New Mexico Teacher Creates Navajo Braille Code

Jan 10, 2018

Carol Green talks about her braille system for the Navajo language, to her knowledge the only such system in existence, on Thursday in Farmington.
Credit Jon Austria/The Farmington Daily Times

A New Mexico teacher has developed a braille code for the Navajo language. Carol Green works for the Farmington Municipal School District, teaching students who are visually impaired. The code she created uses the English braille system with unique changes to account for the nuances of the Diné language. She spoke about it with KNAU's Aaron Granillo.

Aaron Granillo: I want to go back first to your backstory. What inspired you to create this new braille code?

Carol Green: Well, I’m half Navajo. My dad is from Lukachukai, Arizona. I taught on the Navajo Nation for 15 years and my vision started declining since 2000. And, by 2009 I did need to learn braille myself. And, I inquired as to whether anyone had heard of a Navajo braille code from the Braille Authority of North America and from the Library of Congress. But, neither had heard of anyone developing one. So, in 2015 I decided that I would start developing a code because I wanted to continue to learn and use the Diné language.

And, before we get into how your code works, can you tell us how does the traditional English braille system work?

So, braille consists of six dots, which is called a cell. You have the braille alphabet from A to Z. Like, dot one is “a” and then when you combine dot one and two together that makes “b,” and then it continues like that all the way to “z.” As you continue to learn braille, they start to put in, like, shortcuts. They’re called contractions to just make it a little faster and easier instead of just reading letter by letter.

And, the Diné language is extremely complex. It has so many more inflections and punctuations compared to English. How did you account for those changes in your Navajo braille code?

The Navajo language is in some cases a requirement for students to apply for scholarships. Carol Begay Green wanted blind or visually impaired students to have fair opportunity.
Credit Jon Austria/The Farmington Daily Times

So, we addressed the vowel tones – A, E, I, and O – just as they are in English braille. And, then since we’re in the southwest a lot of braille users may have been exposed to Spanish. We decided to borrow the accented á, é, í, and ó from Spanish braille. And, in braille there’s a lot of indicators. We decided to use an indicator for the nasal tone vowels, the slash L (Ł, ł), the glottal stop. The reason why we did this is we also want to keep in mind the population of students that would be learning braille. Some of them may have other learning disabilities, so it’s important to keep it simple. And, it actually is quite easy and simple to read.

Which students are using this new code? Are they like you, people who already know Dine? Or are they students who are actively learning the Navajo language?

My intent was for students who are attending schools throughout the Navajo Nation and in the border towns to be able to learn Navajo alongside their sighted peers if they’re a braille user. So, my intent is for every child to be able to access and learn Navajo the same as their sighted peers.

What do you hope future students who get their hands on Navajo braille – what do you hope they gain from learning the Navajo language?

Some of my hopes are that it opens another opportunity or window to them. That they can be able to enjoy their culture, progress in the Navajo language. So, if a child is attending Navajo language and they’re only getting the auditory aspect they can’t participate in the written part of that. And, through the Navajo braille they would be able to do that.