Q&A: Updating World Braille Usage

A conversation with Aubrey Webson

Hands reading braille and headshot of Aubrey Webson

In 1953, braille scholars developed a uniform method for translating braille into new languages, based on a standardized system of phonetics. The result was the first edition of the World Braille UsageA revision in 1990, by UNESCO and the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped Library of Congress (NLS), provided information on braille usage in 97 languages. This year, Perkins International (PI), the International Council on English Braille (ICEB) and the NLS will release the third edition of World Braille Usage. We spoke with PI Director Aubrey Webson on this latest development in the world of braille.

What is World Braille Usage?

Some in the blindness community refer to it as “the braille bible.” World Braille Usage is a comprehensive reference text containing basic information on the use of braille and copies of braille alphabets and punctuation symbols used for different languages around the world. However, this encyclopedic book on braille also has matchless historical significance in underpinning the global development of braille.

What’s new about this third edition?

The third edition of World Braille Usage is being printed to keep pace with immense geographical changes, changes to technologies and the use of braille that have occurred over the last 23 years. The third edition will include over 105 countries and an up-to-date list of contact information for organizations around the world providing braille services to persons who are blind.

How did Perkins get involved in this project?

Perkins has always been a world leader in the development of education for persons who are blind. In September 2011, a grant from the Schnabel Foundation helped to fund a number of braille literacy-related projects. Working in collaboration with the NLS and the International Council on English Braille, Perkins has taken the lead in overseeing the activities associated with publishing a third edition of World Braille Usage.

What, specifically, was your role in this project?

My role was to focus on the overall coordination of this global project and to liaise with our project partners.

Why is updating the World Braille Usage important?

Braille, just like print, has never been a static system of reading and writing. Much has changed over the last 23 years. A simple example is the adoption by the United States and several countries around the world of a new braille code, Unified English Braille (UEB). Technology has transformed braille, and new formats in languages not previously used are available to readers. For this reason, we remain interested in sharing widely the available formats to as many users as possible.

What are the challenges you faced while updating the World Braille Usage?

Without question, the greatest challenge was getting feedback from every questionnaire we sent to 200 countries around the world.

What’s next for the World Braille Usage?

After we publish a print and online version of the third edition, the hope is to have the new World Braille Usage as accessible as possible. We also want to develop a system whereby the document can be updated with new information and include a growing number of countries in years to come.