Post date: 
Friday, 6 May 2016
Child reading braille

Today we kick off our new and exclusive five part series on braille. In part one, John Chester, VI Learning Coordinator at The King’s Academy Middlesbrough, shares what you need to know about the transition from Standard English Braille (SEB) to Unified English Braille (UEB).

Five years ago, when it was announced that UEB would be the UK’s official braille code it seemed a very distant change. For many professionals this seemed a daunting prospect because of the changes which define UEB.


UEB differs from SEB as there is less to learn, meaning for beginners it's a little easier. For braille producers, teachers and long-standing users there are changes which will affect you one way or another. Here are just some of them:

  • Nine contractions are no longer used: o’clock (shortform), dd, to, into, by, ble, com, ation, ally
  • And, for, the, of and with can no longer be written next to each other without a space
  • Reduction in the complexity of the rules governing the use of certain contractions
  • Use of specific indicators for bold, italics and underlined text
  • All under one roof – no special codes for maths or computer braille. One code for all.
  • Many new signs used in maths

The change

The UK Association for Accessible Formats (UKAAF) sets standards for alternative formats and in 2015 UEB became the de facto means of braille production for RNIB and all other major braille producers. Much of the work done by UKAAF involves guiding the major exam boards. Obviously this creates a trickle down affect regarding the time sensitive implementation of UEB.

I run a busy VI base with 18 students, three of which (all Year 7 students) are learning braille. The implementation of UEB into my teaching and indeed production of resources is dictated by the UEB exam timetable.


The UEB exam timetable is published on the UKAAF website. The timetable is now onto version nine, so it is essential that we are all aware of the transition into UEB with regards to exams. It is worth noting that you can stay up-to-date by signing up to the UEB mailing list or joining one of the forums.

GCSE and A-Levels in England, Wales and Northern Ireland:

  • 13/14 and 14/15 – exams available in SEB only
  • 15/16 and 16/17 – SEB and UEB
  • 17/18 onwards – UEB only (SEB may be available for some in special circumstances)

My final SEB student didn't want to learn UEB because he wouldn't need it for his GCSE summer exams (2015). When he left this was the start of a new period in our braille teaching.

Starting again

At The King’s Academy we had amassed a huge amount of SEB resources in many subjects. We had to start again and change our approach.

Here are my top tips for the transition:

  • Stay abreast of the changes – use the RNIB and UKAAF websites
  • Train your staff – RNIB offer excellent training and there is also a lot available online
  • Uncontracted braille books are great for younger students – keep these where possible (depending on what punctuation signs are used!)
  • Don’t be too precious – we had to get rid of a lot of braille resources. Some went to charities in Africa, some was passed onto other teachers, but a lot of it had to go
  • Where possible recycle and re-use; we managed to keep a lot of tactile diagrams. Some diagrams had uncontracted braille labels (these are the same in UEB as SEB).
  • Other diagrams could be modified using sticky back braille acetate.

Most importantly – embrace the changes. It is a great time for professionals and students to learn braille from scratch.


Part two: How to get students excited about learning braille


Further information

Insight Online: archive