5.1. The Basics
5.1.1. What is Braille?
Braille is a reading method where the reader usually uses their index fingertips to read a system of raised dots on a paper page or alternative such as plastic overlay etc.
5.1.2. Braille Rights
Any visually impaired person has the legal right, on request, to have any or all communications from a statutory body sent to them in braille.
5.1.3. Sourcing Braille Transcription
In the Republic of Ireland, there are three main service-providers of braille-transcription, namely: National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI), Arbour Hill, and Child Vision (educational). Since 2013, these service-providers choose only to provide for Unified English Braille (UEB), and refuse to provide for Standard English Braille (SEB) – see 5.3, below. Where SEB is sought, currently, a public body, without its own in-house brailling system, must have recourse to Visual Access (in Belfast), or the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), based in Britain.
Some statutory bodies have their own inhouse braille transcription facilities, while most currently use external service-providers for this purpose.
Where a statutory body opts to set up its own in-house brailling facilities, by acquiring a braille embosser and braille transcription software, it is imperative that adequate training is provided from the outset so that there is someone always available to provide the brailling service – regardless of who is on leave or who has changed job, etc.
Where a statutory body has its own in-house brailling facility, all other departments in that organisation need to be aware of this facility, and suggest braille as an option to visually impaired people.
5.2. Turnaround Time
It is sometimes stated that braille can take a long time to produce. Where this does happen, it is generally because the transcription service-provider has a backlog of other customers.
A braille transcript itself can be produced relatively quickly – about 10-15 minutes longer than producing a print document. The additional time results from the electronic document having to be edited in the braille transcription software, as the page sizes and number of characters per page differ between braille and print.
Otherwise, generally, the greatest time obstacle for delivery of braille is the delay due to documents being sent in the post. Documents using “Free Post for the Blind” have been known to have taken up to two weeks to have been delivered from one address to another.
If, for any reason, braille documents are delivered late to the service-user, reasonable accommodation must be made so that the service-user is in no way disadvantaged in relation to their sighted comparitor, as a result of the delayed communication.
In most situations, it is a faster turnaround for the brailled letter to be sent directly to the service-user, themselves; and this is the general default preference as long as Section 1 of this policy document is being adhered to (i.e., prioritisation of end-user-preference).
Where direct means of braille communication are failing (due to a combination of failures of the braille transcription service-provider and lack of understanding on the part of the generic customer interface of the public body, the service-user should be asked if they would prefer the transcribed braille communication to go to themselves, directly, or whether they would prefer it to go through the main contact point in the public body that they were already dealing with (e.g., the Consultant’s office in a medical setting, or an Executive Head Officer etc., in a general Civil Service setting).
problems often occur where the visually impaired citizen has not received the communication (at all, or in time), from the braille transcription service provider; and where the citizen is dealing with a generic “customer service” etc., they, the citizen, finds that they are the ones blamed for the breakdown in communications – e.g., that they missed their appointment because they themselves were responsible, since they did not contact the braille transcription service-provider.
For this reason, where a braille-reading service-user has been identified by a public body, there needs to be a designated specialised contact within the public body so that such breakdowns in communications can be rectified to the satisfaction of the braille-reading service-user.
In theory, the Access Officer in a statutory body would be ideal for such a role.
5.3. Types of Braille
All people who request braille must have the choice of Standard English Braille (SEB) or Standard Irish Braille, as opposed to Unified English Braille (UEB) or its Irish language equivalent. The preference is decided by the end-user and not the braille service-provider, no matter what the latter may tell you. SEB and UEB braille can easily be produced by changing the setting in the braille transcription software. It is a matter of simply checking and unchecking a box.
People who are used to SEB may find it difficult to read UEB, and vice versa. Moreover, SEB is far less cluttered, and has been the standard for many years. Therefore, many people find SEB preferable and, by default, easier to read. It is important to note, however, that SEB vs. UEB is a matter of reasonable accommodation and end-user choice, not endorsement.
It is claimed by some that SEB is not available in the Republic of Ireland (cf. Participation Matters, National Disability Authority, 2022, p.34). However, this is incorrect in two respects. Firstly, some public institutions, with their in-house braille-production, do produce SEB on request (e.g., Dublin City Council, Bank of Ireland, etc.). Secondly, the primary braille transcription service-providers can very easily produce SEB, but simply refuse to, a discriminatory position which, we contend, violates our Human Rights to accessible information (cf. CRPD, Article 9).
In sum, when a braille transcription service refuses to provide documents in SEB, if requested, the public body should insist that SEB be produced – since the tail should not be wagging the dog; and the public authority, if possible, should cite breech of contract where relevant.
5.4. Paper type and size, and formatting preferences
Specialised braille paper should be used for reasons of thickness and surface smoothness. For example, if the surface is too smooth, it is more difficult to read the braille.
To be on the safe side, we recommend that the default be braille on one side of a page only. This is because when the braille paper is not very heavy, the braille comes through on both sides and can be difficult to read comfortably.
The recommended default paper size is around 9.25 inches by 12 inches, or 23.5cm x 30.5cm, which may include tractor feed. That is an approximate as there are different sizes. Essentially without tractor feed it is approximately the same width as A-4 but slightly longer. The primary advantage of this size is that, unlike the larger (12 inches by 12 inches, 30cm by 30cm), it is very difficult to store and cannot be filed in standard folders, because of its enormous size; whereas, by contrast, the A4 type is ready-made for filing etc.
Generally speaking, the formatting of a document so that it is suitable for braille-reading, is done by the braille transcription software, and not by someone altering it in Word etc. beforehand.
The braille-reading service-user should find that:
- The brailled text should only ever be left indented – not centred, right indented, or justified.
- Single-line spacing is the recommended default preference.
- Indented Paragraphs should be indicated by two single spaces (i.e., unlike the print equivalent).
However, as with everything else, the preferences of an individual service-user are paramount, and these should be ascertained as a matter of protocol. Clearly, when the preferences of the service-user deviate from the default templates on the transcription software, they must be reasonably accommodated.
Where letters are sent to be transcribed into braille, it should be remembered to keep the address of the sender at the top of the letter. Too often, statutory bodies just send the letter-text by email to the braille transcription service, forgetting that it needs to be treated like a letter. The recipient may then have no idea from where the letter has originated.
This problem all-too-frequently occurs because by default, the digital form of the letter doesn’t have an address because it is put onto headed paper (which has the address on it), only when it is put into print. This headed-paper process does not happen when putting a letter into braille, so this needs to be compensated for by putting the addresses in the original letter file, or making sure that it is added before being turned into braille.
5.6. Forms and Surveys
Generally, forms and surveys cannot be filled in in braille. A braille-reader may request the text of a form or survey in braille so that they can use it in tandem with another method of filling it in, and indeed, they may wish to give the sought information separately in braille, if they have access to a braille machine.
Otherwise, if a form is in accessible Word (see Section 3), a user of a braille notetaker may be able to independently fill in a form and return it electronically, by email.
5.7. Promotion of Braille as an Option
All statutory bodies, at all appropriate points, should make it clear that the option of braille communication is available on request.