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A Brief Introduction to Braille Currently Used in the United States

Many people know that individuals who are blind/have low vision can use a nonvisual means for reading and writing: Braille. Braille is a code with which we can create expressive written communication and with which we can access written communication created by others. Unlike American Sign Language, braille is NOT a language; it is only a code. Just as print uses lines and curves to represent letters and numbers, braille uses dots to do the same.

While we print readers may not think about it much (or at all), we use different print codes for different purposes. The code we use for most writing is based on Roman letters. For math and science, we use Arabic numbers, Greek letters (at higher levels), and specialized mathematical and scientific notation (subscripts, superscripts, and mathematical operators, just to name a few.). Musical notation has yet a different code—using circles, dots, lines (horizontal and vertical), and curves. Typically-sighted people see these different codes in more environments throughout their lives, so it’s easy to forget how truly diverse and complex the print code is.

Braille has different codes as well. There is a braille code for most writing is typically called “literary braille.” This code is based on the code created by the late Louis Braille, but it has undergone many changes through the years.

Nemeth Code has long been used in the United States to provide blind/low vision students with efficient and robust access to mathematics and science. It was created by the late Dr. Abraham Nemeth, a blind mathematician born in New York City who developed the code to allow him to pursue opportunities in mathematical and science, including a doctorate in mathematics.  

Like literary braille, Music Braille was developed by a young man in France named Louis Braille. He was an accomplished musician and developed this code to enable blind individuals to independently read and write musical notation.

Most recently, in 2016, the United States adopted Unified English Braille (UEB) as the literary braille code in the U.S.: “Braille Authority of North America (BANA) adopts Unified English Braille to replace the current English Braille American Edition in the United States while maintaining the Nemeth Code for Mathematics and Science Notation, 1972 Revision; the Music Braille Code 1997; and the IPA Braille Code, 2008. The official braille codes for the United States will be Unified English Braille, Nemeth Code for Mathematics and Science Notation, 1972 Revision and published updates; Music Braille Code, 1997; and The IPA Braille Code, 2008.” BANA Motion to Adopt UEB, on November 2, 2012.

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