2003 Conference Proceedings

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Gaylen Kapperman
Email: gkapperman@niu.edu

Jodi Sticken
Email: jsticken@niu.edu

Department of Teaching and Learning
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115

The presenters will describe a project in which materials are being developed for use with pre-service and practicing teachers of visually disabled youngsters to increase their skill and knowledge regarding instruction in mathematics. The materials, which will be demonstrated, take the form of a series of interactive, audio described and closed-captioned, digital video discs (DVDs) which demonstrate recommended strategies for the provision of high quality instruction in mathematics for blind and visually impaired students. In addition to the series of DVDs, the presenters will demonstrate an interactive software tutorial which can be used by sighted teachers to either learn the Nemeth Code of braille mathematics or to refresh their skills in that code.

The research indicates that teachers of visually disabled students are woefully lacking in skill and knowledge for providing high quality instruction in mathematics for their students, as the following review illustrates. Because the workplace requires increasingly advanced computational and technological skills, people who do not possess those skills have restricted earnings potential. Without the ability to read and write the symbols which represent mathematical concepts, the field of mathematics is closed to blind persons. According to Stevens and Edwards (1994),

There is a significant need to make access to mathematics easier for people with visual disabilities. It is a compulsory subject in all school systems. Though many children may find it difficult, many blind students do not have a fair chance to develop mathematical skills simply because the notations used are inaccessible to them (Rapp & Rapp, 1992; Kim & Servais, 1985; Cahill & Boormans, 1994). The mathematical abilities of visually disabled people are not doubted; there is no reason to believe that they do not (potentially) have the same range of mathematical skills as the rest of the population; they simply do not have the means to use and develop those skills. This is the reason that visually disabled people are so poorly represented in mathematical, scientific and technical subjects at all levels in education and employment (p.10).

Research supports the contention that teachers of blind youngsters are ill prepared in the Nemeth Code. In his doctoral dissertation, Stuart Wittenstein (1993) surveyed 1,663 teachers of students with visual disabilities to determine the extent to which they received training in the Nemeth Code. He found that only 50.2% of them reported having to demonstrate proficiency in the code for mathematics in their teacher preparation programs; only 35.8% reported that their knowledge of the Nemeth Code was satisfactory.

In the fall of 2000, Wittenstein and Amato replicated his study to determine the status of training in braille some ten years later. With regard to training in the Nemeth Code, they found slight improvements. Their unpublished data include the following. The group of respondents totaled 418. Of that number, only 67.7% reported that they were required to demonstrate proficiency in the Nemeth Code. That number represents an increase of 17.5%. The percentage of respondents reporting that their level of proficiency in the Nemeth Code was satisfactory increased to 40.7% representing an increase of 4.9% (S. Wittenstein and S. Amato, personal communication, September 6, 2002).

Kapperman and his colleagues (1994) conducted a national telephone survey of 34 certified teachers of students with visual disabilities, randomly selected from a list of members of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER). One hundred percent of the sample responded to the interviewers' queries. The respondents were asked for the dot configurations of five basic symbols from the mathematics code, a small portion of the total content of the code.

The results demonstrate unequivocally that knowledge of the mathematics code among teachers is lacking; the percentage of correct answers was exceedingly low. The most distressing statistic is that 76% (26 persons) had no knowledge of the Nemeth Code whatsoever; these individuals were unable to provide even a single correct answer.

More recent studies by DeMario and her colleagues (DeMario, Lang, & Lian, 1998; DeMario & Lian, 2000) reveal similar findings. In their surveys, DeMario and her colleagues queried teachers of visually disabled youngsters to determine their perceived level of competence with regard to the literary braille code as compared to the Nemeth Code. In their first study (DeMario, Lang, & Lian, 1998), they found "Teachers indicated that they felt much better prepared using the literary braille code than using the Nemeth Code, and their attitude toward Nemeth Code was not as positive as was their attitude toward literary braille" (p. 356). In their second study, (DeMario & Lian, 2000), they found that "Overall, the mean anxiety ratings increased as the level of math materials to transcribe became more advanced" (p.9). As the mathematics becomes more sophisticated, teachers experience more and more difficulty.

In a recent study of training in braille for teachers of students with visual disabilities, reported by Amato (2002), 45 instructors representing 37 of 42 American and Canadian universities where teachers of visually disabled youngsters are trained responded to a survey. Among her findings, the most significant with regard to training in braille mathematics is that 20% of the programs offer no training whatsoever in the Nemeth Code. While 10 respondents (22%) reported that their students achieve competence in the Nemeth Code, 11 respondents (24%) rate their students as incompetent in this area.

Learning the Nemeth Code by Craig (1987) is the textbook used by 42% of the respondents for instruction in Nemeth Code. A review of the content of the text reveals that it is inadequate for providing thorough training in braille mathematics for the purpose of studying upper level mathematics. For example, the text does not include symbols such as integrals, partial derivatives, limits, summation, and trigonometric functions. Matrices and determinants are not mentioned. Symbols included in the study of probability, logic and statistics are not found in this text. Thus, the authors contend that a significant number of teachers of students with visual impairments possess less than sufficient knowledge and expertise in the braille code which would enable them to instruct their students in the reading and writing of the symbols which are basic to the study of mathematics.


Amato, S. (2002). Standards for competence in braille literacy in teacher preparation programs. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 96(3),143-153.

Cahill, H. & Boormans, G.(1994). Problem analysis: a formative evaluation of the mathematical and computer access problems as experienced by visually impaired students. Technical Report: Tide Maths Project, 1033 D1, Tide Office, Brussels, University College Cork, Ireland.

Craig, R. (1987). Learning the Nemeth Braille Code. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind.

Demario, N. & Lian, G. (2000). Teachers' perceptions of need for and competency in transcribing braille materials in the Nemeth Code. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 94(1) pp. 7-14.

Demario, N., Lang, S., & Lian, G. (1998) Teachers' self-assessed competence and attitude toward literary braille and Nemeth Code. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 92, pp. 354-357.

Kapperman, G. (1994). [Survey of knowledge of the Nemeth code by special educators and rehabilitation teachers]. Unpublished raw data. Sycamore, IL: Research and Development Institute.

Kim, Y. and Servais, S. B. (1985). Vocational, educational, and recreational aids for the blind. In Webster, J. G., Cook, A. M.,Tompkins, W.J., & Vanderheiden, G. C. (Eds.), Electronic Devices for Rehabilitation, 101?115. Chapman and Hall.

Rapp, D. W. and Rapp, A. J. (1992). A survey of the current status of visually impaired students in secondary mathematics. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 26, 115?117.

Stevens, R.D. & Edwards, A.D.N. (1994). Mathtalk: usable access to mathematics. ITDV01N4 [On-line serial], article 5. Available Email: robert@minster.york.ac.uk

Wittenstein, S. H. (1993). Braille literacy: pre-service training and teacher attitudes, report of a national study. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Columbia University, Teachers College.

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