From late 2001 until the most recent General Assembly of the International Council on English Braille (ICEB) in March, 2004, BANA formed an ad hoc committee on Unified English Braille code research. Initially chaired by Dr. Alan Koenig (representing AER) and then by Frances Mary D'Andrea (representing AFB), the committee undertook several projects to gain some information related to attitudes about UEB, acquisition of learning the code, and implications of reading it. The committee also replicated and expanded an earlier study that examined the implications of maintaining upper numbers instead of using lower numbers.
The various research activities were funded by BANA general funds, as well as from contributions from the American Foundation for the Blind National Literacy Center, and from an anonymous donor to BANA. A federal grant was submitted for additional support, but was not funded.
The first study examined 8,429 pages from textbooks (including those written in Nemeth code) to determine which occurs most frequently: number/letter combinations, or number/punctuation combinations. It was completed in fall of 2002, and presented at the ICEB General Assembly in 2004.
The second study was contracted out to the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University. The study had been designed as a pilot to demonstrate impact the UEB code changes could have on experienced braille readers, specifically on fluency. (It was this study that BANA hoped to expand with a federal grant.) This project was complete in October, 2003, and an article about the project published in the Fall, 2004 issue of RE:view.
The third study was contracted out to Drs. Marie Knowlton and Robin Wetzel, and had three phases. Phase I consisted of focus groups of adult braille readers, transcribers, and teachers of students with visual impairments. Phase II was an experimental study of 72 participants, including adult braille readers (reading contracted, uncontracted, and Nemeth code) and print readers. The third phase consisted of a comparative text analysis of current codes and UEB. Two articles from this study were published in April and May, 2006 in the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness. Preliminary results were presented at the ICEB general assembly.
Lastly, the committee compiled the results from the questionnaire that had been included with the UEB Sampler 1. Thousands of samplers had been distributed in the United States and Canada in print and in braille. The results represent comments and attitudes from 248 readers as self-reported to BANA.
After the ICEB General Assembly, the ad hoc committee on UEB Research was expanded and reconstituted as BANA’s Committee on Braille Research, with a broader charge to conduct research related to current braille codes and serve as a resource to technical committees.