28 May 2018

Advising on the future of English Braille

In April 2018, Leona Holloway travelled to Ireland to contribute her expertise at the International Council on English Braille's Executive meeting. She wrote about the experience.

The International Council on English Braille (ICEB) coordinates and promotes the use of braille throughout the English-speaking world. It is most well-known for the creation of the Unified English Braille (UEB) code, which is now widely adopted and replaces a collection of country-specific braille codes that previously hindered the upkeep and sharing of braille.

I was honoured to represent Australia at the ICEB mid-term Executive meeting in Dublin, Ireland, along with representatives from England, Scotland, Ireland, the USA, Canada, South Africa, Nigeria and New Zealand. The main focus of the four-day meeting was progressing work on UEB, braille music, braille technology and braille promotion.

We were very pleased to come to a resolution on one of our most hotly debated issues in braille over the past two years: the apostrophe. In braille, the single quotation mark and the apostrophe are represented using two different symbols. However, print often uses the exact same mark or even the incorrect symbol. This causes problems for automated translation from print to braille, especially on refreshable braille displays which are rapidly coming down in price and made available to many more people. ICEB will write new, clearer rules for the apostrophe and quotation marks, and produce a decision table for use by braille technology manufacturers to minimise errors.

Getting hands on with an Irish harp (James Bowden at harp. Image by Karl Leonard on behalf of National Council for the Blind Ireland)

We also heard reports from all member countries of ICEB, sharing ideas about how to support the importance of braille as the primary literacy medium for people who are blind or have a severe vision impairment. For example, when Nigeria reported that braille translation software is too expensive for widespread use in developing nations, the USA were able to recommend a free software that they have recently developed.

Much money changed hands as we compared new tactile markings on the bank notes from many of our countries.

Some of the extra-curricular highlights included a walking tour of Dublin with audio description and tactile stops for the blind and vision impaired participants. I was particularly interested in speaking with staff at ChildVision about their use of 3D printing for curriculum materials for blind students, and thrilled to find a large scale tactile model of the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.

A large scale tactile model of the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland