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.)


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Medication Assistance with take-n-slide

Take-n-Slide helps you monitor your medication's daily doses, up to 4 times a day. Just attach the self-stick dosage strip to your prescription, vitamin or daily supplement bottle of any size and align all "indicator slides" to the left. Then, take your medication and move one indicator slide to the right. Just remember not to place dosage strip over important instructions.

For more information, or to order the dosage strips, call 678-494-2992 or click this link to visit

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Unique Luggage and Recovery Service

Luckily, (knock on wood) I've been very lucky in my travels through airports so far: the one time my luggage was misplaced, the airline found and delivered it to my door the very next day. But that experience was enough of a scare for me to relate to the thirty-seven million people who lose their luggage every year, and never get it back. Now, there's a solution to this problem that works with existing databases and websites to keep you and your luggage together.

TRACE ME Luggage Tracker provides you with a strong, durable airline approved tag for your luggage, that has a unique serial number and 2D bar code ensuring your suitcase can always be identified and returned to you. Tags are suitable for all types of luggage including briefcases, laptop bags and is ideal for all members of the family.

Your personal details do not appear on the tag, your identity is safely and securely stored on, a database genuinely used by law enforcement agencies, major lost property services as well as airport baggage handling organisations across the globe to return lost luggage.

The effectiveness of the tag is not limited to air travel. The tough TRACE ME tag provides train operators, the police, lost property services and even local transport companies with the facility to securely identify your luggage and immediately notify you how to retrieve it from anywhere in the world.

Each customer has a personal online account with for updating change of address, telephone and email details. Never write your name on a flimsy old paper tag ever again.

Click this link to learn more about the Trace Me Luggage Tracker system.

Lost and Found Sound Tag

The Lost and found sound tag ensures luggage doesn't get lost by letting you record a twenty-second message of important information like phone number, address or hotel name for fast identification. The bold color and shape are easy to identify in a carousel of similar suitcases. Three batteries included. 2 1/4 x 3".

Click this link to purchase the Lost and Found Sound Tag from Taylor Gifts.

Talking Email Keyboard for the iPhone

I've mentioned that talking products, created for sighted people, often benefit the blind and visually impaired. I'm going to tell you about another product that fits into this catagory, but before I do, let me give you the description of this product from the manufacturer and let you decide its best use.

"With the Internet in your pocket, it’s hard to not take advantage of it in every situation possible. However, there are some instances in which iPhone use is limited, particularly if you’re behind the wheel of a car. Talking Email Keyboard from G.P. Imports attempts to change that by allowing you to type e-mails as you drive."

Typing email as you drive? How many blind and visually impaired people have been hit while trying to cross the street? Let's see if we can't find a better use for this nifty product.

Talking Email Keyboard works by announcing each letter you’ve typed after you tap a key, saving you the trouble of having to look down at the screen as you type, at least in theory. The voice used by the app is pleasant and can clearly enunciate the letters you type. However, when typing fast, the voice can lag, decreasing your productivity.

Still, even with Talking Email Keyboard’s oral confirmation, it remains hard to know what you’re about to type without sneaking a peak at your iPhone. For instance, it’s impossible to know that you’re about to type the letter “y” until after you’ve hit the key and Talking Email Keyboard confirms it. It would be great if the application would announce letters as you scroll over them, like a screen reader. The application doesn’t announce any auto-correct words suggested by iPhone. And it doesn’t let you know when you’ve switched to the numbers/symbols keyboard. It may be something for a person with low vision, but I think the blind would have problems successfully using it.

As I noted above, G.P. Imports touts this app as something you can use while driving “if your local law permits”, I wouldn’t recommend the app for that use, no matter what your local laws are. That said, the app might be more appealing to visually impaired users who would appreciate the audio cues as they type, it certainly seems like a better use than having distracted motorists fumbling for their iPhones to tap out an email, when they should be focusing on the road. Talking Email Keyboard is compatible with any iPhone or iPod touch running the iPhone 2.x software update.

Click this link to learn more about the Talking Email Keyboard from AppBeacon.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Better Living with Fred's Head

Here's a story in which it is shown that the regular use of the Fred's Head blog can improve one's quality of life.

Greg Samsa awoke one Saturday morning to the sound of a baby crying. He got out of bed, remembered that his wife had left for a teacher's convention the night before and knew that he had to take care of things. He put on his bathrobe and went into the nursery.

"Jen-ny" he sang. "Daddy's here, Jenny. Daddy's here." He felt around in the crib for the baby and picked her up. Jenny's crying continued, but with less force.

"Are we hungry?" Greg asked, bouncing the little girl in his arms as he carefully navigated into the kitchen. He put a saucepan of water to heat on the stove, then prepared a baby bottle one-handed and set it in the saucepan. Jenny's cries continued. "I've got to change her diaper," he thought. Laurie usually took charge of that task--manipulating the diaper while he helped to clean the baby-- but she was in Chicago.

"Why didn't I think to get some practice while she was here?" he asked Jenny. "That's okay, Muffin. Daddy will fix it."

One important lesson Greg had learned in graduate school was that not knowing an answer to a question was not nearly as bad as not knowing how to find an answer.

Greg went into the living room, where the computer was. He always left the computer running, so it only took a moment to get online. He selected "Fred's Head" from his bookmark file. He went straight to the edit box with his screen reader by pressing the letter "e", and typed "baby diaper" in the search field. He got How To Diaper A Baby as a result.

"Piece of cake!" Greg said to Jenny. "I think."

Greg carried Jenny down the hall to the nursery and followed the instructions he'd gotten from "Fred's Head".

"Fold this…" he said to himself. "…check that she's covered…peel this… peel this… Done! That wasn't too bad!" He put a clean romper on Jenny and they went back to the kitchen.

The bottle was ready, so Jenny got her breakfast. After she had eaten, Greg got Jenny settled into the baby carrier and started making his own breakfast. Greg fixed himself some oatmeal and toast and wondered what else it was he wanted to eat.

"Fried eggs!" Greg said. "That's what's missing. I want fried eggs!"

He went back to the computer, hit the letter "e" until he landed on the search box, then typed "frying eggs" into the search field.

He found two results: Frying eggs using an egg ring and American Egg Board Recipes.

Greg hit the link for Frying Eggs Using An Egg Ring and read over the record.

"Seems easy enough," Greg thought. "I know we don't have the egg rings-- but maybe those metal cookie-cutters will work. I'll give it a try."

Returning to the kitchen, Greg got a frying pan and set it on the stove. He set the burner to 'medium high' and put two tablespoons of oil in the pan. The Samsa's keep their oil in a wide mouth jar near the stove. A metal measuring spoon whose handle had been bent 90 degrees fits through the wide-mouth opening and serves as a ladle for the oil, providing an accurate measure.

Greg pulled the two largest cookie-cutters out of the bottom drawer. One was used for making gingerbread men; the other was a large five-pointed star. He added them to the pan. He grabbed two eggs from the refrigerator and started cooking.

After cleaning up the breakfast dishes, Greg got ready for work. He didn't have to perform any weddings this week, but he wanted to stop by the office anyway. The new computer was delivered yesterday and he hadn't finished setting it up. He also wanted to fix a couple of weak spots in tomorrow's sermon.

Greg got dressed for work and took Jenny next door to the Davis' house. Mrs. Davis was the regular babysitter, and she was expecting Jenny today. He knocked on the door.

"Good morning."

"Good morning, Doris. How are you today?"

"Okay. I'm watching Scooby Doo."

"Are you? That's nice. Do you like it?"

"Yeah," Doris nodded.

"Good. I liked it when I was your age. I'm here to drop Jenny off. Is your mom around?"

"Yeah. She's upstairs." Doris ran off, yelling "Mom! Reverend Greg is here." She soon ran back. "She says you can come in."

"Thanks, Doris." Greg stepped into the house.

"Hi Greg! Isn't it a lovely day?" Mrs. Davis' voice came from above and to the left. Her voice got louder and closer as she walked down the steps. "Would you like a cup of coffee?"

"No thanks, Sandra. I'm trying to decaffeinate."

Greg accepted a glass of water and chatted for a little while, then headed off to the church. The church was nearby, only seven blocks away. Greg always walked there when the weather was nice.

The Thomas Merton Unitarian Universalist Church was a former Methodist church. It was originally built in the early 1800s and had been expanded twice since then. The building had lots of narrow hallways and steep staircases; there was even a spiral staircase that led from behind the sanctuary to the choir loft. Greg had been minister here for seven years, so he was familiar with the layout and was comfortable navigating to his office. He went directly to his desk and turned on the computer.

He had spent most of yesterday getting the various cables connected and getting his software installed. He still needed to get desktop shortcuts created for his most-used programs. It had been four years since he made shortcuts on his old computer, and he had forgotten the procedure. The computer manuals were not accessible, so he got online. He hoped that "Fred's Head" could help. He typed in and added it to his bookmarks. He searched for "computer shortcuts" and received several results.

Greg selected How to Transfer Settings and Files From One Computer to Another with Magic Transfer and found the information he needed.

Greg saved this article to his favorites for reference and created his shortcuts and he was quickly finished. He then opened up tomorrow's sermon: "The Importance of Heroes: Role Models in Modern America." He decided that he was happy with it, especially the part about how product endorsements and advertising in general had adversely changed the role of modern heroes, but it still needed another good example. He went to "Fred's Head," looked under the "Browse Articles by Subject" heading, chose the Role Models link, and was rewarded with several results.

"These are just what I need to round out the sermon!" Greg thought.

He used some of the results to strengthen the weak part of his essay. Pleased with the finished product, he typed up an outline to use as a guide in the morning. He went to the closet and turned on the braille embosser then shut the closet door. He went back to his outline and chose 'print' from the file menu. The clattering of the embosser was loud even through the closed door.

Greg checked his email. There was a short message from his brother.

"Greg, I just heard on the radio that someone published a book on astronomy for blind people. Does that make any sense to you? Love, Bill"

Greg decided to check "Fred's Head" before replying. A quick search on "astronomy" returned several articles. Greg opened the article The Sky's Not the Limit: Astronomy for the Blind and Visually Impaired to learn more.

Greg emailed the record to his brother along with this message: "It makes good sense to me."

The next email came from the church's music director.

"I want to do some movements from Bach's Cantata 140 for that special memorial service next month." She wrote. "The arrangement has an important trumpet obbligato. Would you be willing to play the trumpet part? Let me know soon. Thanks, Callie"

"That would be a lot of fun," thought Greg. "I wonder where I can get a copy of the braille music?"

Greg decided to search "Fred's Head," for "braille music". The first result was titled Braille Music." Greg opened it and began reading.

Greg saved this information to his desktop, intending to research the location of the trumpet part after lunch. He knew APH's Louis database had over 200 thousand entries, so he figured that the trumpet part would probably show up there.

He checked the time: 11:30-- "almost time for lunch," he thought, "Just a couple of things to get done first."

Greg needed to replace his old tactile metronome. He had knocked it off the shelf while practicing two days ago and it had shattered when it hit the floor. Greg clicked on the "Fred's Head" Assistive Technology link and the computer responded with a variety of results.

Greg selected Finding Adaptive Technology Is As Easy As Abledata, and the computer displayed the article.

Greg surfed over to the Abledata site and bookmarked it. He found a replacement metronome in the music section; the description included the manufacturer's contact information, including a web address. He surfed over and found that they supported internet sales. Two minutes later, his new metronome was on its way.

The other thing he needed to do before lunch was to find something special to cook for Laurie when she returned from Chicago. Once again he called up "Fred's Head," this time he clicked on the Recipes link."

Greg decided to browse through the Cooking subject, he enjoyed cooking and had found good ideas there before. He learned the trick about keeping his oil in a wide mouth jar and using a bent metal measuring spoon from "Fred's Head" a couple of months before. "Maybe they've added something new since the last time I was here."

"These are some great articles!" He thought for a moment. "I've got a few tricks that I learned from Laurie that I'd like to share with other blind and visually impaired people."

Greg used the letter "h" on his keyboard to navigate to the "YOU Can Contribute to Fred's Head!" heading and clicked on the link. He typed his idea into a new email message. He checked for errors and then clicked the send button.

"Alright. That's enough for one day." Greg thought. He shut down the computer, collected his braille outline and turned off the embosser. He placed the outline on his desk and decided to put off searching for music and to spend some time outside with his daughter instead.

Greg stopped at the sandwich shop across the street from the church for some lunch, and then went to get his daughter.

The End.

About Fred's Head

Fred Gissoni emerging from computer monitor Click this link to hear a message from Fred.

Created by and for people who are blind or visually impaired,
Fred’s Head is where you go when you gotta know!

Explore the collective ideas and experiences of blind or visually impaired people by visiting Fred’s Head! You’ll find hundreds of tips and techniques to help you solve everyday difficulties, and detailed explanations of more complex issues that may challenge you.

Why Is this Blog Called Fred's Head?

Fred's Head is a free service from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) that publishes tips, articles, and resources by and for blind or visually impaired people. The Fred's Head blog was inspired by APH's legendary Fred Gissoni.

Fred has been providing technical support to APH customers and writing APH technical manuals since 1988. Prior to coming to APH, Fred had many accomplishments in the field of blindness. He has been working in the field since 1953 and has been a rehab placement officer, counselor, teacher, case supervisor, center director, and technical service unit director. He has written and taught courses for the Hadley School for the Blind and was a visiting instructor at the University of Kentucky. Fred was the co-inventor of a device that would eventually become the APH PocketBraille, one of the earliest braille notetakers.

Fred is known across the US for his vast wealth of knowledge about blindness, especially as it applies to daily living. Staff from the American Printing House for the Blind wanted to capture the knowledge in "Fred's head" and so the original Fred's Head database was established in the early 1990s. Many of Fred's tips, tricks, and resources were written as articles and published in the database, along with articles contributed by other APH staff and by Fred's Head users.

The Fred's Head Companion

In order to use the latest technology for people who are blind or visually impaired, APH began the Fred's Head Companion blog in 2004. In addition to the original Fred's Head Database, the Fred's Head Companion was a way to widely syndicate the information that was created for the original database. Through a variety of services, the records in the original Fred's Head database were delivered to a much broader audience through email, RSS aggrigators and to portible MP3 players as a podcast.

APH continues the tradition of sharing knowledge through the current blog, simply called Fred's Head. And Fred Gissoni, now in his 70s, continues to serve blind and visually impaired people across the US by being available for questions in APH's Customer Relations Department. The original Fred's Head Database was discontinued in March of 2009.

The Fred's Head Blog

Fred's Head, the free service from APH that publishes tips, articles, and resources for blind or visually impaired people, has changed format. The Fred's Head Companion blog has been renamed to Fred's Head (

Fred's Head is one of the first places you'll find announcements about new APH products. We also publish articles and links on dozens of topics of interest to blind people. A few of these are: adjusting to blindness, assistive technology, clothing, deafblind resources, dog guides, employment, family life, health, kitchen hints, organization skills, safety, and transportation.

All of the thousands of Fred's Head articles that were in the previous database have been published to the blog. You will still be able to search the blog for a specific article or topic. In addition, you can browse the articles using the subject listings that are located toward the bottom of every blog page.

The Fred's Head blog offers many functions that were not available in the original database. You can receive newly published articles via email, RSS, or Twitter. Articles are self-voicing, just click on the speaker icon and the text is automatically read to you. If you find an article you want to share, send it to a friend's in-box with just one click.

The Fred's Head Newsletter

So, you really like the information in Fred's Head? Are you one of those folks who click on the link to see the most recent entries? Do you find yourself visiting the Fred's Head website everyday to see what's new? Would you like a way to get the latest posts in your email? Thanks to the Fred's Head Newsletter you can! Click this link to learn more.

The RSS Feed

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated digital content, such as blogs, news feeds or podcasts. Users of RSS content use programs called feed "readers" or "aggregators": the user subscribes to a feed by supplying to his or her reader a link to the feed; the reader can then check the user's subscribed feeds to see if any of those feeds have new content since the last time it checked, and if so, retrieve that content and present it to the user.

You can subscribe to the Fred's Head Companion RSS feed by adding the following URL to your news aggregator:

The Companion Podcast

Wikipedia says that a podcast "usually consists of a combination of audio and/or video that is made available for download via syndication. It is this syndication aspect of the delivery that separates a podcast from a file available for download. The files are usually retrieved with software applications (generically known as podcatchers) such as Apple's iTunes so that subscribers can listen at their convenience on devices that have intermittent, slow, or are otherwise lacking Internet access. The podcatcher reads an RSS feed (whose entries point to specific podcasts, usually sorted by date) to identify and retrieve the podcast."

You can subscribe to the Fred's Head Companion Podcast by adding the following URL to your podcatcher:

Fred's Head on Twitter!

Wikipedia defines Twitter as "a free social networking and micro-blogging service, that allows its users to send and read other users' updates (otherwise known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length."

You can follow Fred's Head in a number of ways using the free Twitter service: on our profile page at; by using RSS, SMS, email; or through a variety of third-party applications. To get started, simply visit Fred's Head and click on the "follow me on Twitter" link toward the bottom of the page.

YOU Can Contribute to Fred's Head

Fred's Head is updated nearly every business day. Michael McCarty, APH's Expert Database Coordinator, scours dozens of sources to add and revise content. And Michael wants to hear from you! Those from any walk of life can submit an article, tip, trick, technique, web link, or other resource. If we use your information, you'll be credited by name as having expanded the knowledge in Fred's Head.

If you would like to contribute, or have questions about Fred's Head, please contact:

Michael McCarty
Expert Database Coordinator
American Printing House for the Blind, Inc.
1839 Frankfort Ave.
Louisville, Kentucky 40206
Phone: 502-899-2396
E-mail: or

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I'd Rather Be Shopping

Why pay full price if you don't have to? With this site, you can now stay on top of coupons for all your favorite online stores. Not only does this site offer great coupons for many online shops, but after checking out the About Us section, you'll find that they offer great customer service as well. If you have any problems using a coupon, you can e-mail them and they^D>'ll be happy to help you out!

On the main page, you'll find featured coupons, coupon categories, coupons of the day and popular coupons. If you look to the right, you'll find the Coupon of the Day, printable coupons and the area where you can sign up for their email list. Along the top of the page, you'll find these navigation tabs:

  • Today's Coupons: Clicking on this tab will bring you back to the main page from any other section.
  • Coupons by All Stores: Under this tab, you'll find a listing of coupons alphabetized by store. That's a great way to browse the stores if you're looking for specific ones.
  • How Coupons Work: This section explains how online coupons work. It's a great section for anyone to check out, especially if you've never used an online coupon before.
  • Shopping Articles: Here you'll find articles either written by or hand picked by the site owner. The articles pertain to online shopping and coupons.

If you're going to be doing any online shopping, it's likely you can find a coupon here to save yourself some money. Check it out!

Click this link to visit

Coupons at FatWallet

Deal-finding website has always had an excellent forum for saving cash, and while that makes it cool, the site's coupon search helps you avoid digging through forum posts and unreadable graphics to find good deals.

Using it is simple: Just head over to the FatWallet homepage or the coupons search page, enter the name of a store you'd like to save some cash, and see what results you can find. Sites have covered this territory before, but it's great to see a site with as rich of a database of coupons as FatWallet offer this kind of simplified coupon search.

Click this link to visit the coupon search page of

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Free Programs to Open Any File Extension

Have you ever had a mystery file on your computer that no program on your hard drive could open? I've downloaded audio files and had no player to play them, man how annoying. provides detailed information about most file extensions and links to free programs that can open and create each type of file. "All of us at have found ourselves helping our parents and friends open obscure file types time and time again, and decided that this information was best shared with everybody." There are plenty of great programs out there that will cost you hundreds of dollars to do what you need. What you probably don't know is that there is usually free software that is just as good. You just don't know about it. is run by a group of computer programmers who don't mind helping people with their computer problems. That's why the site was created.

Click this link to visit

Monday, March 23, 2009

National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET)

The National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) is a national membership organization dedicated to rendering all possible support and assistance to those preparing for or teaching in the field of special education. NASET was founded to promote the profession of special education teachers and to provide a national forum for their ideas.

NASET is a national professional association that seeks to meet a critical need for many of America's special education teachers. NASET was established as a professional organization for former, current, and future special education teachers who had no professional organization to call their own. NASET develops and promotes professional excellence through the support of teachers who provide services to children with special needs.

The organization is dedicated to ensuring that all children and adolescents with special needs receive the best education possible. NASET serves the professional interest of special education teachers in order to promote the highest professional standards. They help members stay abreast of current issues that are shaping the field, affecting the lives of students, and influencing professional careers. NASET is committed to standards of excellence and innovation in educational research, practice, and policy.

Click this link to visit the National Association of Special Education Teachers at

Top Ten Mistakes Parents Make in IEP Meetings

By: Matt Foley, M.Ed and DeAnn Hyatt Foley, M.Ed., Parents, Lubbock, Texas

(Reprinted with permission from the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Kentucky School for the Blind)

The following article appeared in Parent to Parent, a quarterly publication of the Kentucky School for the Blind that contains information relevant to Kentucky parents and families of children who are blind and visually impaired.

Editor's Note: While reading through various articles and looking at various websites, a friend of mine came across an article that contained information that would have helped my wife and I immensely when we started down the "IEP Road". I thought it would be very beneficial to share this article with my readers. Although this article is based upon the federal regulations, some of the language or terms used within this article may be slightly different than what is used in your state since new regulations have been drafted. If you have any questions or need clarification, please feel free to email KSB Family Support Specialist Mitch Dahmke at


It can be very intimidating to sit at a table with several educators and professionals. Professionals/educators do bring a great deal of knowledge and experience to the table. Though most parents do not have a background or degree in education, they have a great deal of knowledge and experience regarding their child. Parents are the experts in their own right. They provide historical information and the big picture from year to year. They know what works and does not work with their child and can be a great asset to the IEP team.

Parents also have an intuitive sense as to what is appropriate for their child. After working with parents for nine years, we are still amazed at how parents are usually intuitively correct about what will work for their child. We encourage parents to follow their hunches, if something does not sound right, check it out. Usually after some research parents will discover their hunch was correct.


Any request a parent makes needs to be in writing. This includes requests for assessments, IEP meetings, correspondence, related services, etc. Written requests are important because they initiate timelines that the school district must follow in response to your request. This will also create a paper trail. When you write a letter be sure to send it certified mail. When you have a discussion by phone with a school official, write a letter that briefly outlines what you talked about. Documenting your conversations helps prevent miscommunication.

Documenting requests (i.e., teaching assistant, speech, etc.) for the IEP committee clarifies to the committee what you are requesting and allows you to use your own words (as opposed to the note taker paraphrasing your request). We encourage parents to type exactly what they think their child needs and list why they think it is educationally necessary. This helps parents think through why they are requesting a service for their child. Have the IEP committee record the written request as part of the IEP. At this point, the IEP committee has one of two choices; the committee can accept or deny the request. If the committee denies the request then they must follow the procedural safeguards in IDEA and provide written notice of why they are denying the parents' request. This method makes it difficult for an IEP committee to tell parents "no" without thinking through the options. If the request is not written down then the school district is not obligated to provide the service. Make sure you write it down.


All sections of the Procedural Safeguards are important to parents. This particular section gives parents some leverage during IEP meetings. Whenever parents make a request for their child in the IEP meeting, the IEP committee is required under Prior Notice to provide the parents with written notice within a reasonable period of time. This notice must include the following:

(b) Content of notice

  1. A description of the action proposed or refused;
  2. An explanation of why the agency proposes or refuses to take the action;
  3. A description of any other options that the agency considered and the reasons why those options were rejected;
  4. A description of each evaluation procedure, test, record or report the agency used as a basis for the proposed or refused action;
  5. A description of any other factor that is relevant to the agency's proposal or refusal (34CFR300.503)

We have found many instances where a parent requests an assessment or service only to have the IEP team tell the parent it cannot be done. By making all requests in writing and by requiring the IEP team to provide Prior Notice, the parent makes the team accountable for its decisions. This practice also takes issues out of the emotional arena, allowing all team members to focus on IDEA standards.


Many times parents will request services such as speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc. in the IEP meeting. Frequently the IEP committee will respond by stating that the student does not need the service. We recommend that parents do not request the service but request the assessment that supports the need for the related service. For example, instead of requesting speech for your child request a speech assessment. Only a certified or licensed professional is qualified to determine if a child needs or does not need a particular related service. As in number 2, list the reasons why you think an assessment is educationally necessary for your child and submit your request to the IEP committee as part of the IEP.


Sometimes parents receive assessment results that do not accurately describe their child and/or do not recommend the amount and duration of services the parents think their child needs. Under 34 CFR 300.502 Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE), parents of a child with a disability have the right to obtain an independent evaluation at public expense if they disagree with the results of the school's assessment. When the parent requests the IEE (in writing) the school has one of two choices; they may either provide the IEE in a reasonable period of time, or they may take the parents to due process. When an IEE is agreed upon, parent and school must come to an agreement as to who is qualified to assess the student. The examiner for an IEE cannot be employed by the school district. Parents should request the school district policy on guidelines and qualifications for their examiners.


Parents are entitled to have the assessment information explained to them before the IEP meeting. We encourage parents to have the person who administered the assessment give them a copy of the report and meet with them to explain the report several days before the IEP meeting. This enables the parents to think through the information from the assessment, it only makes sense for the parents to be knowledgeable and informed about the assessment results in a way they can understand.


Measurable goals and objectives are paramount for your child's IEP. Without measurable goals and objectives, it is difficult to determine if your child has had a successful school year. In working with parents, we have encountered many IEP goals and objectives that are not measurable. All goals and objectives come from assessment data. Assessment has four different components:

  1. Formal assessment (ex. WIAT, Woodcock-Johnson, Brigance)
  2. Informal assessment (ex. classroom work)
  3. Teacher/parent observation, and
  4. Interviews

After the information has been collected about the student, it is compiled into an assessment report. Recommendations on how to work with the student are listed toward the end of the report. If you receive an assessment report that does not give you recommendations for potential goals and objectives, the assessment is not complete. After the assessment has been completed, the IEP committee determines the student's present level of performance (PLOP) and states what the student is currently able to do. The committee then develops the IEP goals and objectives. The goals state what the student is expected to accomplish by the end of the year. Objectives break the goal down into increments. For example: PLOP: Based on the Brigance and classroom work Johnny is currently able to read on a fourth grade level with 90% mastery. Goal: By the end of the school year Johnny will be able to read on a fifth grade level as measured by the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery. Objectives: * By October 1, Johnny will be able to read fourth grade, second month level with teacher assistance as measured by the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery. · By January 1, without teacher assistance Johnny will be able to read on a fourth grade, sixth month level as measured by the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery. A method of determining if your goals and objectives are measurable is to ask someone who is not on your IEP team to read them (ex. a teacher, another parent, advocate, etc.). Then ask, "Hypothetically, if you were to go into the classroom, would you be able to see my child working on these goals and objectives?" If someone outside of your IEP team cannot answer "yes", then your goals and objectives are not measurable.


Many times after assessment information is discussed, the IEP committee will determine the child's placement. Goals and objectives are always written before placement is discussed. To ensure that the child is placed in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) the IEP committee must determine:

  • Which of these goals and objectives can best be met in the general classroom?
  • With the remaining goals and objectives that cannot be met in the general classroom the committee determines:
  • Which of these goals and objectives can best be met in the general classroom with modifications and support?

This line of inquiry continues until all placement options have been decided upon for all the goals and objectives. The committee must always start with the LRE and then work toward a more restrictive environment as necessary. IDEA is very clear that the IEP committee must always consider the general education classroom as the first option for students with disabilities.


This practice is particularly common at the end of the school year when educators are frantically trying to have IEP meetings for all the students who receive special education services. IEP meetings may be held one right after another. There is no problem with this practice as long as the members of the IEP team feel that all issues have been adequately discussed. Many times, however, parents feel rushed. It is important that all issues are adequately addressed before ending the IEP meeting. When the educators have not given themselves adequate time to address all relevant issues, request that the IEP team meet again at a more convenient time to further discuss your child's education.


It is very important to ask questions and lots of them. Educators use many terms and acronyms specific to special education. Parents may become confused when these terms are used during the IEP meeting. This can add to the frustration that a parent may already be feeling when they do not understand what is being said. It is important to ask what the terms or acronyms mean. Unless a parent has a background in special education they are not expected to know the terms and acronyms. Informed decisions cannot be made when parents do not understand what is being discussed.

The preceding is a short list of common mistakes parents make during the IEP meetings and some suggestions for avoiding these mistakes. At some point in time we have made all the mistakes listed above. We developed the habit of debriefing after every IEP meeting as to our performance during the meeting. We have gradually accumulated information and developed skills, and we continue to trust our intuition.

We have found that when parents apply the suggestions listed above while working with their IEP team, they will see the results. It is important that parents continue to accumulate information and develop skills relating to the IEP process. Do not be discouraged in your pursuit to obtain the supports and services your child needs. We found it helpful to break the process down into small steps. When you use the suggestions listed above you will be that much closer to obtaining your child's Free Appropriate Public Education. After using each suggestion listed, pat yourself on the back for becoming an even better advocate for your child.

To receive an electronic copy of Parent to Parent, or to submit an article, e-mail Mitch at or phone 502-897-1583, ext. 221.

Additional Resource

Do you live in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas or Iowa? There's an online resource that can help you through the IEP process.

Special Education Parent's Advocacy Link , LLC (SEPAL) are advocates in the public schools for parent's who have children with special needs; they are also parents of children with disabilities. Marilyn McClure is a due process hearing panel member in Missouri and is an advocate for parents who have children in the public schools.

SEPAL can assist you in drafting a child complaint for submission to your state's education agency. Child complaints are used when a parent disagrees with what the school is/isn't doing for their child with an IEP. Often, parents can accomplish what otherwise would have necessitated a lengthy due process hearing. SEPAL attends IEP meetings at the school with the parent. SEPAL attends 504 accommodations meetings too. SEPAL has a network of advocates in Missouri and Kansas who can serve parents in those areas with their special education concerns including learning disabilities, autism, and other special needs.

Get the help you need at

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Three Books about Blindness & Related Topics

While looking through The Braille Forum from the American Council of the Blind, I found the following three books and wanted to share them with you.

Words in My Hands

Diane Chambers has a degree in therapeutic recreation and is a sign language interpreter. She has also written, Words in My Hands: A Teacher, A Deaf-Blind Man, An Unforgettable Journey. This is a true story about Bert Riedel, an elderly deaf-blind man who played classical piano. Before he lost his sight and hearing to Usher syndrome, he was a dentist in Lombard, Ill. Diane met Bert when he was 86 years old and taught him how to read tactile sign language.

While the story illustrates psychosocial factors that complicate the disabilities of deafness and deaf-blindness, it carries an inspirational message as well. It shows that miracles can happen where there are dedicated professionals and caregivers.

For more information about the book, visit or contact Diane Chambers at 303-591-1040.

As I See It

As I See It by Robert Theodore Branco is a collaboration of events and facts presented by a blind adult. It discusses a wide variety of topics relating to blindness, including discrimination, myths, adaptive technology, training, legislation, etc. The book's ISBN is 9781434323521 and is available through

Dealing with Vision Loss

Blind since birth, Fred Olver has devoted his life to demolishing stereotypes and breaking down barriers, and as a rehabilitation teacher, he has taught others facing vision loss to do the same. Now Olver presents a comprehensive guide for anyone directly or indirectly affected by vision loss in his book, Dealing With Vision Loss (published by AuthorHouse).

Olver offers answers and hope for individuals losing their vision, their family members, parents of visually impaired children, those who interact with the visually impaired on a regular basis and people interested in pursuing a degree to work with the visually impaired. Dealing with Vision Loss is also a vast resource of practical information, explaining how to find everything from talking watches to braille playing cards to magnifiers.

For more information, go to, or contact Fred Olver at 314-226-9699.

Educational Software for the Blind

Hugh Haggerty operates a website that offers a variety of educational software and games. Many are specifically designed for people who are blind or losing vision. One such program helps you learn braille using a standard computer with adapted keys.

HAGGERTY ASSOCIATES was founded in 1981 in Cranbury, New Jersey. Original software designs included educational programs for Secondary Schools. As time went on, the company branched out into accounting software for Credit Unions, and eventually into hosting and designing websites for small business and organizations.

"Today, our main focus is educational software. This software includes Mathematical software, Physics, Biology, Science, and testing and instructional software. Some of our software is FREE."

Click this link to visit

Tweet from JAWS

Are you on Twitter? Isn't it amazing how popular this micro-blogging site has become? Now Twitter can be even easier to use with scripts for JAWS that allow you to tweet from anywhere in Windows.

Jawter, in essence, can turn your screen reader into a Twitter client. You can read tweets from the people you follow, write a tweet to your own Twitter page, reply to someone's tweet and activate any link they might send. Blind Cool Tech has a podcast you can listen to in order to learn more about Jawter, click this link to download.

Click this link to download the Jawter scripts for JAWS from
Click this link to visit Fred's Head on Twitter:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How to Protect Yourself: Virus Information and FREE Virus Scanners

It seems that there is no end to viruses, trojans, and worms. We've seen variants of the Beagle, Netsky, MyDoom, and so on and so on. Most of these nasties were transported or replicated from pc to pc using email attachments. These are easy to spot if you're paying attention, simply because they are usually executable files, but not always.

Some attachments contain Macros (simple programs that run within other programs-all the titles in Microsoft Office use macros). If you're not that familiar with spotting file extensions, don't worry, that's what I'm going to talk about in this article. If you're a little hazy on the whole "file extension" thing then let's spend a few moments explaining it.

File extensions are what tell the program how to treat a particular piece of data. For example, most people are somewhat familiar with .doc or a .txt file extension, these are both text documents and when the user opens this file the Operating System looks at this extension and then knows how to open it.

Bad Hackers try to use some sort of eye-grabbing ploy to get you to open their email and activate the virus which is always an attachment. Most Anti-virus nowadays stop, or at least warn, you of these high risk attachments and even take measures to protect you. However, on the average, 10-15 new viruses are created every day and I personally wouldn't count on any program to 100% protect my pc. That's why I scrutinize any email-if I wasn't expecting an attachment, I won't open it until I had a chance to talk to the sender.

Some of the more common file types used to hide viruses include:

  • .scr - Windows Screen Saver - USE CAUTION if you receive a screen saver via email. They can contain worms or viruses
  • .pif - DO NOT OPEN! This is most likely a virus. Clicking it will run a program or code that can mess up your computer.
  • .exe - executable file-a program that contains a virus, trojan horse, or worm
  • .pps - MS PowerPoint (can contain macro virus)
  • .zip - Zip (compressed) file with a nasty surprise inside
  • .vbs - Visual Basic script
  • .bat - Executable MS-DOS batch file
  • .com - DOS executable command
  • .asp - active server page-internet script
  • .doc - Word document (can contain macro virus)
  • .xls - Excel file (can contain macro virus)

This is in no way a complete list. Just because an attachment may have one of these extensions doesn't mean that it is a virus, but it should send up warning flags. Bad guys use clever subject lines, and viruses can appear to come from a friend so keep on your toes and don't fall victim to their deceptive traps. Scan those attachments and verify with the sender before opening.

Email Security Scan

Let's see how secure your defenses are against mail-born threats. Think you're up to the test? Then read on.

The problem with all the security holes that arise from day to day is that it's hard to keep up. "Am I protected?" you wonder, "I update constantly, I scrutinize all my email messages, especially attachments, and read all of the awesome security articles that appear in Fred's Head, but how do I know for sure?"

Well, since such a large number of security holes center around email I'm happy to tell you about a service that can check your system for potential exploits. The service is a web based email scanner that you can tailor to send out over 20 different emails, each attempting to defile your system with dummy exploits. It's like hiring a security agent to go over your system and tell you what aspects of your security is in good shape, and what areas could use some improvement.

When set in motion, the scanner fires off the dummy viruses and exploits to the specified email address. Don't be surprised if your virus software starts popping up with security messages, as a matter of fact, this is exactly what you want to happen, it means your system is seeing the threats coming in.

The emails themselves have message bodies describing what their particular test was for and how to make sure you're protected from this sort of attack. Some of the emails have attachments and some attempt to create text documents on your desktop, the emails tell you exactly what to do to ensure the tests ran correctly, thus providing an accurate assessment of your system's defenses.

In addition to the testing your system for security holes this is also a good way to educate yourself on some email-born security issues by getting a chance to see them in action without putting yourself in any danger.

Click here if you would like to have your email security tested:

Free Virus Scanners

So, that new computer you purchased doesn't seem to be running as fast as it did a few months ago? Your anti-virus program now says that your subscription has ended? Sorry, can't help with this one.

But I do have some good news for you... I just saved a load of money on my, oh wait... wrong commercial. Actually, I can help you. There are some excellent free virus scanners, and some can even be run online.

I recommend Trend Micro's Housecall: for starters, which will scan your computer for viruses directly from the web. They also offer a free online spyware scanner.

There's also Panda ActiveScan: which scans, disinfects and eliminates over 90,000 viruses, worms and trojans from your hard disks, compressed files and email.

Both of these sites are trustworthy and use an ActiveX applet to do the scanning. If you have trouble starting the scan, your security settings may be too high. Follow the instructions on the site to modify your settings and things should work fine.

Use an Offline Virus Scanner

For maximum protection, I recommend that you also install a good anti-virus program on your computer, which will scan your system at startup and continuously thereafter. McAfee virus protection is now included with AOL membership, and Road Runner offers their users the EZ-Armor package at no charge. If your ISP isn't offering any freebies, check out the free AVG package from Grisoft at . Screen reader users please note that later versions of AVG are, unfortunately, not 100% compatible. This is disappointing, I have used AVG for over seven years with no difficulty. I'm not saying that you can't use the program, but you may be limited when accessing program features and setup options.

Avast! Antivirus

After hearing about all the problems that Jaws users have encountered when upgrading to AVG version 8.0, I decided to try to avoid those problems and installed Avast Home edition on my computer. This version of Avast is free for non-commercial use.

My experience with the program has been very positive. Installation was straight forward and learning to use the program has been very easy.

For increased accessibility, after installation, Users should open the program settings from the Avast icon on the system tray. From there, tab into the common settings and be sure that the "use skins" item is not checked. I would also recommend to tab into the "update basic" section and set the program update option to automatic. Other than that, I left all other options at the default settings.

The things I like about Avast:

  1. The computer scan ran in 20 minutes instead of 1 hour for AVG.
  2. Besides viruses, it's always scanning for rootkits and spyware which AVG only did with the full paid version.
  3. It monitors all web pages for malicious activity, which AVG did not do.
  4. It monitors all network traffic for network attacks and works in conjunction with your firewall software.
  5. If you use IM clients or Peer-to-peer networks, it will protect you on both of these fronts. If you don't use this, you can disable those services to save resources.
  6. I noticed that after installing Avast, my computer boot up time is about 1 minute faster.
  7. I have noticed that overall computer performance is better, which is a nice unexpected benefit.

Things I don't like:

  1. Avast does not allow you to schedule a daily or weekly computer scan with the free Home version. This really isn't a problem for me, since I had disabled this in AVG and ran the scan manually. Running a scan is very simple from the desktop icon.
  2. You are required to register the Avast Home product or it will stop working 60 days after installation. This is a very simple process but does require sighted assistance if done through their website. You can alternatively send an email to the support team stating that you are a blind user who needs to register and they will send you your registration code, which you will need to paste into the registration screen. The registration is good for 14 months, at which time you will need to re-register. Not a big sacrifice for free access to such a great program.
  3. I did notice that downloading a large number of email messages in a single batch was about 20% slower than with AVG. If you only use web mail and not an email client such as Outlook or Thunderbird, then this will not affect you.
Click this link to download avast! antivirus for your home computer.

NOD32 antivirus

ESET Smart Security is another accessible way to combat today's huge volumes of Internet and email threats. It combines ESET's award-winning NOD32 proactive antivirus and antispyware protection with a powerful yet easy-to-use firewall and robust antispam technology.

ESET Smart Security detects and disables both known and unknown viruses, trojans, worms, adware, spyware, rootkits and other Internet threats. It's easy to use yet simple to optimize for your specific needs.

Click this link to download ESET Smart Security.

Grisoft Anti-Rootkit

Rootkits are a type of specially crafted code that is embedded within another application or even in a system's operating system. They spy on and capture information from the infected system and are invisible to most traditional antivirus solutions. This inability to identify the offending code leaves the system compromised, while the owner feels as if they are protected and they continue to conduct their business as usual.

Grisoft, the makers of the popular free personal antivirus solution AVG, has seen the rise of rootkits over the past year or so and they have been feverishly working to create a solution now, when the public needs it most. Grisoft says that their program will successfully find and remove rootkits, without hassling the user with false findings, prevalent in similar programs.

The program is simple to use too. Just download the application from their website and install it to your computer. After the install, you will be prompted to reboot your system. When your system has started back up, the AVG anti-rootkit application will be in your Programs list (Start, All Programs, AVG Anti-Rootkit) where it can be launched. From the main interface, simply select either "Search for rootkits" or "Perform an in depth scan." Then just watch the progress bar go.

At the end of the scan, the AVG Anti-Rootkit will display the results and offer more options as necessary. It's that easy to check your system for rootkits.

The rootkit remover has an update feature and it should be a very welcome addition to any user's security and cleaning arsenal! Click this link for a direct download of Grisoft Anti-Rootkit.

Deafblind Communicator

HumanWare has created its DeafBlind Communicator (DBC). The DBC enables deaf-blind users to communicate with members of the hearing and deaf communities. The basic DBC provides a TTY for communicating with other deaf or deaf-blind individuals. The DBC consists of two components: 1) a BrailleNote with braille display and either a standard or braille keyboard and the accompanying software, and 2) the DBC Companion phone. These two separate units communicate wirelessly with each other using Bluetooth technology to allow for face-to-face communication. The BrailleNote has special software built into it that enables it to operate as a TTY when connected to a land-line telephone. With the addition of a SIM card and a texting plan from a wireless provider, a DBC user is able to send and receive text messages via cell phone. The DBC instantly translates the text to braille and vice versa.

To learn more about the DBC, contact:

Toll Free: 800-722-3393

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

National Cristina Foundation (NCF)

The National Cristina Foundation (NCF) is a not-for-profit foundation dedicated to the support of training through donated technology. Its mission is to ensure access to computer technology and the sharing of technology solutions to give people with disabilities, students at risk and the economically disadvantaged the opportunity, through training, to lead more productive lives.

NCF works to see that computer technology resources coming out of their first place of service are not wasted, but are given a second productive life helping to develop human potential.

National Cristina Foundation (NCF)
500 West Putnam
Greenwich, CT 06902-7474
Phone: 203-863-9100

Texas Center for the Physically Impaired and Refurbished Computers

For 15 years, the Texas Center for the Physically Impaired has operated a program where, for a $100 donation, they will provide individuals who are blind or visually impaired within the US or Canada with a computer. The computer is a refurbished unit that includes keyboard, mouse, sound card, monitor and speakers. They use Windows XP machines that businesses donate. The computer also includes a demo version of the Window-Eyes screen reader and a demo of the ZoomText screen magnification software. If a recipient can use ZoomText, the person is able to get a licensed version for free from TCPI thanks to the generosity of Ai Squared. Also included is a seven-tape tutorial on how to use the computer. For more information, visit or call 214-340-6328.

Accessible Breast Cancer Information

The National Braille Press is offering free copies (in braille or PortaBook) of the American Cancer Society booklet, For Women Facing Breast Cancer. The publication covers mammograms, biopsies, cancer staging, treatment options, and breast reconstruction as well as how to join clinical trials and where to find emotional support.

Each section includes a list of questions that individuals might want to ask their doctor or nurse. Copies are limited to one per customer

NBP has other health-related braille publications, including:

  • After Diagnosis: Prostate Cancer, free
  • Menopause Guidebook, free
  • Simple Ways to Control Your Weight
  • Atkins Carbohydrate Gram Counter
  • Diabetes Cookbook: Desserts

NPB also offers a free four-week trial of Syndicated Columnists Weekly, a braille magazine that includes columns and editorials print and online newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post. You can download a free sample (text or braille) on the National Braille Press website:

Monday, March 16, 2009

Low Vision Aid for People with Macular Degeneration and Retinitis Pigmentosa

Millions of people in the US have age related Macular Degeneration, and other low vision diseases that have caused permanent loss of central vision. The SightMate LV920 viewer can help many of these individuals with inoperable visual impairments improve their visual acuity and quality of life.

The SightMate LV920 viewer is a portable, lightweight video magnifier that optimizes residual peripheral vision. Private clinical trials show that people with between 20/70 to 20/200 acuity in their best eye have been able to increase their reading and distance acuity to 20/40 or even 20/20!

By a combination of edge detection (contrast enhancement), color blindness compensation and a zoom capability of 20x, the SightMate LV920 viewer will also assist people with Diabetic Retinopathy or Glaucoma who have suffered a gradual loss over the entire vision field.

SightMate is intended to be worn while sitting. It is not designed to be used in mobile activities of any kind such as walking, playing sports or driving. SightMate is not designed to restore vision, correct eye conditions or halt degenerative vision loss. Please see your vision professional to determine if SightMate is appropriate for you.

Click this link to learn more about the SightMate LV920:

The SENSEsational Alphabet Book

From the publisher: "This is a completely interactive ABC picture book, focusing on integrated sensory methods to learning. This enables all students, regardless of their strengths and weaknesses, to build a basis for fundamental communication skill development. The book incorporates visual stimuli, movement, touch, smell, sound, braille, and sign language, with each page having a unique feature. Learning the alphabet has never been more exciting and stimulating! This fun and engaging book lets students feel the different textures of the Horse and Lizard, smell the distinctive aromas of Apples and Roses, move the hands of the Watch, pull the Zipper, and much more! Learn the entire alphabet and many beginning words in sign language and braille. Touch the corresponding key pad and recite the letters and words along with the book. A portion of all proceeds is donated to various children's charitable organizations and educational facilities across America".

This book is truly a "multi-sensory" book. Every picture is visual and tactile. Every word is in print, braille, sign and spoken English (when you press the button). Many pages are scented. Perhaps best of all is the comparatively low price tag for a "special education" item.

Click this link to purchase The SENSEsational Alphabet Book from eNasco.

MathPlayer: A Math reader for Blind Students

Design Science has developed a product called MathPlayer to help the visually impaired. The player reads mathematical text aloud, and you can alter the way it reads certain functions (for example, you may prefer close parens or you might like it to just say parenthesis). The program understands the need to know whether a portion of a fraction is the numerator or the denominator, it understands that you would need to know when the argument of the square root ends, etc.

MathPlayer enables Microsoft Internet Explorer to display mathematical notation in web pages. It is based on MathML technology and requires Internet Explorer for Windows version 6.0 and later. "We make MathPlayer available for free in order to foster the adoption of MathML in the math, science, and education communities".

Right-click on an equation and see what MathPlayer lets you do with it! You can cut-and-paste math into any one of a growing number of MathML-compatible software packages, such as Maple and Mathematica. You can open it in our WebEQ and MathType products for further editing, reuse in your own documents, and much more>.

Click this link to visit a demonstration page where you can hear JAWS for Windows read a website with and without MathPlayer.
Click this link to download MathPlayer.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Macular Degeneration Support Inc.

Macular Degeneration Support Inc. (MDS), offers a host of online resources for people with macular degeneration and related diseases.

The organization's web site contains: more than 1500 links to low vision-related resources, library, book store, an email discussion group, chat room, and literary contributions--writings by people with low vision.

MD Support is a non-profit, public service organization. It was created in 1995 by Dan Roberts, a retired educator. Its director and staff are all visually-impaired volunteers.

The organization publishes a "web book" containing the same information as its web site which are distributed at cost to individuals who do not have internet access. There are currently two volumes of the Web Book. Individuals who purchase the two volume set can receive bi-annual updates. According to MD Support, any profits from the sale of the Web Books is used for the organization's outreach efforts.

For more information about MD Support, use the organization information below.

Macular Degeneration Support Inc.
3600 Blue Ridge
Grandview, MO 64030

Humanware, a manufacturer of assistive devices

Humanware is a designer and manufacturer of technology for people who are vision impaired. Their products include:

  • The SmartView video magnifier, a low vision aid that enlarges objects, actions and text onto a display screen
  • PocketViewer, the truly portable low vision device
  • Victor Reader, a line of digital talking book players that allow reading of talking books recorded in digital format
  • Trekker, a revolutionary system that uses GPS and digital maps to help blind people find their way in urban and rural areas
  • Maestro, a PDA using a text-to-speech technology adapted application and a tactile keyboard membrane over a PDA touch screen
  • BrailleNote, provides a choice of output options by combining a crisp high definition Braille display with clear, responsive speech
  • BrailleNote PK, the world's smallest blindness PDA, it combines a high definition braille display with speech output
  • VoiceNote, provides high quality speech output without the Braille display

For more about Humanware and their products, use the contact information below:

175 Mason Circle
Concord, CA 94520
Toll Free: 800-722-3393
Phone: 925-680-7100
Fax: 925-681-4630

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Accessible Cell Phones for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

It seems that cell phones keep getting more and more complicated. You can browse the internet, take pictures, chat and check your email with your cell phone. Unfortunately accessability hasn't improved with the phones.

Some companies have figured out that blind people do use cell phones and we want to use the same features as our sighted counterparts. Before I give you a list of some accessible cell phones, let me tell you about a very basic phone and phone service.

Originally designed for elderly parents or grandparents to use as an emergency phone, or for anyone who is technically challenged Jitterbug is a MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) that uses the Sprint system and features easy-to-use phones with operator-assisted calling and speed dial set-up.

Jitterbug currently features two phones made by Samsung. Both have large, easy-to-read displays, loud and clear sound, and feature large, easy to dial buttons with clear markings (no confusing icons). They also "play" a familiar dial tone when the phone is opened to simulate a landline. One phone has a standard keypad, the other has three one-touch dial keys.

The ease of use makes these phones a great option for people who are blind or visually impaired. A perfect peace of mind without 37 ringer choices and streaming TV.

Accessible Cell Phone Suggestion from a Fred's Head Reader

I received this tip through email at and wanted to share it with all of our readers.

Dear Fred's Head Friends,

My husband, who is blind, did some serious looking at the different cell phones and their accessibility options. The BEST phone was offered by Verizon. He simply thinks the LGV8300 is the greatest as it has almost all audible features. Be sure to check this phone out. The following is some information on this great little phone:

Verizon Wireless offers the LG VX5300 and LG VX8300 with Voice Command and Text to Speech. These phones have features that make them more accessible to customers who are blind or visually impaired. The LG VX5300 and LG VX8300 are available at the Verizon Wireless Store.

Learn more about the LG VX5300 and the LG VX8300

Voice Commands
  • Digit dialing. You speak the digits; the phone dials them for you.
  • Dial by name. Speak a name that has been programmed in your LG VX5300 or LG VX8300 phone book and the phone will call that person.
  • Voicemail indicator with speech. If you miss a call and a voicemail has been left; the phone will tell you that you have a voice mail.
  • Caller ID with speech. You can hear either the name from your contact list or digits of the caller.
  • Status of the battery and signal strength.
Speech command list
  • Call (Name or Number)
  • Send Message
  • Go to menu
  • Check Item - Contains Phone Status, Voice Mail, Messages, Missed Calls, Time, Signal Strength, and Battery
  • Look up Name
  • My Account - Links to VZW My Account
  • Help
Helpful hints for using your phone
  • To access the Command List, you will need to use the Menu key, Scroll to Settings & Tools and the "to Tools", then "to Command List".
  • You can either request a command by speech or scroll down and listen to each option and then select
  • When selecting to Call Someone from the Command List, you can speak the name of the person that has been programmed into your LG VX5300 or LG VX8300 and the phone will dial their number.
  • When selecting the phone check, it will provide you with a voice readout of battery usage time remaining, signal strength, roaming status, service mode and GPS support information.
  • Please remember that background noise may affect voice recognition when requesting a selection of the command list.

Article Source:
Jack Middleton
Carson City NV

Accessible Cell Phones

I just stumbled onto the Fred's Head Companion page and listened to your very informative tutorial. I sincerely appreciated all the info you gave about what a Blog is and your discussion on RSS technology. :)

I am a business banking professional and have recently lost a majority of my vision. I have just received a promotion at work (I am so excited!), but it will require that I am available to clients by cell phone. After hearing your description of podcasting and knowing that iPods and MP3's really are the best and easiest way to access the web in an audio format, my question is do you know of a product that can work as a cell phone, PDA and MP3 player all in one?

I do have some resources for you to check out. HP may have a device for you. You use Mobile Speak Pocket for access to the menus and online services. Information is available at

There is an email list dealing with accessible phones. Go to for details.

Thanks to special software, the Vodafone Speaking Phone reads and describes the icons in the menu to the blind user. It is also capable of reading text messages and allows users to compose and send their own messages.

Vodafone's close collaboration with the Italian Association for the Blind on the Vodafone Speaking Phone project included a trial phase, and the subsequent distribution of the phones to as many blind people as possible.

Click here to visit the Vodafone web site:

"Nokia N91

The Nokia N91 phone will probably be the one most attractive to people who are blind or visually impaired, as it promises, when combined with the screen reader or screen magnification software, a fully accessible handheld mobile music experience. This device, combined with a screen reader or screen magnifier and the DAISY book reading software from Code Factory could serve many needs in one package. It could be a phone, notetaker, appointment calendar, book reader, web browser, e-mail tool and a music player all in one, eliminating the need to carry several devices at once.

The Nokia N91 features storage for up to 3000 songs, plus smartphone functionality in an ultra-portable package. It is a device optimized for mobile music consumption. With room for up to 3000 songs on the integrated 4-gigabyte hard disk, the Nokia N91 delivers a premier music experience. In addition, the industry standard 3.5mm stereo headset jack and easy transfer of music files from your PC help make the Nokia N91 a connected mobile jukebox.

Encased in stainless steel, the Nokia N91 has dedicated music keys on its face, which slide down to reveal the phone keypad. The Nokia N91 serves up to 12.5 hours of sound via the included stereo headset. It supports a wide range of digital music formats including MP3, M4A, AAC and WMA. The phone also contains a 2 megapixel camera for print-quality photos, email support, a full web browser and video sharing. The N91 is expected to become commercially available worldwide by the end of this year.

For more information on the Nokia N91, click this link to visit the Nokia home page:

Another choice for the PDA functions is the forthcoming E61 which is business oriented with Blackberry and Office applications. More important to blind users, it doesn't have a camera, which can lower the price. There are no multimedia keys like the N91, nor such an interesting storing capabilities, but you can use a 2GB MiniSD memory card.

BlindSea is a site containing, among other things, information about third-party programs for use on Series 60 cell phones. the programs, many of which have free demos or are free, have been found to mainly work with the Talks program, and many would presumably work with Mobile Speak.

Click this link to visit

Nuance TALKS

Nuance TALKS software converts the display text of a cellular handset into highly intelligible speech, making the device completely accessible for blind and visually impaired people. Nuance TALKS runs on Symbian-powered mobile phones to speech-enable contact names, callerID, text messages, help files and other screen content.

With Nuance TALKS you can:

  • Know that you have email ... and hear it!
  • Write and listen to text messages or instant messages
  • Hear caller id information
  • Know that email or text messages have arrived
  • Listen to your email
  • Add contacts and dial from your directory
  • Use the calculator, calendar and alarm clock
  • Know how much battery life remains and your phone's signal strength
  • Edit your phones profiles

Nuance TALKS runs in the background of a Symbian-powered mobile phone. The software currently works with the Nokia 3230, 3600, 3620, 3650, 3660, 6260, 6600, 6620, 6630, 6670, 6680, 6681, 6682, or the N-Gage phones as well as the Siemens SX1, and the Samsung SGH-D730. Click this link to visit Nuance's website for the complete list of compatible phones, this list is current as of April 2006. Click this link for more information about Nuance TALKS from the Nuance website. Nuance TALKS can be purchased from the Sendero Online Store.

An announce-only, low-traffic mailing list has been created to keep people informed about new developments regarding accessible cell phones. To join, send a blank message to

Mark Taylor's CandleShore Blog

As more and more of us use Mobile Technology, it helps to have someone who has tested the waters and knows what works, and what doesn't for those who are blind and visually impaired. On the CandleShore Blog, you can learn about a utility that converts standard web-pages into a navigable Mobile web surfing experience, count the calories of your favorite fast food items using your Mobile phone, search for an assortment of prescription and non-prescription medicines over your Mobile phone, access a free spellchecker on your Mobile phone, perform book-keeping applications using your Mobile phone, and so much more.

Click this link to visit Mark Taylor's CandleShore Blog:

Accessible iPod for the Blind

We're hearing more and more about iPods and how easy it is to download audiobooks, music, and podcasts from the internet. Most portible MP3 players are difficult for the blind to use because of on-screen menus. The iPod Shuffle is the best unit for the blind so far.

The size of its buttons are a bit smaller than those on full-sized iPods, but the blind will appreciate its simplicity: there's neither a screen to worry about reading or properly navigating. There's no complicated settings to change. Its only controls are "back," "forward," "play/pause," and the volume controls.

The iPod shuffle, of course, can handle all iTunes-imported audiobooks, as well as those purchased from either the iTunes Music Store or Since these audiobooks can range anywhere from 45MB to 250MB in filesize, we'd definitely recommend the 1GB or 2GB models. Even at this capacity, you may find yourself frequently "refilling" the unit with new content.

New, smaller iPod Shuffle gets the power of speech

Half the size of the last generation but with twice the capacity, the latest Shuffle boasts a novel way of letting you know what track you're listening to: It talks.

This Shuffle is billed as the "world's smallest music player," and indeed, it looks tiny, just 1.8 by 0.7 by 0.3 inches, or (as Apple helpfully notes) a little smaller than an AA battery.

Gone is the circular navigation pad from the last-generation Shuffle; instead, you get a new in-line remote on the earphone cord, which includes volume up/down buttons, plus a center control that lets you pause and skip tracks. Not bad, but here's the only problem: Third-party earphones won't work all that well with the new Shuffle, or at least not until someone makes a pair with a compatible in-line remote.

Also new: VoiceOver, an intriguing attempt to replace the Shuffle's missing LCD display with a computerized voice that tells you the track name and artist of the song you're listening to. Just press and hold the center key of the Shuffle's in-line remote to hear VoiceOver speak.

The new Shuffle also gets playlist support, thanks to VoiceOver. Here's how it works: Keep holding the center key and VoiceOver will tell you what playlist you're listening to, followed by a list of all available playlists; click again when you hear the playlist you want to select.

The iPod Shuffle is available from a variety of places. You may want to check with some local electronics stores in your area for pricing and availability.Click this link to learn more about the iPod Shuffle that talks from the Apple website.

Brian Hartgen has started a new email list called Blind iPod. The purpose of this list is for the helpful discussion of all aspects of using iPods or similar products by visually impaired people, including the software installed onto a computer in order to transfer music or spoken word material onto the device. Although the original intention (and indeed the emphasis) is to discuss the use of iPod products, it is quite acceptable to write about other (what most of us call) portable media devices, inaccurately dubbed as MP3 players by the mass market. Finally, he will allow the discussion of accessing stores for the legal download of music and spoken word material within the context of hopefully transferring the purchased audio content to a portable media device. The transfer of Podcasts to a portable media device can also fall into the scope of the list, but not material contained therein.

To subscribe to this list, please send a blank message to with the word subscribe in the subject line. I hope everyone benefits from this list.

Click this link to purchase an iPod Shuffle from Apple.

Using iTunes 8 with a screen reader such as JAWS for Windows, VoiceOver on Mac OS X, or GW Micro's Window-Eyes 7 on Windows XP and Windows Vista, blind and visually impaired people can browse, search, buy, download and play content from iTunes U and many areas of the iTunes Store. In addition, the iPod nano (4th generation) features spoken menus, so it can be used to navigate and play tracks downloaded from the iTunes Store and iTunes U just by listening.

iTunes is one of the most popular programs used by computer users today. And that's especially true for those who love to listen to music. iTunes helps to store and manage all of your music files in addition to different types of media, including videos and podcasts. Podcasts are radio shows downloaded on the Internet. Not only does iTunes make it easy to access all of your music on your computer, but it's also the program you can use to transfer those files onto one of the iPods we've mentioned above.

Once you have iTunes downloaded, the Library tab is the first category you'll see (on the left hand side menu for those that have some vision). The Music tab is where all your songs are sorted, which you can organize based on Name, Time (length of song), Artist, Album, Genre, My Rating, Play Count and Last Played. There's also a search bar located in the top right hand corner (or a quick tab from the main list if using a screen reader) which makes it easier to locate a particular file you may be looking for. My Rating allows you to select the number of stars you wish to give a certain song. You can select anywhere between one and five stars, with five being the highest.

To listen to a song, simply double click on the song selection and it will start playing. Screen reader users will highlight the song and press space to play and tab to navigate the box in the upper portion of the window, which allows you to manage the playback features. For those with some vision, the triangle represents playing the song, while the quotation marks stand for pausing the song. The two forward and two reverse arrows are used for skipping between songs and the volume bar is located right next to that. The search finder is located on the opposite side and in the middle, you can see the time progression of the song as it plays. All buttons are labeled and speak correctly with a screen reader.

The next three tabs in the main list belong to Movies, TV Shows and Podcasts. The next tab, Radio, can connect you to different radio stations, which are organized by their streams. You can click through them to see all of the various selections and choose what you like the most.

The next category is Store, which contains the iTunes Store tab. That enables you to purchase iTunes off the Internet. The third category on the menu is Playlists. The first tab, Party Shuffle, automatically creates a random selection of songs from your music library. The shuffle arrangement is handy if you're indecisive about what you want to listen to at any given time.

The next six tabs that appear on your iTunes menu are the playlists that come with the program itself: 90s Music, Music Videos, My Top Rated, Recently Added, Recently Played and Top 25 Most Played. The first selects songs that fit under the specified genre. My Top Rated lists any songs you have given a high rating. Music Videos includes any videos you have uploaded. Recently Added songs and Recently Played songs are updated frequently and the Top 25 Most Played lists the current 25 songs that have the highest play count numbers.

Using the Accessible iPod (ACCIPOD) is a book written by Anna Dresner that further discusses the iPod and iTunes software. Click this link to purchase the book from National Braille Press.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Disability, Accessibility and Information Resource was launched in 1998 as a one-stop accessible destination for disability related information, resources, services and products. Its purpose was three fold:

  • Empower people with disabilities, by making it easier and quicker to find relevant information in an accessible format
  • To offer a low cost alternative for small groups in the disability and community sector to have a presence on the Net
  • To explore and promote web accessibility

Today, is an active network of people and organisations interested in disability issues. It includes individuals, organisations, support groups, professional associations, service providers, and equipment suppliers from across the disability, health, special education and community sectors.

Click this link to view

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

libbraille: a Library for Braille Displays

Libbraille is a computer shared library which makes it possible to easily develop for Braille displays. It provides a simple API to write text on the display, directly draw dots, or get the value of keys pressed on the Braille keyboard.

This website also provides a free online Braille translation tool based on Libbraille as well as some detailed documentation about various international Braille alphabets.

Libbraille supports a wide range of Braille displays with a serial or USB connection and can autodetect most of them. The terminals of the following manufacturers are supported: Alva, Baum, Blazie Engineering, EuroBraille, HandyTech, Hermes, ONCE, Papenmeier, Pulse Data, TechniBraille, Tieman and others.

The program is free and can be used with various computer programming languages like C, C++, Python, Java, PHP and JavaScript. Many projects are using this component for output on Braille displays.

Click this link to visit the libbraille website at


MozBraille is an extension to transform Mozilla or Firefox to a stand alone accessible Internet browser designed for blind or partially sighted users. With mozBraille you don't need a third party program like a screenreader. MozBraille offers its users three displays or outputs :

  • A Braille output on a braille terminal,
  • Text to speech output,
  • A big characters view.

MozBraille is a part of the VICKIE project at The main goal of this project is to create an electronic school bag for visually impaired children. The main output is the Braille and the less important is the text to speech because students have to listen to their teacher ;-).

Note : MozBraille is a beta version, so there are lot of features to add. At the moment, blind or partially sighted users can't use this software alone.

Click this link to visit the MozBraille website at


BrailleSurf 4 is an Internet browser for visually impaired users, which allows a simplified reading of the information available on the Web. BrailleSurf 4 shows this information in a text form. This information can then be displayed on a braille bar, or it can be spoken by a speech synthesiser thanks to appropriate drivers. The text can also be presented on the screen according to the needs of partially sighted people.

A further important use of BrailleSurf 4 is to allow a fast review of the accessibility level of a website for visually impaired people.

BrailleSurf 4's technical principle is to analyse the source code of the HTML pages, in order to keep only the essential information and to design an optimal layout. The graphical objects are filtered and the page is rebuilt in a textual way.

The BrailleSurf 4 browser exists in English, French and Spanish and is compatible with Windows 95, 98, NT and 2000. It allows to drive different kinds of braille displays and speech synthesisers, through downloadable, optional drivers.

Click this link to visit the BrailleSurf website at

Where is that Beeping Easter Egg?

What better way for children to celebrate Easter than with an Easter Egg Hunt? Now, specially designed Beeping Easter Eggs, available from Maxi-Aids Products for Independent Living, allow Blind and Visually Impaired kids to join in on the fun! Instead of going by visual cues, kids locate these eggs by following the loud, clear beep they emit. They give children who might otherwise be excluded the opportunity to participate in the special spring tradition of the Easter Egg Hunt.

Beeping Easter Eggs can also be used on Easter morning to provide an audible alert as kids with low vision experience the excitement of locating their Easter baskets. In addition, they're great for use at disability awareness functions as well as senior homes and assisted living facilities to bring the joy of Easter to all ages.

The beeper assembly and batteries are housed in the bottom half of each egg. The beeper is easily operated using a built-in ON/OFF switch and drilled holes allow sound to be transmitted more loudly. Each egg measures 3" Long x 2-1/4" Diameter and uses 2 replaceable and readily available type "N" batteries, which are included. For more information on Beeping Easter Eggs (Item #402733), product pricing or to order, visit

Miriani: Online Adventure Game for the Blind

By Jessica Pitzer

Miriani is a multi-player online roleplaying game in which you take on the role of a starship pilot. It is set in the year 2355, and things are quite a bit different than in our world today.

Their are 40 known sectors, which are populated by many planets, moons, and space stations. Some of the activities you can do are:

  • Become a pirate, and steal from other players.
  • Protect human space from aliens called praelor by fighting in invasions, and by participating in combat missions.
  • Asteroid hauling.
  • Salvaging Debris.
  • Planetary mining.
  • Couriering.
  • Trading.
  • Traveling through space, hunting for artifacts.
  • Mail delivery.
  • Passenger Transports.
  • Atmospheric Salvaging.
  • Archaeology.
  • Planetary surveying, both in space, and on the ground.

Miriani is a MOO, a Multi-User Domain - Object Oriented game that requires a MOO client. If your sighted I recommend VMoo from, and if your blind, I recommend either Monkey Term, or VIP Mud from Their are also a number of soundpacks that can be found on the internet, links to these can also be found on the in game message boards, and at, who has a link to an older one for monkey term.

The hostname to connect to the MOO is, and the port is 1234.

Click this link to learn more or play Miriani:

Friday, March 06, 2009

Goalball or Torball?

The following article was originally posted on the website and is reposted here for your convenience.


By Satguru Rathi

Torball is a game developed in the 1970's for blind and visually impaired people. The game suits men and women of all ages. There are lots of facilities in this game for rehabilitation activities as well as leisure, school and top level sport.

Torball is played on a rectangular court of 16 metres in length and 7 metres in width. On the court are six players from two teams, i.e. three players per team. A goal is erected at either end of the rectangular court. The game is played with a bell ball, which must be thrown underneath three cords tightened across the court. The object of the game is for each team to throw the ball across the opponent's goal line while the other team attempts to prevent this from happening. Then, the former defending team takes on the attacking play and former attackers in turn defend their goal.

A particularity of the game is the ball, which weighs only 500 grams and is filled with air. Its qualities allow playing very tricky and fast. Torball demands concentration and quick response by the players. Torball has got what it takes to spread even further and become a Paralympics sport. Torball is a speedy and dynamic game. It is enormously popular in Central Europe and Latin America. Thus it is also played on the other Continents, Asia, African and Oceania. Torball is presumably played in about 30 countries by almost 1,200 people.


The origin of the game is not totally clear. The game known as Torball today was developed in the 1970s on the basis of Goalball (then known as Torball), which in turn is based on Rollball. As a result there were two varieties of Torball in central Europe. The older version was played with a ball that weighed two kilograms and was later called Goalball (the English translation of the German name Torball), whereas the newer one used a ball of 500 grams and kept the name Torball. Torball can also be played by sighted people.

Click this link for a detailed rule book on Torball.

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