Abraham Nemeth, 1918 – 2013 “The Nemeth Code” – Braille for Advanced Mathematics
April is Mathematics Awareness Month. I never heard of Abraham Nemeth until I read his obituary. What a remarkable man! Blind since infancy, Nemeth taught himself to play piano using Braille music books. Math interested him even more, but Braille letters and numbers were sometimes easily confused. As math became more complicated, Braille became more limiting. The stereotype was that people who are blind couldn’t do math. The reality was there was no way for them to do it.
In the late 1940s, while playing piano in bars to make extra money, Mr. Nemeth developed a customized Braille code for math. It worked for the basics (e.g., addition, subtraction) and for the complex (e.g., differential calculus). He made a Braille slide rule. He earned degrees in psychology and math. In the mid-1950s, the “Nemeth Code” was adopted by national groups. It was used in textbooks. In 1955, the University of Detroit hired him to teach math – to students with sight.
When he was young, he taught himself to write in straight lines on a chalkboard, using a simple but ingenious method. The first line went at the top of the chalkboard, level with the top of his head. The next line was at eye level, then chin level, then chest level, and on down. This talent served him well while teaching.
Even in his 90s, he traveled frequently to speak to advocates. He continued to work to make changes to Braille, for math and non-math uses. He created Braille versions of Jewish texts and helped proofread a Braille Hebrew bible. He helped develop MathSpeak, a method for communicating math orally. His ability to find simple solutions to challenges and his willingness to help others are only a few of the qualities that made him such a remarkable man.