American Braille gets its first makeover in more than 80 years

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Americans pride ourselves in doing things our own way. While most of the industrialized world has meters and kilometers, we still measure in feet, yards, and miles–or quarts and gallons versus liters.

It has been the same way with braille, but that is going to change in January, when the U.S. switches from English Braille American Edition to the Uniform English Braille code (UEB) – the first change in America’s braille code in more than 80 years.

Ray Zylinski, is a job skills instructor for the Olmsted Center for Sight, and points out blind and visually impaired students use braille for reading text, math, and other symbols.

“The change was happening in the 1930’s, the last fundamental change in braille.”

Zylinski has a pretty good idea of what is going to happen when the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) adopts what is called the Unified English Braille code on January 4, the birthday of Louis Braille.

Ray said they won’t be big changes, applying mainly to punctuation and shortcuts that are used in the U.S. code, but they could have a significant impact.

“If I am an accountant or I am a physicist and I have been writing parentheses in my equations for years, and then all of a sudden I start writing parentheses in, and it gets translated into print through computer software? Now there is an issue.”

Without the upcoming changes, Zylinski said Americans with visual challenges could have a tough time when visiting other English-speaking countries. “I write braille a certain way in English, and then I go to England, and they have slightly different punctuation marks, or they have their own standardized code of braille? Un-oh.”

But studies show, only a fraction of America’s blind and visually impaired depend on braille to read and write.

Emily Kaznica is the former director of Erie County’s Office for the Disabled, and while she can read braille, technology enables her to read books, magazines, and recipes; program her appliances, and take care of her personal affairs, without braille.

“Today, technology is taking over for a lot of that. I have some friends who are totally blind and they have switched over to technology for easy access.”

Kaznica said technological advancements could eventually take over everything that makes her life better, except her service dog “Marla”, and with driverless cars getting closer to reality, Kaznica quipped, “If I get a car that drives me, I will have her sitting in the seat next to me.”

Starting January 4th, all books approved by the North American Braille Authority, will be published using the Unified English code.

The Braille Authority actually adopted the unified code four years ago, but they have spent all this time educating and preparing Americans for the change.

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