[Blindmath] UEB again

Jonathan Godfrey a.j.godfrey at massey.ac.nz
Mon Dec 5 00:20:08 CST 2011

Hello all,

I've been watching the flow of messages on the topic with interest. 
The last time this thread blew up I went asking questions locally and 
found some answers that left me thinking New Zealand was on the right 
track. We have the President of the International Council for English 
Braille who was my first port of call.

I note that the original intent may have been for UEB to address the 
needs of literary, mathematical and computer braille. In that regard 
we can say that UEB has failed. Aside from Michael in the U.K. and me 
down here in New Zealand, this list is dominated by those of you 
living in the lower 48. I am not surprised to see that the other 
aspect of unification is somewhat missing from the discussion.

While the differences may seem trivial for the experienced braille 
reader, the U.K. and U.S. braille systems were different, and both 
are quite readable interchangeably by good braille readers. Literary 
braille for the English language should have been (in my opinion) 
enough reason to look for a common solution that meets the needs of 
the 21st century. I suspect that the UEB system will have a limited 
lifetime as well as our needs change.

In New Zealand we were very quick to adopt UEB as we are taking 
documents from all over the English speaking world for our students 
to use. It is therefore quite logical for us (and Australia, South 
Africa and Nigeria) to adopt a unified system of some sort to cut 
down the inefficiencies that exist outside the U.S. or U.K. who are 
notably the last two major English speaking authorities to join the UEB craze.

Turning to mathematical content now. I find that the most compelling 
reason for not being reliant on UEB is the comment made by someone in 
the last flurry of messages that there were university level 
mathematical representations that UEB could not handle. This does not 
mean UEB should be tossed out. It means UEB's mathematical code is 
not capable of dealing with some content, but it isn't capable of 
handling French or Spanish either. A mathematical document is 
therefore little different to a bilingual document in that the reader 
must know more than just the basic English system (whichever one is 
chosen) to get the most out of it. I will in the next few months want 
to be increasing my competency in computer braille. UEB won't be the 
medium of my education for that even if it is the official code in New Zealand.

I believe that the UEB code should be adopted, but that it is done so 
without replacing all other codes. We must still deal with the 
preferences of those people who have been educated using other 
systems. If effort is made in the technology that will produce the 
braille wanted by the reader instead of the braille wanted by some 
publisher or authority we will all be better off.

As a further comment, I would point out that the mathematical codes 
used around the world were/are more numerous than the literary ones. 
Australia used to teach a system that was linked to the British 
system but was different (or so I have been led to believe), while we 
here in New Zealand were always Nemith users. The uptake of UEB and 
its simple mathematical system has been hailed for improving the 
educational outcomes of young blind kids across Australasia. That's 
got to be appreciated even by the Nemith fans. But it isn't reason 
for tossing out Nemith.

When I was in Europe this year, I met people who were reading 
numerous braille codes as they worked in multiple languages. The more 
they could read the more successful they would be. One guy laughed at 
the idiocy of the mono linguists that were complaining about change. 
(His words paraphrased). I can't help but agree.

Dr A. Jonathan R. Godfrey
Lecturer in Statistics
Institute of Fundamental Sciences
Massey University
Palmerston North

Office: Science Tower B Room 3.15
Phone: +64-6-356 9099 ext 7705
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