National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Library of Congress
The Future of Braille: NLS Braille Summit
Presentations and Outcomes
June 19–21, 2013
Neil Bernstein, Research and Development Officer
Judy Dixon, Consumer Relations Officer/Acting Braille Development Officer
The Braille Summit was a joint effort between the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, and Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, Massachusetts. Under the general direction of Karen Keninger, director of NLS, and Steven Rothstein, president of Perkins, staff members from both organizations played key roles in planning and conducting the conference.
The core planning team that began work in the fall of 2012 included Judy Dixon, NLS; Steve Prine, NLS; Claire Rojstaczer, NLS; and Kim Charlson, Perkins Library for the Blind. Individuals from other organizations also played key roles, and their efforts are greatly appreciated. Mary Nelle McLennan, American Printing House for the Blind, planned and directed all aspects of the facilitated sessions. The other three facilitators were Beth Caruso, Perkins; Frances Mary D'Andrea, American Foundation for the Blind; and Diane Wormsley, Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired. Facilitated session scribes were Neil Bernstein, NLS; Edmund O’Reilly, NLS; John Bryant, NLS; and Vikki Hovell, Royal National Institute of Blind People, United Kingdom. Jennifer Dunnam, National Federation of the Blind, managed social networking communications.
Many other staff at Perkins and NLS assisted in countless ways, and their efforts are much appreciated.
True literacy for people who are blind or severely visually impaired—that is, the ability to read, to write, and to read what one wrote—was achieved with the introduction of the braille system nearly 200 years ago. As a direct corollary to print, braille provided complete access to text at every level. Since that time, braille has been universally recognized as the literacy medium for blind and severely visually impaired people throughout the world. Braille readers have the same level of access to the written word, mathematics, and music, in all their nuances, as do print readers.
However, significant changes in education, technology, and communication options require a thorough assessment of the current and future challenges and possibilities impacting full and universal access to the written word through braille. To that end the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress, collaborated with the Perkins School for the Blind to convene a Braille Summit on the Perkins campus in Watertown, Massachusetts, June 19–22, 2013. The purpose of the conference was to assess the present state of braille literacy, technology, and access and make recommendations that will shape braille programs and priorities for the future of the NLS library network.
More than one hundred participants gathered to hear speakers, including Peter Osborne, chief braille officer for the Royal National Institute of Blind People; Michael Yudin, acting assistant secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Department of Education; and Janet LaBreck, presidential nominee for commissioner, Rehabilitation Services Administration. These leaders expressed the need for positive presentation of the medium in the public eye and for ensuring that braille instruction was available to everyone—children and adults—who would benefit from the skill. Participants engaged in breakout discussions covering policy, readers, selection, production, technology, literacy and promotion, and priorities.
The objective of this summit was to determine the mix of NLS products and services that best meets the needs of today’s braille readersand supports an increase in braille literacy. Stakeholders discussed, debated, and recommended braille policies, products, and services in future program operations. The emerging concerns were the high cost of braille production, the availability of skilled braille instructors, the need for improved technology, and the necessity of improving the public perception of braille.
Participants looked to NLS for leadership in the area of library service as it has been the major provider of braille reading materials since its establishment by an Act of Congress, signed into law by President Herbert Hoover in 1931. They commended NLS for its foresight in convening the meeting and recommended that NLS could address the concerns raised by:
- providing a refreshable-braille display at no cost to patrons,
- varying the quality and/or publication medium of books depending on their use and expected shelf life,
- working with publishers to acquire source texts,
- expanding the use of tactile graphics in its books, and
- building support for efforts to update braille technology, specifications, and methods for selection, production, and distribution, including production ondemand.
Conference participants also suggested that NLS mount a public education campaign to raise awareness of the value of braille. These recommendations will be considered as NLS plans for the next generation of braille services.
The Braille Summit also highlighted developments proffered by other organizational leaders in the field, many of whom were represented on the program. The U.S. Department of Education—which recently issued its “Dear Colleague” letter advising educators that braille instruction be provided for students as needed and included in their individual education plans—is working to ensure that the next generation of blind individuals will be equipped with the invaluable literacy skills braille provides. The National Braille Press Center for Braille Innovation (CBI) and the Daisy Consortium Transforming Braille Group are working on developing a cost-efficient braille display to make braille more affordable, portable, and thereby, available. In addition, the Braille Authority of North America has just adopted the Unified English Braille code, which will help to simplify the learning and usage of the code. Working together, all stakeholders of the braille-support community will help overcome the challenges of ensuring braille literacy for future generations.
Table of Contents
Executive Summary...... ii
1.2Goals of the conference
1.3Structure of the conference
2.1Keynote address: Peter Osborne,Chief Braille Officer, Royal National Institute of Blind People, United Kingdom
2.2Special topic: Braille Policy
2.2.1Speaker 1: Michael Yudin, Acting Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Department of Education, Washington, D.C.
2.2.2Speaker 2: Janet LaBreck,Presidential Nominee for Commissioner, Rehabilitation Services Administration, Washington, D.C.
2.2.3Speaker 3: Steven Rothstein,Member, Council of Schools and Services for the Blind, Watertown, Massachusetts
2.3Panel 1: Braille Readers
2.3.1Speaker 1: Daisy Russell,Student, Everett High School, Saugus, Massachusetts
2.3.2Speaker 2: Haben Girma, Student, Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts
2.3.3Speaker 3: Deborah Kendrick,Writer, Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati, Ohio
2.3.4Speaker 4: Tommie Lussier,President, San Francisco Public Library Advisory Committee for the Blind and Print Disabled, San Francisco, California
2.4Panel 2: Braille Selection
2.4.1Speaker 1: Danielle Miller,Program Manager, Washington Talking Book and Braille Library, Seattle, Washington
2.4.2Speaker 2: David Hyde,Chairman, Library Services Committee, National Federation of the Blind, Janesville, Wisconsin
2.4.3Speaker 3: Ed O'Reilly,Head, Collection Development Section, NLS, Washington, D.C.
2.4.4Speaker 4: Paul Edwards,President, Library Users of America, American Council of the Blind, North Miami, Florida
2.5Panel 3: Braille Production
2.5.1Speaker 1: John Bryant,Head, Production Control Section, NLS, Washington, D.C.
2.5.2Speaker 2: Beth Hirst,Supervisor, Library Materials Production, Iowa Library for the Blind, Des Moines, Iowa
2.5.3Speaker 3: Betsy Beaumon,Vice President and General Manager, Benetech, Palo Alto, California
2.5.4Speaker 4: Tuck Tinsley,President, American Printing House for the Blind, Louisville, Kentucky
2.6Panel 4: Braille Technology
2.6.1Speaker 1: Curtis Chong,Technology Specialist, New Mexico Commission for the Blind, Albuquerque, New Mexico
2.6.2Speaker 2: Jim Denham,Director of Education Technology, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, Massachusetts
2.6.3Speaker 3: Brian MacDonald,President, National Braille Press, Boston, Massachusetts
2.6.4Speaker 4: John Freese,Design Director, Product Development Technologies, Newton, Massachusetts
2.7Panel 5: Braille Literacy and Promotion
2.7.1Speaker 1: Kim Charlson,Director, Perkins Library, Watertown, Massachusetts
2.7.2Speaker 2: Diane Wormsley,Ph.D., Professor of Special Education in Visual Impairment, North Carolina Central University, Durham, North Carolina
2.7.3Speaker 3: Lenore Dillon,Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist, Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, Montgomery, Alabama
2.7.4Speaker 4: Frances Mary D’Andrea,Chair, Braille Authority of North America (BANA), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
3Results of breakout sessions
3.1Recommendations for NLS
3.1.1NLS should provide a refreshable-braille display at no cost to patrons or help make them more easily affordable.
3.1.2NLS should vary the quality and/or publication medium of its books, depending on their use and expected shelf life.
3.1.3NLS must work with publishers to acquire source texts.
3.1.4NLS should expand the use of tactile graphics in its books.
3.1.5NLS should support efforts to update braille technology, specifications, and methods for selection, production, and distribution, including production on demand.
3.2. Challenges for stakeholders and leaders of the broader community
3.2.1Address the deficiencies in braille learning resources (teachers and material).
3.2.2Improve the image of braille in mainstream life.
3.2.3All practical aspects of braille are hurt by high costs.
3.3Individual breakout sessions
3.3.1Panel 1: Braille Readers
3.3.2Panel 2: Braille Selection
3.3.3Panel 3: Braille Production
3.3.4Panel 4: Braille Technology
3.3.5Panel 5: Braille Literacy and Promotion
Appendix A: Raw Data
Attitudes about Braille by the General Public
Braille Technology (General)
Braille Reading Population
Braille Selection and Collection Content
Braille from Libraries
Web-Braille and BARD
Braille in Educational Settings
Timeliness of Braille
Interface with Publishers
Appendix B: Online Resources
Appendix C: WTBBL Survey Results
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), a division of the Library of Congress, collaborated with the Perkins School for the Blind to hold thefirst Braille Summit on the school campus in Watertown, Massachusetts, June 19–21, 2013.Themed The Future of Braille, the two-and-one-half-day conference was attended by more than 100 librarians, technologists, braille producers, and braille literacy professionals as well as braille readers and parents of children who use braille. Topics included federal policy issues; the role of braille literacy in employment, education, and personal and community life; collection development; braille technology; braille production; and the need for a new, affordable refreshable-braille display technology.
The objective of this Braille Summit was to determine the mix of NLS products and services that best meets the needs of today’s braille readersand supports an increase in braille literacy. Stakeholders discussed, debated, and recommended braille policies, products, and services in future program operations. The summit also highlighted developments proffered by other organizational leaders in the field, many of whom were represented on the program. The U.S. Department of Education recently issued its “Dear Colleague” letter advising educators that braille instruction be provided for students as needed and included in their individual education plans. The National Braille Press Center for Braille Innovation (CBI) and the DAISY Consortium Transforming Braille Group are working on developing a cost-efficient braille display. And the Braille Authority of North America has just adopted the Unified English Braille code, which will help to simplify the learning and usage of the code.
The conference also featured the release of the third edition of World Braille Usage, a compendium of the braille codes and standards of 142 countries. World Braille Usage was originally compiled by UNESCO in 1954 and later updated by UNESCO and NLS in 1990. This third revision—a collaboration of NLS and Perkins—includes 133 languages that have been transcribed into 137 different braille alphabet and punctuation codes. (For more information visit
The Braille Summit highlighted the efforts of all stakeholders in moving braille forward in the coming millennium and beyond. Proceedings were streamed live on the Perkins website, and remote viewers were able to ask questions of panelists via e-mail and Twitter. Sessions were recorded and may be viewed at
The background for this event was presented in theReport of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, September 2013, as follows:
Braille is universally recognized as the literacy medium for people who are blind or severely visually impaired. Unlike audio formats, braille is a direct corollary to print. Each letter, each capitalization and punctuation mark, each paragraph, heading, and emphasis mark is displayed in braille with the same fidelity as print. Text breaks, sections and chapters, footnotes, endnotes, references, and sidebars are all clearly portrayed. Mathematical symbols, equations, numbers, and notations are rendered plainly for the reader. Scientific notation, tables, charts, graphs, maps, flow charts, and related presentations can be rendered precisely for the braille reader. The braille music system contains all the notations that provide not only the notes but also the nuances of a musical score. This level of detail is not possible in audio renderings of text. Yet, this level of detail, gained through literacy in print or in braille, is critical for success in education, and in the pursuit of jobs in today’s information economy. Without this access, blind and severely visually impaired students and workers face barriers that significantly impact their ability to compete effectively in today’s information-dependent world.
NLS has played a fundamental role in providing hard-copy braille materials since its inception in 1931. Braille readership has waxed and waned over the years, and a disturbing downward trend in adult braille literacy is currently a topic of serious discussion among consumer organizations, educators, and other stakeholders in the blindness field.
For the most part, adults who read braille fluently learned to read it as children. But people who lose their vision later in life can and do learn to read braille with varying levels of proficiency. Of the U.S. population of blind people who are employed (only some 30 percent of the blind population),approximately 90 percent are braille readers. Because of the vast importance of literacy in American society, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) legislation recognizes braille as the first option for children who are blind or severely visually impaired.Students are using braille in different ways than they did just ten years ago. With increased access to devices with refreshable-braille displays, the demand for electronic braille has increased. However, hard-copy braille continues to play an important role for beginning and advanced readers alike.
Like print, the options for reading braille are changing. A braille reader can now read braille displayed on refreshable braille devices. These devices, which are usually connected to a computer or integrated into a portable system, consist of a line or more of braille cells made up of pins that correspond to the six dots of the cells. These pins change position, rising and falling as the display refreshes to display new lines of braille text. Thus the braille reader can read an electronic braille file in a manner similar to reading print on a computer screen.
NLS currently produces approximately 500 titles in braille and 40 magazines in braille each year. Production costs include two distinct phases: transcription and embossing/binding. Making braille eReaders available to all patrons will shrink the demand for hard copies of braille books and magazines, thus saving the cost of production. In time, some titles may not need to be produced in hard copy at all. With embossing and storage costs eliminated, NLS may be able to reintroduce large reference materials such as an unabridged dictionary or encyclopedia.
Hard-copy braille is bulky, requiring considerable space to store and maintain. Within the NLS network, states are consolidating braille collections and in many cases contracting with larger libraries to provide handling and storage services. Although electronic braille is not expected to completely eliminate the need for hard-copy braille, future production processes and reduced demand may in the longterm lead to braille being stored digitally and produced in hard copy only on demand.