A Short History of the
Braille Authority of North America in the United States

The Braille Authority of North America, familiarly known as BANA, is the organization charged with promoting and facilitating the uses, teaching and production of braille. It is comprised of representatives from sixteen different organizations of and for people who are blind and visually impaired, and meets twice a year to promulgate rules, make interpretations, and render opinions and decisions pertaining to all braille codes and their production. In addition to those meetings, technical committee members meet regularly to work on specific tasks in specialty areas relating to braille and tactile materials. BANA officially came into existence in its current form in 1976. However, before that date, there is a long history of work relating to the development of the braille code and standards for braille materials in the United States. It is from these roots that the current BANA structure has developed.

At the turn of the 20th century, there were several tactile codes in existence. Blind people often had to learn several codes to read materials from various producers. In 1901, the American Blind People's Higher Education and General Improvement Association passed a resolution to appoint a Tactile Print Investigating Commission to test the various systems in use for readability. In 1905, this association became known as the American Association of Workers for the Blind (AAWB) and the commission became the Uniform Type Committee, the first official braille authority. It shortly joined forces with American Association of Instructors of the Blind (AAIB). The goal was to create a single uniform code within the English speaking world, not just within the United States (a goal not realized to this day).

It wasn't until 1918 that the compromise code, Braille Grade 1 1/2 was adopted officially by AAWB and the AAIB for use in the United States. (Robert Irwin's book The War of the Dots provides an interesting history of this adoption process.) While not a unified code with Great Britain, at least the codes were unified in this country. By 1932, the call for a more international English code led to a committee of members from AAWB and AAIB to go to London, where the British and American Braille Committees signed the Treaty of London, thus establishing Standard English Braille. While there were still some code differences, the codes were now much more similar.

As the code became more widely used, and materials more available, it became apparent that some changes in the adopted code would make reading and producing materials easier. In 1950, the Joint Uniform Braille Committee (JUBC) was formed, comprised of three members each from AAWB and AAIB. This committee studied problems of usage, adding and dropping signs for literary braille. It was this group that also recommended the adoption of the Nemeth Code for Mathematics, in 1952. In 1956, the JUBC went back to London to try once again to negotiate differences between the American and British braille codes, with some success.

In 1959, the English Braille, American Edition 1959 was formally adopted by AAIB and AAWB. It was also in that year that the JUBC became the "AAIB-AAWB Braille Authority," with only three members jointly appointed by those organizations. Subcommittees of experts in the various braille specialties were appointed by the Braille Authority to assist in development of all braille codes. The original subcommittees included Mathematical and Scientific Notation, Music Notation, and Braille Illustration, and Textbook Techniques.

The Braille Authority and the subcommittees worked diligently for many years, produced revisions to the existing codes and developed new ones, such as the Textbook Format Code presented and adopted in 1965. In 1966, the Braille Authority expanded to five members, and an Advisory Council was established consisting of twelve members selected by the presidents of AAWB and AAIB (which had become the Association for the Education of the Visually Handicapped, AEVH).

The work of these dedicated individuals is striking to consider, in these days of faxes and e-mail. There were few resources available in those years for frequent meetings and much of the work was done through the mail. As the years went on, the Braille Authority considered plans of how to include a greater amount of feedback from people using and producing braille, and to increase revenue to extend the important work done by the committees. In 1975, the National Braille Association (NBA) joined AAWB and AEVH as co-sponsor, and the name officially became the AAWB-AEVH-NBA Braille Authority.

Finally in 1976, the Braille Authority voted to restructure by inviting other organizations of and for the blind to join, and in 1977, the Braille Authority of North America was born. Initial member organizations included not only AAWB, AEVH, and NBA but also the American Council of the Blind (ACB), the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), Clovernook Home and School for the Blind, National Federation of the Blind (NFB), and the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS).

Over the years, some of these member organizations have changed, but BANA's mission and purpose remains the same: to promote and facilitate the uses, teaching, and production of braille. Current member organizations are:

The technical committees have also expanded, reflecting the new complexities of the task of providing materials needed by current braille readers. The technical committees currently are computer notation, linear braille, literary braille, mathematics, music, and braille formats. Ad hoc committees are also formed, such as foreign language code, tactile graphics, braille signage, and the Unified Braille Code. These committees consist of up to five persons with expertise in their particular field, and are a mix of teachers, transcribers and consumers.

BANA depends on feedback from the field to do its work. It is the readers, transcribers, teachers, and producers of braille who are its stakeholders, and from whom suggestions for changes, additions, and clarifications of code and format rules should come. BANA invites those who use and love braille to communicate their thoughts by contacting the current Chair of BANA or by contacting any of its member organizations.