Inventor of Braille system for math dies at 94

  • October 6, 2013 - 5:55 PM

Abraham Nemeth, a blind mathematician and professor who developed a widely used Braille system that made it easier for other blind people to become proficient in mathematics and science, died Oct. 2 at his home in Southfield, Mich. He was 94.

The cause was congestive heart failure, said his niece, Dianne Bekritsky.

As a college student in the 1930s, Nemeth was discouraged from studying mathematics because it was assumed that a blind person would not be able to follow the calculations written on a blackboard.

He majored in psychology instead, but even with a master’s degree from Columbia University he was unable to find work in his field. He took a series of jobs, including in a factory sewing pillowcases, then decided to follow the advice of his wife: “Wouldn’t you rather be an unemployed mathematician than an unemployed psychologist?”

He began to take graduate courses in mathematics at night, devising his own shorthand way of making computations.

It was far more complex than creating symbols for the numerals zero through nine. Nemeth first had to understand mathematics at a deep level, then had to convert the language of math into a unified system that could be understood by touch in a Braille code of raised dots.

When a blind physicist asked if he had a scientific table in Braille, Nemeth said he did, but it was in a personal form of notation. Within 30 minutes, Nemeth later recalled, the physicist had mastered the new system.

The Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Science Notation was published in 1952 and quickly caught on as the standard way of teaching mathematics to blind students.


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