Considerations for States Providing Materials in Braille
In November 2012, the U.S. members of the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) voted to adopt Unified English Braille Code (UEB), with implementation of the code to begin in January 2016. Prior to that, braille materials and assessments were provided through English Braille American Edition (EBAE) a "literary" code, and Nemeth Code for Mathematics & Science Notation (Nemeth). Now, math and science materials can be created in UEB only or in Nemeth that is embedded within UEB. Understanding why providing both options is important will contribute to designing appropriate school policies and procedures for braille users. The purpose of this brief is to provide information on, and recommendations for, appropriate braille materials for students.
BANA is the organization that sets the braille codes and guidelines used in the U.S. and Canada. During the late 1980s, BANA and other organizations recognized that the braille codes in place at the time were confusing and repetitious. Readers had to know multiple braille symbols for the same print symbol. For example, the dollar sign symbol, $, would be transcribed in three different ways depending on whether the material was transcribed in the “literary” code (EBAE), Nemeth, or the Computer Braille Code. In addition, EBAE was a true “literary” code that did not include symbols for math. If a simple phrase such as “blue + yellow = green” was transcribed into EBAE, the symbols + and = would need to be spelled out as “plus” and “equals.” This meant that the braille reader did not see the same text as the print reader, which could cause confusion in the classroom; it also made electronic transcription more difficult.
UEB was developed after more than a decade of work by an international committee, primarily by braille readers. It was designed to be a complete code that unified literary, mathematical, and scientific symbols and rules for braille transcriptions in English-speaking countries. The goal was to create one code that could be used in any context, whether literary or technical (that is, mathematics or scientific texts), and for textbooks as well as leisure reading materials. The resulting unified code also was less ambiguous with fewer exceptions and clearer rules, and therefore more accurate for electronic translation into braille as well as for back-translation from braille into print. Table 1 provides an overview of some of the differences between EBAE and UEB.
Table 1. Comparison of EBAE and UEB
Who is using UEB? UEB was completed in 2004. Early adopters of UEB included Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand. The U.S. has since adopted it, along with the United Kingdom, Canada, Nigeria, and Ireland. Additional countries have expressed interest in using UEB for English-language transcriptions.
What is the current status of UEB in the U.S.? BANA member organizations voted in November 2012 to adopt UEB as an official code for use in the U.S., with implementation set for January 2016. Because each state in the U.S. has a different system for procuring and producing educational materials in braille, BANA suggested that each state create its own implementation plan; many states did so. An intense four-year period of training and outreach ensued to provide information and resources on transitioning to UEB to states and agencies that provide braille materials.
The U.S. is unique among other countries that have adopted UEB because the U.S. has maintained its previous code for mathematics. As of January 2016, the official codes used in the U.S. are Unified English Braille, Nemeth Code, Music Braille, and the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). The transition to UEB for literary materials has gone smoothly so far; however, the transcription of technical materials has been more complex.
Understanding UEB and Nemeth Code
Math and science textbooks, worksheets, and assessments can be transcribed into either UEB or Nemeth Code. Both UEB and Nemeth are equally equipped with the symbols needed to transcribe all levels of technical material. Still, with the U.S. now having two codes available for mathematics and science transcriptions, a number of misconceptions have arisen about the way the two codes work. These misconceptions have led to some students receiving textbooks, tests, and instructional materials in a code they have not learned.
Using UEB for technical materials: UEB is a complete code that can be used to transcribe any content. This is a major change, because most braille readers, educators, and producers were accustomed to using one code for literary materials and a separate code for technical materials. When using “full UEB” for math and science material, there is no need to switch into a different code; the symbols and rules are consistent within UEB no matter what the context. The numbers in UEB are in the upper part of the cell (see Figure 1). There is no need to spell out names of the math symbols or to use a code switch device, and students do not need to learn a separate set of numbers.
Using Nemeth Code for technical materials: The Nemeth Code has been used in the U.S. for mathematics and science transcriptions since the late 1950s, although like all braille codes, it has had several revisions over time. Nemeth Code was designed specifically for mathematics and science transcriptions as a separate code from EBAE. One feature of Nemeth Code is that it uses “dropped numbers,” that is, the numerals are in the lower part of the cell (see Figure 1). The use of dropped numbers distinguishes numerals from letters, which are in the upper part of the cell. In EBAE the numbers were in the top of the cell so students learned two sets of symbols for numbers, literary and technical.
Nemeth Code itself has changed since 2016. Prior to the adoption of UEB, math textbooks in Nemeth Code used EBAE, the literary code, for the nonmathematical content of the book, such as the explanatory text around examples, captions, and other textual content. BANA recognized that once EBAE was no longer supported as an official code there would need to be a new system for using UEB for the nonmathematical content in books transcribed in Nemeth Code. To address this, BANA developed guidelines for use of the Nemeth Code embedded within UEB text available at www.brailleauthority.org/mathscience/math-science.html); the guidelines outline the use of a “code switch” symbol. This allows the text surrounding the math examples to be in UEB while the technical content—the math problems themselves—are switched into Nemeth. Therefore, Nemeth Code is used in UEB contexts.
Figure 1. Comparison of UEB and Nemeth Numbers
The braille cell has six dots arrayed in a 3x2 pattern. In UEB, the numbers are created in the upper four dots of the braille cell, preceded by the numeric indicator. In Nemeth, the numbers are created in the bottom four dots of the the braille cell, preceded by the numeric indicator. In Nemeth, the numbers are created in the bottom four dots cell, preceded by the numeric indicator. of the cell, preceded by the numeric indicator.
There continue to be several misconceptions. These are summarized in Table 2.
Table 2. Misconceptions and Facts About UEB and Nemeth Code
Students may use UEB for all content including math and science, or they may use UEB for literary transcriptions then switch to Nemeth code within UEB contexts for technical materials. BANA’s position is that “the decision to use UEB or the Nemeth Code within UEB context for technical materials should be made based on braille readers’ individual needs” (BANA, 2015). Still, the confusion about using UEB or Nemeth for braille mathematics and science has led to students who have requested textbooks and standardized tests in UEB actually receiving materials in Nemeth within UEB context, rather than in full UEB.
What the Law Says about Braille and Accommodations
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1997 included language about braille instruction:
The importance of providing braille to students was reinforced in a “Dear Colleague” letter distributed June 19, 2013:
Clearly, braille instruction is a critical accommodation to provide access to the general curriculum and assessments.
Accommodations for students with disabilities are decided by the IEP team based on the assessed needs of individual children. The accommodations used in the classroom for instruction generally are what are provided for statewide assessments, although allowable testing accommodations are set by each state. Every state provides assessments in braille (Smith & Amato, 2012). It is important to acknowledge that the format in which a test is currently available should not drive the decision about which form of braille a student should use for instruction and assessment.
What Should States Do?
The U.S. is now in the third year of UEB implementation. In many places the transition has gone much faster than originally predicted, and students in middle and high school around the country are already using the new code. This has increased pressure for high school graduation and college entrance tests such as the SAT and ACT to be available in UEB, including the math portions of these assessments.
Several recommendations are provided here for state departments of education about the provision of braille materials to students. These recommendations also apply to statewide materials centers that provide braille materials.
Resources for States
Braille transcription software is available for producing both UEB and Nemeth code materials. Two of the most popular software packages, the Duxbury Braille Translation (DBT) software program (Duxbury Systems) and the Braille Blaster (2019) available from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), can be used to produce both UEB or Nemeth transcriptions that can be edited and embossed. Since most braille materials are originally from electronic texts, the use of this software is extremely important.
Increasingly, braille is read on portable electronic devices known as refreshable braille displays. UEB is built into these displays, and students can choose the code they wish to use for reading instructional materials by changing the settings on the device. However, math transcriptions are generally less accurate when done with machine translation alone, depending on how the files are formatted (Dunnam, 2016). Math instructional materials and assessments in both codes often require human transcribers to produce, especially those that are spatially presented and those with diagrams that require tactile graphics.
A number of resources are available to learn more about the use of UEB for the transcription and instruction of technical materials. Some available resources are shown in Table 3.
Table 3. Selected Resources
Braille Authority of North America (April, 2018). Guidance for transcription using Nemeth code within UEB contexts. Retrieved from http://www.brailleauthority.org/mathscience/math-science.html
Braille Authority of North America (November 18, 2015). BANA takes action at fall meeting [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.brailleauthority.org/pressreleases/pr-2015-11-18.html
Braille Blaster [Computer software]. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.brailleblaster.org
Dunnam, J. (2016). Understanding and reducing inaccuracy in electronically generated braille. The Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research, 6(3). Retrieved from https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/jbir/jbir16/jbir060310.html
Duxbury DBT: Braille Translation Software [Computer software]. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.duxburysystems.com
Musgrove, M., & Yudin, M. K. (2013). “Dear colleague” [letter]. Retrieved from https://sites.ed.gov/idea/idea-files/osep-dear-colleague-letter-on-braille/
National Center on Accessible Educational Materials (NCAEM) (n.d.). What characteristics of the braille format should decision-makers think about when considering the format or a student? Retrieved from http://aem.cast.org/navigating/selection-faq.html#b-output
Smith, D. W., & Amato, S. (2012). Synthesis of available accommodations for students with visual impairments on standardized assessments. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 106(5), 299-304.
BANA: The Braille Authority of North America, the rule-setting body for the U.S. and Canada.
Contraction: A system of 180 symbols in braille that stand for words, parts of words, and abbreviated words. Contractions shorten the way words are written in braille to make text more compact. Contracted braille used to be referred to as “grade 2” braille, but this terminology is no longer used.
Contracted braille: Braille materials that are transcribed using contractions.
EBAE: English Braille, American Edition, the former braille code, used in the U.S. until 2016. EBAE was a literary code only without the symbols needed for math and science transcription.
Nemeth Code: The Nemeth Code for Mathematics & Science Notation, 1972 Revision, one of the official codes for use in the U.S.. Nemeth code is now embedded within UEB text instead of in EBAE text.
Transcriber: A person who has been trained to “translate” print text into braille. Certified transcribers have successfully completed the training course and received a certification from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), part of the Library of Congress. Certification is available for UEB, Nemeth, Music, and braille proofreading.
UEB: Unified English Braille, one of the official codes for use in the U.S. and other countries that are members of the International Council on English Braille.
Uncontracted braille: Transcriptions where all words are spelled out without the use of braille contractions. Uncontracted braille used to be referred to as “grade 1” braille, but this terminology is no longer used.
NCEO Brief #19, October 2019
The author of of this Brief was Frances Mary D’Andrea, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh. Dr. D’Andrea serves on the Board of the Braille Authority of North America (BANA), representing the American Foundation for the Blind.
NCEO Director, Sheryl Lazarus; NCEO Assistant Director, Kristin Liu.
All rights reserved. Any or all portions of this document may be reproduced and distributed without prior permission, provided the source is cited as:
D’Andrea, F. M. (2019, October). Considerations for states providing materials in braille (NCEO Brief #19). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes.
NCEO is supported through a Cooperative Agreement (#H326G160001) with the Research to Practice Division, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. The Center is affiliated with the Institute on Community Integration at the College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota. The contents of this report were developed under the Cooperative Agreement from the U.S. Department of Education, but does not necessarily represent the policy or opinions of the U.S. Department of Education or Offices within it. Readers should not assume endorsement by the federal government. Project Officer: David Egnor
NCEO works in collaboration with Applied Engineering Management (AEM), Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE), and WestEd.
This publication is available in alternative formats upon request. Direct requests to:
National Center on Educational Outcomes