Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

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

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Monday, October 29, 2007

The Dragnifier

Have you ever had to squint at the screen to see what's there? Do you create graphics for a living, and need accuracy? Do all those tiny icons get lost on your desktop?

The "Quick Dragging Magnifier" (or Dragnifier) is just what you need. One click or keypress will bring up a computerized lens, which lets you see every last detail on your screen at 2x, 4x, even 8x the original size. Whe

n you're not using the magnifier, you won't even notice it. An icon rests next to your system clock, ready to hop to service whenever you need the Dragnifier.

Dragnifier has been demonstrated as an excellent tool for those with sight disabilities. Sometimes a website will include very small print, or sometimes the icons on today's programs are too small to see clearly.

If you're laying out web pages or other graphic arts, having a measuring tool can be handy. Dragnifier's reticule helps you line up items or compare their sizes quickly.

Click this link to learn more about the Dragnifier.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Online Banking: Is It Right for Me?

A reader recently asked: Can you give me some advantages and disadvantages of doing online banking? Is it accessible? I'm not sure if I should start using it or not.

That's an excellent question! I'm sure you all know that you can handle your banking on the Internet now. It's been around for awhile, but more and more people are taking advantage of it every day. But, as with anything else on the Internet these days, there are myths of it being of a bad interest, while others say it's the greatest thing in the world. Below, you'll find some pros and cons for this banking method and I'll just let you decide for yourself!

Before I go any further and just for your information, most banks and credit unions offer some form of online banking these days. It's also known as PC banking, home banking, electronic banking or even Internet banking. The banks who offer this service have been working for several years to find the best possible way to provide online banking to their customers so that they will be able to use it easily and more importantly, trust it. Feature accessibility will vary so if you do decide to give it a try, log onto your bank's website and check that the features you want are compatible with your screen reader/assistive technology.

Pros

- One of the big advantages of online banking is that it's a big time saver. It doesn't try to change the way you handle your money, but it does save you time from sitting down and writing out all those checks. It also speeds up the amount of time it takes for a transaction to process. It sometimes even gets it done faster than an ATM. As a totally blind person, you don't even have to fool with writing a check, or getting someone to assist you!

- Online banks are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so you never have to worry about the bank closing, having transportation to the bank or not being able to get your transactions done in time. It's all just a mouse click away!

- If you're out of state on vacation or even out of the country, you can still do your banking. If a money problem comes up, you just have to either find a computer or use the internet features of your notetaker and it can be taken care of any time of the day.

- Without having to keep track of paper checks, you save money on buying those and you're able to handle your banking more efficiently. Along with efficiency, you can access and manage all of your bank accounts from one secure Website, no more having to memorize long strings of numbers to get to your account.

- Online banking sites are starting to offer more banking tools that you can use to get your business done easier and faster. Some of these tools include account aggregation, stock quotes, rate alerts, portfolio managing, etc. These help you complete your banking in a more effective manner.

Cons

- Now, even though online banking is supposed to be timely, sometimes the site can take awhile to load or even come up on your computer. If the site is having any type of trouble on any given day, it could prevent you from handling your banking. You always have to be prepared for something like that to happen.

- You do have to register on your bank's Website before you can begin any banking. You will probably have to provide a user ID and a password, which you may have to get from your bank's branch office. This could take some time, which is a big disadvantage if you're in a hurry to get started. Also, if you're married and want to manage your account along with your husband or wife, you may have to go through a power of attorney type of thing to be able to access the same account. This just depends on the bank you work with.

- You have to take some time to learn your bank's Website. This can take a little while, depending on how easy or difficult your bank makes the site design. You'll definitely need to sit down and learn the site before you do any transactions. You may need to run through the tutorials as well, which can take up your time. Remember, not all features may work for you.

- Banks like to change their site design without any prior notice. If this happens, you'll have to learn it all over again. Also, if they do this, it's possible you would have to sign up again and re-enter your information.

- One of the biggest things with online banking is the trust issue. Should you jump right in and trust the world of online banking? You may often wonder if your transaction really did go through or not, did you happen to do it more than once on accident, etc. You can always print your records each time you visit the site, but it's still a trust issue you have to handle yourself.

Well, there you have it. What do you think? Will you do online banking or not? It's all up to you, but at least you know both sides of the issue!

Special Function Keys

Message: I just bought a new keyboard and I love it, but I can't figure out what the keys across the top are for. Can you please help me with this? Thanks!
location: Kentucky

Sure! I know exactly what you're talking about. The keys you're referring to are called special function keys. They are small buttons that run along the very top of the keyboard. Different keyboards have different keys, but the most common ones are an email button, a search button, a connect button (for the Internet) and a calculator button. Some even have a sleep mode function, a volume control right on the keyboard itself and multimedia keys.

These extra keys are nice to have, if you want to get into your email or use the calculator, for example, you can just hit that button one time and the program will pop right up on your screen. It's like your wish lies right at your fingertips.

If you've already been using the special keys, that's great and you should keep doing so. If you have the buttons, but don't know how to use them, you should refer to the software that came with your keyboard. Look through the manual as well and there should be instructions on how to configure the buttons so you can start to use them.

Every keyboard is different, so it's hard to tell you how to make these work without skipping over someone's model, but all the answers should be right there in your manual. Once you get them working, I don't think you'll ever want to stop. Check them out today!

Monitoring Illnesses

Don't get rid of that baby monitor when the babies are grown. Hang on to them and use them around the house.

If your kids get sick leave one in their room and carry the handset around with you. Now you will know instantly if your kids need you.

This works great for kids of all ages, including spouses and seniors.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Download Complete Music Albums for Free

It's time to open your mind to music that's not on the Billboard charts or on the radio. I'm not sure if you're going to like all the music this site has to offer, but it's free and certainly worth a listen.

What makes Free Albums Galore special? Four things, as I see it:

  1. They post only complete albums, not individual or scattered tracks.
  2. They post only albums with permanent off-site hosting, unlike "album of the week blogs.
  3. They post only legally free albums, instead of blindly hoping copyright owners won't mind them distributing their music.
  4. They post at least one complete album per day, that's a lot of music!

An RSS feed is available to keep you current on the latest posts and who knows, you may find some great tunes here. Give it a try!

Click this link to visit Album Galore at http://freealbums.blogsome.com.

It's a Library Thing

Have you ever bought a book only to find that you already had a copy? Or, have you been in a book store or library at any time, looking through books and wondering if you already had copies of the same titles at home? Or maybe you took all afternoon to look for a particular cookbook that you know was around there somewhere?

If any of those things have happened to you, or if you just like to be organized, Library Thing is for you.

Library Thing makes it easy to enter all of the books in your library and keep track of them. You can enter books by author, title or the ISBN. The site keeps track of your inventory for you.

There are some extra features, which are really nice. You can search your books, sort your books or edit the book information. view your list online of course, or view your catalogue on your notetaker, which could come in really handy when you are out at the store or library.

Library Thing is also a community, linking you with others who share your book interests and providing forums to chat. Algorithms are in place, so Library Thing can give you book recommendations based on what you already have in your catalogue of books.

Library Thing is free to users who register, at least for the basic service. You still get all of the standard features, but you are limited to listing 200 books. If your collection is larger than that, you'll need to pay a $10 fee for the year, or $25 for a lifetime membership.

To visit Library Thing, click this link: http://www.librarything.com.

A Weekly Test For Your House

You know the drill. Something eventually stops working and you know you could have prevented the breakdown if you had only paid better attention. You can set yourself on a simple schedule to check a few items to help prevent a larger disaster.

Set a day, once a week, to walk down the hallway and check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. (if you have any gas appliances you'll really want one of those)

Now walk in your utility room and take a peek at the hot water heater. Is there any water dripping out of the faucet? Did you find a puddle on the floor? These small drips or puddles can become big trouble if you don't notice them early enough.

Don't forget each time you do laundry to clean out the lint trap. This will help your clothes dry faster, your drier will be more efficient and you will reduce the risk of fire.

Protect Your Pipes From The Big Freeze

You have heard people talk about pipes breaking under their houses during the winter and causing lots of damage. You have a well insolated house so you shouldn't have to worry about it, right?

Wrong! This can happen to anyone in an old or new house. Before the hard freezes of winter hit you need to detach any sprinklers from hoses and then the hoses from the house.

Store your hoses and sprinklers in a shed or on a porch, but not attached to an outside spigot.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Braille On Walls, the Latest Form of Art?

We're all looking for new ways to promote the use of braille and this guy, "The Blind", "L'aveugle t'a vu" certainly has his own ideas of how this can be accomplished. Apparently, he puts braille on walls, in the streets, on the museum's facades or churches. He has a braille dictionary on his MySpace page to help sighted folks decode his work. He's a young 24 year old guy, living in Nantes (France). Click this link to view the artwork of L'aveugle t'a vu.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Power Text to Speech Reader

Power Text to Speech Reader is an inexpensive program that lets you listen to documents, email messages or Web pages instead of reading on screen. It uses voice synthesis to create spoken audio from text with natural voices.

What I like most is that you can listen when you have the time. For example, you can listen on your PC or save text to MP3 or wave files for listening later. Even better, if you have a portable audio device you can take your text as MP3 files to the gym, the classroom or anywhere you need to go. It can directly open Plain Text files , Microsoft Word files, PDF files, email files, Rich Text files, and HTML files. For low vision Microsoft Internet Explorer users, Power Text to Speech Reader supplies a handy toolbar plug-in for Internet Explorer and for Microsoft Outlook. It supports dozens of male, female, and robotic voices and more than 11 languages.

Power Text to Speech Reader can monitor the Windows Clipboard and automatically process its contents. This feature makes it easy to read Web pages, email messages, documents, and much more. System requirements: A PC running Windows XP or Windows Vista. Give it a listen.

Click this link to learn more or to purchase Power Text to Speech Reader.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Intro to Visual Impairment

By Carla Ruschival

About 10 million people in the United States are blind or visually impaired, according to the American Foundation for the Blind. Approximately 5.5 million of these are elderly, age 65 or older. Of the 75-and-over age group, one of every four people in the country has a significant vision loss, most often caused by age-related macular degeneration or diabetes.

The American Foundation for the Blind estimates that 93,600 children are blind or visually impaired, with 55,200 being legally blind (seeing 20/200 or less with best correction).

Blind and visually-impaired people come in all shapes and sizes. They come from all races and ethnic backgrounds. They may have a Ph.D. or a high-school diploma.

Britni is a beautiful baby. But she doesn't reach for her rattles until they make a noise. She doesn't look at her hands or smile until someone speaks. Britni is blind.

Bob is a successful salesman. He just wrecked his third car yesterday. Bob knows why, but he can't tell his family. Bob is losing his vision.

Mary's grandkids look forward to receiving personalized handmade quilts from Grandma. But lately Mary's been making excuses; she's just been too busy to get all that work done by the holidays. But the real reason is that Mary can't see to thread the needle or make straight stitches any more.

Is there a future for Britni? Is life on a fast track to nowhere for Bob? Will Mary have to give up her lifelong hobbies, with no hope of any substitute?

Yes, there is a future for Britni. And of course Bob and Mary don't have to give up the things they love. But this is true ONLY if they and their families find help and learn to accept, and cope with, their vision loss.

A world with little or no vision is a different world, but it is not a hopeless and bleak world. It is a world that can be filled with opportunities, activities, and good times.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Online Conversion of Documents to Speech

SpokenText.net allows you to record PDF, Word, plain text, PowerPoint files, ,RSS news feeds, emails and web pages, and converts them to speech automatically. You can download your recording as an iPod book or mp3 file. And every member gets a personal podcast URL , which you can use to download recordings to iTunes or your iPod. You can also easily share your recordings on your web site or blog using SpokenText Badges or individual recording players. And best of all it's COMPLETELY FREE!

Click this link to visit http://spokentext.net.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

What About AudioForBooks

Launched by an avid reader who understands that day-to-day demands make it a challenge to find time to read, AudioForBooks.com specializes in meeting audio book demands for children and adults alike, providing titles for all ages. The site is updated regularly and also provides an array of supporting tools and services, including news, book reviews, an article library, a member's blog and more.

Saving time, money and frustration by helping users quickly and easily tap into affordable used books on eBay, and linking directly to Apple.com where the Apple iPod can be purchased with just a quick click of a mouse and used to listen to audio books on-the-go, AudioForBooks.com provides users with options that simply don't exist elsewhere on a single site.

Additionally, the expanded AudioForBooks.com blog has created a dialogue among users who can now share information about audio books and discuss titles, etc. from anywhere in the world. Also, the site's Article section continues to be updated regularly and now supplies engaging book reviews, information on Mp3 players, how to tips on downloading audio books and more, with new topics discussed frequently.

Site visitors will also be happy to find that they also have access to robust speech recognition software, which turns spoken words into written words, and the leading text-to-speech software, which reads emails, lengthy documents and reports, etc. to users in voices they choose.

Both software options can be counted on to address a variety of concerns, especially for those who may be unable to type or those who are blind or visually impaired who struggle with reading, or even those with little free time on their hands to respond to emails or type out needed reports.

Click this link to visit http://www.AudioForBooks.com.

Be the DJ at BlueBeat.com

BlueBeat.com is an accessible, free digital radio offering over 500,000 tracks of CD-quality music in over 100 genres and 350 channels, covering more than a century of music, and streams secure MP3s at 320kb/s.

BlueBeat.com's website boasts customizable website styles and streamlined player skins. Users can mix and match their Bluebeat page and player to suit their taste with selections like the refined "Blues In Orbit" or the quirky "Tiki Lounge." Also added is a personalized history of the songs, albums, and channels users hear, as well as postings of the latest music updates. In order to stay connected and attentive to their listeners, Bluebeat.com has also developed public forums for music discussions and channel requests.

BlueBeat.com maintains its easy navigation: listeners simply choose between the Time Machine, musical history organized by genre and decade, and the Killer Playlists, such as the popular "1 Hit Wonders" and the eclectic "BlueBeat Cafe." Guests looking for information about specific artists or albums will find it a click away via BlueBeat's powerful search feature or the extended biographical and historical vignettes. Others will appreciate BlueBeat's Roll the Dice feature, which delivers a channel based on artist, album or genre choice.

Don't like what you hear? You can change that by creating your own BlueBeat.com station with three hours of music that you choose, you can even add your station to your personal website.

BlueBeat.com invites everyone with a taste for music to visit www.BlueBeat.com and sign up for a free account.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Blind Have TypeAbility

TypeAbility is a program that teaches typing in 68 user-friendly lessons. By the end of the lessons, the student will have mastered all the letters, numbers, punctuation, as well as basic navigation of text documents. In addition, the student will learn special characters that are used in computer applications, such as the @ symbol that is required in e-mail addresses.

TypeAbility is compatible with the latest versions of JAWS for Windows from Freedom Scientific. It is also compatible with the screen magnification program MAGic. So the partially sighted can not only listen to, but also see their typing lessons.

Learning how to startup, run, choose lessons and tasks, and how to close TypeAbility is very simple. After a few lessons with an assistant, a blind non-typing child will be able to use the program independently. TypeAbility is fun and appropriate for students of all ages.

There are User Preferences that allow TypeAbility to conform to each students needs. However, there are not such a bewildering number of esoteric options that learning how to use TypeAbility would be a mystery and chore. It's a cinch!

Click this link to learn more or download a demo of TypeAbility from the YesAccessible website: http://www.yesaccessible.com.

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