Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Throwback Thursday Object: NOMAD

NOMAD electronic graphics tablet
If you have seen our prototypes for the new Graphiti Tactile Touch Display, you’ll know why we are so excited about it, but it is not the first electronic graphics tablet from APH.  NOMAD by APH was a talking touchpad device for use with tactile graphics, introduced in 1993. The pad connected to a personal computer and included software for creating files of descriptions of tactile graphics. The user touched tactile graphics placed on the touch-sensitive pad and listened to voice-synthesized speech descriptions.  An Australian, Don Parkes, came up with the original design at the University of Newcastle. Parkes’ original prototype, which we also have in the museum collection, used the guts of singing greeting cards to represent how touch could trigger audio content.  Quantum, a company based in Australia, made the much more sophisticated electronics for the actual device. APH vacuum formed the plastic case and assembled the device using our own tooling and assembly methods. APH also developed a unique silk screen printing process to produce the tactile drawings.

Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director

Caption:  The gray NOMAD case was about 16 x 23 x 2 inches.  The graphic on this example is a map of the APH Museum.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Quick Tip: Expanded Dolch Word Cards, UEB

These flashcards, consisting of 220 sight vocabulary words and 95 words with pictures, can be used for reading practice or an informal assessment of a student's ability to read words in contracted braille and to spell words in uncontracted braille. To learn more, or to order, visit:

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Throw Back Thursday: Relief Puzzle Map

When my son was little, he loved running his hands over our relief puzzle maps in the museum.  If you went to a residential school for the blind in the United States in the mid-twentieth century, you will remember the large puzzle maps from APH, like this one of Asia.  They are large, 41 x 43”, and sit on their own wooden easel.  Each country is a piece to the puzzle, sits in a cutout in the base, is painted a contrasting color, and has its mountains and rivers picked out in exaggerated relief.  (If you were large enough to run your hands over the actual earth, it wouldn’t feel that bumpy—true story!)  Cities are indicated by metal pins.

APH Superintendent Benjamin Huntoon began making wooden relief maps in the basement of the Kentucky School for the Blind in the 1870s.   By 1921, large hand-carved wooden maps were available with a shellac finish.   APH experimented with molded maps as early as the 1930s.  This style map appeared in the 1950s and 60s.  They were molded from epoxy in an involved process.  I guess they fell out of favor when countries started changing borders faster than APH could change the very expensive molds.  Think about it, you spend three months carving out a wood casting pattern of Europe, the wall comes down in Germany, and east and west reunite.  You spend a month fixing that, and Czechoslovakia breaks up into two countries.  What is a wood carver to do? 

Caption:  Colorful puzzle map of Asia


Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Quick Tip: The Keitzer Check-Writing Guide

The Keitzer Check-Writing Guide is a tool that allows you to feel the locations of the various blanks on a standard sized check and write in the correct areas.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Throw Back Thursday: The Portable Plus

Our object this week is the last Talking Book phonograph from APH, the Portable Plus. The machine was designed and entirely assembled at the American Printing House for the Blind under an agreement with the Variable Speed Corporation.  It was introduced in 1990, but APH had already stopped making rigid vinyl records for the National Library Service, and flexible records used for magazines would be phased out a few years later.  

It is a lesson about how long it takes to bring a product from the drawing board to production.  Sometimes it is obsolete even before you start making it.  The Portable Plus only lasted a few years before it was discontinued.  But while available it was a marvel.  The tone arm was spring loaded and would play a record even when the machine was tipped on its side!  And it had an internal rechargeable battery, so you could take it anywhere.

Micheal Hudson
APH Museum Director

Photo Caption:  The Portable Plus was about 13 inches square, with a gray plastic case and a speaker in the lid.

Quick Tip - Color Star

Color Star recognizes color shades, identifies contrast measurements, recognizes the colors of LED lights, perceives light intensity, and recognizes patterns – all with clear spoken voice output.

Color Star is a Registered Trademark of the American Printing House.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

International Guide Dogs Day

I guess we can call this Throwback Wednesday because we are moving up our regular Thursday blog post to celebrate International Guide Dogs Day.  About ten years ago, I was talking with Mike Meteyer, a field rep for Guide Dogs for the Blind.  I had pulled together a small case of orientation and mobility artifacts, and as Mike and I talked, we started discussing Morris Frank, one of the co-founders of the first dog guide school in America, the Seeing Eye. As the conversation shifted around to Morris Frank’s dog, Buddy, we wondered “where is Buddy’s harness?”  We assumed it would be in the Smithsonian.  It is that kind of artifact, right?  First formally trained dog guide in America, we thought, although later I learned that there was an earlier one, a dog named Lux that was owned by a U.S. Senator.

And just as we were wrong about that, we were also wrong about the harness.  A few years later, I found out where it was.  The Seeing Eye still had two of Buddy’s original leather harness sets.  They were not in great condition.  Over time, the leather had dried out and everything was brittle and extremely fragile.  I spoke with one of the Seeing Eye Field reps, Lucas Frank (no relation to Morris), and Lucas put me in touch with the president at Seeing Eye, Jim Kutsch.  I sold Jim on the idea that if he would loan the harness to our museum here at APH, we would have it conserved by a professional.  And a few years after that, we would return the repaired harness to Seeing Eye for their own museum exhibit, and pay to conserve the second harness too.

So today, through the generosity of the Seeing Eye, one of Buddy’s original Nashville era harnesses is on loan to us here at APH.  It is one of my favorite objects on display.  The Nashville name plate dates it to the very first years of the school, before it moved to Morristown, NJ in 1931.  By the way, for those of you who don’t know the story, Buddy’s real name, or her first name, was Kiss.  Buddy was female.  Morris, we are told, did not like the name much and changed it so that he didn’t have to constantly say something like, “Here Kiss!  Good girl Kiss!” all over Nashville. A few weeks ago the harness was featured on an episode ofMystery at the Museum. Buddy helped change Morris Frank’s life, and dog guides still help thousands of Americans at work and play today.

Micheal A. Hudson, Museum Director, APH

(Photo descriptions: Detail of the Seeing Eye tag on Buddy’s harness, Buddy’s harness on display in the APH Museum)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Throw Back Thursday: Tactile Drawing Tools

Occasionally, like most museums, we will get a “box” in the mail.  Someone is cleaning house, and either they want to remain anonymous, or they absolutely, definitely do NOT want anything returned.  So, there is no return address.  Last week, I received such a box, carefully packed inside were a New Hall Braillewriter (serial# 3268, nothing special), and an old record album box full of drawing tools.  There were eight in total, all stamped with the Howe Press/Perkins School mark.  Now, I’ll admit, I don’t really like receiving these boxes.  Without documentation, we can’t establish ownership, and we’re reluctant to expend resources on things we do not own.  But these tools help tell the story of how our field made it possible for students who are blind or visually impaired to succeed in classes like geometry, or to make all sorts of maps and diagrams.  So our Throwback Thursday blog is a little long this week.  Mea culpa.

In 1939, Edward Waterhouse, a math teacher at the Perkins School in Watertown, Massachusetts, was designing pioneering appliances to teach mathematics.  Waterhouse would go on to head both the Howe Press and the Perkins School, and was an influential educator in many ways.  In 1939, there were no commercially available adapted tools that would allow students with visual impairments to draw raised lines for themselves.  The production of tactile graphics was consigned solely to the braille presses who were producing maps, or to individual teachers making their own diagrams using tactile materials, glue, and household tools.  By 1941, the Howe Press, the manufacturing arm at Perkins, had introduced “Geometry Instruments,” which we think meant a compass with a star wheel, a braille protractor, a tracing wheel, and three braille rulers. In 1947, the Perkins Annual Report says that their geometry instruments were being made at the Howe Press machine shop, now in Watertown (having moved that year from Boston).  In 1950, the category was renamed “Mathematical Instruments.”  You could buy all six drawing tools in 1956 for $13.45. 

Meanwhile, Harry P. Sewell was part of an ad-hoc research council in the 1940s in New York that met at the American Foundation for the Blind.  He received a patent for his own raised line writing system in 1952.  By 1955, Sewell was manufacturing the kits in a small shop and distributing them through AFB.   (A version is still available today from MaxiAids.)  Sewell’s kit involved a clipboard with a rubber coating, a plastic stylus, and a clear plastic film.  Pressing the stylus into the film (or into aluminum sheets) produced a raised line drawing on the opposite side of the film.

Whether inspired by Sewell, or encouraged by the steady sales of their drawing tools (we don’t really know the whole story yet), by May of 1968, Howe Press and Perkins had introduced their own drawing kit, the Raised Line Drawing Kit (RLDK).  It consisted of a rubber-faced drawing board, a nylon tipped stylus, a tracing wheel, a twelve-inch ruler, a protractor, a compass, and a right angle, along with 100 sheets of ten-inch square Mylar.  Like the Sewell Kit, the RLDK produced a raised line drawing on the opposite side of the Mylar. By 1976, Howe had also introduced their Freehand Drawing Stylus, a tool allowing you to place individual raised dots anywhere on the page.

The American Printing House for the Blind got into the act originally in 1965, introducing its Swail Dot Inverter, a hand tool, designed to emboss raised dots to create simple charts, graphs, and maps.  In 1980, APH introduced its Tactile Graphics Kit, which was intended more for teachers than students, but included a variety of tools to emboss graphics of all types on heavy gauge aluminum that could then be reproduced on a conventional thermoform machine.  But the most important contribution APH made to student produced graphics would come in 2005, when the company introduced its Draftsman Tactile Drawing Board.  Like the Sewell and the Raised Line Drawing Kit, the Draftsman used a rubber coated board and clear plastic film.  But unlike its predecessors, when a stylus was drawn across the plastic film, it left behind a raised line on the top of the film that could be explored by touch immediately.
By the way, Howe Press is not making these tools anymore, so, you guessed it, now they are museum pieces… (And if anyone has one of their original drawing boards, I would LOVE to get it!)

Micheal Hudson, Museum Director, APH 

(Photo caption:  Aluminum braille protractor, braille ruler, and nylon-tipped pencil stylus; blackened steel tracing wheel, compass with star wheel, and plain compass; u-shaped steel freehand drawing tool with wooden handle.)

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