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.

(See the end of this page for subscribing via email, RSS, browsing articles by subject, blog archive, APH resources, writing for Fred's Head, and disclaimers.)



Thursday, September 15, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Small Talk Portable Talking Computer

The Small Talk Talking Portable Computer

I wrote about Fred Gissoni and Fred Thompson’s Pocketbraille and Portabraille a few weeks ago, but another early accessible computer based on an entirely different model arrived at the museum this week.  Catherine Hula in Lansing, Michigan sent us a Small Talk portable computer.  Fred and Wayne’s machines were cobbled together from standard parts and with their plans you could build one yourself.  The Small Talk adapted a commercially available computer for the needs of blind users.  Bill Grimm, a computer programmer who was blind, founded Computer Aids Corporation in Fort Wayne in the early 1980s, initially working on accessible software for the Apple Computer.  CAC introduced the Small Talk in 1986 and it was distributed by VTEK.  It was one of the first talking portable computers for blind users and included a synthetic speech module, a word processor, and a scientific calculator.  Its memory was stored on micro-cassettes and data was entered on its full feature QWERTY keyboard.  Much of its programming was performed by Doug Geoffray, who went on to found GW Micro and still works in the industry today.  The Epson HX-20 platform it was built on is generally thought of as the first portable computer.  The HX-20 had a nifty internal thermal tape printer, but I’m not sure how useful that might have been for anything except the calculator.

Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

September 2016 APH News now online

**This Month’s Headlines:

  • Bold. Strong. Together! Annual Meeting 2016
  • You Can "Touch Tomorrow" at Annual Meeting
  • Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field: Inductees 2016
  • Enquiring Minds Want to Know!
    • Customer Notification: Building on Patterns: Kindergarten
  • Adults Jamming to the Joy Player!
  • Field Test Opportunity: Tactile Five and Ten Frames
  • APH Needs Your Feedback about All Aboard!
  • UltraLens: Please Take a Few Minutes to Complete a Survey!
  • Progress on The Year of Braille
  • New PE Feature: The "I Am" Challenge
  • Treasures from the APH Libraries
  • Engineers without Borders
  • Louisville Goes International for "Tailoring the Reading Experience!"
  • Social Media Spotlight
  • New Products
  • APH Travel Calendar and much, much more…

Friday, September 09, 2016

Comic Books for People Who Are Blind and Visually Impaired

Growing up mostly with students who were sighted, I often heard about different comic book heroes and many comic books that my friends were reading. Some casually followed certain characters while others fervently collected comic books. Because I was blind, I, at that time, figured that comic books were just something left to the imagination and that it would be nearly impossible to create ones that people who are blind could read and appreciate.

While we do not have a long list of comic book suppliers to discuss in this post, one website/store exists that caters exclusively to people who are blind and visually impaired, and at least one other person has created an individual comic book specifically designed for persons who are blind.

Comics Empower

Recently Comics Empower was mentioned in another blog post. It contains an interesting interview with Guy Hasson, the founder of Comics Empower. You can read about Hasson’s inspiration for creating the store in that post; we will concentrate on features of the website in this post.

Features of Comics Empower

Comics Empower, besides being fully accessible, actually is designed to be read by persons who are blind and visually impaired. Hasson’s site says:If you can read this, that means you’re visually impaired or blind. A sighted person can’t see this website: It’s got black text and a black background, which makes this text invisible to the sighted, and a picture at the top that explains you can only navigate this site with assistive technology.

If you’re new to comics, Comics Empower offers a free download of a First Timer’s Ultimate Guide to Comics that explains terminology, describes what comic books are, and prepares you for the comic book experience. Go to this page on the Comics Empower site, enter your name and email address, and get the guide.

When you are ready to explore further, the actual comic book store has over 50 comics and growing, some of which are not exclusive to Comics Empower. Since they are a seller and not a publisher, they carry some purely audio comic books that are not necessarily created for persons who are blind. Titles range from comedy to science fiction to fantasy and more. You can even browse the site and hear a few sample pages of each comic. Buy the comics at this link, one of which, Aurora, is featured in the image included as part of this post. Listen to the samples of each comic at this link. Perhaps you will find that you can enjoy comic books more than you had previously imagined.

You can follow Comics Empower on Twitter, listen to their Blind Panels podcast, or email

Life: A Tactile Comic

This post from 2013 describes a comic called “Life” written by Phillip Meyer. The aforementioned post describes Meyer’s work as a “simple comic”, indicating that it is not a sophisticated endeavor. It was meant to be simple enough for a person who is blind to follow along while retaining the ability to tell a story. Here is the description given in the article of Meyer’s comic:

Titled “Life,” the comic tells a familiar story: Two characters meet, fall in love and have a child. That child goes off on its own, the parents grow old and then fade away. Only in “Life,” there are no words, no colors and every character is represented by a simple, tactile circle.

Meyer’s goal was to make a comic that was equally translatable for sighted and blind people. Using a method similar to Braille, he embossed paper with circles of varying heights and sizes to represent different characters. For example, one circle fades to flat in the center, while the other is filled in; this helps to distinguish one character from the next. Similarly, each scene is marked by perforations in the paper, creating the same kind of paneling you’d find in a typical comic book.

Read more about this book and the other things Meyer has done on his website.

Audio Comics

These comics are not made specifically for people who are blind and visually impaired. They are audio comics that are designed to be “Audio adaptations of comics and genre fiction” according to Audio Comics, one company who sells such products. Audio Comics, whose work is available for purchase on Comics Empower, describes its work as follows:

AudioComics brings you professional, full-cast “audio movies” inspired by stories from comic books, graphic novels and genre fiction. Founded in 2010 by Lance Roger Axt and William Dufris, with Elaine Lee joining in 2011, AudioComics is one of the few production companies producing full-cast audio adapted from sequential material, bringing a unique collaborative approach to the medium by working in partnership with independent creators, guiding them through the process of adapting their stories for audio, while never imposing our viewpoint onto their creations. What we offer is nothing less than a second life for a creator’s graphic story, through a medium that will bring that project to the attention of a new audience.

Another site selling audio versions of comics is Graphic Audio. Graphic Audio offers an extensive list of titles and series. Titles are broken down according to genre or series, and you can choose to view books by the author’s last name. The site offers two podcasts and an app for listening as well as instructions for purchasing and downloading materials and a place to buy electronic gift cards so people can purchase the comics they want. The audio you can purchase on Audio Graphics is done in a similar manner to the work of Audio Comics; both sites make “audio movies” which are quite different from the work of Comics Empower. Comics Empower, so far, has not been given permission to sell Audio Graphic’s titles on their site so you will have to visit Audio Graphics to get more information about their work.

As you can tell, the collection of comic books for people who are blind and visually impaired, though it is comparatively small, is growing thanks to the sites and individuals mentioned here.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Throwback Thursday Object: the Cubarithm

The Cubarithm
We have a good number of arithmetic slates in our collection, but I was surprised this morning as I scanned through our database that I haven’t written about the Cubarithm yet.  The Cubarithm was originally introduced by Oury in France around 1886.  It is a grid, like a lot of the arithmetic slates.  This one is 16 x 16.  Cubes with braille characters on each side are stored in a tray on one end.  By turning the cubes in different directions, you get all the symbols you need to represent numbers and operators, and the grid lets you position them in columns just as a sighted person might work a math problem on paper.  In literary braille, you use a special symbol to tell you that a character is a number and not a letter, but that is dispensed with here.  If you find a symbol on a cubarithm, you assume it is a number.   APH introduced its own version of the cubarithm arithmetic frame in 1953.  It was made of a pliable red rubber and the cubes were hard yellow plastic.  We discontinued this model in 1972 but continue to sell a different design, the
Brannan Cubarithm, to this day.


Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Friday, September 02, 2016

How to Locate and Access Audio-Described Content

Can people who are blind enjoy movies and television shows? Many people have asked me this question; perhaps you’ve heard it or even asked it yourself. While audio-based forms of entertainment like audio books and music are important to persons who are blind, people who are blind often enjoy video-based entertainment like movies, documentaries, and television shows of varying types.

What exactly is audio description? The Audio Description Project (ADP) website, which we will discuss further, says the following:

Audio Description (AD) is the descriptive narration of key visual elements of live theatre, television, movies, and other media to enhance their enjoyment by consumers who are blind or have low vision. AD is the insertion of audio explanations and descriptions of the settings, characters, and action taking place in such media, when such information about these visual elements is not offered in the regular audio presentation.

The initial goal for writing this post was to list most, if not all, of the major sources of audio-described content. While attempting to gather the information into some sort of usable groupings or categories, however, it became obvious that it would be nearly impossible to put it all together in one post, especially if we attempted to elaborate on it in detail. As a result, we will direct you to resources with information about the history and availability of audio- described content and also mention a few resources which are not yet described on these larger sites including a service that calls itself the audio-described version of Netflicks and an independent video developer who chose to make their documentary with audio description.

The Audio Description Project

This website is an initiative of the American Council of the Blind and is a comprehensive site detailing what audio description is, who does it, how to get it, and much more. It contains a list of DVDs and television series with audio description as well as schedules for watching television shows with audio description and lists opportunities for individuals to train to become audio describers. It even includes listings of iTunes and Netflicks programming with audio description.

Although the entire project’s history is described in detail on the site, a brief synopsis of ADP’s history is as follows:

The Audio Description Project's website collects and provides information on audio description in all its forms: live theatre, television, movies, DVDs, and more. Started in 2002 by AD International, funding and direction for this website now come from the American Council of the Blind's Audio Description Project (started in March 2009).

Since new audio-described media is released regularly, interested persons should visit the ADP site at sign up to receive page changes/updates via email. You can also like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.

The Federal Communications Commission

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also provides a dedicated guide to audio description. This guide explains what audio description is, the laws and regulations that are related to its implementation, and how one can utilize it. It includes broadcast networks’ and cable networks’ audio described programming and schedule information and a detailed description of what steps to take to hear the audio description on most television service providers. It also includes information on closed captioning, receiving information related to emergency alerts that the government issues, and communication devices for persons who are deafblind. Taken together, these sites should provide most of the information you need to become more fully informed about audio description. Read the FCC’s guide at

Zagga Entertainment

This service calls itself, “Descriptive video on demand!” “We are Zagga Entertainment — a video-on-demand service featuring movies and series with described video. Whether you love a gripping thriller, a probing documentary or a hilarious buddy flick, we’ll feature it on our fully accessible website and mobile apps (which are coming soon).”

Zagga Entertainment provides sample videos on their site and may provide some videos at no cost; however, their service is similar to Netflicks because they are a video-on-demand service so you can watch programming at any time. How much does their service cost?

We have two membership packages to choose from. Our Basic Membership is $6.99 per month and gives you access to our independent content, classics and documentaries. A Premium Membership costs $9.99 and gives you access to all of Zagga, including Hollywood content.

Zagga’s creators have stated that their site is still under construction and that more content is soon to be added. Visit for more information or email

Independent Films/Documentaries

We, of course, are not aware of the actual number of independent filmmakers who add audio description to their work. One of them, however, chose to inform us about their film and to ensure that we knew that the film included audio description so we mention it here to show our appreciation for its inclusion as part of the film.

Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw, directed and produced by two-time Academy-Award-nominated documentary filmmaker Rick Goldsmith, and narrated by Academy-Award-winning actress Glenn Close, follows Holdsclaw through her legendary basketball career and her roller-coaster journey with mental illness.

Mind/Game is now available on DVD, and comes with video description for the visually impaired, Closed Captioning and SDH subtitles in English and Spanish.

Director Goldsmith has long been committed to full accessibility in his films. He personally presented Mind/Game at this year’s Michigan Association on Higher Education & Disability (MI-AHEAD) conference, and at a special Department of Labor screening of Mind/Game in Washington D.C., to commemorate the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Home use, professional use and educational use DVDS of Mind/Game are available for purchase, and you can read a more detailed description of the film at

While full implementation of audio description into all movies and television series is still far from complete, its usage seems to be increasing. With all of the available materials, perhaps you can watch something new or revisit something you’ve watched previously—this time with a much better understanding of the visual happenings thanks to audio description!

Subscribe to receive posts via email

* indicates required

Browse Articles by Subject

Follow us on Twitter


Write for us

Your input and support in the evolution of Fred's Head are invaluable! Contact us about contributing original writing or for suggestions for updating existing articles. Email us at


The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) makes every attempt to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the data contained in the Fred's Head articles; however, APH makes no warranty, guarantee, or promise, expressed or implied, concerning the content or accuracy of the information provided in Fred's Head. APH does not endorse any technique, product, device, service, organization, or other information presented in Fred's Head, other than products and services directly offered by APH.

The products produced by the American Printing House for the Blind are instructional/teaching materials and are intended to be used by trained professionals, parents, and other adults with children who are blind and visually impaired. These materials are not intended as toys for use by children in unstructured play or in an unsupervised environment.

The information and techniques contained in Fred's Head are provided without legal consideration (free-of-charge) and are not warranted by APH to be safe or effective. All users of this service assume the risk of any injury or damage that may result from the use of the information provided.

Information in Fred's Head is not intended as a substitute for professional advice or treatment. Consult your physician before utilizing information regarding your health that may be presented on this site. Consult other professionals as appropriate for legal, financial, and related advice.

Fred's Head articles may contain links to other websites. APH is not responsible for the content of these sites.

Fred's Head articles created by APH staff are (C) copyright American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. You must request permission from APH to reprint these articles. Email to request permission.

Any submissions to Fred's Head should be free of copyright restrictions and should be the intellectual property of the submitter. By submitting information to Fred's Head, you are granting APH permission to publish this information.

Fair Use Notice: This website may contain copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright holder(s). This site is operated on the assumption that using this information constitutes 'fair use' of said copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law.

Opinions appearing in Fred's Head records are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Printing House for the Blind.