February 1998

Root Page of Article: The Quest for Access to Science by People with Print Impairments, by John A. Gardner

Braille and modern literature

Literary braille is a code that differs from language to language, but the codes used for languages that share the English alphabet are related and have many features in common. All characters and indicators are defined as one or more six-dot cell patterns on a grid of two columns and three rows. All lower case letters and most common punctuation marks are the same. A number indicator followed by letters represent numbers, with a-j representing the digits 1-9,0 respectively.

Grade 1 (uncontracted) Braille has only modest language-to-language differences, but the shorthand conventions and contractions used in Grade 2 (contracted) Braille are strongly language-dependent. Grade 2 Braille is approximately 25% more efficient in use of space than Grade 1 braille. Contracted braille is the standard, and even signs and literature intended for foreign readers is almost always available only in Grade 2 Braille.

Literary Braille has no symbols for many characters appearing in standard literature (such as foreign money symbols, the American cent sign, copyright sign, et.) much less the special characters of math, science, and computer programs. Several special codes very different from literary braille have been adopted for math, for computer codes, and for music, and these may differ strongly from country to country. The math and computer codes for the US and UK are totally different for example. Few of the approximately 15% of blind Americans who read literary braille can read even the American special codes.

An effort by the International Committee on English Braille is underway to develop an international Unified Braille Code for English-speaking countries. This is a laudable effort, but the present proposal, which continues the use of the clumsy literary "mode" number representation, remains inadequate for much common literature. It cannot replace the present computer codes and is too clumsy for advanced scientific literature. ^

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