Future Reflections Summer 1990, Vol. 9 No. 2

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by Sharon Duffy

Editor's note: The following article is reprinted from the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille Newsletter.

At present, there are three systems of contracted Braille that are shorter than literary Braille, Grade Two, currently in use in the U.S.A. They are: Adam Speed Braille, Braille shorthand, and Grade Three Braille. Of these, Grade Three is currently the most popular. A brief examination of these three systems suggests the reason why. Adam Speed Braille is a highly contracted system whose rules require several volumes of text to learn. Most people do not have the time to learn such an elaborate system. Information about this system can be obtained by contacting the Hadley School for the Blind. It is not currently offered as a course, but its inventor is a former staff member. Mr. Adam sent me a copy of his text and expressed a willingness to teach it to me should I be interested. After examining the text, I demurred, feeling that it would not be something I would teach or use personally.

Braille shorthand is designed to resemble print shorthand. This includes such illiterals as using it's for hard c's and s's for soft c's. It also uses certain symbols to represent several combinations of letter with the same sound. Unfortunately, this phonetically based system is ambiguous to the point of making cold notes almost illegible in much the same way that print shorthand users are sometimes unable to read old notes. Also, it is geared for business use, abbreviating commonly used business words and phrases. This system is more abbreviated than Grade Three, so it may be the most useful for individuals who need to take dictation in a business office.

Perhaps Braille shorthand's most confusing characteristic is that its rules often conflict with those of Grade Two. For instance, the word discussion in shorthand is written dis sign/ k/sh sign/ dot 6 -- a combination which is not immediately recognizable to the Braille reader.

Grade Three does observe most of the rules of Grade Two and, in fact, builds on many of Grade Two's methods of contraction. There are over 200 two-celled words with combinations of dots 4-5-6 and letters or other symbols analogous to Grade Two signs for the words young and these. In Grade Three, the word keep is written dots 4-5/k and the word change is written dot tych sign. Other ways that Grade Three builds on Grade Two include; additional short form words such as ack for acknowledge, additional letter-group signs such as dots 3-6 for pp in the middle of a word, and continued practice of the final letter g on such words as receiving, denoting the dropping of the e and addition of ing. Two practices in Grade Three save considerable space. The first is called outlining. This roughly amounts to leaving out all vowels that are not already part of a contraction or diphthong and are not in the stressed syllable of a word. The second is a system of rules for leaving out spaces between specified types of words. If these rules are observed carefully, Grade Three can be easily read at any future time. My seven-year-old college notes in Grade Three are quite readable. If the rules are not observed, this system can be worse than Braille shorthand in illegibility. Fortunately, the rules for outlining and spacing are not difficult or numerous. The sentence "To be happy, keep changing" is considerably shorter in Grade Three.

In addition to its use while taking notes in college, Grade Three has proven as an easy way to do editing of material written in Grade Two. Words can be squeezed in and altered using Grade Three signs for revising. It makes a messy copy, but is preferable to rebrailling at the second draft stage.

Grade Three's chief advantages are as time and paper savers. College students and others who must write rapidly will find it useful. I use it for all of my personal notes and diary.

However, it is not for everyone. Those who have recently learned Braille should be advised not to learn Grade Three immediately. Confusion about which signs belong to which grade will inevitably result. After a person has used Braille for two years, learning Grade Three should not be a problem. Also, persons considering it must be able to discriminate between such similar dot patters as ad and dot 4/ d {doing in Grade Three) or between dot 4/ e and dot 5/ en sign {etc. and entire in Grade Three).

Perhaps the best book available for the teaching of Grade Three is the book used by the Hadley School for the Blind. This book is not available to any but those Hadley students taking the course. The Hadley course is an excellent way to learn it. The course is free and convenient for anyone in the United States since it is by correspondence. The instructors are very conscientious about returning corrected lessons on time. Also, the Library of Congress has a few titles done in Grade Three which are helpful in practicing.

It is unlikely that Grade Three will ever replace Grade Two Braille, just as print shorthand has not replaced conventional print, but these abbreviated writing systems have their place. For those who wish to conserve paper and time in writing, Grade Three can serve very well.

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