Braille Monitor                                             December 2015

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A Cry for Unity in Creating Textbooks for the Blind

by Carlton Anne Cook Walker

Carlton Anne Cook WalkerFrom the Editor: Carlton Anne Cook Walker is the manager of Braille education programs at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. In this capacity she writes to express the concern of the National Federation of the Blind about the lack of standardization in the states in mathematics textbooks. Here is how she recounts the issue of the Unified English Braille Code and the Nemeth Code:

As you may know, Unified English Braille (UEB) is set to replace the current literary Braille code (EBAE—English Braille, American Edition) on January 4, 2016. The Braille Authority of North America (BANA) resolved to take this action but to retain Nemeth Code for all Mathematics and Science-related texts. BANA has not wavered from this position, as evidenced by its publications on this matter in 2012, 2013, and 2014. This course of action was most recently approved by the National Federation of the Blind in Resolution 2015-29. The American Council of the Blind also passed a resolution in 2012 supporting UEB only if Nemeth Code is retained.

As the January 4, 2016, deadline approaches, the change from EBAE to UEB Braille in the literary context has proceeded rather smoothly. While some have expressed regret at one or more of the nine contractions eliminated in UEB, the transition to UEB for literary documents is a relatively minor one. Many believed that updating Nemeth Code to include UEB rather than EBAE for its literary content would present the same orderly and nationally-cohesive transition. Unfortunately, this was not to be so.

At some point in the process, a few individuals began advocating for the complete abandonment of Nemeth Code in favor of “UEB Maths” contrary to the wishes of both blind consumer groups in this country and counter to the unwavering guidance from BANA. By way of background, “UEB Maths” is a term (used in “All UEB” countries, by the way) which refers to the numbers and mathematical operations included in UEB. Please note that UEB Maths uses raised (literary) numbers only. This use of numbers in the upper portion of the Braille cell creates the need for numerous and duplicative number indicators and letter indicators in many mathematical equations.

Unfortunately, some states have taken the position of the “All UEB” abandonment of Nemeth Code splinter group under advisement—despite clear opposition to such a plan by the NFB and the ACB and despite BANA’s position on this matter. In response to the movement to remove Nemeth Code and use only UEB for all literary, mathematical, and science purposes, the NFB membership adopted Resolution Number 2015-29 at the 2015 NFB Annual Convention in Florida. This Resolution (1) urges state departments of education across the United States to follow the BANA guidelines regarding the use of Nemeth Code for mathematical documents and (2) urges BANA to clarify that, "Braille code standards are not set by individual states,” and, “to indicate unequivocally that the Nemeth Code, with the guidance for Nemeth in UEB contexts, is the standard for mathematics Braille in the United States.” I urge you to again review Resolution 2015-29, for it sets forth the issue of concern in a clear, logical, and concise manner.

On August 24, 2015, NFB President Mark Riccobono sent a letter to each department of education in every state. In his letter, President Riccobono sets forth the issues involved with this matter and provides guidance to the educational professionals, “The differences between the presentation of mathematics in Nemeth Code and math using UEB symbols are so fundamental that a blind child moving to a state with a different math standard could find his or her math books and tests inaccessible even though they are in Braille.” President Riccobono urges each state’s department of education, “to eliminate needless confusion and unnecessary cost by using the Nemeth Code for Mathematics and Science Notation, with BANA's guidance for Nemeth in UEB contexts, as the standard for math Braille.” A companion article, “Talking Points,” sets forth a brief history leading up to the current situation. “Talking Points” contains links to the referenced files.

A May 2006 Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness (JVIB) article, “Studies of Braille Reading Rates and Implications for the Unified English Braille Code” reports, “the mathematical computational format, algebra, and calculus were 21 percent to 54 percent longer in UEBC, linear arithmetic was only 1 percent longer, and computer code samples were 1 percent longer to 4.5 percent shorter.” As noted in the article, this significant increase in the length of equations in the higher-level math areas of mathematical computational equations, algebra, and calculus cause grave concern about the potential negative impact upon Braille readers in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. “Nemeth Code’s use of lower cell numbers allows the upper part of the Braille cell to be used for mathematical functions, critical to the overall successful use of the code for mathematics,” observed Dr. Cary Supalo in a presentation at the Spring Meeting of BANA on April 28, 2012.

“UEB versus Nemeth States” lists the public positions taken by various states with regard to plans regarding the implementation of UEB and how it impacts Nemeth Code. At this point, fourteen states (California, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) have indicated that they will follow BANA’s guidance to retain Nemeth Code. Two states (North Carolina and Utah) have indicated that the state will go the “All UEB” route, but students who request Nemeth materials will still be provided these materials, and only one state (Massachusetts) has declared that it plans to completely eliminate Nemeth Code from its training, instruction, and curricular materials. One state, South Dakota, has indicated that it will fully support both Nemeth Code and the “All UEB” option, while three states (Kansas, North Dakota, and Wyoming) have declared that the “Nemeth Code or “All UEB” question will be decided on a piecemeal, local level by each school district.

To date, the majority of the states have not taken a final position on this matter. However, many of these states have disseminated proposals regarding whether they plan to follow BANA’s guidance on retaining the Nemeth Code. We are hearing that NFB affiliates have not been contacted in many states even though other non-consumer stakeholders have received information about these proposals.

Please contact your state Department of Education regarding this matter. Please review the enclosed materials (particularly the “Talking Points”), and advocate for the retention of Nemeth Code for blind students now and in the future. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Carlton Anne Cook Walker, manager of Braille education programs, National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute at (410) 659-9314, extension 2225, or at <cwalker@nfb.org>.

Talking Points Regarding UEB Math Versus Nemeth Issues

Current BANA Guidance on the Issue

NFB Position on the matter

ACB Position on the matter

States going “rogue” can only hurt students.

Switching to UEB Math will be duplicative and expensive.

Currently, all math and science materials are in Nemeth Code.

Adding UEB Math will erect barriers to relocation within the United States.

Families needing to move to or from different states for economic or security reasons risk putting their children behind in math due to the need to learn a new Braille math code.

There is no reason to set up a system that will automatically place Braille readers at an academic disadvantage upon relocation.

Teachers of Students with Blindness/Visual Impairment will have LESS time to instruct children

Rogue, “All UEB” state colleges and universities would be forced to choose between following the national BANA Nemeth model or taking the “all UEB” detour.

“All UEB” state high school and college graduates will be ill-prepared to enter the post-secondary workforce in any STEM field due to what will become their lack of Nemeth Code knowledge.

Abandoning Nemeth Code will create a problem with accessible math textbooks. All current math textbooks have been produced in Nemeth Code.

NIMAC (National Instructional Materials Access Center) would need to maintain two sets of each math and science textbook, one in Nemeth Code and one in “all UEB.”

There is no certification for “all UEB” transcription in the US.

Poor quality textbooks violate FAPE and place school districts at risk for litigation based upon the poor quality of textbooks Braille readers receive.

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