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Securing Nemeth Code Instruction

As noted in earlier blogs in this series, many braille-reading students in the U.S. have been caught in some states’ inexplicable move to UEB Technical (a move that: (1) is not supported by the resolution bringing UEB to this country, (2) is not supported by student data, and (3) poses a great risk of harm to students). While thirty-two states teach Nemeth Code by default, ten states have no default, seven default to the unproven UEB Technical code, and two have not published officials stances on the question. While it can be difficult, there ARE ways to secure Nemeth Code instruction, even in states that use UEB Technical as the default code for braille math.

Taking control in the Old Dominion state (Virginia)

The term “dominion” refers to a supreme authority or absolute control. To many parents of blind/low vision children in Virginia (the “Old Dominion State”), the process of advocating for Nemeth Code instruction for their children feels like a battle against a supreme authority that requires all braille readers to use UEB Technical. I know Virginia parents who have chosen to homeschool their children or move to another state in order to provide their children access to Nemeth Code instruction and use.

Multiple parents in multiple school districts have reported to me that they have been told that (1) schools cannot get textbooks in Nemeth Code and (2) the district “must” teach UEB Technical so that students may take the required end-of-course tests, Standards of Learning tests (SOL tests). However, these claims are, at best, misleading.

Textbooks using Nemeth Code abound

As noted in Current Status of Nemeth Code Use in the United States, thirty-two states in the U.S. recognize Nemeth Code as the default for braille math instruction. Another ten fully support both Nemeth Code and UEB Technical. These forty-two states that fully support Nemeth Code are large states and include nine of the ten largest states in the country. In contrast, the UEB Technical default states contain less than ten percent of the nation’s population. Additionally, while the National Library Service (NLS) offers transcriber certifications in UEB literary, Nemeth Code, and Music Braille, there is no certification in UEB Technical (though Canada offers a “Letter of Proficiency,” and a “Completion Certificate” is available from UEBOnline.org). Given that Nemeth Code is fully supported in the vast majority of states, including large states like California, Texas, and New York, it seems highly unlikely that any school district in the United States would have difficulty finding Nemeth Code textbooks—and those textbooks have likely been transcribed by individuals who hold certification in this area, something that is not possible for UEB Technical textbooks.

Virginia DOES offer Nemeth Code on some SOL tests

The Virginia Examiner’s Manual for Fall 2020, Spring 2021, & Summer 2021 Non-Writing Tests (End-of-Course Mathematics Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II) notes that, for students with a documented need for hard copy tests**, “The braille test is available in UEB with UEB Technical and UEB with Nemeth.” Additionally, the Virginia Examiner’s Manual for Spring 2021 Non-Writing Tests (Grades 4 and 5 and Grade 3) contain the same language. Thus, claims that Nemeth Code is not available on SOL tests are not factually correct.

[**Note: ALL braille readers should have hard copy braille for math. This is because, without hard copy braille, braille readers must use refreshable braille displays to read electronic braille; the braille display serves as the corollary to the print user’s monitor to display content. However, the one commercially available multi-line refreshable braille display, the Canute 360, is very new and only supports a few file types; it cannot be used with screen reading software used by high-stakes online tests. Thus, in practice al terms, braille users can read only one line at a time. In math, many problems are set forth in a multi-line display (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, etc.). Without hard copy braille, braille readers would not be able to view most math problems as a whole.]

Many SOL alternatives offer Nemeth Code

Virginia also provides many alternatives to the SOL tests for all students in the state. Such as PSAT, SAT, SAT Subject tests, ACT, AP exams, International Baccalaureate (IB), and Cambridge International exams. In many cases, these alternatives are better for all students because they reduce the number of tests a student needs to take (and thus reduce student time spent in the testing environment). Substitute Tests Approved for Awarding Verified Credit (most recently revised on March 18, 2021) provides:

  • For Math, PSAT tests, SAT tests, SAT Subject tests, AP tests, and CLEP tests all qualify as SOL alternatives. As noted in Nemeth Code Used for All College Board Tests Involving Math and Science, all of these tests are available ONLY in Nemeth Code. Thus, withholding Nemeth Code instruction significantly limits the availability of SOL alternative tests which would be available to a blind student in Virginia.
  • It is worth noting that the ACT (a nationwide college entrance exam that is currently available in both Nemeth Code and UEB Technical) is not permitted to serve as an SOL Alternative test in the following subjects: Earth Science, Biology, or Chemistry). Thus, Braille-reading students who do not know Nemeth Code have few SOL alternative tests in these areas.
  • Another possible test, the Cambridge International Examination, is prepared in UEB only; its “How to apply for modified papers” notes: “there are no longer any special codes for maths and computer braille, one code is used for all.” (from Information on modified papers). Additionally, there are only three schools in the entire state of Virginia which are listed as “Cambridge schools” on the website., one in Dumfries, one in Manassas, and one in Nokesville.
  • Regarding the International Baccalaureate tests, the focus is on “minimizing bias, particularly for those with assessment access requirements,” so it is likely that the student’s braille needs will be paramount. From Assessment principles and practices

Bottom line

Braille reading students in Virginia do not need to use UEB Technical in order to have access to high-quality textbooks, SOL tests, or SOL alternatives. In fact, students who know only UEB Technical and who have not mastered Nemeth Code are at a severe disadvantage in both post-secondary school options and in SOL alternative test options.

UEB Technical is limiting; Nemeth Code is freeing and empowering.