Notes from good friends and colleagues compelled us to update this post. Given that today, Monday, March 14, 2022, is Pi Day, we decided to get right to it!
- Thirty-one (31) states and the District of Columbia have retained Nemeth Code as the default code for math and science (technical) subjects
- Seven (7) states set UEB for Technical Materials as the default code.
- Eleven (11) states have stated that they do not have a default code and that they will support both.
- One (1) state does not have a final decision.
What’s this all about?
As set forth in A Brief Introduction to Braille in the United States, the move to Unified English Braille (UEB) was not intended to include braille notation for either math or science: “Braille Authority of North America (BANA) adopts 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…” (emphasis added) BANA resolution that adopted Unified English Braille in the U.S.
Nevertheless, in some states, a few individuals began advocating for UEB Technical and the resulting complete abandonment of Nemeth Code in favor of UEB Technical. This position is clearly contrary to the plain language of the BANA resolution that brought UEB to the United States in the first place. Proponents of this UEB Technical stance also fail to provide any data showing that UEB Technical is as good as, much less better than, Nemeth Code, the braille math code used with great success in the U.S. for decades.
Where the states stand
According to our research, as of March 14, 2022:
- Thirty-one (31) states and the District of Columbia denote Nemeth Code as the default code for math and science (technical) subjects: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington (state), West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming
- Seven (7) states set UEB for Technical Materials as the default code: Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Utah, and Virginia.
- Eleven (11) states have stated that they do not have a default code, will support both Nemeth Code and UEB for Technical Materials, and charge the IEP team with making the decision: Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Vermont.
- One (1) state does not have a final decision. While a draft plan for Pennsylvania was published in 2015, that plan has not been finalized, so there has not been a final decision reached. At this time, Pennsylvania produces textbooks in both UEB with Nemeth Code and in all UEB, see AIM Request Form.
What do these numbers tell us?
State numbers and population equivalents
- This data comes from 2021 U.S. Census population estimates.
Nemeth as the default: 31 states and the District of Columbia (representing 73.4% of the U.S. population)
UEB Technical as the default: 7 states (these states represent 10.2% of the U.S. population)
Adopted both Nemeth and UEB Technical: 11 states (these states represent 12.5% of the U.S. population)
No final decision: 1 state (this state represents 3.9% of the U.S. population)
A deeper meaning
At first glance, it seems good that the majority of U.S. states (representing 73.4% of the U.S. population) have decided to follow BANA guidance and retain Nemeth Code as the default code for braille reading students. It is even better to note that 85.9% of the U.S. population lives in a state that has adopted the 2012 BANA Motion and that recognizes Nemeth Code as a robust and time-proven tool to open the doors of instruction in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects for blind/low vision students.
However, it is concerning that seven (7) states (representing only 10.2% of the U.S. population) are ignoring BANA guidance and implementing the unproved UEB Technical code (for which there is no transcriber certification like there is and has long been for Nemeth Code transcription).
In the print world, this is akin to seven states halting the default use of Arabic numerals and replacing them with Roman numerals because, “We use Roman letters, and it is too difficult for students to have to switch to another code for math.” Somehow, we don’t think a switch to Roman numerals for print users would fly, even in just seven states.
Problems with using two math codes
Moreover, the use of both Nemeth Code and UEB Technical poses numerous problems:
Access to college entrance and college-credit exams
There are two major college entrance examinations in the United States, the SAT® (and the PSAT® exams from the College Board) and the ACT®. While the ACT® does offer either Nemeth Code or UEB Technical (see High-Incidence Accommodations, Designated Supports, and Accessibility Supports on the ACT® Test for State Testing and District Testing), the College Board continues to offer only Nemeth Code (see Accommodations and Supports Handbook, 2021-2022).
There are also several exams for which college credit may be given with a high enough score. Note that page 4 of the Accommodations and Supports Handbook, 2021-2022 confirms that all of the College Board college-credit granting exams (Advanced Placement® (AP®) Exams, CLEP®, and ACCUPLACER®) only offer Nemeth Code.
For more information, please check out BEAR’s Nemeth Code Used for All College Board Tests Involving Math and Science blog post.
Adverse educational impact on students
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.
Nemeth Code and UEB Technical are fundamentally different, so much so that most children who are fluent in one code will have a learning curve if forced to use a different code—and they will lose valuable instructional time in STEM content course due to the need to learn a new code to read those materials
- Such a child may well fall months behind in math classes due to a lack of familiarity with the different code.
- This will be particularly difficult for children of military families, who will almost certainly move several times throughout their school careers.
- Certainly states should not wish to become “that state” or “one of those states” that military personnel with blind children know they need to avoid.
- This change could also be particularly difficult for children from families of lower socioeconomic means due to a need to relocate more often for financial and/or personal safety reasons.
- Many times, these students do not have strong family support in the area of Braille education—because of lack of parental time, energy, education, etc.
- A move away from the national standard of Nemeth Code could render these children so bereft of STEM educational opportunities that they might never recover from the lost time taken to learn new codes instead of learning math and science content.
- There is no reason to set up a system that will automatically place Braille readers at an academic disadvantage upon relocation, especially given that the vast majority of the population (85.9%) of the U.S. lives in areas where the Nemeth Code is recognized as a valuable tool.
Availability of educational materials
Abandoning Nemeth Code will create a problem with accessible math textbooks. All current math textbooks have been produced in Nemeth Code, and there is no certification for UEB Technical transcription in the US.
- The National Library Service (NLS) provides certification for braille transcriptionists in UEB literary, Nemeth Code, and Music Braille
- UEB literary was adopted throughout the nation on January 1, 2016, but now, more than six years later, there is still no certification program for UEB Technical materials
Students receiving math and science textbooks and tests in UEB Technical are, necessarily, receiving materials that have been transcribed by an individual who is NOT certified in UEB Technical transcription (because none exists)
- This situation puts students at high risk of receiving poor quality math transcription.
Post-secondary educational consequences
Colleges and universities in UEB Technical states would be forced to choose between following the national BANA Nemeth Code model or taking the UEB Technical detour.
- If these institutions do the former, students in UEB Technical states will be ill-equipped to pursue STEM opportunities at any post-secondary institution that follows BANA’s Nemeth Code guidance.
- If these institutions do the latter, few, if any, out-of-state students will choose to attend their post-secondary institutions due to the high learning curve of switching to a new math and science code.
Additionally, scores of current Nemeth Code-using students would find that their in-state schools are now hostile learning environments due to the abrogation of BANA-recommended Nemeth Code.
- This could require vocational rehabilitation agencies serving the blind to be required to spend hundreds of thousands of extra tuition dollars to send these students to out-of-state schools where they may pursue higher education opportunities without the need for remediation in math code.
Post-secondary employment consequences
UEB Technical 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.
It is highly doubtful that the employment sector would abandon the ubiquitous, useful, compact, and BANA-approved Nemeth Code for a limited number of rogue institutions providing only UEB Technical.
Increased expense and depletion of limited resources
Switching to UEB Technical is duplicative and expensive.
For decades, all math and science materials have been produced in Nemeth Code.
- Supporting two codes will mean that all materials will need to be produced in each code.
- Supporting two codes will mean that all materials will need to be available in each code.
- This could well lead to shortages in materials.
Teachers of Students with Blindness/Visual Impairment will have LESS time to instruct children
- TSBVIs [teachers of the blind and visually impaired] are in short supply as it is; we should not be creating additional, unnecessary drains upon their time.