Remembering Dr. Abraham Nemeth
by Crista Earl
Everyone in the blindness field, and every braille reader, knows the name of Abraham Nemeth. He's probably the biggest name in blindness, if there is such a thing.
This morning, I was saddened and shocked to hear of his passing.
I had the lucky, really just lucky, opportunity to meet Dr. Nemeth several times.
The first was at an NFB convention in Chicago. It was my first convention, and I had just started a new job at... you probably won't remember... Computer Aids Corporation... and they had sent me to the conference to bone up on blindness technology. Standing at one of the tables in the exhibit hall, I struck up a conversation with the random convention-goer next to me who was waiting to talk to the table's rep. He told me his name was Abraham Nemeth.
The name struck me immediately: "As in Nemeth Code?" I asked. As a new braille reader at the time, I only knew Nemeth code as something I would learn in the future—something that would let me do the things I really needed to do—and in this friendly exchange between two people exploring the exhibit hall, I was meeting its creator. What I learned about him in that two-minute conversation was the most important thing I ever learned about him—that he was just like all of us there, looking for ways to solve problems and get access to the things he needed. He was problem-solving and information gathering at that moment, and at all moments ever after, and he was using the same set of skills and had the same access barriers as the rest of us.
The last time I met Dr. Nemeth, it was many years later, as members of an advisory committee to help advance braille technology used by a national not-for-profit dedicated to getting braille into people's hands. He was in his eighties by then, and just as energetic, cutting-edge, and entertaining as ever—presenting himself not as the world's leading expert, but as a committee member who could share ideas, build on each other's ideas, and make things really work.
The field will miss Dr. Nemeth. Thanks to his work and creativity, we have many more engineers, mathematicians, statisticians, geneticists, biologists, and chemists in our field. He found a way for advanced concepts to be brought to students at all levels. What Louis Braille did for reading and writing for blind people, Abraham Nemeth did for people who are blind in the sciences. Thanks to Dr. Nemeth, we can be scientists.
Re: Remembering Dr. Abraham NemethPosted by RebeccaB on 10/4/2013 at 3:02 PM
Excellent blog, Crista. I enjoyed reading about how you happened to meet Dr. Nemeth. I met Dr. Nemeth too, and he remembered me as the one who made a blunder involving him that I won't share here. He was gracious and funny, very forgiving. It was like meeting a next-door neighbor rather than meeting the Louis Braille of mathematics. Truly an amazing man.
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