American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Winter 2016       BRAILLE

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A Cry for Unity in Creating Textbooks for the Blind

by Carlton Anne Cook Walker

Reprinted from Braille Monitor, December 2015

Carlton WalkerFrom the Editor: Carlton Anne Cook Walker is president emerita of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). In the fall of 2015 she took a position as manager of Braille education programs at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute in Baltimore. In this capacity she writes to express the concern of the National Federation of the Blind about the lack of standardization in the states regarding the Braille code used in mathematics textbooks. This is an updated version of an article recently published in the Braille Monitor.

As you may know, Unified English Braille (UEB) replaced the current literary Braille code (EBAE, or English Braille, American Edition) on January 4, 2016. In 2012 the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) resolved to take this action, but to retain the Nemeth Code for all Mathematics- and Science-related texts. BANA did not waver from this position in its public statements on this matter in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Unfortunately, in November, 2015, a split in the BANA membership led the organization to set forth the following statement regarding Nemeth Code: "BANA stands by our original motion to adopt UEB as a complete code as well as the implementation statement issued in 2014 in which we expressed that the Nemeth Code remains integral to Braille in the United States. The board of BANA could not reach consensus regarding the establishment of a single standard code for technical materials for Braille in the United States. The decision to use UEB or the Nemeth Code within UEB context for technical materials should be made based on Braille readers' individual needs."

BANA's current statement is confusing. However, its original motion to adopt Unified English Braille to replace the current English Braille American Edition in the United States (while maintaining the Nemeth Code for mathematics and science notation, 1972 revision and the Music Braille Code 1997) is the course of action most recently approved by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) in Resolution 2015-29 and first approved in Resolution 2012-13. The American Council of the Blind (ACB) also passed a resolution in 2012 supporting UEB only if Nemeth Code is retained.

As the January 4, 2016, deadline approached, the change from EBAE to UEB Braille in the literary context proceeded rather smoothly. While some expressed regret at one or more of the nine contractions eliminated in UEB and the change in spacing, contraction use, some punctuation, and highlighting of text, 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.

At some point in the process, a few individuals began advocating for the complete abandonment of Nemeth Code in favor of "UEB Math," contrary to the wishes of most blind individuals and professionals in the STEM fields in this country, and counter to the unwavering guidance of BANA. "UEB Maths" is a term (used in "All UEB countries," by the way) that refers to the numbers and mathematical operations included in UEB. Please note that UEB Maths uses Literary Braille numbers only--that is, numbers written on the upper portion of the Braille cell. The representation 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 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 the 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," (reprinted below), sets forth a brief history leading up to the current situation. "Talking Points" contains links to the referenced files.

A May 2006 article in Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness (JVIB), "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 for the implementation of UEB and how it impacts Nemeth Code. At this point, twenty-one states (Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, 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 they will go the "All UEB" route, but students who request Nemeth materials will still be provided these materials. Only one state, Massachusetts, has declared that it plans completely to 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 "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 <[email protected]>.

Talking Points Regarding UEB Math Versus Nemeth Issues

Current BANA Guidance on the Issue

Implementation of Unified English Braille (UEB), of November 9, 2014, at:

Provisional Guidance for Transcription Using the Nemeth Code within UEB Contexts, November 2014, at:

BANA Press Release, November, 2013, at:

Motion to Adopt UEB, November 2, 2012, at: <>

NFB Position on the Matter

NFB Resolution 2015-29, at: <>

NFB Resolution 2012-13: at <>

ACB Position on the Matter

ACB Resolution 2012-07: at <>

States going "rogue" can only hurt students.

Teachers of students with blindness/visual impairment will have LESS time to instruct children.

"All UEB" state high school and college graduates will be ill-prepared to enter the postsecondary 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.

There is no certification for "All UEB" transcription in the US.

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