With One Semester To Go, Clouds Remain over Braille in Math and Science

29 Jul
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Liz Wisecarver, MA, NOMC

Liz Wisecarver, MA, NOMC

Liz earned her master’s in Orientation and Mobility from Louisiana Tech University after attending the adult training program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. She currently lives in Oxford, Miss. and teaches cane travel to public school students.

As teachers of blind students prepare themselves and their students for the January 2016 transition to Unified English Braille (UEB), one area of the tactile code remains unaddressed. The Braille Authority of North America (BANA) voted that UEB would be the standard literary braille code used in the United States, but the group did not unequivocally state that the Nemeth Code should remain as the national standard for mathematics braille.

BANA, comprised of 16 member organizations of and for the blind, meets two times per year to make decisions pertaining to all braille codes. The organization’s web site states that its mission is:

“to assure literacy for tactile readers through the standardization of braille and/or tactile graphics. The purpose of BANA is to promote and to facilitate the uses, teaching, and production of braille. Pursuant to this purpose, BANA will promulgate rules, make interpretations, and render opinions pertaining to braille codes and guidelines for the provisions of literary and technical materials and related forms and formats of embossed materials.”

Maria Morais, NCUEB Coordinator for the National Blindness Professional Certification Board, explained that since BANA has not specified the use of Nemeth code nationwide, each state can currently choose to use Nemeth or UEB for math as part of its UEB implementation plan.

“It’s a mess right now, because some states say keep Nemeth or leave the decision up to each school or teacher,” Maria said. “Kids won’t have seen the other math code until they switch states. So much for the ‘U’ in Unified English Braille!”

Casey Robertson, an instructor at the Institute on Blindness, explained that the ambiguity regarding state-by-state math braille code decisions means that blind students may not be able to read math and science books in other states, teachers and transcribers would need to know both Nemeth and UEB codes, and the American Printing House for the Blind would need to produce duplicate materials in both codes.

“Braille is not taught or produced in isolation,” Casey said. “If one state goes forward with UEB for math and one with Nemeth, everyone is affected. What if a blind student doesn't go to college in the same state? What if he or she needs that book in the other math code? It’s a train wreck until BANA steps up and says this is what we suggest.”

The National Federation of the Blind—in Resolution 2015-29 proposed by Casey at its most recent national convention in Orlando—urges BANA to clarify that individual states should not determine braille code standards and to specify that Nemeth is the standard code for mathematics braille in the United States.

“i hope BANA steps up,” Casey said. “I think after the NFB resolution and when other consumer groups make a stand, BANA will have to take a leadership role and step up with a decision.”

BANA has responded to consumer groups’ concern about the standard math code before. The BANA Task Force on Concurrent Use of UEB and Nemeth Code was formed in response to resolutions adopted by the 2012 conventions of the NFB and the American Council of the Blind. The task force drafted a concept paper regarding issues of concurrent use of the two codes that was released Sep. 6, 2012, in which they recommended that mathematics and technical notation should be presented in Nemeth code while surrounding text is presented in UEB…possibly with explicit indicators when changing between codes.

Eric Guillory, who serves as the Director of Youth Services at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, serves on the BANA Nemeth/UEB Task Force, which published Provisional Guidance for Transcription Using the Nemeth Code Within UEB Contexts.

“This is an issue that, three years later, has yet to be resolved,” Eric said. “The resolution adopted by the NFB seeks to try and get additional clarification from BANA to alleviate the confusion and consternation felt by transcribers and teachers. It takes long enough for braille to get into the hands of kids as it is, and it’s already expensive enough to produce it. It will take that much longer for kids to get the books they deserve if a firm decision is not made.”

Casey had strong words for BANA.

“Common sense tells you letting each state decide is a bad decision,” she said. “If you say we will adopt a unified code, you need to say what will be done for math.”

Teachers, Casey suggested, should check their state’s UEB implementation plan. Furthermore, math and science teachers should familiarize themselves with the seven changes to the Nemeth code recently approved by BANA.

Image courtesy of University of Liverpool Faculty of Health & Life Sciences, on Flickr.

The following two tabs change content below.
Liz Wisecarver, MA, NOMC

Liz Wisecarver, MA, NOMC

Liz earned her master’s in Orientation and Mobility from Louisiana Tech University after attending the adult training program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. She currently lives in Oxford, Miss. and teaches cane travel to public school students.

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