Contrary to what many have stated, braille users need both a one-for-one computer braille system and a comprehensive braille code. Computer braille is essential for interacting with computers on the basis of direct use of ASCII characters. A comprehensive braille code is also essential—at least for technical material—because mathematics requires many hundreds of different symbols and/or markup tags.
UEBC proponents are simply incorrect when they claim that the UEBC allows an email or web address to be written in contracted braille without dropping to another code. Contracted braille can be ambiguous in situations where absolute precision as to print characters is needed. For this reason alone, braille users need a Grade 0 or computer braille capability.
There are also other reasons why braille users need a one-to-one correspondence between braille cells and ASCII characters:
As proponents of the UEBC point out, even the few inconsistencies between the literary braille code and the Nemeth code are bothersome to some braille readers. Eliminating avoidable differences between computer braille and braille mathematics is thus a worthy goal. However, the UEBC's minimal use of one-cell representations for the ASCII characters actually increases the number of cases where the braille user would have to learn two different braille symbols for the same print character!
Proponents of the UEBC have claimed that upper numbers are easier for tactile reading and that the necessity of using the number sign to distinguish the use of the same cells as letters and numbers doesn't cause a serious problem for braille readers. Opponents have often focused on conceptual problems associated with using letters as numbers, indicator clutter, and the undesirability of the increased length of expressions transcribed according to the UEBC in contrast to expressions in braille math codes that use different cells for letters and numbers.
On the other hand, persons on both sides of this discussion have sometimes failed to address a possibly more significant practical issue: the growing need by non-technical persons for what is sometimes called Grade 0 braille or computer braille, that is, an exact one-for-one representation of printed characters by braille cells. This is an issue that was clearly obvious to BANA more than 20 years ago when it recommended that action be taken on the development of computer braille.
Grade 0 braille is important because print characters are used in two different ways: for their particular meanings and also as more-or-less arbitrary symbols. We are all intuitively aware of the distinction. If someone asks for your phone number, you don't answer, "Six million, six hundred and fourteen thousand, two hundred and three." Rather, you say the names of the individual digits, "Six, six, one; four, two, oh, three."
Long before the advent of personal computers, we were familiar with the use of sequences of characters—most often mixed sequences of letters and digits—to identify parts, models, charge accounts, etc. Now, with computers, we've added passwords, email addresses, web addresses, and other new items to the list.
Proponents of the UEBC, and, in some cases opponents as well, seem to believe that it is possible to represent email addresses, computer programming constructs, and similar items in contracted braille. This is incorrect. In many cases such items are intrinsically ambiguous when represented in contracted braille; an example would be not knowing whether the website
www.brl.org is actually
www.braille.org. (The designers of EBAE realized a similar problem long ago when they made the rule that short-form words cannot be used as a part of a proper name.)
There is no avoiding the need for braille users to have an unambigous representation of the ASCII characters. It is, of couse, not necessary that a representation of the ASCII characters be restricted to the use of one braille cell for one print character simply in order to be unambiguous; multi-cell representations can also be unambiguous. However, lack of ambiguity is only one of several requirements for a useful computer braille system. Two of the additional requirements are:
Of course, since there are 94 ASCII characters, it isn't possible to represent all of them using only the 63 six-dot braille cells. However, electronic braille keyboards allow the dot-7 key to function as a shift key such that a dot 7 added to the small letters and five special characters yields the remaining 31 characters. Luckily, however, most computer systems do not support case-sensitive email or web addresses and popular search engines like Google ignore case so that, in practice, six-dot computer braille is adequate for most purposes where direct entry of ASCII characters is necessary.
An uambiguous braille representation of the ASCII characters already exists in the form of the computer braille tables built into braille notetakers like the BrailleLite and BrailleNote. In fact, if the braille authorities had taken the time to consult with users of braille notetakers, they would have discovered that many of them make constant use of computer braille as they go about their daily activities.
The Mountbatten brailler has a built-in facility for teaching computer braille to beginning readers and training material written for the BrailleNote explains how computer braille is used to surf the Web or query search engines.
Not using computer braille would be a giant step backwards for the braille community and we can be confident that braille users will continue to use computer braille no matter what happens. It isn't, of course, necessary, that computer braille be consistent with the braille codes used for other purposes but the more overlap, the easier. As proponents of the UEBC are fond of pointing out, even the few inconsistencies between the literary braille code and the Nemeth code are bothersome to some braille readers. Eliminating avoidable differences between computer braille and braille mathematics is a worthy goal.
On the other hand, maximizing the number of ASCII characters represented by single cells in a braille mathematics code—to the extent this can be done with compromising the code in other ways—reduces the number of cases where the braille user has to learn two different braille symbols for the same print character.
It turns out that the Nemeth code represents 46 of the ASCII characters with single braille cells. These are the 26 small Latin letters, the ten digits, the six key mathematical symbols—plus, hyphen-minus, slash (horizontal fraction line), asterisk (dot multiply), left parenthesis, and right parenthesis—along with the comma, decimal point (dot in .com), apostrophe, and vertical bar.
On the other hand, the UEBC only represents 33 of the ASCII characters with single braille cells. These are the 26 small Latin letters along with the comma, semicolon, colon, exclamation point, question mark, hyphen, and apostrophe. Moreover, only the hyphen and apostrophe are consistent with the current computer braille tables.
So, rather than reducing duplication, the UEBC actually increases the number of cases where the braille user has to learn two different representations for the same print character!
Contrary to what many have stated, braille users need both a one-for-one computer braille system and a comprehensive braille code. Computer braille is needed for interacting with computers on the basis of direct use of ASCII characters. A comprehensive braille code is needed—at least for technical material—because mathematics requires many hundreds of different symbols and/or markup tags.
Even if it were possible for people to read all 255 different 8-dot braille cells, that still would not be enough different symbols for mathematics. There are arguments on both sides as to whether braille readers would be better off without contracted braille. But, even if contractions were to be eliminated, braille readers would still need a comprehensive system for representing printed texts.
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DotlessBraille home page This pagewas first posted April 17, 2005.