[Athen] Refreshable Braille and Nemeth code

Sean J Keegan skeegan at stanford.edu
Thu Jul 16 17:10:41 PDT 2009

> We have an incoming freshman who is blind and will be
> using lots of technology. Given his courseload
> (Calculus, Chemistry, Physics and a humanities class),
> he is going to be needing detailed access to mathematical
> and scientific information.

We just went through this situation last Fall quarter. Once you know
what books you will be using, contact me off-list - we did those topics.

> My understanding is that the screen reader software is the
> intermediary between the information on the screen and the
> Braille display. So, if JAWS can't do math, how does the
> Nemeth code get to the refreshable Braille display?

The screen-reader is necessary for supporting the interface between the
refreshable braille display and the computer. JAWS would not be
"reading" the Nemeth math content - just passing the content to the
braille display. In our situation, the student just loaded everything
onto their BrailleNote and did not use the computer itself.

> The only limitation of using a notetaker device for this is the number
> of braille cells available.

As Patrick mentioned, the issue we encountered was the limited number of
cells available when displaying matrices on a refreshable display as
well. If I recall correctly, the BrailleNote we had access to was
displaying the rows of the matrix one after another horizontally, which
initially caused a bit of confusion. Everything looked fine in Duxbury
(start brackets were vertically aligned appropriately) but broke down
when imported into the portable display. The rows could wrap and the
second row of the matrix could also end/begin in the same line on the

Once we identified what was actually happening, the student was
comfortable with the refreshable display output. It did take some time
to understand what was occurring and how the matrices *should* be
represented vs. how they were being represented and whether it was a
conversion issue or how the braille display functioned.

> Do you have any recommendations
> of places that do Nemeth translation and embossing?

I am actually going to pose a different question: Have you addressed
tactile graphics and the generation of those files? The challenge for
us was not so much the creation of the Nemeth braille, but keeping up
with the number and level of specificity of tactile graphics we needed
to produce.

Take care,
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