advice for joe portillo

From: Abraham Nemeth 356-5353 (
Date: Sun Aug 27 1995 - 13:38:03 PDT

August 27, 1995

Hello Joe,

I have your braille letter and I also saw your request for advice
on the Internet. I have also seen several of the replies you
have had, and all of them contain good advice.

     About textbooks: If you are proficient in braille, that
medium is by far the best for reading math. Try the Braille Book
Bank operated by the National Braille Association (NBA) Their
headquarters is in Rochester New York and their phone number is
(416) 427-8260. You can request a catalog of their holdings on
cassette which they will send you at no cost to you. You may be
able to find a college algebra text in that catalog. As you have
already been advised, an older edition of your textbook, or even
another textbook which covers most of the topics in your syllabus
will be helpful. You have already been advised about contacting
Recordings for the Blind and Dislexics (they have recently
changed their name). They are located in Princeton, New Jersey,
and their phone number is (800) 221-4792. Ask how to download
their catalog with the selections relevant to your needs via the
Internet. They have both audiocassettes and e-text disks. The
audiocassettes are free to borrow, and their e-text disks incur a
charge but you can keep them.

     About Notetaking: By far the best method is to have a
Braille Lite in class. I hope you know about this device. It is
extremely quiet in class. By turning off the speech, you can
enter your notes in braille and see them displayed instantly.
Speech is not suitable for math notes; if you use the Nemeth Code
or any other code, the speech output will be jibberish. But the
braille display will be a faithful record of what you wrote. If
you have an auxiliary disk drive that you can connect to your
Braille Lite, you can save those notes to disk for review at any
later time. It is a good idea also to bring a tape recorder to
class and record the lecture. It is _NOT_ a good idea to listen
to the whole tape afterward. That takes just as much time as
attending class, and you will soon fall behind. But if you
missed something while taking notes, you will be able to
recapture the relevant material on the tape. The Braille Lite
and the auxiliary disk drive are expensive, but if you are going
to school under the sponsorship of your state rehab agency, get
your couysellor to approve the underwriting of the cost of this
equipment -- it is the best help that a blind student can get.
This equipment was not available to me either as a student or as
a teacher because it didn't even exist when I could have
benefited from it. The Braille Lite is not suitable for
manipulating mathematical expressions. For that you will have to
use a Perkins Brailler which will produce two-dimensional
displays on braille paper. You would use the Perkins for doing
assignments outside of class. You would not be doing much math
manipulation in class; you would be lucky just to capture the

     About Computer Labs: The Braille Lite is also ideal for
writing computeh programs. You have to have some proficiency
with the Compu>er Braille Code. It is not the same as the Nemeth
Code. You will also need a computer with a screen access program
and a speech synthesizer. Try rehab again if you do not already
hav: such equipment.

     About Taking Tests: Get to know your professor. Make an
appointment to see him as soon as you can, preferrably before
classes begin. Be prepared with a list of issues you wish to
discuss with him. Also be prepared with workable solutions to
issues your professor has never before considered. Taking tests
is one of those issues. There are many techniques, but I will
tell you about the one that worked best for me. I would tell my
professor that I needed to have the test questions dictated to
me. I suggested that he make room foh me in his office or some
other office or even an empty classroom at the scheduled time of
the test. I further suggested that a teaching assistant in the
math depart/ent should dictate the questions to me. I indicated
that the only extra time I needed was the time required to copy
the test questions. I would copy the questions on my Perkins
Brailler. Today, I would copy them on my Braille Lite. I would
then work out the problems on my Perkins. At the end of the test
period, I would put my braille answers into an envelope that I
brought with me for that purpose and would hand it to the
professor or to his designee when he came to collect my paper.
Sometimes a professor would just let me read my answers to him at
a previously arranged appointment for that purpose. Sometimes
another professor preferred to have me dictate my answers to a
teaching assistant or to anotheh professor in the department. If
you have to deal with the Disabled Students office, be prepared
to deal with some possible complications.

     About Turning In Homework: At the present time, the best
method is to work with a sighted reader. After you have done an
assignment and recorded it in braille, you then dictate it to a
reader. It is best to have a reader with whom you work
regularly, so that he is familiar with your preferred procedures.
Recently, I posted an article called "Mathspeak" on the nfb-rd
listserv. "Mathspeak" is a way of reading math text verbally
that I devised and which my readers learned in about 15 minutes.
They used it when reading to me and I used it when dictating to
them. I hope you saw that posting. If not, I will post it again
upon your request. One of the posted suggestions is to use Tex
for entering mathematics expressions into your text. But to use
this method effectively you must first learn it, and then your
university must have a facility for running it.

     General: Another issue that you might discuss with your
professor is his conduct at the blackboard. Sometimes a
professor will write a long formula on the board without saying
it aloud. That makes notetaking difficult. You might ask him to
remember to speak the formula he is writing. Many of my
pr9fessors welcomed the challenge of doing this. As the course
proceeded, many of my professors also told me that the need to
verbalize what he was writing on the board was of help to him
personally and that he now does it in all his classes, even when
there are no blind students. At the beginning of the term, you
may have to remind him in class to please say what he has just
written. If he has previously agreeed to accommodate you in this
way, he will not mind the reminder. After a few reminders, he
will not need any further prompting. An abacus will not be of
much use in class. If you need to do any calculating at all, the
Braille Lite has a built-in scientific calculator so that you
will not need an extra piece of equipment for that purpose. In
your letter to me, you inquire about a list of Nemeth Code
symbols. There is a complete list at the back of the Nemeth Code
is also a raised-line drawing of every printable symbol so that
you can see what the graphic looks like. In your letter you also
ask about a blind person writing print. I began doing that at a
very early age with my father's encouragement, and it has stood
me in very good stead ever since. It is important to develop
this skill only if you plan to be a teacher where "chalk and
talk" is the principal activity. Even if you do not teach and do
not need to develop the skill, it is nevertheless important that
you know the shapes of most of the math symbols and the format in
which mathematical notation appears in print. A good part of
mathematics vocabulary refers directly to the shape or the format
of the printed material, and not having the information about
those shapes or format can be a handicap. In short, print
literacy is very important, even though you do not master the
skill of easy writing. Just one example: A person who has been
blind all his life may never have discovered that a fraction is
displayed vertically, with the numerator above the fraction line
and the denominator below it. In braille, he has always written
the fraction horizontally with the numerator in front of the
frac>ion line and the denominator behind it. In about the sixth
grade he is taught how to divide one frac>ion by another. The
phrase he keeps hearing is "invert the denominator." If he does
not know that the divisor fraction (the denominator) is displayed
vertically in print, "invert the denominator" is a phrase which
is pretty much meaningless. You ask about addressing envelopes
independently. It certainly is possible but I do not do it
myself. My wife does it on our Selectric IBM typewriter.
However, you can get some scrap paper about the size of an
envelope and play around. By a propper setting of top margin and
left margin, you can get the address of your intended victim
right where you want it on the envelope. You may need some
initial assistance from a sighted person to tell you whether you
are "hot" or "cold." Once you have established the proper
settings for these margins, you can then address envelopes

     I have given you a long response. I hope that some of it
will be of help. I admire your positive attitude and your
motivation and want to encourage you as you progress in your
studies. We all want to help one another by sharing information
or techniques that we have found to be beneficial for ourselves.
If each of us had to "reinvent the wheel" in every generation we
would never make any progress. If you need more detailed
infohmation regarding any aspect of yov school work, I will
supply it if I can.

Regards and good luck1

Abraham Nemeth, Ph.D.
20764 Knob Woods Drive, Apt. 201
Southfield, MI 48076
Phone: (810) 356-5353

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Sat Mar 02 2002 - 01:40:18 PST