Paths to Literacy

for students who are blind or visually impaired

Adoption of UEB in Math & Science

With reference to the resolutions that led to adoption of UEB and its use in maths and science, it surely appears the community is far from consensus!  I am a professor at a College of Engineering and because we have students from many different states and countries here at my university, we can have students who have experience in UEB Maths or Nemeth code braille, but not both.  With limited capacity already, this makes things even more tricky for us when preparing materials and helping faculty address the needs of students.

But I can say that mathematicians and many scientists are very good at learning code systems, and many have learned multiple "natural languages" in their schooling in order to allow them to read research from around the world.  English has been one of the principal "natural languages" simply because universities in English-speaking countries have been among the most progressive in maths and science since the middle 20th century.  Visual representations of maths and science have been very consistent for much longer than that!

However, if management of code systems for maths and science around the world has the effect of fracturing the uniformity for how maths and science are represented, it would install a very durable structural barrier for blind mathematicians and scientists to read widely from the research in their fields, and thus make it more difficult to contribute to that research.  This is something that strikes against the aspirations of those in the community of visually-impaired who might have the desire and ability to pursue their goals.

I am interested in connecting with others who are exploring this issue and looking at possible research on the use of UEB vs. Nemeth Code for Math and Science.

-- Don Winiecki


Relationship between Nemeth and UEB

Posted by Charlotte Cushman

You're asking a great question about the relationship between UEB and Nemeth code.  A recent article in the December 2015 Braille Monitor outlines the issue: and, as you will see, unfortunately this is a challenge to the field which has not yet been resolved on a national level.  As the article notes, the majority of states have not yet made a final decision about whether to adopt UEB Math or stick with Nemeth.

Thank you for the reference

Posted by Don Winiecki

Thank you for the reference to the essay by Carlton Anne Cook Walker. She certainly points up some important issues and barriers!

I am a sociologist who teaches in a College of Engineering. My students study everything from organizational consulting, to materials science, to electrical engineering, computer science and more! I teach courses in research methods and contribute instruction in each engineering discipline on morality and ethical conduct in professional practice -- this includes inclusiveness in all of its variations.

As such I am focused on the personal and societal outcomes of our actions in helping our students, and giving them intellectual and practical tools for creating the world they want to create. From my vantage point it is easy to see that proficiency in maths and science at a high level is essential to those ends, but I acknowledge that not everyone can or would choose to pursue maths and science to that point. Regardless, what we do from pre-K to post-grad influences the eventual world our students can make.

I have in mind a research project that would seek input from practicing scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians who use braille, and asking them what aspects of UEB-maths and/or Nemeth facilitate and/or impede their work and their interactions with colleagues in the U.S. and abroad.

Once we identify a set of influential factors, we can then generate a survey that would seek input from a much larger number of braille user, to weight each of those factors. This would give us an ability to assess the impact of factors of UEB-maths and Nemeth across a range of aspects associated with their uses.

The goal would be to generate a rational basis for choosing one or the other, or for mixing them in some ways, that would serve a wide span of users of maths and science content.

Comments, criticism, contributions and offers of collaboration are more than welcome! At this point I am most interested in locating a set of credentialed scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians (in any disciplines and fields of practice) who use braille, but any interest in the process would be welcome.

UEB versus UEB with Encapsulated Nemeth

Posted by Cindy Olmstead

Your topic, and eventually the results, is of utmost importance to Michigan Braille Transcribing Fund (MBTF). We are a full braille production facility specializing in textbooks located within the secured perimeter of the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility. We've been in existence since 1962. The majority of our textbooks have been transcribed in Nemeth. We now have experience in UEB and UEB with Encapsulated Nemeth. I have 39 certified braillist, as well as outside sub-contractors for proofreading. I would like to offer our assistance should you have questions regarding braille transcription (EBAE, UEB, Nemeth, Music, Encapsulated Nemeth, etc.) and the pros and cons we've experienced thus far. I look forward to reading future publishings. If I've sparked an interest, please visit to learn more about our program.

UEB, UEB with Encapsulated Nemeth, Nemeth, etc.

Posted by Don Winiecki

Hello Cindy and thank you for your interest! I will review MBTF's online resources and send an E-mail to follow-up.

I can report that since my original posting on this topic in `Paths to Literacy` there have been very, very few responses either on the list or to me directly.

Even those who requested personal correspondence with me have (to use a pop-phrase) `gone dark` after I sent them direct E-mail messages.

Clearly there is interest in this topic, though I am uncertain how to proceed given the above circumstances.

Conversations about maintaining code

Posted by Cindy Olmstead

Hi Don,

I was surprised to hear of the "gone dark".

As transcribers of all codes, we have numerous conversations on how we handle areas of textbooks that can be produced several ways while maintaining code. We always try to select the best method for the readability and understanding for the braille reader (student). Unfortunately, UEB allows for a more broader interpretation of code. In the short time we have been transcribing UEB and UEB with Encapsulated Nemeth, the number of questions on how we (MBTF) transcribe mathematics and technical material is alarming. Although we experience frustration and confusion, we are moving forward.

In my efforts to stay pro-active in this transitioning, I have been faithfully reading the daily posts of The Council of Exceptional Children. I feel this is a valuable source for information on issues educators may have, especially as UEB is implemented in the school systems. In my opinion, the comments from educators assist MBTF in producing quality textbooks. To date, nothing has been reported.

Please know, MBTF (from a transcribers' perspective) will respond to any questions and/or concerns you may have regarding the "Paths to Literacy".


Adoption of UEB in Math & Science

Posted by Don Winiecki

Apologies for the length of this posting.

The transcription of materials into braille is indeed complex, and not just because of the relative rarity of individuals prepared for the intensive task of transcription itself! Here in Idaho we are still to be working in Nemeth, and several of my advisors in braille-related matters received their graduate degrees using Nemeth. Understandably they support its use.

Information from the Boise Schools indicates that students are expected to be skilled in Nemeth.

Regardless, because of the current landscape of braille code use in the U.S., I may have to do both UEB maths and Nemeth -- UEB maths for students from states that have standardized on that, and Nemeth for students from Idaho and states that retain Nemeth as their standard. Students from other (non-English speaking) countries who find their way to my university will have no guidance on which should be their choice, but they will have learned different codes from UEB or Nemeth,

Because I am in a university and teach in a College of Engineering, a substantive element of interest is the obvious problem in learning, using and then communicating advanced maths and science content in braille. The fact is that for sighted individuals there is one code system for maths -- if you learn maths and science in South Korea, or Poland, or Iran, or Boise, you can use it with other maths and science students or professionals _anywhere_. However, there are many code systems for encoding maths into braille, each adopted by a nation state or consortium of nation states. Nothing we have in the U.S. addresses that issue. Machine translation from one code system to another _might_ change things somewhat, but it won't make that issue go away.

The end result is that potential for higher education, employment, and research and development in maths and science fields, and even numeracy for the general population remains fractured when there is not a uniform code system for representing that content. This has a potentially limiting -- even crippling -- impact on the aspirations of visually-impaired persons who have goals related to maths and science, if only because access to opportunities for learning and then applying maths and science are limited.

This has been hashed and rehashed. Nobody involved in the issues is unaware of it.

I understand that it is not _the_ primary worry for most individuals -- just getting content to learners who deserve access to it is a more immediate concern.

In fact, that is one of my primary concerns too. At my university, there is no local support for transcribing content to braille, and _that_ is one of the reasons I am pursuing Library of Congress certification (now in literary UEB, subsequently Nemeth). However, almost immediately after getting into the training, and meeting some of our students who read braille, I found that some read Nemeth, others did not and others were told they had to learn UEB maths. This will only increase as students from UEB-only states, and who have never learned Nemeth, start arriving at my university.

That is the impetus behind my interest in finding which code system (UEB-maths, Nemeth) is most-easily used by professionals in maths and science. I want to be able to provide support for students and professionals to reach fluency in the code system that will help them achieve their learning and professional goals.

This past week was a fury for me at the uni -- mid-terms took precedence -- but I will contact you at MBTF when I am able.

Promoting STEM participation not hampering it

Posted by Penny Rosenblum

Don, thank you for starting this thread. I am at a university where I prepare teachers of students with visual impairments (University of Arizona) and this spring I am teaching my future TVIs a little UEB math and a little less Nemeth code while sacrificing a few other things I normally do in the course to make this all fit. Since I don't know what these future TVIs will encounter out there my colleagues and I felt they needed exposure and resources for both codes.

On a personal level I find it confusing in UEB that there are multiple ways to do something in some instances. For example often one can use a grade 1 passage indicator (and terminator), a grade 1 word indicator, or a grade 1 symbol indicator within a problem. And of course this same problem is written differently in Nemeth code. So a child (or adult) working to learn subject matter content has the potential of seeing that same subject matter content presented multiple ways. None are "wrong" but they are each different and the cognitive load needed to stop and process what is being presented concerns me.

I don't have a solution nor does anyone else which puts us in a quite the predicament when you add to the mix few UEB resources related to technical material, few transcribers, TVIs who have varying knowledge bases and skills, and our students who of course each differ in what they can absorb. There is much room for research for sure. My colleagues Sunggye Hong, Amy Campbell and I are awaiting IRB approval to do a survey of university instructors and TVIs about their experiences with UEB and their beliefs. Though not tied to your research suggestions, I think we will be able to share some valuable information with the field so look for a link to our survey.

Don feel free to email me at

Add new comment