Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Learning Nemeth Code

The Braille code that Louis created opened the world of reading to the blind community, but it wasn’t until later that the blind would have access to math and science. In 1946, Dr. Abraham Nemeth created a code during his doctoral studies and the Braille Authority of North America eventually adopted it in 1952. The code uses the six dot cell, which makes it easier for Braille readers to learn, plus they can use the same equipment like a slate and stylus or Perkins brailler to write out math and science equations. Even though I’ve been a Braille reader for 15 years, my class this term will be my first introduction to the Nemeth code.

Our book starts by having us learn the basics, including how to write our numbers and the basic operations such as addition and multiplication. The text then moves on to explaining how to Braille out math problems in both linear and spatial forms. Linear forms mean equations that are all on the same line, and spatial forms extend to multiple lines. As crazy as it may seem, we ask our blind students to learn how to vertically arrange their Braille math problems the same way their sighted peers do. I personally find this absurd because students spend much of their time making sure that their brailler is aligned correctly, then actually doing the math.

Our assignment for this week included problems as simple as 12 + 9 and as challenging as 128.65 divided by 83. I think I spent more time actually doing the math then I did writing out the Braille, but I digress. Since my class is online, we’re using PerkyDuck to submit our assignments. Having a Braille display means that I am able to do the assignments, but trying to do spatial math on a single line display is about as frustrating as you might think. It’s bad enough that you have to make sure that your Braille is aligned with the previous line, but the only way to access the line above is to move your cursor. If this isn’t a good enough reason for a full page Braille display, I don’t know what is.

At this point I feel like the abacus is a much better way for visually impaired students to learn and compute simple math problems, but this may change as we get into more complex math. I would love to hear from readers who use Braille to do math and science. Do you think we should have our students spending time fussing with their braillers so that it looks like print, or do you think there is a better method? I believe in giving students as many options as possible, so I’m curious to hear people’s experiences.

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