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. It was voted best blindness-related blog three years in a row by

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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.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

What does an old movie camera have to do with the education of blind kids?

Bolex H8 Reflex Movie Camera
Frederick Winslow Taylor and Frank and Lillian Gilbreth pioneered the use of the stop watch and the motion picture camera for time-motion studies in the early 20th century, seeking to improve the efficiency of industrial workers. 

By the 1960s, APH was applying similar techniques to try to understand and improve tactile reading rates. The APH Department of Technical Research purchased this camera around 1967 to study the way blind students read tactile maps. Led by research associate Cleves Kederis, nine elementary school and nine high school students were filmed in four minute segments following a path on a map and trying to identify identically coded areas. 

(You can read about some similar research Kederis was involved in here.)  

According to the 1967 Department report, "attempts to quantify the data left much to be desired," although researchers did conclude that "students used molecular approaches in reading maps to an extent that seriously impaired their working ability." I’m not exactly sure what a “molecular approach” meant unless it was just a “scientific” way of saying the students became lost in the individual tactile details of the maps and struggled to master the larger picture.

The Bolex-Paillard was a high-end, Swiss engineered movie camera. This H8 Reflex used 8mm film and remained popular with filmmakers long after it was discontinued in 1965.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The "Crab" Braille Duplicator

This is kind of a wacky looking device that you might first mistake for a braillewriter.  Its six side-splayed keys—say that six times as quickly as you can!--on their long arms give it a crustacean-inspired look, and look very uncomfortable to use over a long day's work.  

It was based on a braillewriter, the Stainsby Braillewriter introduced originally around 1903 by Henry Stainsby (1859-1925), Superintendent of the Birmingham Royal Institution for the Blind in England.  The Stainsby was a hybrid between a braillewriter and a board slate.  Unlike most other braillewriters, which were based upon typewriter designs, the Stainsby mounted its paper on a board, and the writing mechanism slid up and down the board to emboss the braille.  

But the “Crab” duplicator had a more ambitious purpose.  It was used to emboss aluminum stereotype plates. Stereotype plates were folded metal plates you could load into a platen-style printing press to mass produce braille, although the Royal National Institute for the Blind in London marketed a special roller press to work with their braille duplicator. 

"To obtain copies, the paper is inserted between the embossed folded plate which is then passed through the roller press in between boards to afford protection to the braille characters."  RNIB introduced the machine originally as the "Hand Operated Machine for Embossing Aluminum Plates,” but when that failed to capture anyone’s attention, they reintroduced it with some modifications in 1968 with the more colorful name.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Cable Cane

Our object this week is a folding cane of unusual design, and it has a pretty cool back story too.  The original mobility long canes developed out of work done at U.S. Army rehabilitation centers by pioneers Richard Hoover, Warren Bledsoe, and Russell Williams.  For the most part they were rigid straight canes made of aluminum or fiberglass, and they featured a crook which guarded your hand from collisions.  By the 1960s, however, as orientation and mobility (O&M) training had begun to move out of the army system and into civilian rehabilitation programs, people found that sometimes they needed to store their canes out of the way, and demand grew for the folding or collapsible cane.  

In 1964, John K. Dupress, a veteran of World War II blinded by a German grenade during his service, came from the American Foundation for the Blind to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he helped found their Center for Sensory Aids Evaluation and Development.  One of the student designs that came out of the Center’s work—later headed by Dr. Robert Mann after Dupress’ death in 1969—was a folding aluminum cane whose central feature was a steel cable.  A lever in the handle pivoted to lock the cane open or release the cable to allow it to be folded.  By 1973, MIT turned the design over to a local metal forming firm—Hycor, Inc. in the Boston suburb of Woburn—for manufacturing.  Incidentally if you search for Hycor on-line, you’ll discover that they did a lot of high end stuff with rockets and military defense projects as well as handles for ordinary snow shovels and ski poles.  

Our example of the cane came from the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, Mass., where Father Thomas Carroll introduced the first civilian O&M training program in 1952.  Robert Mann served on Father Carroll’s board of directors, so it makes sense that a Hycor “Cable Cane” would find its way there eventually.  Our “cable cane” also has an unusual metal-flek paint job designed to make it visible at night, when most mobility canes rely on reflective tape.

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