The National Certification in Literary Braille: 2010 Update

By Edward C. Bell



The National Certification in Literary Braille (NCLB) is a professional certification that is now available for teachers of braille. This certification, which has undergone a long and arduous climb to fruition, is now available to be used as a professional standard for Teachers of the Visually Impaired and other instructors of the braille code. This manuscript provides a brief review of the history, explanation of the test content and format, current data on test candidates, and information for individuals interested in taking the exam.



For several decades, many leaders and stakeholders in the field of education and rehabilitation for individuals who are blind or visually impaired have called for certification standards to hold teachers accountable for obtaining and maintaining proficiency in the literary braille code. In response to this call, consumer organizations of the blind, parents, teachers, and others worked to develop the National Literary Braille Competency Test (NLBCT) as a means of measuring the proficiency of teachers of the braille code (Allman & Lewis, 1996; Pierce, 2006).

The creation of the NLBCT was a long and arduous process (Riccobono, 2007; Pierce, 2006). While increasing standards was a commonly held value, the NLBCT was not universally believed to be the answer (Allman & Lewis, 1996). Even after the test was finally demonstrated to be a reliable and valid measure of proficiency in the literary braille code (Riccobono, 2007; Waugh, 2008), controversy has remained over its adoption in the field as a predominant measure for the competency of teachers (D’Andrea, Lewis, & Rosenblum, 2009). Although the NLBCT finally proved itself as a stable and valid proficiency test, it was not realized as a viable tool for professional certification until the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB) took over its administration in 2007 (Bell, 2010).

In early 2007, the NBPCB, among other entities, was approached about assuming responsibility for administration of the exam. Leadership of the NBPCB determined that marketing and administration of the NLBCT was feasible, but only if it was put into the context of professional certification, similar to rehabilitation counseling or orientation and mobility. Several other manuscripts (Allman & Lewis, 1996; Bell, 2010; Pierce, 2006; Riccobono, 2007; Walsch, 2008; Waugh, 2008) expound extensively on the history, development, pilot testing, and psychometric stability of the NLBCT, consequently, the remainder of this document will focus only on the current test structure, data on its current administration, and information for individuals who are interested in learning more about how to study and apply for the exam.

NLBCT Examination Process

Although the NBPCB made a few changes to the instructions and administration protocol for the exam, the test itself has not been changed from its original form. The test consists of four (4) sections. The instructions, test passages, and questions are provided to all candidates in either print (18-pt.) or braille (consisting of a combination of contracted and uncontracted braille). Up to six (6) hours is allowed to take the entire test. Two sections are presented in the morning session and two sections are presented in the afternoon session. There is a 10-minute break between the two morning sections and a 10-minute break between the two afternoon sections, along with a one-hour lunch break. In some cases, the test has been split across two days, where two sections were given on day one, and the remaining two on the second day.

The four sections of the test include: (1) Braillewriter, which consists of passages that the candidate will transcribe into literary braille using a Perkins-type, 40-cell braillewriter (two hours are allotted for this section); (2) Slate & Stylus, which consists of passages that the candidate must transcribe into literary braille using a 28-cell slate and stylus (one hour is allotted for this section); (3) Proofreading, which consists of passages that are contracted into literary braille, but which contain errors and/or omissions that have been embedded, and the candidate must identify and mark those errors (two hours are allotted for this section); and (4) Multiple Choice, which consists of approximately 40 questions wherein the candidate must demonstrate knowledge of rules for literary braille (one hour is allotted for this section).

The only reference that candidates may use during the test is a copy of English Braille, American Edition, 1994 (EBAE), which is provided by the Test Administrator in print or braille. This reference may be used during the first three sections of the test, and may not be used during the multiple choice section. Different versions of the examination are administered to ensure integrity and confidentiality during each testing cycle.

The NCLB Certification Process

Candidates who successfully complete all four sections of the exam receive National Certification in Literary Braille (NCLB) as a professional credential. Attainment and maintenance of the NCLB credential is based on two criteria: (1) successful completion of all four sections of the NLBCT; and (2) maintenance of the candidate’s braille proficiency through recertification every five years (NBPCB, 2010). Currently, recertification of the NCLB can only be accomplished through retesting; however, steps are under way to make continuing education an additional avenue, as long as factors are established to ensure that proficiency is maintained.

During the exam administration, steps are taken to ensure that lighting, temperature, and other testing conditions are comfortable for participants. As mentioned before, a typical exam day is an eight-hour day, which provides sufficient time for instructions, a 10-minute break between sections, and a one-hour lunch period. During exam administrations, the NBPCB has maintained the recommended two-hour time allotment for the braillewriter and proofreading sections, and the one-hour time allotment for the slate & stylus and multiple choice sections. In order to ensure that time frames were adequate for candidates, the NBPCB collected data on average completion times for each section.

During these examinations, it was determined that candidates have required an average of 94 minutes (SD = 22.8) to complete the braillewriter section; an average of 46.19 minutes (SD = 12.5) to complete the Slate & Stylus section; 79.5 minutes (SD = 25.2) to complete the Proofreading section; and 28.37 minutes (SD = 12.7) to complete the Multiple Choice section. Using current data, the average time required by candidates to complete the entire exam (minus breaks and instructions) has been 4.13 hours (SD = 1.22 hours). Consequently, the NBPCB has determined that the allotment of six hours that was originally proposed provides sufficient time for candidates to complete all four sections without burden. Consequently, this time structure will remain the same for future test administrations.

The NBPCB has now administered the NLBCT exam since January 2008. During that time, the NLBCT has been administered in 12 separate testing sites in a variety of cities, primarily located in the Northeastern and Southeastern states. Currently, 136 individuals have taken the National Literary Braille Competency Test under the administration of the NBPCB. Additionally, 48 individuals took the NLBCT in 2006 while the test was under the direction of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). During the 2006 NFB pilot test, 23 individuals passed all four sections, for a 48% pass rate. The credentials for these individuals were transferred to the NBPCB in 2007 and new NCLB certificates were issued. Of the 136 individuals who have taken the exam under NBPCB since January 2008, 71 have been credentialed with the NCLB, for a passing rate of 52%. Combining newly credentialed individuals with those transferred from the NFB, the NBPCB has a total of 94 individuals credentialed with NCLB certification.

Waugh (2008) demonstrated that the NLBCT had acceptable content validity, internal consistency, and was a valid measure for teachers of the braille code. Obviously, the NBPCB has an obligation to continue monitoring the data from exam administrations to ensure that the test remains stable across administrations. Data from exam administrations between January 2008 and August 2009 was used to examine the correlations between sections of exams, relative pass rate between different versions of the exam, and continued stability of the exam. Bell (2010) reported that the psychometric stability of the NLBCT exam has continued to remain stable and even more highly significant than that reported by Waugh (2008) (See Bell, 2010).

How to Prepare for and Apply for the NCLB

A Web page has been developed by the NBPCB that provides information to the public on all of its programs, including the National Certification in Literary Braille (NCLB), and can be found at under the link for NCLB Certification. This section of the page contains information on the background of the NLBCT, information on how to prepare for the exam, the application process, locations where the exam will be offered, and a complete set of guidelines and policies governing the NCLB certification. In addition, an interactive database allows certificants to update personal and contact information. Also available on NBPCB’s Web site is an updated listing of NCLB credentialed individuals available by state, certification number or certificant last name (National Blindness Professional Certification Board, 2009).

Preparing for the NCLB

It is recommended that all applicants study for this exam with particular attention to the four sections: writing with a Braillewriter, writing with a Slate & Stylus, Proofreading, and Multiple Choice (a sample exam is available on the NBPCB Web site). Applicants should use the manual of their choice to study braille rules and contractions of American English Literary Braille. In addition, applicants are encouraged to study literary braille symbols and problem words, including rules for their proper use in various situations. In addition, during its administration of the NLBCT, the NBPCB has noted three specific areas where candidates seem to struggle on the exam. Focusing attention on these areas will increase the likelihood of being successful on the test. They include formatting, composition signs, and errors and omissions.

Formatting. Applicants should pay particular attention to formatting. It is important to understand and apply correct margins and orientation to 11x11.5 inch paper using a 40-cell line and 8.5x11 inch paper. An applicant will lose points for improper application of margin width, line length, centering, indentation, or other paper orientation conventions and formatting rules. Applicants must follow directions that are specific to each section of the exam regarding hyphenation, centering, and formatting.  

Composition Signs. Applicants are encouraged to understand rules and special conditions related to composition signs. These may include italics, capitalization, letter sign, and number sign, as well as their use in the context of sentences, in combination, and adjoining other letters, numbers, or punctuation signs.

Errors and Omissions. The NCLB exam is a test of braille knowledge and accuracy. Applicants should be able to read and write braille well enough to limit errors and omissions. Errors occur when an applicant fails to erase mistakes completely, overtypes words or letters, or uses the wrong braille character. Omissions include leaving out letters, words, or entire sections of the exam.


In the year 2010, we are long past the argument of whether braille is critical for true literacy of youth and adults with blindness or significant visual impairment. We are past the argument of whether or not certification standards are needed in order to foster the continued competence of teachers of the braille code. What remains is growing the NCLB into a national standard that is recognized, accepted, and promoted by consumers, parents, and professionals. Many leaders in the field of work with the blind have invested thousands of hours of time, talent, passion, and experience into creating the National Literary Braille Competency Test (NLBCT). We are glad that it is now available for use in the public, and are working to make a national standard for all professionals who teach braille to children or adults.

Implications for Practitioners

  • The NLBCT has been demonstrated as a reliable and valid measure of braille proficiency, and is now available for teachers, parents, and other interested persons and employers.
  • The National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB) has maintained the integrity of the NLBCT, and has created new forms using the validated blue prints for test construction.
  • The NBPCB has continued to collect data that support the psychometric stability of the test, and has created a program designed to ensure test reliability/validity long into the future.
  • The NBPCB has worked with professionals and test candidates to refine the test’s administration procedures and the process for providing feedback to test candidates.
  • Finally, the NBPCB has provided comprehensive processes for learning about the NCLB, information for preparing to take the exam, and a host of other resources for interested applicants, all of which can be found on the Internet at under the link for NCLB Certification (National Blindness Professional Certification Board, 2009). The need for the certification has been well established, the validity of the NLBCT has been demonstrated, and the viability of the NCLB is now secure. The NCLB itself will not solve the problems threatening the access to braille, but with the understanding and commitment of the professionals who help to shape the field, it will prove to be an important tool in raising the standards of competency for teachers of the braille code, which can be nothing but positive for individuals who depend on braille for their literacy.


Allman, C., & Lewis, S. (1996). Content validity of the National Literary Braille Competency Test. RE:view, 28, 103-112.

Bell, E. C. (2010). U.S. National Certification in Literary Braille: History and Current Administration. (2010). Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 104(8), 489-498.

D'Andrea, F., Lewis, S., & Rosenblum, L. (2009). Louis Braille Celebration. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 103, 325-327.

National Blindness Professional Certification Board. (2009). Information on the National Certification in Literary Braille (NCLB). Retrieved from

Pierce, B. (2006). National Literary Braille Competency Test: New partnerships, new possibilities. Braille Monitor, 49, Retrieved from

Riccobono, M. (2007). A National Test of Braille Competency: Where do we go from here? Retrieved from

Walch, L. (2008). Keeping Our Promises: Braille Competency Test Now a Reality. Braille Monitor, 51, 538–543.

Waugh, G. (2008). NFB NLBCT Braille Test: Pilot test results. National Blindness Professional Certification Board. Retrieved from

The Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research is copyright (c) 2014 to the National Federation of the Blind.

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