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article imageDr. Abraham Nemeth, inventor of the Braille math code, dies at 94

By Robert Kingett     Oct 2, 2013 in Health
Nemeth Code is the code for mathematics and scientific notation in North America. It's regularly taught as a form of Braille study, bringing new independence into student's lives. The creator of this life-changing code died today.
Dr. Abraham Nemeth, blind mathematician and most well known for creating the Nemeth Code, has died peacefully. He was 94.
Nemeth was born in New York and attended public school before studying mathematics at Brooklyn College despite the repeated affirmations by his counselors that he could never have a career in math because he was blind.
Believing what his counselors told him he majored in psychology. He got a B.A. in psychology from Brooklyn College and an M.A. in psychology from Columbia University where he had a day job at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) that he didn't like. His wife noticed that he wasn't happy and encouraged his pursuit of his passion. Nemeth started taking math classes at night at Brooklyn College and then got the teaching position there.
After prodding from his wife and a change of heart, he proceeded to continue his studies in math where he began making up his own Braille math code in 1946 because people used the Taylor Code from England for writing mathematics in Braille, and he thought that the Taylor Code used too many grouping symbols.
He began devising his own code with readers in college. He had already come up with rules to tell readers how to read mathematics aloud so he started working on Braille code which simulated his rules for speech. For example, when you say “x to the n power,” the phrase “to the” means “begin a superscript,” and the word “power” means, “return to the baseline.” So in his Braille code symbols were created that mean “begin superscript” and “return to the baseline.”
The code was published by the AFB after another blind employee, Dr. Clifford Witcher, a physicist from Columbia University, asked if he had a table of integrals in Braille.
A table of integrals is a long list of formulas for performing a calculus operation called integration. A table of integrals is part of the holy liturgy for calculus students, engineers, physicists, and many others.
When Nemeth said he had one but it was in his own code, Witcher tried it out anyway with lessons from Nemeth. Impressed, the elated student presented the code to the Mathematics Subcommittee of the Joint Uniform Type Committee. This committee, an ancestor of BANA, was responsible for Braille codes in the U.S. and England (the word “Joint” referred to the U.S.A. and England).
This code eventually was published by the American Printing House for the Blind and became known as the Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Science Notation.
Nemeth worked for 30 years at the University of Detroit and helped to launch the computer science program there in the 1960s. He remained active after retirement well into his 90s through committees at the National Federation of the Blind and transcribing Hebrew prayer books to braille among many other endeavors. Nemeth's code is still used today and his pioneering work has greatly helped to advance the accessibility of mathematics for the blind.
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