Braille change angers blind readers

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The Independent Online
A "CAMPAIGN for Real Braille" has been set up after plans to introduce capital letters into the braille alphabet have split the blind community.

The Braille Authority of the United Kingdom (BAUK) has announced that by 2000 it is introducing capital letters into a code which has previously only used lower-case characters.

Supporters say that it is necessary because of the increasing use of capitals as abbreviations, as well as their use in e-mail addresses. It will also bring the UK in line with other English-speaking countries.

But opponents, such as Sara Morgan, the 25-year-old founder of the campaign, argue it will push up costs and make books more cumbersome. "There aren't many industries where they actively make costs go up," she said. "What I think is particularly ironic, though, is the fact this is going to come in at the same time as the Disability Discrimination Act. So, just as we're asking restaurants to provide braille menus we're making it more expensive to do so."

Braille, devised by Louis Braille in the 19th century is based upon a system of six raised dots arranged to represent each character in the alphabet and several short-form words. Around 12,000 people use braille in this country.

BAUK said that it took the decision to go-ahead with plans to introduce capitals after a questionnaire completed by 1,200 braille readers showed that a majority was in favour of change.

The secretary of BAUK, Stephen Phippen, said: "The reason the decision was made was on the basis of the questionnaire, answered by individual members, not on what BAUK thought."

Overall 46 per cent of people were in favour of introducing a capital letter sign wherever a capital letter appears in print and just under 30 per cent were against. Among the respondents classing themselves as visually impaired (those who have some ability to read by sight) it was more popular compared to those who can read braille only by touch.

Ms Morgan said the figures showed "there wasn't even a majority". But Mr Phippen said: "Those in favour were more or less 50 per cent. Those against were roughly half that. So twice as many people are in favour as against."

A spokesman for the National Library for the Blind said a survey done by it in 1994/5 found readers were not in favour. The results of the BAUK survey however convinced them, and a spokesman said they would implement the change. "We recognise there are advantages and disadvantages and we shall be working with our readers to help them understand how this symbol will operate," he said.

The introduction of capital letters is projected to take place by the end of 1999.

"There are pros and cons," admits Mr Phippen. "But it should be noted that we are the only English speaking country which has not yet introduced capital letters and of all the other countries which have not one has regretted it and tried to move back."

However Ms Morgan added: "We are determined to fight it all the way.They have got to stop trampling over people's rights."