Braille Monitor                                                 June 2012

(back) (contents) (next)

Choices for the Future of Braille
A Comparison between Unified English Braille, the Nemeth Code, and the Nemeth Uniform Braille System

by Antonio Guimaraes

From the Editor: Last month we published an article by Jennifer Dunnam, who represents the National Federation of the Blind on the Braille Authority of North America (BANA). BANA considers and recommends changes to the Braille code used in the United States. As Jennifer noted, four codes are currently being considered. The one we use now is called English Braille, American Edition (EBAE), and most people agree that it is in need of updating, given the role machines now play in converting print to Braille and Braille to print. The Nemeth Code is currently used in math and science to convey information the literary code was never meant to convey, and the computer code handles special symbols never envisioned when the literary code was adopted. Because of the complexity of having two different codes, one for literary Braille and one for mathematics, experts have tried for about twenty years to come up with one integrated code. The two current contenders are Unified English Braille (UEB) and the Nemeth Unified Braille System (NUBS).

Jennifer’s article suggests that the goal of unifying the codes is a noble one, but that none of the available contenders is up to the task of unifying literary and scientific material. She suggests that we might do well to recommend the adoption of Unified English Braille for literature, carry on with the Nemeth Code for science and mathematics, and continue working to develop a unified code. Antonio does not share Jennifer’s opinion, believing that the Nemeth Unified Braille System is both preferred by those who work extensively in math and science and sufficiently developed to serve those reading literary Braille. Here is what he has to say:

As Monitor readers know from reading the magazine over the last year or so, changes are inevitably coming to the Braille code in the United States. Braille experts create and promote Unified English Braille (UEB) around the world. Another alternative to this reading and writing system is not as well known. Dr. Abraham Nemeth has developed the Nemeth Uniform Braille System (NUBS) to replace the current literary code, the Nemeth code, and the Computer Braille Code.  The technical aspects of this new system are similar to the Nemeth code in use today. 

Many teachers and other professionals who deal with the technical aspects of Braille are strong supporters of NUBS. They argue that UEB’s treatment of scientific and mathematical texts is totally inadequate.  NUBS proponents argue that those who study math may be left behind if UEB is adopted.  NUBS, they say, represents technical texts far better.

In literary texts UEB makes relatively small changes to the current code.  It eliminates several contractions such as com, ation, ally, etc.  It eliminates sequencing––involving the words for, and, the, to, into, by, etc. Most people would see little change in a switch from the current code to UEB, provided the text is purely literary.

The chief concern of the opponents of UEB involves its treatment of technical texts. Unfortunately, illustrating the differences and similarities between the code we have now, NUBS, and UEB is no simple matter. In any comparison one must understand the symbols for mathematical functions and other scientific notation. This effort will require significant study and memorization. One must then understand the mathematics and science the code is representing. Only when one knows the current Nemeth Code, NUBS, and the UEB can one make a meaningful comparison. For those interested in the endeavor (and all lovers of Braille and students of math, science, and literature should take the challenge seriously), a place to begin is at <>.

Braille readers should understand the choices they face. All options for change to the Braille code must be given serious consideration and respect. The impact of changes to the Braille system of today will be felt for decades. The examples given at the Website above illustrate the clarity and compact form of NUBS compared to UEB. Many of us who need and use Braille in science, technology, engineering, and math fear that the wholesale adoption of the UEB will spell the complete elimination of viable scientific Braille code in this country and could curtail our participation in some of the most vital industrial and intellectual pursuits our nation and the world have to offer. Let us do everything we can to ensure that changes in our methods of reading and writing serve to open doors to opportunity, and let us oppose with equal vigor the adoption of any code that discourages us from learning and pursuing careers in the work of the twenty-first century.

(back) (contents) (next)