by Katie Ott and Elliot Zirulnik
The founding father of the Nemeth Code, Abraham Nemeth, recently passed away at the age of 94. He was known for innovating the Braille code for math, but is remembered by close friends and family for his humor, musical abilities, and religious scholarship. Nemeth wore many other hats, as he also worked as a psychologist, a mathematician, and an inventor.
Nemeth, a lifelong mathematics enthusiast, was himself born blind. In the process of his studies, Nemeth grew frustrated by the lack of interpretive resources needed to understand and solve high-level equations without undue confusion. Consequently, Nemeth went on to earn his degree in psychology, but continued to pursue his love of numbers. He used his spare time to invent new Braille symbols for use in mathematics, ranging from addition to calculus.
Michael Hudson, director of the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities at Michigan State University, praised these strides in accessibility: “For decades, [students] who use Braille and pursue mathematics and scientific work have used Dr. Nemeth’s Braille code… [He demonstrated that] blindness did not need to stop one from reaching goals so long as one was willing to persist at the challenge.”
Largely due to the support of his wife Florence, Nemeth earned a doctorate in mathematics at Wayne State University in Detroit, and soon after founded the school’s computer science program. An observant Jew, he worked to translate the Hebrew Bible and other Jewish texts to Braille.
After retiring from academia in 1985, Nemeth continued to advocate for the advancement of accessibility in the sciences, regularly appearing at speaking engagements throughout the world.
“Abraham Nemeth was indeed an icon and having the chance to speak with him was akin to speaking with Louis Braille himself,” added Hudson. “These icons in the field of blindness were common people who did not quit in the face of adversity and in doing so used their talents to become exceptional. Let that be a lesson to all of us as we work diligently to pursue our dreams and exceed expectations.”
Elliot Zirulnik is a member of the Exceptions Journal Editorial Board. He is a senior at Michigan State University pursuing a degree in Media and Information.
Katie Ott is an employee of the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities at Michigan State University. She is a senior pursuing a degree in Social Relations and Policy.