UKAAF logo.New College Worcester logo.

The United Kingdom Association for Accessible Formats (UKAAF) last month announced James Bowden as Chair of the UKAAF Braille Coding Group. A Braille developer for access technology specialists Dolphin Computer Access, James Bowden is also a former student of New College Worcester, a specialist school and college for blind and partially sighted students. Tasked with the development of literary and technical Braille codes used in the UK, the Braille Coding group will also cooperate with Braille organisations and authorities from around the world, including the International Council on English Braille.

UKAAF's aims and objectives are to aid service providers, transcribers, educators and end users in setting a minimum standard for accessible formats, including Braille. The wider aim of the organisation is to enable print disabled people to have an equal opportunity to access information in its many forms. UKAAF Chair, Pete Osborne said:

"It is people like James, with their wealth of knowledge and experience that we need involved in setting standards that are achievable and realistic while maintaining the quality of Braille produced."

James explains why he accepted the role as chair and what Braille means to him:

Photo of James Bowden at his desk in the Dolphin Development office, complete with Braille display!"For me, the amazing thing about Braille is that in itself the concept of six raised dots is so simple, but it is so versatile; it can represent everything from basic letters, numbers and punctuation, to different languages, to complex mathematics, from space-saving contractions to music. You can have Braille on paper or books, on refreshable Braille displays for computers, on labels and even objects as diverse as playing cards, product packaging and outside maps."

"I started learning Braille at my local primary school and then continued at Linden Lodge School. But it was at New College Worcester - or as it was known then Worcester College for the Blind - where I was introduced to a wider range of Braille codes and became a firm advocate of Braille. Like me, New College are really passionate about Braille; Braille is literacy and can significantly increase quality of life.

"I took a degree in mathematics and computer science at St John's College, Cambridge. In fact my final year dissertation was on Braille transcription. I am one of those people who are blessed to know both print and Braille, but use speech and refreshable Braille when working with computers. I use Dolphin's SuperNova on a daily basis both at work and at home.

"I've now been with Dolphin for 14 years and work in their development department. Recently, I have developed the Braille component of EasyConverter, our accessible information creation software that can produce audio, DAISY, large print and, of course, contracted or uncontracted Braille. I also helped add Braille display support to SuperNova."

Many of James' earlier Dolphin projects will be familiar to people with a history of using a screen reader:

"My very first project was Dolphin's Apollo speech synthesiser, but I then moved onto Orpheus, where I mainly worked on the language data. Perhaps one of the more eccentric things I have done in my Dolphin career is to read through an entire 100,000 word dictionary to improve Orpheus' English pronunciation. Great for playing Scrabble though! Most recently though, I have been creating Dolphin's driver for the Nuance Vocalizer synthesiser which was included in the recent release of SuperNova version 12."

Developing and promoting codes, standards, and best-practice for the production and provision of accessible formats, UKAAF focuses on Braille, large print, audio, electronic text, moon and accessible images. As James concludes, the availability of accessible information is passionately backed by people with visual impairments:

"Some people seem to have arguments against Braille, but I firmly believe that Braille has a vital role to play in the lives of visually impaired people and am excited about the possibilities for Braille in the future."

Pete Osborne, the Chairman of UKAAF went on to add, "The passion and commitment shown by James is typical of that of many people who either use or produce accessible formats. If we consider the wider picture of those people who are print disabled, who every day face the problems of information that they are unable, or find it hugely difficult to access, then you can understand why we need a standard of information that they have a right to expect. With the help of James, and others working across the range of accessible formats mentioned, we can and will achieve this."

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