Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

The Fred’s Head blog contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Fred’s Head is offered by the American Printing House for the Blind.

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Fred's Head is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, who passed away on September 21, 2014. Check out the bottom of this page for: subscribing to posts via email; browsing articles by subject; subscribing to RSS feeds; APH resources; the archive of this blog; APH on YouTube; contributing articles to Fred's Head; and disclaimers.

Friday, April 29, 2016

New Career Advantage Employment Preparation Primer for Visually Impaired Persons

The National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision (NRTC) at Mississippi State University has received funding from the United States Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) to create Career Advantage, an employment preparation primer for blind and visually impaired persons. The NRTC describes this new program as follows:

Are you blind or visually impaired? Are you making the transition from high school, college, or other training program into the workforce? Or are you an adult seeking to find or change employment? If so, this self-guided program was designed for you!

Career Advantage offers eight instructional modules which you can explore at your own pace. Portions of the program require advanced reading levels, which those with a high school degree typically have. The first four modules provide tools to take you, step by step, through the processes of self-assessment, career exploration, development of effective job search techniques, and decision-making about resume design and development. Information about job accommodations, talking to employers about vision loss, and the interview process are covered in modules 5 through 7. The final module of Career Advantage offers information, suggestions, and activities to help you move beyond learning new skills to applying them as an effective job-seeker. The NRTC researchers and designers of Career Advantage wish you success in your efforts to secure employment that is a good fit for your skills and interests!

In order to gain access to the program, please complete the survey found at this link:

 Read more about the program at the following link:

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Throwback Thursday: OCR the Old-Fashioned Way!

Our object this week may not look like much, a couple of large putty colored plastic and aluminum boxes.  You’d need a suitcase to carry them around, but today their equivalent fits in your pocket.  This is a Kurzweil Personal Reader by Xerox from about 1988.  The box on the left is an optical scanner.  It worked much like a modern flatbed scanner.  You raised the lid, laid your reading material down on the glass plate, and scanned your material one page at a time.  The box on the right was stuffed with electronics that took the scan and converted it into synthesized speech.  In essence, the Personal Reader worked like a photocopy machine, but instead of printing a copy of a page, it read the page out loud.  (Incidentally, the machine used Digital Equipment Corporation's DECtalk, a speech synthesizer and text-to-speech technology developed in the early 1980s, based largely on the work of Dennis Klatt at MIT.)  With the Personal Reader, almost anything that was in print could be read by a blind or visually impaired reader, and at their convenience.  No more waiting for a volunteer reader to record a book, or for it to be translated into braille.

Raymond Kurzweil, a pioneering futurist interested in pattern recognition and artificial intelligence, founded Kurzweil Computer Products in the early 1970s to develop reading machines for people with vision loss.  He was the first to develop practical optical character recognition for blind readers.  His first desktop models came out in 1978 at a cost of $19,400, a price affordable only for libraries and institutions.  Xerox bought the company in 1980, renaming it Xerox Imaging Systems.  Under that name, Kurzweil developed several different generations of his original machine.  The Reading Edge, introduced in 1992, was the first stand-alone and "almost portable" version.  At less than $6,000, it was the first reader that might be possibly affordable for the average blind consumer.

If you have a cell phone in your pocket, and the right app, you can scan a sign or your mail or just about anything, and your phone can read it to you in seconds.  It’s not always perfect, but it works, and the technology in that little box can be traced back to the technology in these big boxes.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Use Facebook Messenger to Book a Ride with Lyft or Uber

Facebook recently added a very useful service to its Messenger app, an app you can use even if you don’t have a Facebook account.

Messenger now allows you to book a ride with Lyft or Uber directly through Messenger as long as the particular service is available where you live. Facebook says the following about its new offering: Today, we’re expanding the services available to you with our launch of transportation on Messenger. With this new feature, you can request a ride from a car service without ever needing to download an extra app or leave a conversation. It’s super easy and doesn’t take you away from the plans that you’re making with your friends or family.

Admittedly it is rather difficult to spot the location of this service in the app; I located it while browsing the newest version. In order to utilize this service, you must open up any conversation you are having in Messenger.

Once you do this, flick down past the options for text, camera, etc. Locate the “more” option and double tap it. You will see several choices; “transportation” is one of the first choices. Double tap it when you locate it.

Next we find the one accessibility issue with using this service. It is one, though, that you can work around even if it is rather annoying. As you flick to the right, once you hear the “like” option, you can flick two more times. When you do, each time you hear only a click sound, the sound you hear when you try to do something and your phone’s screen reader is locked up or moving slowly. It is different from the bonk sound you hear when you have reached the final item in a list; it is a barely audible click. Fortunately, even if you have trouble hearing it, you should be able to remember that after “like” are two options with only the click as feedback.

The first click represents Lyft; if you double tap after hearing that first click, a screen comes up allowing you to sign up for or sign into Lyft without using or downloading the app. You get messages about the driver’s whereabouts and whatever else you need to know.

If you flick twice past “like”, you reach Uber’s icon; double tap it and notice a very similar screen with the same options and functionality.

You may receive a free ride for using this service if you are a new user of Lyft or Uber; existing users do not get this free ride at this time. Again, you can request the ride without downloading any other apps and without interrupting your conversations on Messenger.

The services, of course, are available only in areas served by Lyft or Uber. Check and to get this information.

Remember you can take advantage of this service through the Messenger app itself; you need not have a Facebook account.

Messenger continues to add new features; if any others are added that may benefit the blind or visually impaired community, we may highlight them here also.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Crab Braille Duplicator

Our object this week is an interesting device introduced by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) around 1968 to emboss metal stereotype plates by hand.  The “Crab Braille Duplicator” was manufactured by the Coventry Gauge & Tool Company in Coventry, England.  Coventry did other braillewriters and slates for RNIB as well, under the brand name Matrix.  The basic design for the “Crab” was based on the much older Stainsby-Wayne Braillewriter (introduced around 1903) and it worked in much the same way, except its heavier castings allowed it to emboss metal rather than paper.  Each time the keys were pressed, the carriage would advance one space to the right until it reached the end of the line.  Pins on the carriage fit into holes in a backing board and could be advanced down the board one line at a time, literally by the lifting the carriage and sliding it down one position.  The most distinguishing feature on the machine, its widely splayed six keys, is what gives it the name, as they resemble the legs on a crab.  The operator would sit with elbows held out away from their body in order to get their fingers in position.  It is hard to imagine what your arms would feel like after a long day of that!  But it would allow a small shop to inexpensively prepare braille stereotype plates.  The plates could then be used in a modified printing press to emboss braille, or even used in a roller press (it looked and acted like an old fashioned wringer on a washing machine) also available from RNIB.  This example was found in our model shop at APH.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Commemorative Medal

Our object this week is a new acquisition, donated by Mireille Duhen.  Ms. Duhen works at the Association Valentin Haüy in Paris, and is constantly reminding me how many innovations in education for the blind had their roots in France.   It is a commemorative medal, cast in bronze, remembering Dr. Valentin Haüy (1745-1822).  It features his face in profile on the right, with his hair neatly pulled back into a pigtail tied with a bow and his sideburns curled.  Dr. Haüy founded the first school for blind students in the world in Paris, France in 1784, the Institut Royale des Jeunes Aveugles .  He also invented the tactile book.  By the time the medal was made, the name had been changed to Institut National, reflecting the fall of the monarchy during the French Revolution  This medal, sculpted by Frederic de Vernon, was completed in 1887.  A rectangle left blank on the back of the medal allowed it to be used for various awards, in this instance the Prix Wilkins de Varney.  The award was established at the school in 1857 for good character by a female student, and was awarded based upon a vote by students and teachers.  There are examples of different medals being used for the award on the web over the years.  We don’t know who Clotilde Liserta was, but it does personalize the medal a lot for me to imagine her proudly clutching it and surrounded by her admiring friends after receiving it in 1895. 

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