We know about braille in the UK, of course, and we regularly hear about braille in other developed English-speaking countries – the US, Australia, New Zealand and so on. But there are many other countries in the world about which we hear much less. How is braille taught? How is it produced? How easy is it to obtain? What braille technology is in use?
On Tuesday 4 January, to mark World Braille Day, we explored these issues in detail with three panellists:
Adrijana Prokopenko is a teacher of English and English braille in a school for the blind in Macedonia.
Yanan Yu from China has a Master’s degree in Disability Studies and is currently an intern at Bristol Braille Technology. Prior to this, she worked for a year as an Editor at China Braille Press.
Christo de Klerk is a founding member of Braille SA, the first President of the South African Braille Authority and the Immediate Past President of the International Council on English Braille. He is a former student of the Pioneer School for the Visually Impaired (formerly the School for the Blind in Worcester), where he later returned as a staff member, teaching law and braille and establishing computerised braille production. He qualified in law and practised as a lawyer before retraining as a computer programmer, and has developed braille tables for ten South African languages in Duxbury, eight in Liblouis, and one for Afrikaans for the Embraille iOS app. His last job before retirement was as an IT Specialist in one of South Africa’s banks.
Most of us know about grade 2, of course, with its 180 contractions designed to make braille quicker to read and write and occupy less space.
Grade 3 extends this concept still further with over 300 additional contractions, rules to allow vowels to be omitted, and provisions for reducing spaces and new lines. Whilst it’s not an officially recognised code, it has a loyal following amongst long-time braillists, who have used it very successfully to take shorthand notes or transcribe passages of text for reading aloud. It’s especially useful in conjunction with a hand frame or slate and stylus.
James Bowden led a session exploring this code in more detail on Tuesday 20 July. Whilst he wasn’t able to cover all of the 300+ contractions in an hour, he did explain the concepts used to form them, introduce some of the most useful ones and the rules which govern their use, and signposted to resources with more information.
This week’s Masterclass has a more low tech flavour as we take a wander into the heart of the household. If you’ve ever wondered how to read braille recipes without ruining them or what to do when the label is too big for the jar, this session is for you.
Emma Williams led the session – teacher of Independent Living Skills at New College Worcester, and a familiar voice to many from our Clever Cooking events last year. She drew on a wealth of personal experience of using braille in the kitchen, as well as things which have worked well (and maybe some which haven’t) for her peers and her students.
RNIB, which operates one of Europe’s largest braille lending libraries, has recently announced changes to the way books will be produced from April 2021. Since the announcement, there has naturally been much discussion about what these changes will mean for braille readers in the UK and around the world.
The Braillists Foundation and colleagues from RNIB explored these changes and answered questions from the public on Tuesday 23 March.
RNIB Braille Library – important update
Dear RNIB Braille Library Customer,
I am writing to let you know that from April 2021, RNIB’s Braille Library will be upgraded to offer Braille Library books on demand, a new personalised braille reading service designed to substantially increase access to hardcopy braille books for readers across the UK.
While you do not need to take any action to benefit from the new service, I want to share some of the changes you will notice in the coming months.
You will begin receiving freshly produced pristine Braille Library books that are recyclable. Your braille books will be more hygienic as you will be the first person to read them. Plus, your book is much less likely to be damaged or unreadable due to squashed dots. You will have access to a larger braille collection delivered straight to your door free of charge.
You will notice Braille Library books will be a more convenient format that will fit through more letterboxes, is easier to store and carry around. The smaller lighter volumes are much more comfortable for children and anyone with physical difficulties handling older heavier books.
Braille Library books on demand also means books are never out of stock. You will no longer need to wait for another Braille Library member to return a book you have requested. Multiple readers can receive copies of the same title simultaneously, ideal to meet shifting demand for new releases, best sellers and prize winners while preserving access to rarer books of special interest.
If you are already an RNIB Braille Library member, you will start receiving books in the new format automatically. You can continue to manage your book lists online or over the phone. You can change how often you receive books. If you manage a Braille Library membership on behalf of someone else, you can continue getting support via the RNIB Helpline or manage booklists online.
Unlike traditional library books, Braille Library on demand books are designed to be recycled and should not be returned. You can keep books for as long as you need them. You can also share your books with other braille readers.
As passionate readers ourselves, we appreciate braille is a vital literacy medium for tens of thousands of readers across the UK. Sadly however, the Braille Library in its current form is increasingly out of date and excludes some readers.
Large parts of our current collection are in old braille formats unsuitable for new braille readers. Many books are rarely borrowed, most of our collection has not left the warehouse in the past two years. Braille books occupy miles of shelving that is complex and expensive to maintain.
Older braille library books are bulky, heavy, and difficult for some readers to return. These books exclude some readers, especially those with physical difficulties.
After careful research and evaluation of braille library services around the world, we have found producing braille library books on demand offers the best opportunity for sustainable access to hardcopy braille for the widest number of readers for as long as is needed.
Please be assured that older books in our warehouse will be donated to customers and schools in the UK. We will then donate books to our sister organisations overseas. If there is a particular book you would like to keep, please contact the library with your request.
Special braille items of cultural significance will be preserved as part of RNIB’s Heritage collection based in London.
Children who would like to keep a few favourite braille books in the old format are welcome to do so and we can arrange this by calling RNIB’s Helpline on 0303 123 9999, or via email [email protected] although they may find the new format easier to hold and read.
Combined with RNIB’s growing collection of electronic braille library books available to you on an SD memory card and download from our website, the braille library upgrade represents a renewed commitment to braille literacy and offers readers greater choice than ever before. In 2020 RNIB invested over £100,000 in providing electronic braille equipment and books to meet changing reader requirements. However, we recognise the continued value of hardcopy braille for many and plan to offer both services in parallel. However, if you would like to explore also receiving books electronically please contact the library.
If you have any questions about the Braille Library, please call our Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or email us at [email protected].
RNIB Reading Services Manager
Your Braille Library Questions Answered (Extra 19)
Led by James Bowden, Braille Technical Officer at RNIB, this session answered questions such as: How does UEB differ from Standard English Braille? Where can you learn about the changes? What tips and tricks are there for switching to UEB?
This session introduced participants to the many ways of using braille when learning a language. Knowledge of English braille would be helpful when listening, but is not essential.
We took a look at using braille in conjunction with various language learning apps, where to learn other language codes and accessing books in other languages. We also heard from blind people who have used braille when travelling and how this has helped them. The session was led by Holly Scott-Gardner.
Based in Boston Massachusetts since 1927, National Braille Press is a global leader in producing high quality, affordable braille materials and developing innovative technologies advancing braille literacy for blind and visually impaired children and adults everywhere. In addition to its first class braille transcription facility, producing everything from standardised tests to restaurant menus, NBP has a unique specialism in publishing original books by blind authors expressly for blind people, from cookery to technology. It also provides braille transcription and production services to like-minded organizations and, through the Centre for Braille Innovation, overseas the annual Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation.