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.)


Friday, January 30, 2009

Remembering the Speak and Spell

Just a little more than thirty years ago, Texas Instruments brought us an important development that would change many a childhood, the Speak and Spell.

Despite it's humble size, The Speak and Spell played an important role in Speech History. It was one of the first highly accurate and widely available text-to-speech products, really one of the first practical applications of speech synthesis for a consumer market.

The toy was a direct outgrowth of Texas Instrument's bizarre 1970s experiments in speech synthesis. The world had just seen man create the tech required to reproduce human speech with tuned voices stored on ROMs. Seeing the potential of those speech fruits, Paul Breedlove, a TI engineer, began development of the Speak & Spell in 1976 with a $25,000 budget. Yes, even then it seems that the world callously and stupidly turned a cold shoulder to speech. Breedlove, however, would be vindicated. Within two short years, the Speak & Spell was flying off the 1978 shelves.

Breedlove's completed proof incorporated TI's trademarked Solid State Speech technology, which stored full words in solid state the way calculators of those halcyon 1970s days stored numbers. The Speak & Spell even had a slot for "expansion module" cartridges, which could be inserted to beef up the onboard vocabulary.

The Speak and Spell had its limitations, but had great staying power. The machine was produced for nearly twenty years and saw many improvements over its 1978-1992 run. Its vacuum florescent display was replaced with liquid crystal, it was given a membrane keyboard (which in turn was changed from ABC to a standard QWERTY layout), and it saw several releases in different languages.

Click this link to learn more about the Speak and Spell from Wikipedia.

Article Source:

Tips for Walking on Ice

Winter storms often produce ice and snow, leading to slippery walking surfaces. Here are some helpful tips to make winter weather travel safer.

  1. Before going out, try to plan your route to avoid places where ice frequently forms. Taking that shortcut you usually use might not be a good idea if it will mean traveling on paths that have untreated surfaces.
  2. Proper footwear is key. Avoid plastic and leather soles or high heels in favor of rubber and neoprene composite shoes or boots to provide better traction. Shoes or boots should have soles with a raised tread pattern on a low, wide heal and sole with a leading edge in many directions. Consider purchasing a pair of ice grippers or cleats to attach to your shoes to help with traction, but remember that these can sometimes become slippery indoors when walking on smooth surfaces such as stone, tile or ceramic. Practice putting them on your shoes and walking with them before you have to use them.
  3. When you step outside, take short, shuffling steps and use your feet and cane to explore the surface as you move to let you know ahead of time where patches of ice are before you step onto them. When it comes to walking on ice, The Tortoise and the Hare has the best advice, slow and steady wins the race. Try to keep your hands free of objects so that you can use rails and other sturdy things in the environment to help maintain your balance. When you know that a stretch of sidewalk is particularly icy, try to find a grassy shoreline to walk on for better traction.
  4. When you know that you must walk on ice, Keep your knees slightly bent and point your feet outward slightly to help maintain your center of balance. Try to keep your center of gravity directly over your feet as much as possible.
  5. If you feel yourself start to slip, try to relax and stay calm as much as possible. Try to maneuver yourself so that you don't fall forward or land on your dominant hand. Let go of whatever you are carrying in your hands so you can maintain your balance. A broken cell phone is better than a broken bone.
  6. If you know that a fall is coming, try to keep your head up and land on a fleshy body part instead of a bone. The idea here is to execute a planned fall to avoid breaking bones or hitting your head. Visit for more information on the art of safer falling and try to familiarize yourself with the techniques described there.

With some planning and care, you can help reduce your chances of serious injury from winter weather walking.

SAMNet Radio

Serotek Corporation, a provider of internet and digital information accessibility software and services, has launched an online radio station called SAMNet Radio. The name of the station is derived from Serotek's online community, the System Access Mobile Network, or SAMNet. SAMNet Radio will air the best music of the last forty years, the latest technology news, live and interactive voice chats, and a portal for all to know what is happening in the SAMNet community.

Directed at an audience who is blind or has low vision, SAMNet Radio's slogan is "Your station, your community." The station's manager is Michael Lauf, former creator, host and producer of HandiTalk, the first interactive internet radio program to discuss the needs of the blind and visually impaired.

Click this link to listen to SAMNet Radio:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Add Keyboard Support to Popular Media Players

So your system's got a fancy keyboard with a host of handy media shortcut buttons, but they only work with a select few applications. Media Keyboard 2 Media Player will fill in the support gap.

Once installed, MK2MP acts as a middle man between your keyboard and popular media-applications like VLC, Xion, XMPlay, 1BY1, and Winamp. The application runs almost invisible to the end user, passing the keyboard command onto the application with the right trigger. You can enable and disable common media-keyboard keys for each program, and specify whether it sits in your system tray or stays incognito. If the program you need to control isn't yet available, the application is in active development and open to suggestions for new players to be added.

Click this link to learn more or to download Media Keyboard 2 Media Player.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Flight Tracking: Listening to Air Traffic Control Online

You can listen to all communications between a control tower and it's incoming airplanes or even track an airplane from the beginning of it's flight to it's arrival.

By live feed from a satellite you will know the planes current altitude and speed, where it is located and a glimpse at the approximate time of arrival. The mapping of flights in real-time is based on the air traffic control system.

There are no costs or restrictions in doing so and many official websites are starting to provide the service. This can come in useful when curious about a family members flight, or when anticipating an arrival without knowing of it's progress.

Air traffic control (ATC) is responsible for providing crucial information to pilots around busy airports. They communicate with pilots on designated radio frequencies to keep airport operations running smoothly and safely.

While every airport varies, terminal controllers usually handle traffic in a 30 to 50 nautical mile (56 to 93 km) radius from the airport.

Using the Internet you can also listen in live to aircraft radio chat between planes and the control tower, and plane to plane traffic.

Hear what happens behind the scenes at some of the world's busiest airports. Listen to live transmissions between air traffic controllers in the airport tower and pilots landing and departing from the airport.

Call signs in aviation are derived from several different policies, depending on the type of flight operation being conducted, and depending on whether the caller is an aircraft or a ground facility. In most countries, unscheduled general aviation flights identify themselves using the call sign corresponding to the aircraft's registration number (also called N-number in the US, or tail number).

Click this link to listen to live aircraft radio traffic:

Article Source:

Friday, January 16, 2009

BookPALS Storyline Online

p>Welcome to Storyline Online, a Website where interesting children's books are read by SAG (Screen Actor's Guild) members. On the main page, you'll find some featured stories. While I was there, those stories were:
  • Enemy Pie read by Camryn Manheim
  • Romeow and Drooliet read by Haylie Duff
  • White Socks Only read by Amber Rose Tamblyn
  • When Pigasso Met Mootisse read by Eric Close
  • Dad, Are You the Tooth Fairy? read by Jason Alexander
  • Brave Irene read by Al Gore

To find more stories, click the More Stories button and the stories will switch. There are twenty stories in total as of this article.

To get started, simply choose a story. On the story's page, you will have several navigation options. You can select the Read By button and learn all about the actor reading the story or you can click the Let's Read It button and choose your connection speed to see the video.

The video will be of the actor reading the story with the story captioned as well. The video will show both the actor reading and the illustrations from the pages of the book. I thought that was very cool! On the Video page, you have the options of full screen, turning the captions on/off or changing the video's size.

As if the stories weren't cool enough on their own, they've even added downloadable activity guides. There are also Related Activities, which will pop up and suggest things you can do with the book. There's even a More Activities section you can check out!

Navigating the site with a screen reader will be a little different. The site uses flash, but the buttons appear to be labeled properly. Things may seem a little out of place, but I think with practice, you should have little difficulty.

I think this is a great site for kids and from reading the Viewer Comments, so do a lot of other people. Enjoy!

Click this link to visit

It's Time for Zinger Tales

From the site:

"Zinger Tales is a collection of stories told by great storytellers! Choose a storyteller to hear the tale and get some book recommendations too! Stories are provided in RealPlayer format, which requires the free RealPlayer plug-in."

Click this link to visit Zinger Tales.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Louis Braille: The biography

Early in the 19th century, a blind teenager in France created a code of raised dots for reading and writing by touch instead of by sight. The National Braille Press is proud to release the first fully illustrated adult biography of Louis Braille.

Based on primary research and including 31 never-before translated letters, the new, visually elegant, hardcover book adds a dimension to the material on Louis Braille's life that has fed schoolchildren's biography projects for many years. Along with English translations of Braille's original letters, the book includes an extraordinary collection of documents, photographs, and artistic works-some unearthed from a curator's private archives in France. The text provides a bibliographic narrative of the phases of Braille's life as student, young inventor, musician, and teacher.

Author Michael Mellor considers himself extraordinarily lucky to have happened upon four never-before-translated (French-to-English) letters that Braille wrote to family members during his years at the Institut National des Jeunes Aveugles (National Institute for Young Blind). Braille, who died at age 43, lived most of his life at the school.

The book also includes 24 newly translated letters that Mellor first saw in 1998 on display at the school.

Based on patterns of dots within a six-dot matrix, braille code uses the same logic as binary computer codes invented a century later and has been adapted for math, science, music and every major written language.

Click this link to purchase Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius from the National Braille Press.
Click this link to listen or download a 22 minute BBC Podcast called The Story of Braille.

APH Transcribes Presidential Inauguration Guide Book

The American Printing House for the Blind (APH), is the official vendor of the 2009 Presidential Inaugural Guide Book printed in braille.

            The book serves not only as a guide to public activities surrounding the inauguration, but as a document that sets these events in historic context.  It contains quotes from President-Elect Barack Obama, and Vice President-Elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr. ; biographies of Barack and Michele Obama, and Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and Dr. Jill Biden; names of the 56th Inaugural Committee; History of the Inauguration; Calendar of Official Events; 2009 Presidential Inaugural Parade Participants; United States Senate & House of Representative Leadership; Official Inaugural Balls; Security Procedures; Access for Those with Disabilities; Places of Interest in Washington DC, and Transportation Tips.


            “To our knowledge, this is the first time the Presidential Inaugural Guide Book has been transcribed into braille,” says Dr. Tuck Tinsley III, President of APH. “We are truly honored to play such an important part in U.S. history.”


            The guide book is 72 pages in print.  The braille version is 118 pages.  Hard copies of the guide are being distributed to a select group of people.  APH has produced 150 braille copies and will send them to the 56th Presidential Inaugural Committee for distribution later this week.


            In addition to distributing braille copies, the Inaugural Committee will post an electronic version on its website,,  and there will be a podcast on this website for visually impaired persons who wish to access the guide electronically.


The American Printing House for the Blind, a 501©(3) non-profit organization, is the world's largest company devoted solely to researching, developing, and manufacturing products for people who are blind or visually impaired. Founded in 1858, it is the oldest organization of its kind in the United States. Under the 1879 federal Act to Promote the Education of the Blind, APH is the official supplier of educational materials for visually impaired students in the U.S. who are working at less than college level.

APH manufactures textbooks and magazines in braille, large print, recorded, and computer disc formats. APH also manufactures hundreds of educational, recreational, and daily living products. APH's fully-accessible web site ( features information about APH products and services, online ordering of products, and free information on a wide variety of blindness-related topics. One popular feature of the site is the Louis Database, a free tool to help locate accessible books available from organizations across the U.S. APH products can also be ordered through Louis.

The American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. is located at 1839 Frankfort Avenue in Louisville, Kentucky. For more information, call (502) 895-2405 or log on to

Saber Duel: An Audio Game for the Blind

The following game anouncement was posted by Alexander Shen on alexander shen's art blog and is reposted here for your convenience.

I was walking to the train the other night, and I was thinking about an article that I read some time ago about a boy that was incredibly good at Soul Calibur despite the fact that he was blind. He memorized the sounds that different characters and moves made, so he knew how to react. Ultimately, he didn't let his disability limit him from enjoying a fantastic video game and source of entertainment.

I thought about this and decided that it was time for me to try my hand at creating games that were accessible to those with disabilities.

The first game that I've created is called Saber Duel. It's essentially a lightsaber blocking game where you block attacks coming from your left, center or right. I'd recommend using headphones as it'll further immerse you into the game. You should also know that this game runs on Windows only.

Click this link to download Saber Duel.

Download Audio Books for the Visually Impaired: Technology at Its Best

The following article was posted to the My Top Gossip blog and is reposted here for your convenience.

The goal of technology is to make people’s lives easier, more convenient, and better. Nowhere is this more prominently demonstrated than in audio books for the blind.

Our society has always been visual and is becoming increasingly so: from newspapers and books to computer screens, blind people have faced the struggle of accessing information that is readily available to most other people. The ability to read a book or newspaper is taken for granted by many of us, but it is a pleasure that is often denied the blind.

In today’s society, we obtain a great deal of information and entertainment using computers and the internet. Because they are very image-based, blind and visually impaired people struggle much more to access comparable information. Nor is Braille that much more convenient. While it does allow people to enjoy written language, it can be expensive and out of reach for many blind people.

With one seemingly simple advancement, doors to gaining information, being entertained, and staying current with the news were thrown open: enter audio book downloads for the blind.

For the first time, visually impaired people could go online and download audiobooks of their choice. The mass production of audio books for the blind, the opportunity came to learn in a way that had never been available before. In addition, the audio books were inexpensive or even free, making them accessible to most blind people.

In this case, technology has provided an enormous benefit for people around the world: blind people can now obtain an education that they would not have even five years ago.

Art, music, drama, history, geography, economics, current events, fiction, biographies, poetry - no genre, subject, or style is off limits when you access unabridged audiobooks. Visually impaired people have access to the world of knowledge that was previously housed in books, newspapers, or magazines.

In the area of education, audio books have been particularly helpful and effective. Core subjects of reading, writing, math, and science are able to be learned through audio books, making easy access to education a right enjoyed by the blind and visually impaired.

Audio books for the blind also provide an opportunity for entertainment. Now, blind and visually impaired people can simply hear a story for pleasure, and the choices are diverse. Thousands of books - all different forms of fiction and nonfiction, contemporary or classic, popular, and more obscure - are available for the enjoyment of blind people.

With all the technological advancements being made, it is easy to forget the people that are an integral part of the equation. Audio books for the blind are an example of technology at its best and most helpful.

Tactile Clues for Mainstream Consumers?

By Chris Hofstader

Our Norwegian friend, Lisa Yayla, owner and unofficial reference librarian of the Adaptive Graphics mailing list, a really interesting, low traffic discussion list hosted at Free Lists where members write about various tactile and audio adaptations to bring information to people with vision impairments, sent along a pointer to a very interesting article from Business Week.

As anyone who knows me or reads Blind Confidential with any regularity will know, I prefer technology transfer, bringing ideas from the mainstream to solve problems for people with disabilities, I, therefore, found this article about using tactile sensations for marketing of mainstream products very compelling.

Typically, my thoughts on adapting graphical information in a manner that will deliver a high level of semantic information to we blinks runs toward the very technical but this article describes a fairly low tech concept that can work for businesses, the average consumer and people with vision impairments alike.

The article, titled, "Feeling Your Way in a Global Market," speaks directly to the psychology of transmitting semantic information through the sense of touch as a global method of marketing products. The article specifically mentions the traditional Coca Cola bottle which "was designed approximately 90 years ago to satisfy the request of an American bottler for a soft-drink container that could be identified by touch even in the dark." A few years ago, Advertising Age ran an article on some of the world's most recognizable trademarks the list included both the Coca Cola and Tabasco bottles - items which can be identified purely by shape.

While reading the article from Business Week, I thought of other products that incorporate their trademark branding into the shape of their package. I can immediately tell the difference between Gulden's and Grey Poupin mustards by the shape of their jars, no matter whether I'm grasping the jumbo Catholic family size or the miniature container that comes with room service in hotels. The distinct square bottle of A1 sauce, the upright package of Pepperidge Farm cookies (I am partial to the Sausalito), Vlasic Pickles, Heinz Ketchup (or is it Catsup), Godiva Chocolates, and numerous other brands can be identified entirely by touch.

Even though I haven't had an alcoholic beverage in nearly a decade, I can still tell a Budweiser product from Miller, Mickey's Big Mouths from Sam Adams, a Molson from a Labatt's and so on. Finally, although I will probably never drive again, I can tell a Mercedes, BMW, Ford, Ferrari, Jaguar, Lincoln and other automobiles apart by their hood ornaments (I doubt though that this technique will serve one as an efficient way to find a car in a crowded parking lot).

Even some generic product packages, used by numerous businesses that sell nearly identical items, often describe their contents by the shape of their container. These include: the nearly universal shape of tuna cans, egg cartons, traditional milk bottles, most CDs, most shaving cream cans and a lot of others which are not springing to mind right now.

The article quotes a Norwegian author, Marieke de Mooij as asking the question, "We do not have one adequate global language by which we can reach global consumers. Because formal languages are culturally derived, the growth of global brands would seem to be inherently limited by the absence of any common global language. However, given the ability of the proximity senses - touch, taste, and scent - to establish bonds between consumers and brands at the sub-cultural level, could one of them - say, touch - potentially serve as the lingua franca of global branding?"

I can't quite imagine a world where products identified themselves by taste as I cannot imagine walking through the local grocery store and licking every item I come across. I also cannot think of a world described using the olfactory sense as I can't imagine how a Sears washer would smell differently from a Maytag. But, using more tactile clues a brand can distinguish itself both visually and by touch without the consumer either needing to see the package or read its label. I often fear that iconography will return our populations to illiteracy as, prior to the leap in the popularity of reading, businesses would represent themselves with a sign shaped in a manner that described their purpose; thus, a cobbler would have a boot shaped sign and a bar room would have a stein. But, more products that could be identified by touch would be a great convenience.

The article continues citing many references from anthropologists, marketing experts and even Karl Jung who wrote about the primitive psychology of the tactile sense. It also questions whether certain sensations would work more effectively in different cultures - a concept that seems not to have been researched yet.

The article continues by describing that the two industries that use tactile identifiers in their packages most often are fragrances and toiletries. They also point out that these two product categories are far less likely to be purchased online, hence, untouched, by consumers. Fragrances, something I enjoy quite a lot, always come in distinctively shaped glass bottles (ok, Brut and Aqua Velva come in plastic but they also smell like New Jersey). I can often guess when handed a bottle of cologne that I haven't previously touched whether it comes from Armani, Gucci, Davidov and a number of other designers based upon the general "feel" of the bottle. Armani products tend toward the sublime, Gucci toward the Bauhaus and Davidov products tend to feel "frosty" giving their entire product lines a similarity even when the overall shape changes from one item to another. The Business Week article suggests that fragrance companies do this to deliver a sense of luxury and, as the contents cost very little, a designer bottle is probably their largest cost center.

Toiletries, on the other hand, are not luxuries. According to the article, though, consumers like to touch them before making a purchasing decision. The author suggests that this relates to a subconscious tactile sensation rather than the overt in the luxury fragrances or chocolates.

A world with a common tactile language would make shopping and identifying items at home much simpler for we blind folks. Today, we can go through the tedium of creating Braille labels for different items but, unless the product is one to which we expect to return a number of times, the task is overly cumbersome (I always label a music CD or DVD but couldn't imagine labeling a soup can for instance). Various high tech products can help identify items as well. A talking bar code reader, like ScanTalker from Freedom Scientific, can come in handy but, compared to a collection of Braille labels, it requires far too much time to find a specific recording in a collection of thousands. Products with different shapes, though, like Gulden's and Godiva are quick and easy to distinguish from everything else.

The article mentions a lot of different techniques that can be done with modern materials to create distinct tactile identifiers. Apparently, all kinds of textures and, of course, shapes can be done with different types of plastics. I wonder, though, how subtle a change in texture can effectively communicate information in an identically shaped bottle.

One failure of tactile branding that I can think of that is not mentioned in the article is the problem of stacking shelves at Wal-Mart and bundling large quantities of oddly shaped objects shipped wholesale. Even the most radically contorted fragrance bottles ship to stores in regular shaped rectangular boxes. How would a world of oddly shaped groceries, low margin products to begin with, justify the cost of additional packaging and shipping charges?

Problems aside, I think the article is a very interesting read and recommend it to anyone interested in such things. I always find such things written for an entirely mainstream audience that can have an application in the blindness world to be exceptionally interesting. Whether the idea of a highly tactile future will come true or not will ever happen can be left to conjecture, the idea is definitely very cool and worthy of contemplation.

Blind Confidential serves as a commentary on issues regarding people with vision impairments. No topic is too controversial for this online resource.

Click this link to view the original post and any associated comments. Click this link to visit the Blind Confidential Blog:

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Joy of Music: You Don't Have to See to Have a Music Career

This is a long record. Use the table of contents to jump to sections directly.

Table of Contents:
1. Introduction
2. "The Catch."
3. Music Education
4. Music Careers, Part One: An Overview
5. Music Careers, Part Two: Advice for Success or Make your Opportunities, Don't Wait for Them!
6. Wrap-up
7. Kudos

Internet Resources
1. Braille Music Links
2. Education Links
3. Technology Links
4. Other Musical Links

1. Introduction

What is it about music anyway? It gets in your head. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry. It makes you dance, it makes you sit still and listen. Music is expressive. It gives you a thrill, a moment of pure communication without words getting in the way. Haven't you ever listened to a song or other piece of music and felt something move? Haven't you ever said to yourself "Yes! That's it exactly!" when a particular chord or melody resonated inside you? Perhaps a particular passage causes the hair on the back of your neck to stand up. Perhaps you feel shivers going up your spine or goosebumps form on your arms and legs. Music takes possession of your body: you breathe with its rhythm, dance to its beat. Like a roller coaster, you sit in its car and ride where it takes you-- up, down, over, under, and side to side-- until the ride is over and you're on your own again.

Wouldn't it be nice to be a musician ? Wouldn't it be nice to be able to create this experience for others? To take a room full of people on a magical secret journey, to show them new and wonderful places, to open wide the mystical windows of the subconscious and then weave those dreams into a tapestry of sounds. Sounds great, doesn't it? You are probably asking (and well you should be asking): "What's the catch?" Fred's Head did some research, talked with some blind musicians to get their input, and prepared this report to answer that question and some others as well. Each section of the report ends with relevant quotations from the blind musicians who shared their experience with us.

"Exhilarating. Sharing a gift with others is what I enjoy most."--Terry Kelly, songwriter and recording artist

"I feel powerful, as if there are no barriers. I can enrich people's lives and cause them to feel... there's nothing like it. I feel grateful for this gift."--Maureen Young, classical soprano soloist and teacher

2. "The Catch."

Becoming a musician requires more than just talent and a willing spirit. It requires work. Hard work. Hard work and lots of it every day. Dreary, monotonous exercises to train your ear. More dreary and monotonous exercises to train your mind in the language of music. Even more dreary and monotonous exercises to train your body to play the instrument(s) of your choice. Then, when you have your skills honed, you spend hours learning how to perform specific pieces: how to make the music in the piece breathe and flow, how to make the phrases sing with joy or cry with sorrow, how to find and transmit every subtle nuance of the music to your audience. It can be very hard to keep at it until you can play the piece perfectly. It is very easy to get discouraged, especially since the music business really doesn't pay well. If you want a lucrative career, find another field. If you want a career that rewards you in other, deeper ways, you must be determined enough to get through the discouraging periods. If you are, and you do get an audience, and you play your heart out and succeed in taking them into the eternal mystery of music-- the satisfaction and the fulfillment you'll feel will justify every day, every hour, every single minute you spent working on those dreary and monotonous exercises for so long.

"...frustration is a daily part of musical life"--Joey Stuckey, songwriter and recording artist

3. Music Education

Let's look at some of the practical details of learning to be a musician. If you haven't already, you need to decide what instrument to play (this includes singing--your voice is an instrument, too). If your school has a music program, take advantage of it. The music teacher can help you choose an instrument and also will help with the next step: finding a private teacher. This is important because a music teacher at a school is a general practitioner-- they will teach you the art of music, but they can't know everything about a whole lot of different instruments. You need to be trained on your instrument by someone who is a specialist with that instrument. Not only will you learn how to play, you will also learn how to maintain your instrument-- it is important to keep it in good shape.

Learning by ear is all well and good, and you should know how to do it, but you should also learn to read music as soon as you can. If you have no useful vision, learn to read braille music. Ask your teacher and use the internet to help you find resources (we have some resources listed at the end of this article). The ability to read music is important-- it gives you a large degree of independence in your selection of pieces to play and it often decreases the amount of time needed to learn a new piece. It also allows you to learn pieces that are so new that they haven't been recorded yet--perhaps you will make the premiere recording!

Will blindness affect playing an instrument? Not very much-- your learning process will differ from a sighted student's. For example, a sighted student learns how to properly hold the instrument by watching the teacher; you will learn the correct posture just as quickly, using touch and verbal direction. The biggest differences have to do with braille music. In most cases you have to memorize the music before you can play it and often it is difficult to find a braille transcription of a particular piece that is common in regular music notation.

Once you have learned pieces, start performing them in public. Play for your family and your friends. Often school programs include recital opportunities: use them all! You should also start playing in ensemble situations. Either through the school orchestra, band, or chorus, or maybe at your church, or even just with your friends-- play with others. It helps if there are some people in the group are experienced-- they can provide leadership and direction to the group and if you pay attention, you can learn from them how to be a leader and director yourself. The important lesson here is to perform in public as much as you can. The more you play for people, the more comfortable you will become with performing.

It is also important to listen to as much music as you can, which isn't hard if you really love the art. What is hard is that you should listen to as many different styles of music as you can. With the development of sound technologies like the MP3 and the explosive expansion of the internet, you can listen to a lot of music from the comfort of your home without a tremendous expense. And there is always the radio and television for listening to current popular styles. Even if you don't understand or just don't like a particular style, you should learn to understand how that style works in order to broaden your knowledge base-- to add more tools to your belt.

As you get to the end of your high school years, you will have a number of serious decisions to make regarding your future. Among these questions are the ones that relate to music. What do want to do? Do you want to make a career out of your talents and be a professional musician? Perhaps you would rather make a career out of some other field and continue doing music on a semi-professional basis. Some people would even consider giving music up at this stage of their life, but those people wouldn't be reading this article, so we won't be discussing that option. Your answers to these questions will help you to decide which higher education path you need to take. Talk to your music teacher(s) and to guidance councilors. Many colleges and universities have music programs, including the music minor for those who wish to have a different major subject. There are also specialized schools for music or for instruction in specific areas of music such as recording technology. The college path gets you a more rounded education, but expect to take four or more years. The specialized schools get you out more quickly, but all you get is the specialized training.

"I would encourage people to learn as much as they can. Seek out people who can teach you braille music or other skills of blindness so you can be as independent as possible."--Stephanie Pieck, pianist and teacher

"There are no shortcuts-- the only way to become a professional musician is to spend almost all of your time trying to perfect your craft"--Joey Stuckey

" music in school and university, study a bit of theatre, study the music business, practice..."--Terry Kelly

4. Music Careers, Part One: An Overview

So what sort of career options are there in music? How do you take your talent and technique and earn a living with it? There are a number of different possibilities that depend on where your particular talents and interests lie. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, musicians and related workers held about 273,000 jobs in 1998. Three-quarters of these were part-time, and just over 2 in 5 were self-employed. 2 out of every 3 musicians in salaried positions (both full- and part-time) are employed by religious organizations.

Teaching: There are different teaching options available. If you want to teach music at a school, you need a college degree in music education and you need to get teaching certification for the state where you want to work. Teaching at the college level is another possibility. This option pretty much requires advanced college degrees (a doctorate or at least a masters) in music. If you don't like the classroom atmosphere, you can teach students privately, one-on-one. With enough private students, you can operate your own studio or school.

Performing: again, lots of possibilities, particularly when you consider all of the different genres of music you could play. You can be a solo artist or a member of a performing group. You could be a conductor, bandleader or a choir director if you have leadership skills.

Composing and Arranging: If your musical gifts extend to creating and arranging new music, you can market these talents. Many musicians are looking for new material to play and advertisers need someone to create those catchy jingles. With luck and the right connections, you might even get to write music for movies or television.

Related work: There are a lot of occupations that require musical knowledge but do not involve musical participation. Examples include music therapy, piano tuning, and instrument repair. Other possibilities require business rather than musical knowledge: concert management, booking agent, music publishing, and music retailing. Other occupations that involve music include music librarian, sound technician, and music critic.

"I've often worried about wasting time... then I discovered that the time I spent worrying I could have been just using. [Therefore] the best way to save time is to use it." John Sanfilippo, pianist and teacher

5. Music Careers, Part Two: Advice for Success or Make your Opportunities, Don't Wait for Them!

Music is a glamorous occupation, and for a select few musicians, an extremely lucrative one. This attracts a great number of talented individuals into the field--which leads to a lot of competition for jobs at all levels. Many people are unable to find enough work to live on and give up or content themselves with playing music part-time and earning a living in some other field.

Like any endeavor, a music career requires dedication, perseverance, self-confidence, and a willingness to risk complete failure. For John Sanfilippo, the hardest part was "turning off my own negatives." There is no set formula, no recipe for success. Maureen Young explains that "you have to go where your talent is and exploit your opportunities- these will be different for everyone." There is no guarantee that you'll succeed even if you do everything right; you will experience what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls "intermittent periods of unemployment" particularly when you are starting out. You have to get out there, stay the course, and make the most of your opportunities. Joey Stuckey says " being persistent and staying visible I was given many wonderful opportunities, which continually elevated my career."

To encourage opportunity to knock on your door, you should master other skills besides music. You can increase your opportunities by getting to know the right people or at least getting these people to know who you are. Terry Kelly emphasizes the need for people skills:

"Learn etiquette, personal grooming, develop communication skills, through self-introduction and attending conferences. Before an individual spends money on a producer, a recording or signs any type of contract it is imperative to seek guidance and information from a seasoned individual in the music industry. Quality recordings and marketing plans as well as personal development are essential to even have a crack in the industry."
Sheila Styron, composer and teacher, also stresses the need for networking and making contacts:
"Get to know everybody who is anybody in the blindness community and take whatever they have to offer: scholarships, performance opportunities, publicity, mentoring, whatever. Surround yourself with strong support, learn to read braille music and make use of teachers, parents, friends to provide as many networking opportunities as possible. Even if you are talented and accomplished, it is still all about having the right connections."

Your personal appearance is important. Maureen Young's agent once told her "before you sing a note, they [the audience] have formed an impression." She passes this lesson on by encouraging her blind students take ballet lessons to help develop fluidity in their movements--"you don't want to appear stiff." Terry Kelly runs a narrow strip of carpet from backstage to his performance area. This simple preparation helps him make a good first impression: it allows him to stride confidently, unassisted, onto the stage.

No matter what form your career path takes, you should be organized. Organization will save you time and effort. Along those same lines, one thing you must learn is how to run a business-- how to keep records, account for your income and expenses, pay the correct taxes on your income, et cetera. Stephanie Pieck sums it up:

"paperwork for [my] studio is organized as much as possible, and I would encourage anyone doing music as a business to find a good, reliable accountant to help with tax preparation. I also write everything down using a Braille N Speak, from student phone numbers, assignments, and schedules, to the bookkeeping stuff. Then it's right there at your fingertips without having a lot of braille paper clutter and without having to boot a computer up every time you want to find something."

6. Wrap-up

Music is one of the finest and most moving of the Arts. Music is everywhere; all cultures have developed some form of music. Creating music is one of the greatest and most thrilling things a person can do. It is an occupation worthy of one's life-long devotion. Trying to survive in today's world by one's musical pursuits is very difficult, but it is not impossible. If you want to pursue a demanding career with tremendous spiritual benefits and are not interested in financial benefits, if music is in your soul and you don't mind periods of intermittent unemployment, and if you are willing to work very hard, don't care about stiff competition and are willing to risk complete failure, then you should consider a career in music.

7. Kudos

Fred's Head would like to extend our heart-felt thanks to the following blind musicians for sharing their time, experience and insight with us:
Terry Kelly, songwriter and solo artist. (Terry Kelly's Web page:,
Stephanie Pieck, pianist and teacher,
John Sanfilippo, pianist and teacher,
Joey Stuckey, solo artist, composer and teacher. (Joey Stuckey's Web site: ),
Sheila Styron, composer and teacher,
and Maureen Young, classical soprano soloist and teacher.

Internet resources

1. Braille Music Links

BrailleM electronic mailing list
BrailleM is a place for discussing and learning about all aspects of braille music code. The list is designed to help beginners in Braille music and give them a place where they can ask questions of more experienced braille music users. The list will also be useful to more experienced users, who can discuss about more difficult passages and formats.

National Braille Association, Inc.
Maintains a collection of braille music in addition to their other services. See their website for pricing information or to order a free catalogue.
National Braille Association, Inc.
Three Townline Circle
Rochester, NY 14623-2513
Phone : (716) 427-8660
Fax: (716) 427-0263
Website: National Braille Association:

2. Education Links

Music Education Network for the Visually Impaired (MENVI)
MENVI is a coalition of parents, educators and students. Operated by blind musicians and teachers for blind musicians and their teachers, MENVI is an information network and resource.
Music Education Network for the Visually Impaired (MENVI)
Southern California Conservatory of Music
MENVI Headquarters
8711 Sunland Boulevard
Sun Valley, CA 91352
Phone: (818) 767-6554
Fax: (818) 768-6242
Website: Music Education Network for the Visually Impaired:

Hadley School for the Blind
The Hadley School for the Blind offers free distance learning courses for the blind and their families. Among the many courses they offer is a course on the braille music code which has provided essential instruction for many blind students who would not have had access to the music code otherwise.
Hadley School for the Blind
700 Elm Street
Winnetka, IL 60093-0299
Phone: (847) 446-8111
Fax: (847) 446-9916
Toll-free: (800) 323-4238
Website: Hadley School for the Blind:

An interesting system for learning braille, they have a music code set available
P.O. Box 475
Plaistow, NH 03865-0475
Tel. (603) 382-1904
Fax (603) 382-1748
Website: Tack-tiles:

Braille through Remote Learning (BRL)
BRL is an online instructional program that provides teachers, parents, social workers, and current/future braille transcribers with a series of three integrated online courses in braille and braille transcribing. These courses are free. They have the 1997 braille music code online (Braille through Remote Learning:, but in order to see the braille, you need to download a special true type font, simbraille. Instructions for downloading and installing the font are available here:
BRL Instructions:

MENC: The National Association for Music Education
MENC is a professional organization for Music educators. Lots of useful information is available from their website.
1806 Robert Fulton Drive
Reston, VA 20191
Phone: (703) 860-4000
Toll-free: (800) 336-3768
Website: National Association for Music Education (MENC):

Dr. Fred Kersten has collected information for music teachers trying to accommodate blind and visually impaired students in main-stream classrooms. The results of his research are made available in his Web page:Fred Kersten's Page: AM 1/14/2005 tml

3. Technology Links

Music and Arts Center for the Handicapped (MACH)
This organization holds an annual Summer Institute for Blind College-bound Musicians. They also have a National Resource Center that you can contact with questions about braille music or music technology and they provide workshops and basic music technology training to teachers and college students throughout New England.
Music and Arts Center for the Handicapped (MACH)
National Resource Center for Blind Musicians
600 University Avenue
Bridgeport, CT 06601
Phone: (203) 366-3300
Fax: (203) 368-2847

Dancing Dots
Software company that has developed "Goodfeel," a program that transcribes certain types of music notation files, including midi files, into braille music. It is available in different option packages, one of which includes Midiscan--a program that converts scanned printed music into a midi file.
Dancing Dots
1754 Quarry Lane
P.O. Box 927
Valley Forge, PA 19482-0927
Phone: 610 783-6692
Fax: 610 783-6732
Website: Dancing dots:

Opus Technologies
Software company that developed the program Opus Dots Lite--software that converts scanned print music into braille. They also distribute Optek Systems' Toccata software. Toccata transcribes braille music from scanned printed music and from midi files. You can also enter music into a file directly.
Opus Technologies
13333 Thunderhead Street
San Diego, CA 92129-2329 USA
Toll-free Phone: (866) OPUSTEC or (866) 678-7832
Telephone: (858) 538-9401
Fax: (858) 538-9401
Website: Opus Technologies:

4. Other Musical Links

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics has a fascinating report on the field of music, including information about salaries and working conditions.
United States Bureau of Labor Statistics:

American Federation of Musicians of the U.S. and Canada
The largest musicians' union in the world.
American Federation of Musicians of the U.S. and Canada:

The Cook Music Library of Indiana University has assembled a collection of links to music resources. It is organized into several categories including the following: individual musicians, composers and composition, research and study, and journals and magazines.
Cook Music Library of Indiana University:

Business Travel Tips for the Entrepreneur With a Disability

Into every disabled businessperson's career some travel must fall. Make the experience less stressful with these travel tips geared to people with visual impairments.

Be Prepared

Travel Advice From a Pro

Traveling Abroad

Other Tips and Tricks From Travelers With Disabilities

These Are the Rules

Be Prepared

Business travel can be tense enough without the added hassle of being blind or visually impaired. I talked to some experienced visually impaired business travelers to see what they do to make the process more pleasant so they can concentrate on doing business.

Being prepared for your business trip that will lessen or eliminate headaches which commonly plague travelers but which are even greater hassles for people with disabilities. Here are a few tips for being prepared that I found specifically for blind or visually impaired travelers:

  • Write down the names and addresses of all destinations, such as hotels, meeting places, and even airports. Don't assume taxi drivers and others will know where they are, and don't rely on your own memory. Bring the information in a form accessible to you. Include phone numbers you may need to get help at your destination, including hotels, ground transportation, business contacts, and tourist bureaus.

  • Make it known to everyone you deal with (starting with your travel agency) what your disability is. Don't assume people will figure it out themselves. Tell them directly and specifically what help you need. If you keep it to yourself out of reticence or pride, you may discover that something you really need will be missed or that you will be overlooked, for instance, in an emergency. Believe me, it's not worth it.

  • Don't hesitate to ask people for information or help. If you cannot see the departures monitor, just cheerfully ask someone standing near it if they can help you out. In my experience, most people are more than happy to help, especially if you are specific about what you need. Be courteous and grateful. It's called "positive reinforcement."

  • Carry your white cane whether you are going to use it or not. At the very least, it will validate your requests for help, and you may run into situations, such as dark stairways, where you will need it. Bring an extra folding white cane in your luggage in case something happens to your regular cane or your guide dog.

  • Keep valuables and important documents on your person: keys, money, tickets, identification etc. You can get a small zippered pouch that you wear around your neck under your clothes where you can carry these items securely, but make sure you can get to them when you need to -- such as when going through security.

  • Have small bills in your pocket for tips. Chances are you will be asking for more help than the average person. It is only right to show you appreciate rather than demand it.

  • Find out ahead of time whether you can bring your guide dog. (See this article's Traveling Abroad section.) Don't assume just because you are traveling within your country that you will be able to bring it along. Hawaii., for example, limits the circumstances under which you can enter the state with a service animal.

  • Find out if your health insurance will cover you when you travel, especially to other countries. And bring your medications with you in their labeled bottles so they can be identified as prescription drugs if you are searched.

  • Do your research. One handy tool for getting information about airports is International Airport Guide. For a review of what airport travel involves post 9/11, see Remaking the Airport.

  • Research hotels. A hotel is a hotel, right? No! If you have concerns about sharing of a bathroom, availability of toiletries, locations of transportation or availability of meals, find out about all of these services before you make your reservation. At a hotel I stayed in Paris the "toilet" in the room was not a toilet but a bidet -- the toilet was down the hall. And every morning there was a tray with coffee and a baguette on the floor in front of the door. I'm glad I did not find out about this by tripping over it!

  • Search disability travel sites. While the dozen or so sites dedicated to accessible travel emphasize wheelchair users, it is wise to read every one you find. Use the words "accessible travel" in a search engine because there is plenty of helpful advice that is applicable to all disabilities.

  • Read general travel advice meant for the average traveler. What you learn may be even more important to you -- such as not assuming you will find a room with a vacancy when you arrive like my friend Ellen and I did when we spent a night in Juneau, Alaska, one August. One great resource on the Web is Rick Steve's Travel Tips, which has advice about packing, safety, communicating, using money, staying healthy and other potentially risky aspects of traveling.

  • Read about your destination ahead of time. I can't tell you how many times I've come back from a business trip where I had extra time only to find out that something I would have loved to see or visit was down the block from my hotel!

The airline and other travel industries are slowly adapting to the disabled market, but, with each travel or hospitality worker you meet, there is the potential for running into unexpected problems. Other obstacles can come up from your own lack of knowledge (understandable enough) of the nuances of each industry. You can lessen the chance that an inconvenience will become a serious problem by learning a thing or two about the destination, the transportation and the services you expect to use.

Each aircraft, for instance, has emergency exits, some of which are right by passenger seats. People with disabilities are not allowed to sit in those seats because the person in them is responsible for the lives of every other individual on that flight. When you make your seat selection, be sure to tell the ticket agent you have a disability to prevent being given an emergency-exit row seat and then having to later haggle over who has to trade with you.

The Disabled Traveler suggests you choose an airline based on its record of accommodating disabled travelers.

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Travel Advice From a Pro

Mika Pyyhkala, who travels more than 50,000 miles a year for business and pleasure, gave me several tips. In fact, they are so helpful that I'm giving Pyyhkala a whole section in this article! Here is advice from a pro:

  • Join and get to know airline/hotel frequent travel programs. If possible, try to become an elite/prefered/premier member. You receive many published and unpublished benefits once reaching these levels.

  • Get to know (at least by first name and face) people who work at the airports and hotels you frequent. These people can really make or break your travel. I just completed a trip where I ran into a ticket agent who just recognized my face, and she waived a $100 change fee for me, even in the era of supposedly no waivers and no favors.

  • Keep a person's direct telephone number when you have a complaint or problem -- when you want to issue a compliment. These key people can help you. Last summer, I had to change a trip. I called a friend of mine who I have dealt with over the years at Boston Logan, and she said, "Usually there is a charge for this, but I will waive it for you since I know you have had problems in the past." Also, this past summer, I needed a two-bedroom suite at a major hotel but wanted to pay just the standard room charge. I got a contact name from someone I had worked with, and presto, I got the two-bedroom executive suite for the price of an economy room.

  • Use the internet as a resource. An excellent web site is, which has forums or chat areas about all major airline and hotel companies. There are countless tips and useful undocumented sources of advice. For example, on, I learned of a deal where I could fly the BA Concorde for $1,200 round-trip (usual price is $10k -- give or take a few k).

  • Try to get bumped from over-sold flights in order to get free tickets, upgrades, and other benefits.

  • Ask the venue for a tour of the facilities at a convention center. I recently did this at the Orlando Convention Center, and it worked out very well.

  • Get a laptop with an ethernet connection, and an 802.11 (wifi) wireless connection, so you can stay connected wherever you might be. Look at an ISP called for dial up and other connections around the globe.

  • Learn to get around by yourself at the airports you use most frequently. It is easier than you think. This way, you do not have to wait for or be dependent on others for connecting flights etc.

  • Rethink your need for special assistance. I prefer not to request special assistance from the airlines. I find that this type of service gets in my way more than it helps.

  • Trade favors. If you frequent a particular hotel, ask for guest service information in braille. Offer to publicize this fact for the hotel and help the facility find a vendor to do the work.

  • Be careful when checking into hotels because many front desk agents think a person who is blind needs either a room near elevator or one equipped for people in wheelchairs.

  • File a complaint if you encounter disability-related issues. You would be surprised at the compensation you might receive for your trouble. Plus you may help the company in its service efforts.

  • Plan for computer access. I bought a very thin and small Cannon scanner to do OCR on the road. There may be difficulties if you need to go to a client site, for example, and access a lot of paper files etc.

  • Try to get the materials ahead of time in electronic format when you go to conferences.

Thank you, Mika!

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Traveling Abroad

Access laws and customs for people with disabilities are far from universal. Your "rights" where you live may not be what they are in another country. They may be more limited. They may be stronger. Further, the age of buildings, roads and other public places may affect their potential for accessibility. A 13th century cathedral is not likely to be as accessible as a 21st century hotel and so forth.

Customs vary as well, and these include attitudes towards people with disabilities. My husband tells me that tourists from overseas often look with shock at me as we walk by them in malls -- white cane in my hand and all. I have noticed that some immigrants appear to be unaware of what my cane even means and make no effort to move out of my way. On my part, I'm sure that, if I were in a part of the world where "the crippled" sit on the street and beg, my very American look of reproach would not be appreciated.

In particular, attitudes towards service animals, whether regulated or cultural, can cause blind or visually impaired people some problems. The United Kingdom has strict rules about admitting dogs because, being an island, it can prevent the spread of rabies in do so. In some countries, dogs fall into the same category as rats and, as a result, are regarded as unclean. My friend, Bern, has had rotten fruit thrown at her when she ventures out with her guide dog, Hazey.

It is critical that you do your homework before you travel abroad, whether for business or pleasure. Fortunately, AccessAble Travel Services has made this rather easy. In its "World Destinations" database, you can select the country or countries you will be visiting and obtain information (including links about local access issues, laws and customs.

Definitely look at foreign travel advice intended for every type of traveler to get information about communicating, money exchanges and so forth. Rick Steve's Travel Tips is very thorough.

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Other Tips and Tricks From Travelers With Disabilities

  • Be selective when it comes to seating. In my own travels, I try to take an airlines such as Southwest Airlines which allow me to choose my own seat. When I can't go Southwest, I always take the airline's offer of priority seating so I can get help finding my seat and get settled before the rush of boarding really gets started.

  • Don't kid around when talking to travel and security personnel. Sure it's tempting to respond "Always!" when the airline check-in person asks you if your luggage has been out of your sight for any period of time or to hold your white cane like a sword when going through security. We use humor to deal with others' awkwardness, but these people are required by law "not to take a joke." You may be detained or even jailed for your witticism.

  • Don't assume being disabled means travel and security people will cut you slack. You must be as much or more serious and responsive.

  • Ask about discounts when planning to visit entertainment venues such as amusement parks. Many charge people with disabilities the same lower rate they do seniors.

  • Ask about companion fares. Some modes of transport charge lower fares or allow you to bring a companion at no extra charge, if you are disabled. When my husband and I took a bus across country, we only had to pay for one ticket. It was worth it to the bus company not to have to have drivers and station staff helping me out.

  • Make hotel card keys accessible. Kathy Blackburn suggests, "For hotel key cards, ask the desk clerk to place a piece of tape on the side of the card that should be toward you when you insert the key into the slot. Make sure the clerk doesn't place the tape on the end of the card in such a way that some of it is on both sides."

  • Make luggage tags accessible. Blackburn also recommends the large plastic luggage tags which can be brailled with a slate and stylus.

  • Book your hotel yourself. Vicki Ratcliffe says, "When traveling alone, I always book the reservation for the hotel rather than have the agency book it for me. By doing this, I can choose a hotel that meets my needs such as one that has a restaurant for meals or one with interior corridors to get from place to place."

  • Select gift shops which allow you to touch. AccessAble Travel Services offers this advice: "Enhance your sensory experience by going on tours and visiting gift shops. Some tour groups allow travelers who are visually impaired to experience an exhibit by touching objects otherwise off-limits. Gift shops often sell small scale replicas of monuments you can touch."

  • Don't forget your tape recorder. On Rick Steve's Travel Tips, a site visitor writes, "When a blind friend of mine travels, he takes a small tape recorder. He tapes all sorts of things -- from pub conversations to train announcements to the sounds of nature. These tapes are his 'photographs.' It is so much fun listening to the sounds of places he has visited. I think I'll take a tape recorder on my next trip!"

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These Are the Rules

Wonder about a specific rule or regulation while traveling? Check these resources.
  • Steps Taken to Ensure New Security Requirements Preserve and Respect the Civil Rights of People with Disabilities - USA. Post September 11 security measures affecting air travelers have been developed to improve rather than hinder people with disabilities.

  • State Department Travel Warnings - USA. The U.S. Department of State monitors traveler safety issues around the world and issues these advisories, called Travel Warnings (updated promptly) about whether it is safe to travel in certain cities, countries or regions of the world. The web site gives safety advisories for each country as well as some other very significant information about conditions for travelers, entry and exit requirements, incidence of crime, air travel and traffic safety, health concerns, customs law, and a lot more -- even disaster readiness advice. For example, I discovered that, if I should plan to travel with my child to Papua, New Guinea, I need to bring her birth certificate and other legal documents that prove she is not being abducted. This site is fascinating reading, even if you are only armchair traveling!

Article Source:

Accessible Everything: An Accessible and Inclusive Travel Blog for People with Disabilities

Accessible Everything is a blog about accessibility for disabled people with a special focus on the tourism industry. From the author:

"I have travelled quite extensively and indepedently in Europe and I think it's important to share these experiences, both good and bad, with other disabled people."

"I worked for several years with the Spinal Injuries Association in the United Kingdom which gave me many opportunities and broadened my knowledge of Spinal Injury. I also volunteered for other disability associations which helped me understand other types of disabilities."

"In January 2002, I moved to Barcelona and taught English as a Second Language for several months. During this time I travelled independently in Germany for over a month, going from town to town by train. I had some problems in Berlin due to the lack of information for disabled travellers, such as accessibility in museums, hotels and restaurants."

"When I returned to Barcelona, I decided to help disabled people that wanted to visit the city by writing a short access guide. This guide, AccessibleBarcelona is available on the internet at and I hope that it helps many people to travel more confidently."

"I still live in Barcelona and I should imagine that much of this blog will be related to my experiences both here and whilst travelling in other countries."

Click this link to visit the Accessible Everything blog at

British Website Lists Accessible Rentals in More than 20 Countries is a one-stop shop for accessible bookings (it guarantees level-access showers) to vacation home and apartment rentals from England to Indonesia.

The site bills itself as "the only website in the world advertising only accommodation with at least one room with a level access shower."

The company's goal is to make life accessible for mobility impaired people wishing to travel the world, regardless of one's physical limitations. The website provides detailed information covering all aspects of accessibility for its property listings, located in twenty countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, continental Europe, Turkey, Indonesia, and the United States.

Most properties are high end, such as a Normandy farmhouse that includes a private heated pool fitted with an Oxford Dipper Hoist (there's one in the house, too), or the Cotswold cottage with an electric bed, shower chair, and teletext; Canary Island bungalows, Turkish hotels, Italian resorts, all can be booked through AccessAtLast.

Each AccessAtLast listing includes enough information for a disabled traveler to determine if the house, apartment, or villa meets their accessibility needs. Listings specify such details as:

  • Width of doorways
  • Bed, toilet, and clothes rack heights
  • Availability of electric beds
  • Level-access showers (guaranteed)
  • Manual shower chairs and grabrails
  • Teletext
  • Pool and indoor wheelchair lifts
  • Availability of accessible transportation.

Disabled travelers seeking getaway ideas can find inspiration in the site's Accommodation of the Month. Bargain hunters might search the site's "Last Minute Offers" section for even greater deals!

AccessAtLast's WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) compliant website, which supports screen readers used by the blind, also includes customer reviews, a mobility shop featuring wheelchairs and accessories, and a signup for an accessible travel newsletter. A recently added feature is an advanced-search capability for multi-room accommodations sorted by country or region.

Click this link to visit

Friday, January 02, 2009

Easy Grilling for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Here's a great small appliance for the blind and visually impaired. Read on for tips on how to use it without sight and find a yummy recipe as well.

A few years ago my brother-in-law gave me a wonderful Christmas present - a small George Foreman-type countertop grill! I brought it home and made a grilled cheese sandwich, and I was hooked.

Within a month, I had bought a large model that would hold bacon, three or four hamburgers, or enough of whatever I was cooking for a meal for two. I use one or both of my grills every day.

These grills are great little appliances. Easy to use, easy to clean up, and requiring no special recipes and only a good imagination or a little creativity to make good-tasting meals, they are a kitchen appliance that could have been made just for a blind person.

The grill comes in different sizes, from one just big enough for two hamburgers or two slices of bread placed side by side to one that can hold three or four hamburgers.

When the grill is placed on the counter or table in front of you, the lid opens up and back. Food is placed on the bottom cooking surface, and the top is then closed over it. Since the top also has a cooking surface, the food cooks on both sides at once; no turning necessary.

The cookbooks and manuals for the grill tell you to preheat the appliance before adding food. I have found, however, that the finished product is much better if the food is added before the grill is heated. Food cooks more consistently inside and out, and it is easier to place on a cool surface without sight.

Some models come with temperature controls and timers. My grills have neither.

So how do I know when food is done? By sound and smell.

Let's talk about bacon, for example. I use my large grill for bacon, placing strips crosswise. I place the first strip across the back of the cooking surface, and continue laying out strips until I reach the front. Strips can be overlapped a bit if you need to squeeze in an extra strip or two; I usually cook about six or eight strips at a time. After placing the bacon on the cold grill, I close the top and plug it in. As the bacon cooks, the fat sizzles and bubbles and runs off into a little container under the front of the grill. When the bacon is done, the bubbling sound diminishes and the smell is yummy.

A favorite lunch at my house is made by cooking two strips of bacon per person, then placing the crisp strips on multigrain bread and Swiss or Cheddar cheese. Add a top slice of bread, put the sandwich back on the grill, close the top for two or three minutes. Out comes a wonderful grilled bacon-and-cheese sandwich. Add fresh fruit and cold milk for a complete meal.

Many blind and visually impaired people are afraid of heat and don't like to turn foods in a skillet. Some people also are very hesitant to take food out of a hot oven. I know how they feel, because it took me a long time to overcome these fears myself. Many people settle for microwave cooking, trading good taste for easier preparation.

Now, with this grill, you can once again make good-tasting meals easily and with very little anxiety. Yes, food can get very hot on the grill. However, when food is finished cooking, just unplug the grill, open the top, and let it sit for a few minutes. Things cool down enough so you can remove the food with a spatula, tongs, fork or even your fingers.

So what else can you cook on the grill? Meats, fish, sausage, vegetables; toast, frozen waffles or pancakes, or open-faced sandwiches; leftovers (just sprinkle pizza, potatoes, chicken etc. with a few drops of water before grilling).

Caution: Don't try cooking things that tend to be runny; they'll drain right off into the fat tray!

The best news about these grills is that they are available at local stores. So many things that are used by blind and visually impaired people have to be specially-made, and they are only available from a few companies throughout the country. They are usually very expensive. It is truly great to find something so useful that doesn't have an exorbitant price tag.

Although cookbooks are definitely not needed for these grills, they are available in braille if you really want them. Go to to purchase a braille cookbook for the grill.

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