Technical Presentations to Braille Authority of North America

On April 28, 2012 the National Technical Braille Committee made a series of presentations to the Braille Authority of North America in St. Louis, MO. Each of these presentations is reprinted in this blog category. We hope you find them educational and useful.

BANA St Louis 2012 Cary Supalo


I wish to spend a few minutes to discuss with you why I believe the proposed UEB Braille system is a form of regression in the literacy of the blind as compared to a form of progression. I myself have been a Braille reader since 1986. I learned it in middle school. As part of my education, I learned early on how to use the Nemeth Braille code. The Nemeth code is not a code that you learn all at one time. Rather, it is a code where you learn it as you advance into your math and science career. Thus, it is possible for a Braille reader who does not advance into math beyond basic geometry to ever need a larger understanding of the Nemeth code. This contributes to the fact that the more a person with a visual impairment advances into courses in the what are known as the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, (STEM) professions, which is rarely done, may explain why the Nemeth code in these more advanced technical areas is not appreciated. The majority of Braille readers today do not enter STEM career paths. Thus, the majority of the Braille users in the English speaking nations of the world do not have to learn extensive Nemeth code.

I however through my education as a Ph.D. chemist, was required to take courses through calculus 3, physics in the areas of mechanics and electricity and magnetism, and progressed into thermodynamics and quantum chemistry. I have a solid understanding of the higher more advanced areas of the Nemeth code. Thanks for my strong interest in STEM courses; I was able to do this. If it wasn’t for Nemeth code’s innate ability to use dropped numbers as part of its system thus freeing up the upper part of the cell to be used by mathematical functions. Dr. Nemeth’s strong background in mathematics is one of its greatest assets. This enabled Dr. Nemeth to create symbology for all areas of mathematics beyond algebra. The Nemeth code thus opened doors of opportunity for me to use a standard Braille code that could be used to Braille my technical materials. Without Nemeth Braille support that I received at Purdue University from the TAEVIS Braille production facility, I could not have pursued my chemistry degree.

Math and science by their very nature are challenging for most learners. Additionally, the 2-dimentionality of mathematics can be difficult for many learners to understand. Dr. Nemeth’s strong understanding of mathematics and a comprehension of the visual aspects of math symbols enhanced his ability to create notation that conveyed useful aspects of visual information to a Braille reader. For example, when the superscript symbol (Dots 4-5) is used in the upper part of the cell, this indicates to a Braille reader the superscript is raised in print. Further, the use of the subscript symbol (dots 5-6) in the lower part of the cell indicates to the Braille reader the number is dropped. The use of the (dot 5) symbol indicates to the Braille reader return to baseline. This is but one example of numerous that the Nemeth code has to offer math and science Braille readers.

Further, we all know the UEB requires the use of more Braille cells to convey the same information as the Nemeth Braille code. By requiring the use of more Braille cells I believe makes it more difficult for the Braille reader to learn the technical materials. Therefore, I would recommend that BANA should not consider the adoption of a Braille system that requires the use of significant numbers of additional Braille cells than is currently required in the Nemeth code. If this is done, I believe this will make it more difficult for students with visual impairments to fully understand mathematics and thus will discourage them from considering career paths in STEM. It is for this reason why I believe the adoption of UEB would be a form of regression as compared to a form of progression in the Braille literacy efforts today. I wish I had more time to discuss this with you; however I will defer to my colleagues. However, I am available for questions from any of you while I am here, or after the meeting. I would like to thank you all for your attention.


Filed under: National Technical Braille Committee

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