[nabs-l] using Braille for math

Mason, Amy Amason at nfb.org
Tue Aug 30 14:30:53 UTC 2016


You may want to spend more time on working to improve your Braille reading speed regardless of what you choose to use as your preferred math tool. It will help in mathematics, but also with many other comprehension tasks. 

I do not mean to be a nag, but as a fairly slow Braille reader myself, I know that some of my greatest productivity gains have come as I have improved my Braille reading and comprehension speed. 

I would heavily recommend however, that you learn Nemeth Braille Instead of UEB. Although UEB is the international standard, Bana (the Braille Authority of North America specifically recommended keeping Nemeth because it is much more consistent in the context of mathematics and science notation than UEB Math. In fact, it is so much more consistent, that Pearson (the text book and testing company) is working on a math editor using Nemeth Braille. The developer has said that Nemeth is very easy for him to translate to and from print, but that he cannot see a way to do so using the symbols in UEB. Of course the instant translation would be of great benefit to both you and your teachers, as you are each reading in your native code. 

Incidentally, if you have a Braille display, and some understanding of Nemeth, you may want to consider reviewing the tool for yourself. I believe you need to be using NVDA, and that at this time, reviewing the Math needs to be completed on the display as speech will not read properly, (though they are working on this knotty problem).) but regardless, it's a pretty powerful tool that may be of benefit to you even though at this point it's not a fully rolled out product. 


Amy Mason
Access Technology Specialist
National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, MD 21230
410-659-9314 ext. 2424
amason at nfb.org

The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can have the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.

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-----Original Message-----
From: NABS-L [mailto:nabs-l-bounces at nfbnet.org] On Behalf Of Bill Dengler via NABS-L
Sent: Tuesday, August 30, 2016 9:54 AM
To: nabs-l at nfbnet.org
Cc: Bill Dengler <codeofdusk at gmail.com>
Subject: [nabs-l] using Braille for math

I'm currently in 11th grade, taking Calculus this year.
At the moment, I use a screen reader and a text editor to work out math problems. Before, I wrote my problems in an improvised "calculator notation", where each line was written in a similar format to how it would appear on a scientific calculator (+ for addition, / for division, ^ for exponentiation, sqrt for square root, etc). This notation worked, but had several issues: it was ambiguous at times and hard to read for my sighted teachers.
As of last semester, I've been writing all of my math in LaTeX. This solves the ambiguity issues with calculator notation, and can easily be compiled to PDF for viewing by the sighted.
However, things like
$\lim_{h \to 0} \frac{(-\frac{1}{2}+h)^3-(-\frac{1}{2})^3}{h}$
can be difficult to keep track of in speech; I often have to pull complex fractions apart, bringing certain parts onto their own lines, simplifying and combining everything back into the complex fraction at the end. It's horribly inefficient and error-prone.

My Braille reading speed is fairly slow (around 55WPM), and the only experience I've had with Braille math was in elementary school, using a device called the Math Window <http://mathwindow.com>. That was, in short, a disaster; I was consistently lagging far behind my classmates when doing simple two and three digit addition and multiplication problems because of the time it took to interpret the Braille and manipulate the Math Window's tiles. I haven't used Braille for math since, using only a computer with a plain-text editor to do Algebra, Geometry, and Pre-Calculus. I have, however, used raised-line diagrams and three-dimensional models for Geometry and trigonometry.

Would the use of refreshable Braille, hardcopy Braille and/or a device like the Math Window while doing math help me to conceptualize problems more easily, particularly where advanced and/or heavy Algebra is involved?
If so, would it be most effective for me to use it in addition to, or as a replacement for, speech? The biggest problem with using Braille is that my teachers don't read it, so I'd have to frequently transcribe back-and-forth from Braille to LaTeX. This would be relatively painless for refreshable Braille, but less so for the hardcopy variety.
If I used Braille for math, which math code (UEB or Nemeth) should I learn and use? From what I've heard, Nemeth generally takes up less space to convey the same content (important for refreshable displays with limited real estate), but UEB's presentation of that content is clearer. Also, Nemeth could be replaced by the UEB math code in a few years since it's the international standard now.

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