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.)


Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Feedealio: Your Personalized RSS Shopping Feed Creator

Feedealio Beta: is a free online service that helps you find good deals on the products you are looking for by building a personalized RSS shopping feed for you. There is no registration required, and set-up is as easy as entering a description of what you are looking for. There are no limits to how many feeds you can create. Whether it's the latest MP3 player or a Playstation 3, those hard to come by items can be super frustrating to chase around the web, and Feedealio can make your life a bit easier by letting you know when they are in stock at local and online stores.

Click this link to start shopping with Feedealio.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Filling Zipper-Style Storage Bags

A few days ago, I was filling a few small zip lock type bags. I was thinking there must be an easy way to fill them without getting them so full that they are hard to close and also a way to keep the zipper part clean so that liquids do not get in them.

Then the thought came to me, why not just fold the opening down one turn. Not only did it solve the problem with the zipper getting dirty and not overfilling, it also helped to keep them open, making them easier to fill.

So, the next time you use a zipper-type plastic bag, try folding the collar of the bag down one time (like you would a shirt sleeve or collar)!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Heard any good movies lately?

I know people who get bored at work sometimes. That's unfortunate - we spend most of our day at work, so it should be enjoyable.

I suppose everybody and every job has its days. Well, I have some sites that will ease some of your pain on those boring days.

Movies for the Blind

enjoy films without looking at a screen. This site takes public-domain movies and adds audio description to them, making them available for free listening or download.

Click this link to visit

Listen to Movies

At, you can select from a variety of popular movies and television shows. They range from comedy to drama to science fiction.

There's a catch, though: You can only listen to a movie. That's right! There's perfect accessibility for the blind here because there's no video to distract you - or tip off your boss.

Now, if your supervisor is really strict about these things, try the stealth mode. It makes the player window look like a spreadsheet. How clever.

The selections are non-DVS (not described for the blind), so be aware that you're only going to hear the original audio track. New selections are being added frequently. Keep checking back for new things to listen to.

Click this link to Listen to a Movie:

The Princeton Braillists: Creators of Tactile Maps for the Blind

I'm going to let you in on a well kept secret. Have you ever wanted a map of your state? Maybe you're studying The Bible and want a map of the area as it existed in that time. I have a great resource for you.

The Princeton Braillists is a small group of senior citizen volunteers whose goal is to make high quality but inexpensive tactile maps and drawings for blind people of all ages.

Nancy Amick and Ruth Bogia, working as the Princeton Braillists, have been producing tactile maps for about 8 years. Before that, they were active for many years in making tactile drawings for textbooks being recorded by Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. Nancy began making drawings about 40 years ago and was a pioneer in developing the metal foil technique introduced by Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic in 1964. Ruth, a former studio director of the New Jersey Unit of RFB&D and a certified Braillist, joined Nancy in making drawings about 25 years ago. She continues to braille books for the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Fran Gasman joined the group in 2005 and recently became a certified Braillist, also brailling for the New Jersey Commission. Phyllis Branin finishes the books by punching and binding the volumes. Nancy's husband, James Amick, helps with the computer and secretarial chores.

The maps and drawings are created by hand in metal foil, then duplicated by the Thermoform process to make clear, sharp copies. The 11x11-1/2 inch plastic sheets are bound into volumes with cardboard covers and a spiral plastic binder.

Generally, key letters are used to label cities and areas on the maps. These key letters are identified on key pages preceding each map. The maps sometimes have foldout sections and or appear on facing pages.

The maps are detailed, and some experience with tactile drawings is recommended. Maps available include:

  • MAPS OF THE STATE OF HAWAII: includes detailed maps of the eight major islands. Each island has introductory information followed by one or more key pages and a full-page map. A general view of the city of Honolulu and of Pearl Harbor are included in the maps of the island of Oahu. 10 maps with keys, 55 pages.

  • OUTLINE MAPS OF THE WORLD in one volume. Contains 33 maps showing political boundaries, capital cities, and surrounding bodies of water. The maps are divided into 5 sections: North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia, Africa, and Polar Regions. An index at the end of the volume lists countries and islands, and indicates the page number of the map on which they appear. 33 maps, 79 pages.

  • ATLAS OF NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA: three units in four volumes. Emphasis is on geography. Maps show boundaries, mountains, rivers and bodies of water, elevation, major cities only, climate, land use and resources. Each unit is self-contained and can be used alone.
    Unit 1. NORTHERN NORTH AMERICA: Canada and U.S. 59 pages
    Unit 2. THE UNITED STATES: (2 volumes) divides the country into 6 regions; maps are shown by region. 124 pages
    Unit 3. MIDDLE AND SOUTH AMERICA: 51 pages

  • MAPS OF THE BRITISH ISLES: covers England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland. Overall maps show boundaries, bodies of water, mountains and hills. Maps of each country show cities, towns, major rivers, and counties or regions. Places of interest in the Greater London area and an overall map of London are also included. 11 maps with keys, 46 pages total.

  • ATLAS OF WESTERN EUROPE: two volume set covering 21 countries and their nearby territories. A page of facts and a detailed full-page map is included for each country. The maps show cities and physical features and are labeled with extensive keys. The British Isles (covered in a separate volume - see above) is not included.
    Vol. I: Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Andorra, Monaco, Luxembourg; 23 maps 72 pages
    Vol. II: Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Greece, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Malta; 13 maps, 48 pages

  • ATLAS OF EASTERN EUROPE: covers in one volume Poland, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Yugoslavia, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Western Russia up to the Ural Mountains. The format is the same as described above for Atlas of Western Europe. 21 maps, 80 pages total.

  • ATLAS OF THE MIDDLE EAST: covers 17 countries including Bahrain, Crete, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine National Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. The format is the same as described above for Atlas of Western Europe. 25 maps with keys, 69 pages total.

  • ATLAS OF CENTRAL AND SOUTH ASIA: covers 13 countries and Kashmir. Countries include Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan , Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. The format is the same as described above for Atlas of Western Europe. 19 maps, 72 pages.

  • ATLAS OF EAST ASIA: covers China, Mongolia, Japan, North and South Korea. The format is the same as described above for Atlas of Western Europe. 26 maps, 106 pages.

  • ATLAS OF SOUTHEAST ASIA: covers in one volume Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Timor-Leste and the Philippines. The format is the same as described above for Atlas of Western Europe. 23 maps with keys, 83 pages total.

  • MAPS OF RUSSIA AND ITS FORMER REPUBLICS: shows boundaries, rivers, and major cities as of 1997. 6 maps, 16 pages $4.00. For more detailed maps of western Russia and some of the Republics see the Atlas of Eastern Europe and the Atlas of Central and South Asia listed above. MAPS OF MOROCCO: 7 maps with keys, 19 pages total.

  • MAPS OF THE BIBLE LANDS - OLD TESTAMENT: for serious students of the Bible or ancient history. No text; highly detailed; extensive keys. Covers Ancient World, Abraham, Exodus, Kingdoms of Saul, David, Solomon, Israel and Judah, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Alexander, Seleucids, and Maccabees. 25 maps, 98 pages.

  • MAPS OF INDIVIDUAL U.S. STATES: Each of the booklets below contains introductory information and detailed maps showing major cities, rivers and lakes, major highways, physical features, county boundaries, agricultural and mineral resources.
    MAINE: 11 maps with keys, 27 pages total
    NEW HAMPSHIRE: 11 maps with keys, 29 pages total
    VERMONT: 9 maps with keys, 18 pages total
    MASSACHUSETTS: 15 maps with keys, 48 pages total; includes information about and overall maps of Boston
    CONNECTICUT AND RHODE ISLAND: 13 maps with keys, 38 pages
    NEW YORK STATE: 14 maps with keys, 44 pages total, also includes information and overall maps of New York City
    NEW JERSEY: 17 maps with keys, 46 pages total; including overall maps of metopolitan areas around Newark and Camden
    PENNSYLVANIA: 12 maps with keys, 34 pages total, also includes information and overall maps of Philadelphia.
    FLORIDA: 12 maps with keys, 34 pages total including maps of Orlando/Lakeland, Tampa/Sarasota, Fort Myers/Naples, and Miami/Fort Lauderdale areas.
    ILLINOIS: 13 maps with keys, 46 pages total, including overall maps of Chicago and vicinity

  • CALIFORNIA: includes detailed maps showing location of major cities, rivers and lakes, mountains, highways, parks and counties. Subsequent maps show Northern, Central, and Southern California, San Francisco, Yosemite, Los Angeles area and San Diego. About 275 cities are included and indexed. 19 maps with keys, 84 pages total.

They also have maps of the human body:

BASIC HUMAN ANATOMY: cross-sections of the head and brain, nose-mouth-throat, tooth, respiratory tract, heart, digestive system, villus, urinary tract, kidney, nephron, nerve cell, eye, ear, skin, male and female reproductive systems, and fetus in the womb. 18 drawings with keys, 31 pages.

Now, here's the best secret yet. You won't believe their prices. Because they are volunteers, all you pay for is the material to put these wonderful works of art together. Click this link to visit their website for pricing information.

Send check or purchase order to:

Phone: Ruth Bogia 215-357-7715
Phone: Nancy Amick 609-924-5207

Credit card and Fax service are not available. Shipping is by free mail for the blind where eligible. Please allow 4 to 6 weeks for delivery.

Download Thunder for Free

For many years, blind and visually impaired computer users have struggled with the cost of a screen reader. As helpful as computers are, they are useless to a blind person without a screen reader, but the average price can run around $1,000. Solutions to this problem are now being developed and you can help!

Thunder is the name given to a freeware screen reader that is available for download at The inspiration for came from two blind people in Peterborough UK and Sensory Software Ltd in Manchester. "We see the talking computer as the gateway to literacy, learning, work and financial independence for blind people and our mission is to make the blind-friendly talking software available worldwide".

Thunder won't speak everything in Windows, it works well with Microsoft Word, Outlook Express and Windows Explorer. You must install and use WebbIE, a free internet browser for people who are blind or visually impaired to enjoy the Internet. It runs on Windows 2000, XP and Vista.

Thunder is free for personal home use, not for organisations. If is to survive and flourish, it needs grassroots partners who will promote its use, encourage training and support for local users and contribute in cash or kindness toward ongoing development costs.

Click this link to download the Thunder screen reader from visit

A website has been created to help offset the costs of creating the Thunder screen reader. is an online shop where you can purchase online or by telephone a range of reasonably priced products and accessories to use with your Thunder. There are superior sounding computer voices, advanced speech and or print enlargement software packages and the Bierley range of electronic magnifiers requiring no computer involvement. There is also some useful software for Braillists and those of you wanting to scan books or your post and listening to what comes to you in print. They even have software for people who can see well but struggle with reading and writing because of Dyslexic challenges.

A mailing list has been created to discuss Thunder. To join, put the word subscribe in the subject of a message and send it to

Michael Curran has written a free, open-source screen reader for windows. Michael wants input and programming assistance, It is being written in the Python language and is called NVDA.

Click this link to visit the Nonvisual Desktop Access (NVDA) website:

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Find Long Lost Friends

Has an old friend crossed your mind recently? Maybe someone you've lost touch with and really miss. Have you tried conventional means of finding them, but to no avail? Well, now it's time to try Long Time Lost. It is a free Web site that allows you to post who you're looking for and when they do a vanity search (Google their name), it will show up in the search results.

I had a friend named Derek. I have often thought about trying to contact him, but I don't have a clue where he is. I am going to try this and hope it works.

The site is in beta form, which means there are going to be some kinks in the system and that your feedback is going to be extremely helpful in fine tuning this site. The first thing to do is to create an account.

Fill out the information that's required, read the terms of agreement and sign up. Then it should automatically log you in so you can begin your search. You can search by placing an ad for that person on the site. Well, that's the best way I can think of describing it.

Choose Add a New Search and then fill out the form. You have to put their name, because without it, the whole thing won't work. Then you fill in the Description field with how you know the person. Maybe how you met, when you last saw them or why you want to get back in touch with them. Next, you can put the date and location of the last time you saw them. You can even upload a photo of yourself or the both of you, if you want. That way, they will have a face to go with the search. Once all the fields are filled in to your satisfaction, click the Add Search to Long Time Lost button.

Now, all you have to do is sit back and wait. You've done all you can. It can take up to a week for a search to be queued into a search engine. If the person you are searching for does a vanity search and does respond, the site will notify you.

Click this link to start searching for friends at

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Yahoo! Groups

If you are blind or visually impaired, there's a good chance you've heard of Yahoo! Groups. You may already be a member of a group, maybe two or three.

Yahoo! Groups is where people with a shared interest can meet and get to know each other, along with staying informed with day to day news. Being in a group allows you to view shared message archives, photos and photo albums, group event calendars, member polls and shared links. Not all groups have these features inabled, as the group moderator you get to say which ones are active for your group.

You can create a new group for a fan club, share messages with your family and basically anything you can think of. If there's already a group that catches your eye, you can join it. The best thing about Yahoo! Groups is that they are completely free!

Because there are a lot of blind and visually impaired folks that know how to use Yahoo! Groups, I thought I'd start this article with the creation of a group. In this example, I am going to create a group for my family. This way, we can all keep in touch with family vacations, share pictures, etc. You can create any type of group you want, but this will at least give you an idea of how to get started.

  1. Start by visiting the Yahoo! Groups Web site at You will need a Yahoo! ID. If you use any other Yahoo! services, such as the Mail or Finance features, you already have one. If not, you'll need to create one.

  2. Click this link to go to the Yahoo! Registration page. Please note the information at the top of this page: "Attention Blind or Visually Impaired Users. To complete this form you must enter a word that is part of an image. If you can't read the image, Yahoo is happy to help you create your account. A representative from customer care will need to contact you. To request assistance with registration, please read the Yahoo! Terms of Service located at Once you have reviewed our policies, please provide your phone number and email address and send your request by visiting this URL -" If you can see the letters and numbers that make up their CAPCHA, or if you have someone who can read them, go ahead and fill out the information on this page.
  3. Once all your information has been entered, or when Yahoo! contacts you and you set up a user name and password,
  4. return to the Yahoo! Groups Web site at Type in your username and password and click Sign In.

  5. Click the Start a Group link.

  6. Now, you will be prompted to select which category you want your group to be placed in. You can either search for a group or go category by category until you find the best possible one for your group. I used the first method and after a quick search, I selected this category line: Top > Family & Home > Families > Individual Families. Since this was where I wanted my group to be, I selected the Place My Group Here button.

  7. The next step requires you to enter some information about your group. Enter the information required and click Continue.

  8. The next step just asks which e-mail you would like to receive group e-mails from and which Yahoo! profile you would like to be displayed. Enter the information and click Continue.

  9. You will then see a confirmation page. There are two links at the bottom. I suggest that you click Customize Your Group.

  10. To begin customizing your group, select Get Started.

  11. The resulting questions ask whether you would like your group to be listed in the Yahoo! directory, who can join and who can post messages. I made the family group unlisted, that people can only join with my approval and finally, that only members of my group can post messages. After you make your choices, click Next.

  12. The next questions ask whether you want to approve messages, who message replies go to and if you want to use the Web features (photo, files, calendars and polls). Most blind and visually impaired related lists do not use these features. Select your answers and click Next.

  13. The next step includes more questions about messages and Web features. Again, answer the questions and click Finish.

  14. You will now see a congratulations page. Next, I recommend that you click Invite People to send out some invitations.

  15. On the next page, you can send e-mails to invite people to your group. I typed in my family members' e-mail addresses, typed a brief message and clicked Submit Invite.

  16. The e-mail will be previewed next. Read it over and if you're sure it says everything you want it to, click Invite People.

  17. You will now see a confirmation page. Click Go to Group.

  18. Continue reading to see how you can add messages, links, pictures and files to your group if you selected these options earlier. Note the URL of this page. If you are a member of other Yahoo! Groups, you may wish to advertise your group if it's for the public. Using the URL of the group allows others to quickly go to your group's home page and sign up.

    Note the subscribe email address for your group. This email address is uniform for all groups. It usually has your group name, a dash, the word subscribe, then the at symbol and For example, Most users will use this to subscribe to your group. You could use this email address to advertise your group as well.

Now, let's look at subscribing to groups that already exist.

  1. Click this link to visit Click the Sign In link.

  2. Enter your username and password and click Sign In.

  3. In the Find a Yahoo! Group search box, type in your query. For example, I searched for groups to discuss my favorite television show Star Trek.

  4. After scrolling down the results, I found one I liked.

  5. I clicked on it and was greeted by the group's home page.

  6. I clicked the Join this Group! button in the upper right hand corner. On the page that appears, I answered some simple questions and clicked Join, confirmed my selections and I was in!

There's a lot more to explore in Yahoo! Groups. If you have any questions, you can find out more by visiting the Yahoo! Groups Help Section at

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sayings and Phrases, Meanings and Origins

Have you ever thought about where phraises like "my bad" and "sue me" come from? Why do we say such strange things? Here's a website with browsable and searchable explanations and bulletin board entries on the origins and meanings of phrases from literature, folk usage, popular culture, etc. Now, when someone says that "Something's rotten in the state of Denmark" I'll actually know what it is!

Click this link to visit the Sayings and Phrases - Meanings and Origins website.

Detect Metal in Wood with the Lumber Wizard

My family purchased a farm when I was a teenager. I remember helping my father tear down an old milking barn. We used some of the wood to build a tool shed. I remember what a pain it was trying to find all the old nails and screws that were left in the wood after it was removed. If you weren't careful, it could really be a pain if you happened to find a nail with a finger.

My dad was always careful when sawing the wood. He didn't want to hit an old nail and tear up a blade or have small pieces fly out and end up on the ground. The Lumber Wizard would have certainly been handy for scanning the pieces before cutting. Some of those small pieces of metal I just couldn't see, and my dad missed a few as well.

Recycled wood is wonderful to work with, but you run the risk of damage each time you machine it. Old nails, screws, and fasteners will wreck expensive planer, jointer, and saw blades quicker than a wink, but the Lumber Wizard can keep that from ever happening in your shop again. It's a metal detector for your wood, The Lumber Wizard locates metal buried in wood up to 6 inches thick. In addition to the sound alert, you can plug an earphone into the jack or set the unit to vibrate instead. A smart designer engineered the handle with a little bend in it, so you won't be dragging your hand along the wood surface, a small touch that any blind or visually impaired person will appreciate. For about the cost of a good carbide blade, you'll be saving yourself countless ruined bits and blades. And that makes the Lumber Wizard a smart investment.

Designed specifically for woodworkers in noisy work environments. Lumber Wizard features a low voltage vibrator, which could alert a deaf/blind user when metal is detected. By sweeping Lumber Wizard in a circular pattern at least a 1/2 inch from the wood surface, it will identify all types of metal or steel items by emitting a high-pitched tone. A nine-volt battery is required but not included. No calibrating, no measuring, no guessing! A Little Wizard is also available for greater accuracy.

Click this link to purchase the Lumber Wizard from
Click this link to purchase the Little Wizard from

Easy Braille with Bluetooth

Handy Tech North America has announced the release of Easy Braille with Bluetooth. This 40 cell braille display represents the latest innovation in portable braille technology. If you are familiar with the USB version of Easy Braille, then you will appreciate the same easy access to your computer. Now you can control your computer from up to 30 feet away.

Imagine being in an important meeting, class or at a critical point in a good book and suddenly your batteries go flat. Just recharge them by plugging in the power adaptor or replace the 4 AAA batteries that you can purchase anywhere and you are up and running again. Easy to exchange standard batteries are used for all of Handy Tech's portable Braille devices. No more shipping your display off to who knows where, for who knows how long and spending literally hundreds of dollars on shipping and repair charges only to find out that your battery needed to be replaced.

Easy Braille works with your favorite screen reader, comes with an AC power adaptor/charger, attractive carrying case to protect your investment, USB cable for those times you are working near your computer and an easy to navigate manual on CD.

With it's extremely small footprint, a cursor routing button above each Braille cell and an easy to use Braille keyboard for input and control, Easy Braille is a great Portable 40 cell braille display.

Don't worry if your laptop or PC doesn't already have Bluetooth, because as with all Handy Tech portable displays, Easy Braille comes with a free USB Bluetooth adaptor and each unit comes pre-programmed with it's own unique Bluetooth pairing code.

For more information about Easy Braille or any of the Handy Tech products, please call: 651-636-5184 Or point your web browser to:

Friday, February 16, 2007

How Do Blind People Type?

Here's an article for our sighted friends. Once a month, I help conduct disability awareness training for TARC our local bus company. This includes both the fixed route and paratransit drivers. It's my job to answer their general questions about blindness and how blind people travel with dog guides.

Recently, a driver asked how I am able to type. Specifically, how do I know where to place my hands in order to find the home row. After I explained it to him, I thought his question would make a great Fred's Head article and here it is.

I'd like you all to do something for me. Look down at your keyboard and locate the letters of F and J. By any chance, do you notice anything a little different about those two keys? Well, depending on the color of your keyboard, it may be a little hard to see, but those two letters happen to have a little "bump" on them. It's just a little line that goes across the key that sticks up a little like a bump.

The two bumps are there to help people position their hands on the keyboard in the correct places without having to look down. All you have to do is feel around for those two bumps and your right and left hands will be in the right spots. I'm sure you already know this, but the correct way is to place your left index finger on the F key and your right index finger on the J key. You then just line up the rest of your fingers on the other keys to begin typing.

So, the little bumps are there just to make sure your hands are in the correct position for the ultimate typing experience! And if you think about it, they can help you to start typing without looking down as well. Just feel around for the right spots and before you know it, you won't have to look at your keyboard at all when you type. All it takes is a little practice. Why do you need to look at the keys anyway?

The History of Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day has always been something I've celebrated in one way or another. From the days of my childhood when I made my parents Valentine cards with red construction paper, crayons, glitter and glue to today when I send an accessible Valentine's card and flowers to my wife and candy to my children. It's a day where we celebrate the ones we love, whether they are our significant other or our children. But, how did it all get started?

Here's a site with all the answers. You'll find navigation to be very easy, it's all there on the side menu for those with vision. The sections are:

  • The History of Valentine's Day: Here you will learn the History of Valentine's Day in several ways. You'll learn about St. Valentine, Cupid and more.

  • Valentine's E-cards: Don't have the time or money to go get a Valentine's card for that special someone? Or do you want to send a sighted loved one a Valentine's message? Well, now is your chance! Choose one of the images you'd like to use as your Valentine card. Next, click the Create a Title tab, where you can fully customize what your card says on the front and how it looks. Then go to Personalize E-card, write your message and put in the email address for you and your recipient. Now, all you have to do is go to the Preview and Send tab and make sure it all looks right and then send it away to your Valentine! Obviously, this works best if you have some vision, but folks using screen readers may find it useful as well.

  • Featured Valentine's Clips: Here you can watch 10 clips about Valentine's Day and even take a quiz on the holiday. Each video is on a different topic, ranging from the History of Valentine's Day to an Ice Wedding to the Sexual Revolution. Check it out and then take the quiz!

  • Did You Know: This section is a great collection of little tidbits and facts about Valentine's Day that you may not know. It's divided into categories: Looking for Love, Be Mine, Candy is Dandy, Flowers and Jewelry. You can even find the names of some romantic sounding places here.

  • Love Letters from the President: As a fan of history, this is the most interesting section to me. Here you can read actual love letters written by President Harry Truman to the love of his life, Bess. The letters start from the early days of the courtship through their marriage and life at the White House.

Click this link to learn The History of Valentine's Day.

Gmail for Everyone

Since Google introduced Gmail to the public back in 2004, it has been an invitation only service. This meant that you either had to be invited by someone who was already using it or you could sign up using your mobile phone. If you wanted an account, you could give them your phone number and they would text message you a code and "invite" you to create an account. What a pain for blind and visually impaired people who can't read text messages on most cell phones!

Well, all of that is over now. Google has announced that anybody can get a Gmail account, no invitation required. Signing up for Gmail is now as easy as creating an account with, say, Hotmail or Yahoo! All you have to do is visit and create an account. You'll just need to fill in a couple pieces of information, agree to their terms and click on the "I accept. Create my account" button. You'll then be all set.

With your Gmail account, you will have 2 GB of space for your messages. You can also use Gmail to chat with other users, so be sure to tell all of your friends about this new and exciting discovery. One more thing: if you use Outlook Express or another desktop email client, you can still get your Gmail messages through that. Everything's covered here! So, either way you look at it, this is a great deal and now that everyone can take advantage of it, maybe you should too. Check it out!

Why eBay When You Can AT Bay?

AT Bay is a Florida-based website where people can buy, sell and trade assistive technology (AT for short). If your organization has used assistive technology devices stored for lending out or donating, list them on AT Bay.

AT Bay is a program of the Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technology, Inc. ( FAAST works with consumers, family members, caregivers, providers and agencies to ensure that individuals with disabilities continue to benefit from assistive technology as they move between home, school, work and the community.

If you are interested in listing equipment for selling or trading go to

FAAST, Inc. · Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technology
325 John Knox Road
Building 400
Suite 402
Tallahassee, Florida 32303
Toll Free: 888-788-9216
Phone: 850-487-3278
Fax: 850-487-2805

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

eSpeak for Your Screen Reader

eSpeak is a Free and compact open source software speech synthesizer for English and other languages. It produces good quality English speech. It uses a different synthesis method from other open source TTS engines, and sounds quite different. It's perhaps not as natural or "smooth", but I find the articulation clearer and easier to listen to for long periods of reading. The program and its data, including several languages, totals about 450K. It can also produce speech output as a WAV file.

Because this is a SAPI 5 voice, it is compatible with JAWS for Windows, Window Eyes, Text Aloud, News Aloud and any program that supports SAPI 5.

Click this link to download a sample of eSpeak reading The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe (compressed as .ogg).
Click this link to download eSpeak from its home page:

Handicapped Pets

There are over 130 Million pets in the US. 47% of them are considered, by their caretakers, "Members of the Family," receiving the same level of love and care as others in the family. 60% of these pets will receive a serious injury in their lifetime that can be helped by the products, services, and support on Even more, as they age, will be assisted by products for elderly pets like diapers, support slings, ramps, and more. was created in 2001 to support the caretakers of Elderly, Disabled, and Handicapped Pets. We have all of the products, services, and support you'll need. The Site was created by Mark C. Robinson in memory of Mercedes, a slightly epileptic Keeshound who was put to sleep before her time because he Mark didn't know any better and had no way to find out more. Now there's a way. The site is overflowing with stories and photos about health and healing, love and commitment, and the unique connection that takes place when an animal and a human choose to take care of one another.
10 Northern Blvd, #7
Amherst, NH 03031
Toll Free: 888-811-PETS
Phone: 603-577-8854
Fax: 603-584-9349

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

"Welcoming Students with Visual Impairment to Your School"

Perkins School for the Blind Publications has recently published "Welcoming Students with Visual Impairment to Your School": A guide for training public school personnel and families about the needs of students with vision loss.

These multi-media modules, funded by a grant from The Gibney Family Foundation, have been developed to provide vision professionals with a user-friendly resource for sharing information about students with visual impairment. Modules include:

  • An overview of visual impairment
  • Social skills for children and youth with visual impairments
  • Orientation and Mobility
  • Low Vision

For more information about these modules or to place an order, click this link to go to

Friday, February 09, 2007

Exercise and Glaucoma

The following information comes from Johns Hopkins. For more information, click this link to visit their Vision and Eye Care Topic page.

While the mainstay of glaucoma therapy remains lowering intraocular pressure (IOP) with medication, laser treatment, or surgery, some evidence does suggest that a regular exercise program can help support your medical therapy. But what kind of exercise is best? Is there anything in particular you should, or shouldn't do? Here's an overview of what's known.

Overall, exercise has been found to lower IOP. Studies also have found that it improves blood flow to the retina and optic nerve. In one study, jogging for 20 minutes lowered IOP by 1 mm Hg to 8 mm Hg. In another, weight lifting also led to decreases in IOP, with IOP dropping by 14.5% after the third set of chest presses and 13.2% after the third set of leg presses. While the jogging and weight training studies were conducted in healthy, athletic people without glaucoma, exercise has also been found to benefit sedentary people with ocular hypertension. For instance, three months of moderate exercise for nine sedentary people suspected of having glaucoma decreased mean IOP by 4.6 mm Hg (20% for these particular patients).

If you aren't already active, there's no need to adopt a hard-core exercise program. Simply going for a walk three or more times a week is all you need to protect against glaucoma progression. The catch? The exercise benefit continues only as long as you continue exercising. In the study of the sedentary glaucoma suspects, just three weeks of deconditioning undid the beneficial effects.

Caveats to consider. It's important to avoid the Valsalva effect (the technical term for what happens when, after an inhalation, you hold your breath and apply pressure against your epiglottis), as this appears to have a negative impact on IOP. Thus, if you're interested in weight lifting or other forms of resistance exercise, be sure to get proper training on breathing techniques. The same holds true for yoga and Pilates, as people sometimes incorrectly hold their breath either going into or coming out of a pose.

Another concern regarding yoga: It's best to avoid all inverted poses if you have glaucoma. This includes headstand, shoulderstand, and the plow. While few studies have been conducted on yoga and glaucoma, there is some evidence that inverted poses increase IOP, so be sure to discuss alternative poses or modifications with your yoga instructor.

Bottom line on glaucoma and exercise. A regular program of moderate exercise will have multiple benefits for your overall health. While its long-term impact on your glaucoma progression is unknown, it is likely to support your current treatment program. If you have any questions about your existing exercise program, or any concerns about starting a new activity, check with your ophthalmologist.

Tips for Cleaning Jewelry

Jewelry keeps us looking great, so what can we do to return the favor? As blind and visually impaired people, we can't see the little nasties that get trapped in our jewelry. You should get in the habit of cleaning your items on a regular basis. Here's a list of tips that will insure your jewelry (and you) continue to sparkle.

  • Amber Jewelry: Mineral oil on a soft cloth will do wonders for your amber pieces. Rub the oil on gently and then buff dry with a soft cloth.
  • Pearls, Cultured and Otherwise: Apply a little olive oil to a soft cloth to clean your pearl jewelry. Your pearls will shine!
  • Opals: Opals are very delicate and you must take special care when cleaning these stones. Never use soap or detergent. Give them a soft brush with warm water only.
  • Lapis and Turquoise: These beautiful stones can be easily cleaned with a soft cloth dipped in a little cool water and detergent. Rub gently and do not ever use soap.
  • Cameos: Mix a solution of ¼ teaspoon dish soap, 3 drops ammonia and ½ cup warm water. Dampen a soft cloth with the mixture and dab it carefully onto your cameo. Dry the piece with a cloth of chamois.
  • Silver Jewelry: Rub a soft cloth dipped in baking soda. For those small areas, use a toothbrush that isn't busy. After cleaning, rinse well and buff dry.
  • Gold Jewelry: Mix 2 tablespoons liquid hand soap, 1-cup warm water and ½ teaspoon ammonia. Wipe the solution onto the gold piece with a lint-free cloth and buff dry. You can also use rubbing alcohol applied with a soft cloth.
  • Diamond Jewelry: Bring 2 cups water, 4 drops ammonia and 1-tablespoon soap flakes to a boil. Place the item in a tea strainer and dip it into the solution for three seconds only. Remove and rinse off in cool water.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Cranky Web Search for Boomers and Seniors

Here's a search engine dedicated to those over the age of fifty, but low vision visitors may find it useful as well. The only difference between this search engine and the more popular is that the search results are in larger type, and it shows only four results at a time (presumably because you old people get confused by too much information). Here's what the site's creator had to say.

"My new company, Eons, is all about celebrating life that begins at 50. I want to invite you to start thinking about the unprecedented opportunity to travel and explore, to re-invent our careers, to nurture relationships, to give back to the community to live life to the fullest. With the longevity revolution, the 50+ generation has the potential to live nearly 20 years more than our grandparents did. This creates the longest, most unstructured and dare I say most exciting time of our lives".

The site works great with screen readers and has additional accessibility features.

Click this link to perform a Cranky search of the net:

FineTune Your Music Experience

Give FineTune a song or artist you like, and get a streaming playlist of forty-five songs you're sure to love in return. Make or browse "mix tape" widgets of your favorite songs to share the soundtrack of your life on your blog or website. You can even record an audio introduction for each of your playlists, shout out to your friends! Join the community and listen to over twenty thousand playlists created by other members and by professional DJs.

This site is great for listening to new music and the classic hits you remember. They have over 2 million tracks! The audio quality is good and most of the site is screen-reader friendly. You will have some difficulties with the flash player because the buttons are not properly labeled. This is common for most flash-based programs but you can get around this by using the links at the top of each page. An Apollo based desktop client is also available but I haven't tested it for accessibility.

If you enter an artist name on the home page or click on the Radio link on any artist page, you'll enter a feature called Artist Radio. This feature will play you songs from that artist and related artists. Try it and see what I mean.

Within seconds, I had a playlist going with country songs from the 1980s. It was really easy to find the artists I wanted and to get them to the playlist. One of the great features is the biographical information you get on the artists you look up. Individual tracks can be purchased through iTunes and entire albums through Give this one a try, you won't be disappointed.

Click this link to visit

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Let Go of That Mouse, Navigate with the Keyboard

Sighted people often wonder how blind and visually impaired people get around on a computer. How do they move through menus and various programs?

Have you ever noticed the underlined letter in the title of each menu at the top of your screen? (You know, the F, E, V, etc)? Ever wonder what that was all about? I mean, there has to be a reason, right? It's not like they're underlined because it just looks cool. Well, that's how it's done. The underlined letter is the "magic key" to access the menus.

A screen reader tells the user what's represented on the screen and the user uses these keys to navigate. Here's the cool thing, it works for sighted folks too. To access a menu, simply hit the Alt key, then the letter for the menu you're trying to access. (For example, F is for the File menu, E is for the Edit menu, A is for the Table menu, etc).

Use the up and down arrows to navigate through the menu choices. (When you come to a submenu, hit the right arrow and the submenu will open. Again, use the up and down arrows to navigate through it. To get out of the submenu, simply use the left arrow).

Another way to make your choice is to simply hit the underlined letter of your menu choice. If there's a submenu available, it will open automatically.

To move from menu to menu, you can use the left and right arrow keys (when you're not on a choice with a submenu).

When you find what you're looking for, just hit the Enter key. This acts like a mouse click and starts whatever choice you've made.

If you decide you simply want out of the menus (or that you've hit the Alt key accidentally), simply hit the Esc key and you're back to the main area of the program.

Descriptive Video Service (DVS): Making Television And Movies More Accessible

Descriptive Video Service (DVS) is a national service that makes Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) television programs, Hollywood movies on video, and other visual media accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. DVS was launched nationally in 1990 by the WGBH Educational Foundation (the producer of many prime time public television programs and a leader in the development of accessible media).

DVS provides a narrated description of key visual elements without interfering with the audio or dialogue portions of a program or movie. The narration describes visual elements such as actions, settings, body language and graphics.

To take advantage of DVS, a viewer must live within range of a PBS station that carries DVS and also must have a stereo TV or VCR that includes the Second Audio Program (SAP) feature. (This feature comes standard on most new stereo televisions and videocassette recorders.) Inexpensive receivers that convert TV sets to stereo with SAP also can be purchased. Viewers subscribing to cable should ask the cable company to "pass through" stereo with SAP.

Over 200 described popular Hollywood movies and PBS programs are available for purchase by direct mail. A viewer needs only a regular VHS videocassette recorder (VCR) and a television to watch these videos and to hear the descriptions. The SAP feature is not required.

DVS home videos are also available for loan from more than 1,200 libraries nationwide and can be rented at a select number of Blockbuster video locations. The DVS Home Video Guide and Catalog are available in large-print, braille, and audio via the DVS Information Line.

Descriptive Video Service (DVS)
125 Western Ave.
Boston, MA 02134
Toll Free: 800-333-1203
Phone: 617-492 2777

Searching for DVS? Check These Major Movie Chain Websites

Many blind and visually impaired people are looking for theaters equipped with DVS so they can better enjoy big screen movies. As several theater chains are now listing accessible films and showtimes on their Websites, we want to take this opportunity to provide you with those site addresses. Helpful hint: some chains require you to know which theater in your area is equipped prior to finding the info on their sites. For a full list of MoPix locations, searchable by state, first go to and link to "View Theaters". The following list of theater chains is from WGBH, a leading provider of DVS and was last updated January 2007.

Here's another informational website where you will find information about what audio description is and how it works, as well as details about the history of audio description. This site is constantly updated with audio description developments happening both in Australia and internationally, and it contains information about other organisations that help with audio description services.

This website benefits people looking for a technological solution to media accessibility, not only the blind and vision impaired but other groups as well.

Other information about DVDs, Cinema, TV and the Arts is also available here, including a complete listing of DVD titles available in Australia.

Click this link to visit

Monday, February 05, 2007

Adaptive Technology Resources Blog

If you like tracking blogs about assistive technology, here's another one to add to your aggrigator.

The goal of the ATR Blog is to inform the reader of new products, give tips and tricks for current products, and to make other AT announcements as necessary. Constructive comments are always welcome, so please feel free to give your feedback.

Click this link to visit the Adaptive Technology Resources Blog at

Friday, February 02, 2007

Tomato Plant Care

Ask any blind or visually impaired gardener what they grow in their garden and the answer will most likely be tomatos.

The tomato is actually a fruit even though most people think of it as a vegetable. At one time, people thought it was poisonous to eat and they were only grown for decoration. They were referred to as "love apples" then. There are literally hundreds of varieties to choose from for your home garden and all of them have different size, color, shape, season of maturity, disease resistance, and taste.

Tomatoes can be either determinate or indeterminate. Determinate means that they develop a flower cluster at the terminal growing point. The plant will stop growing at this height. Indeterminate plants do not form this flower cluster and will continue to grow taller indefinitely. Indeterminate tomatoes also produce very flavorful fruit, but are usually late to mature. Most of the older varieties of tomatoes are indeterminate. Determinate vines are easier to control but they also have ripe fruit for a shorter time period than indeterminate plants.

Tomatoes do not tolerate freezing temperatures, so it is best to plant them once the weather is warm. You will need to space your plants apart. The spacing for each variety is different, however. For dwarf plants, they will need to be twelve inches apart, staked plants should be 15 to 24 inches apart. Some indeterminate varieties even need four feet of space between them in the rows and five to six feet between each row.

When you plant your tomato plants, you should fertilize them right away. Mulching is highly recommended, especially if you want to have your plants for the full season harvest. Organic materials or black plastic is okay to use for mulching but don't put down organic materials until the soil has warmed. If you put it down too early, the plant will not grow as well.

You will need to water your tomato plants regularly and thoroughly. If you are keeping your plants in containers they may need to be watered at least once a day. You should also feed your plants with a liquid tomato fertilizer once every two to three weeks until the end of August. The fertilizer should be high in potash. Once September arrives, just feed with a regular fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. Weed around the plants as much as you can to prevent bugs and diseases from getting to your tomatoes.

As the plant grows, you will need to use stakes to support it. Tie the main stem to the stakes. If you give this plant the care it needs, you will be rewarded with delicious tomatoes.

Article Source:

When to Prune

I know what would happen if I did any pruning on the shrubs around my home. I'd be replacing them within a few days, what can I say, I don't have the green thumb. How about you? Do you know when to prune? When does pruning turn into damaging the plants you so adore. Here's some tips.

Observation and an understanding of the ways in which a plant grows are useful when deciding if and when to prune. First it is important to check whether the plant "flowers" on wood grown during the same year or is it best on wood that grew in a previous year. This knowledge will dictate the best time to prune.

  • Trees do not necessarily have to be pruned. The reason for pruning them is to shape or keep a specimen that displays the finest features of a particular species. Any work carried out should be limited to encouraging or assisting the natural development of each plant as it grows from a young tree into a fully grown one and to avoid defects that might turn out to be harmful to the tree.

  • Shrubs can be pruned to emphasize their ornamental features but it is important to strike a balance between encouraging the production of flowers and allowing the plant to continue to grow and develop. Another objective in pruning is to maintain the characteristic form of each species, encouraging the branches and stems to develop and grow in a way that allows the plant to achieve its natural potential.

Sometimes pruning is needed to encourage the growth of a properly balanced plant. The weakest shoots may need to be cut back hard to one, two or three shoots to stimulate vigorous growth or it may be necessary to reduce by two or three shoots only the most vigorous and strongly growing branches so as not to put too much stress on the plant's other stems.

Pruning is also carried out to maintain the youngest shoots which are the most productive. The last but by no means the least important aim in pruning is to protect the plant's health.

All branches that are dry, diseased, broken or damaged in any way should be removed by cutting into the nearest healthy wood immediately above a well-developed shoot. Smaller branches that are too slender, too thick or that cross in the center of the plant or any that are badly positioned should also be removed by cutting at the base of the young wood but not the main branch from which it is growing.

These actions, which are intended to eliminate possible sources of disease and to maintain an open, regular shape into which sun and air can penetrate freely, should be carried out annually on all plants regardless of when they flower. In areas with a very hot climate this can be the end of summer. In cold areas it is better to wait until the end of winter. Where there is snow it is prudent to anticipate possible damage and in autumn cut the longest branches back or tie them into bundles.

Article Source:

Thursday, February 01, 2007

USB Battery Charger

I'll bet you spend a lot of time with your portible MP3 player. Can you count the number of books and podcasts that you've listened to? I'll also bet you've used a lot of batteries too? I know, we all thought that the long life that we get from these players would be enough, but what we didn't count on is that the longer life just meant that we spend even more time listening, still running down tons of batteries.

Now think about how all those batteries find themselves in the dumpster, headed for land fills. Rechargeable is definitely the way to go. With the Apex USB charger, four batteries can charge in four hours by plugging into your computer's USB port. The unit is small, just four inches square and one inch high, perfect for traveling. You can choose whether to charge AA or AAA batteries in the pack. Not only that, it makes a great carrying case for your spare set of batteries; as you use one set, the other can be charging nicely or stowed and ready-to-go.

Click this link to purchase the Apex USB charger from ThinkGeek.

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