Visionary mathematicianAbraham Nemeth

Blind from birth, Nemeth was fascinated by “the beauty of mathematics,” but counselors at Brooklyn College convinced him that he could not have a career in math because of his blindness. He switched to psychology, but he didn’t like his resulting job. His wife suggested he go back to school and study math. He did encounter difficulty: Braille wasn’t suitable for higher math. He learned a British system, the Taylor Code, but he didn’t like it. So he simply created a better system.

His resulting Nemeth Code allowed for sophisticated mathematical renderings in Braille, and he presented his ideas to the Mathematics Subcommittee of the Joint Uniform Type (aka Braille) Committee, and it was adopted for both the U.S. and Britain; it’s now officially called the Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Science Notation, and it’s still in use today. He adapted the syntax into “MathSpeak”, which allows complex mathematics to be communicated orally, which not only allowed sighted people to read math to him from books, but allowed him to dictate his papers for transcription. Between the two systems, Nemeth helped other blind people go into careers in science, which otherwise would have been much more difficult — which is why his counselors had discouraged him. Nemeth taught for 30 years at the University of Detroit, and in the 1960s launched its computer science program. In 2006, he was presented the Louis Braille Medal “for lifetime achievement in research and development of Braille codes.” Dr. Nemeth died from congestive heart failure at his Michigan home on October 2. He was 94.

From This is True for 6 October 2013