[Blindmath] UEB again (was Braille code urgency)

John Gardner john.gardner at orst.edu
Sun Dec 4 10:42:31 CST 2011

Hi Steve.  I agree with you in principle, but the real point is that UEBC
came very close to being a really good code for both math and computers.  It
was basically the 1960 conservatives who scuttled the number choice that
would have made that possible.  I agree with the Susans that we still need
to have our voices heard - that UEBC is really a lousy code but need not be!

I lost my sight just about the time the unified braille movement began, and
I became an observer of the committee.  They were charged with making a
uniform braille code that would work for math and computer braille and that
was a close to current English braille as feasible.  Norberto Salinas, an
outspoken blind mathematician (who has died since that time) was also an
observer.  We both pointed out to the committee that it is impossible in
principle to make a uniform code that would include computer braille unless
one could assign unique braille symbols (which need not be single cells of
course) to each of the 95 printable ASCII characters.  We also pointed out
that math braille codes that use indicators for numbers get awfully
cumbersome for anything beyond fairly simple math.  Abe Nemeth had been
advocating using dropped letters for numbers, but almost nobody else thought
that this choice would be acceptable to the braille community.  After all,
punctuation is far more common than numbers in literary use.  

Norberto and I proposed the Antoine numbers that were being used in European
computer braille codes.  These are letters a-I with an extra dot-6.  The
zero was special, because j with a dot-6 is the 'w', an interesting
consequence of the fact that 'w' was not part of the French alphabet when
Louis Braille created the code!  The committee was unsure as to whether new
numbers were within their mission, so they asked BANA.  I attended the BANA
meeting to explain why literary numbers were not usable.  BANA agreed to
empower the committee to consider using something other than literary

Nemeth continued to advocade for dropped letters, but the other three
members of that committee (Joe Sullivan, Emerson Faulk, Tim Cranmer) liked
the Antoine numbers.  Before this matter was settled however, the committee
was increased too include representatives from other English-speaking
countries.  UK, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand I believe.  In my
humble opinion, these new members were poor choices.  I believe that none
were scientists as were the four Americans.  So the vote for Antoine numbers
went down 5-3 with Emerson, Joe, and Tim voting for them.  Abe voted no,
because he still wanted dropped numbers.  The vote for dropped numbers lost
7-1.  It was then that Norberto and I dropped off the group, because we knew
that UEBC was already DOA.

If the four non-Americans had been scientists, I believe that they would
have adopted Antoine numbers, and the UEBC could have turned out to be an
excellent and truly unified braille code.  It is neither today.  Too bad
that the code wasn't developed before the non-Americans forced their way
into this effort.  

By the way, Joe Sullivan distributed excellent notes of the proceedings of
this committee, so anybody who has the patience to read that archive can see
for themselves how the politics of the situation affected the developments.

John Gardner

-----Original Message-----
From: blindmath-bounces at nfbnet.org [mailto:blindmath-bounces at nfbnet.org] On
Behalf Of Steve Jacobson
Sent: Saturday, December 03, 2011 11:27 PM
To: Blind Math list for those interested in mathematics
Subject: Re: [Blindmath] UEB again (was Braille code urgency)

I think many of us realize that something has to change, even if we're not
sure which route should be followed.  Blind 
kids will have no way to deal with many of the texts in education if we cant
bring more of the variations of print to 
braille.  They will get the extra information with screen readers instead
even if it is less effective.  This isn't a simple 
issue and the future path isn't clear, but just clinging to the past won't
work, either.  Send opinions to BANA if you 
have obvious solutions, but the world is changing, print is changing, and we
have to find a way for braille to change in 
an organized and reasonable way.  I'm not saying I know which code is best
because I truly don't know, but we have 
to take this on as a challenge to our ingenuity and not just kick and scream
and wish that the world stopped changing 
in 1960.  

Best regards,

Steve Jacobson

On Sat, 3 Dec 2011 15:53:35 -0500, Susan Mooney wrote:

>I don't understand why the consumers don't revolt and put their feet firmly
>down.  Where's the rally from the braille readers themselves?


>On Sat, Dec 3, 2011 at 3:39 PM, Susan Jolly <easjolly at ix.netcom.com> wrote:

>> Those of us who oppose the UEB have tried many tactics and written many
>> words explaining its problems. None of these have worked.
>> I'm wondering if the best tactic is to enlist sighted mathematicians and
>> math teachers to create some sort of manifesto.  One need know nothing
>> about Braille or tactile reading to clearly state that one cannot
>> effectively either understand or do mathematics with a writing system
>> uses same characters for the decimal digits as for certain letters of the
>> alphabet.  Adoption of the UEB would mean assuming that Braille users
>> no need to understand mathematics.
>> Sincerely,
>> Susan Jolly
>> Sent from my wonderful iPad
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