.

To subscribe, send a blank message to ueb-ed-request@freelists.org with the word subscribe in the Subject. (If your e-mail software supports it, you may be able to simply click on the link to create a message and send)