Abraham Nemeth was born congenitally blind in 1918 and was raised in New York City, where he received his early mobility instruction from his father. He attended New York City Public Schools, taking core subjects such as math and science in the regular classroom.
Dr. Nemeth struggled with arithmetic early on, but while attending Evanderchild's High School in the Bronx he became one of the top students in the subject and developed his ambition to become a math teacher.
Despite his growing interest in mathematics Dr. Nemeth's counselors encouraged him to pursue a degree in psychology, which he did, receiving his bachelor's degree from Brooklyn College. He continued his psychology studies, receiving a master's degree from Columbia University.
While looking for a job as a psychologist, Dr. Nemeth pursued his passion for mathematics by taking evening courses in math and physics at Brooklyn College.
In 1951, Dr. Nemeth was accepted into the mathematics doctoral program at Columbia University. To help him with the math concepts, he began to improvise a new Braille system that would be consistent and make it possible for him to write down all the notations.
The birth of the Nemeth Code was by accident; in 1952 a nuclear physicist requested a table of integrals from Dr. Nemeth. Dr. Nemeth told him that he had one but it was written in a personal code. Dr. Nemeth showed him how to use the code and within a half hour, the physicist was able to use the table. The physicist asked Dr. Nemeth to write up a short expository paper of how the code worked, highlighting its underlying principles. Dr. Nemeth was invited to present his code before the Joint Uniform Braille Committee; the code was adopted as the standard mathematics code in the United States, known as the Nemeth Braille Code of Mathematics and Science Notation.
In 1955, he joined the department of mathematics at the University of Detroit, where he served as a faculty member for thirty years. During this time he also inaugurated the graduate department in computer sciences. He received a Ph.D. in mathematics from Wayne State University.
Dr. Nemeth is responsible for creating and editing the rules of MathSpeak, a system for orally communicating mathematical text. In the course of his work, Dr. Nemeth found it useful to have sighted readers translate inaccessible math texts and other materials. He needed a method for dictating his math work and other materials for transcription into print. The conventions Dr. Nemeth developed have evolved into MathSpeak.
Dr. Nemeth's latest projects include revising the Nemeth Code of Mathematics and Science Notation and defining it as the Nemeth Uniform Braille System (NUBS). When he is not working with numbers, he loves playing classical and popular music on the piano. He is a self-taught piano player and wrote a Braille musical dictionary for the American Printing House.
Dr. Nemeth emphasizes that a blind person who is adequately trained in his/her field and who has mastered the skills of blindness can function as competently as anyone else in his/her field; blindness need not be an obstacle. Dr. Nemeth's career was delayed at least five years because of the advice he received from his counselors, and he hopes that sharing his experience will help other blind people enter fields of study that were previously closed to them.
Are you looking for first-hand advice from Dr. Nemeth? Listen to his interview!
Articles by Abraham Nemeth
"To Light a Candle with Mathematics," As the Twig is Bent Kernel Book.
"Teaching Mathematics: One Career for the Blind," Braille Monitor, November, 1989.
"I Can Feel Blue on Monday," I Can Feel Blue on Monday Kernel Book.
"I'm Not Lost," Oh, Wow! Kernel Book.
"Mathspeak," Online. Explains how Mathspeak works.