As set forth in A Brief Introduction to Braille in the United States, the moved 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 my research, as of June 16, 2021:
- Thirty-two (32) states 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, Virginia, and Utah
- Ten (10) 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, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Vermont.
- Two (2) states either do not have a final decision, or I was unable to get information on their decision: Montana and Pennsylvania. [Regarding Pennsylvania, while a draft plan 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.]
At first glance, it seems that the majority of U.S. states (64%), including many states with large populations, have decided to follow BANA guidance and retain Nemeth Code as the default code for braille reading students. However, it is concerning that eighteen (18) states are ignoring BANA guidance and either implementing the unproved UEB Technical code or placing it on equal footing with the proven Nemeth Code. In the print world, this is akin to eighteen states stripping 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.”
Problems with using two math codes
Moreover, the use of both Nemeth Code and UEB Technical poses numerous problems:
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
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 five 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.