by Fred Schroeder
From the Associate Editor: Fred Schroeder is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind. Ever since he concluded in high school that Braille was an essential tool for him if he was to succeed in life, he has been a passionate proponent of the code. In recent years he has served on countless committees and as a representative of the NFB at numerous national and international meetings concerning the use and proliferation of Braille. Here is his report on one of his most recent efforts:
It is not surprising that in recent years the National Federation of the Blind has focused significant attention on the issue of Braille literacy. The reason for this emphasis is uncomplicated and easy to understand. For blind children Braille represents the only efficient method by which to read and write, and hence, for blind children to be literate, they must be able to read and write Braille.
In the process of promoting Braille literacy, a number of important issues arise. Children and newly blind adults must have adequate opportunity to learn Braille, and Braille must be produced in sufficient quantity for it to be readily available for use. A recently emerging problem has been a move to restructure the code in a number of radical ways. While proponents of Braille restructuring argue that Braille can be greatly improved, blind people remain skeptical about the need for altering it. During the 1980's some minor alteration of Braille took place, enabling it to be more readily produced by computer translation. On the one hand, the more readily Braille can be produced by computer, the more available it will be. On the other hand, purists would argue that Braille should meet the needs of blind readers, not satisfy the peculiarities of computers. More recently, discussion has taken place concerning whether Braille should be altered to consolidate separate codes (such as the Literary, Math, and Computer Science Codes) into a single code.
The problem of preserving Braille is further complicated by trends in other English speaking countries which use either the North American code, the code used in the United Kingdom, or a combination of the two. International trends are important to the degree that they affect the greatest possible availability of readable material. If the North American code and the code used in the United Kingdom drift too far apart, it is possible that materials produced in one country could be illegible or at least difficult to use by Braille readers in other countries.
Additionally, if the North American and British codes drift further apart, other English speaking countries will necessarily end up choosing one code or the other, thereby limiting their ability to use the greatest number of available materials. In 1982 an International Conference on English Literary Braille Grade 2 was held in Washington, D.C. A primary goal of the conference was to work toward international cooperation among countries which produce English Language Braille. While it is unlikely that all differences between the North American and British codes will ever be completely worked out, it is entirely reasonable to hope that an international effort will at least result in the codes not drifting further apart. In fact, the Washington conference showed an international willingness to find areas in which the codes could be modified to be more compatible. As a result, a number of study groups were established to examine areas of international concern until such time as a second international conference could be convened.
In 1988 a second conference was held in London, England, with ten English-speaking nations in attendance. They were Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Nigeria, South Africa, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and Zambia. During the London conference it was determined that a permanent international organization should be founded to continue the work of the Washington and London conferences. On May 30 to June 1, 1991, an International Conference on English Language Braille was held in Ontario, Canada. The conference was organized by a group known as the International Coordinating Committee on English Literary Braille. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind hosted the conference at its Lake Joseph Holiday Center. During the Toronto conference a new organization, the International Council on English Braille (ICEB) was founded. The purpose of ICEB is to provide a medium for international cooperation among national standard-setting bodies on English Language Braille. ICEB will not function as a super Braille authority, mandating code changes to its members. Instead it will serve as a vehicle for studying the international impact of changes proposed by various national Braille authorities. ICEB will be headquartered at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind in Toronto, Canada.
During the founding meeting officers were elected from among delegates present at the conference. They are President, Fred Schroeder, United States; Vice President, Connie Aucamp, South Africa; Secretary, Darleen Bogart, Canada; and Treasurer, Isobel Yule, United Kingdom. Additionally two Board Members At-Large were elected. They are Joan Ledermann from Australia and Raeleen Smith from New Zealand. Officers, Board Members At-Large, and the organization's Immediate Past President constitute the Executive Committee. Since the organization was newly established, it had no Immediate Past President. However, Bill Poole of the United Kingdom has served as the Chairman of the International Coordinating Committee and is recognized as a driving force in the establishment of the new organization. For this reason he was asked to serve as Immediate Past President, thereby completing the Executive Committee. ICEB has established a number of study groups, which will address wide-ranging issues. Their titles and chairs are as follows:
Committee A - Constitution, Fred Schroeder, United States;
Committee B - Linear Braille, Conchita Gilbertson, United States;
Committee C - Advanced Contracted Braille, Martin Milligan, United Kingdom;
Committee D - Grade One Braille, Marjorie Troughton, Canada;
Committee E - Code Comparison, Norma Schecter, United States;
Committee F - Rule Simplification, David McCann, United Kingdom;
Committee G - Composition Signs, Connie Aucamp, South Africa;
Committee H - Education Impact of Contraction Changes, Hilda Caton, United States;
Committee I - Interface with Mathematics Braille, Stephen Phippen, United Kingdom;
Committee J - Print Symbols, Stephen Phippen, United Kingdom;
Committee K - Dissemination of Information, Fred Schroeder, United States;
Committee L - Fund Raising, Chris Gray, United States;
Committee M - Interface Between English Braille and Foreign Language Codes, Bill Poole, United Kingdom.
The new organization appears to be off to a productive start. It is anticipated that ICEB will meet once every four years with its Executive Committee conducting business between meetings of the General Assembly. The spirit of international cooperation is high, and the commitment to promoting Braille literacy is stronger than ever. With this foundation ICEB will doubtless quickly assume a productive role in coordinating the work of national Braille authorities throughout the English-speaking world.