Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

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

(See the end of this page for subscribing via email, RSS, browsing articles by subject, blog archive, APH resources, writing for Fred's Head, and disclaimers.)


Friday, May 28, 2010

How to Reboot Your Sleep Cycle

Many blind and visually impaired people have a difficult time getting a good night's sleep. This article, written by Jason Fitzpatrick, a member of the Lifehacker team has some great tips. Some items you'll read are obviously for the fully sighted, but many of the suggestions will work for everyone, blind or sighted.

Let's get a big misconception out of the way. You don't have a "sleep bank". If you've gone for the last year chronically sleep deprived you don't have to refill some sort of sleep tank in your tummy in order to start feeling normal again. You can start doing things today to increase the sleep you're getting and start feeling better immediately. It will take a few weeks of consistent and restful sleep to shake the after effects of sleep deprivation but don't despair, you won't need to "sleep off" all 1,498 hours of sleep you shorted yourself over the last year.

Another misconception is the amount of sleep people require. The only person who can judge the amount of sleep you need to be happy and alert is you. Studies come out year after year saying X number of hours is the best number of hours—8 hours to feel most rested, 7 hours to live long like the Japanese, 6 hours and you'll die young—but the only expert on what is best for you is you. We'll return to the topic of how much sleep you need and how to measure it in a moment; for right now let's focus on what you can do tonight.

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene: Sleep hygiene is similar to your end-of-day personal hygiene. Just like you wash your face and brush your teeth before bed, sleep hygiene is an umbrella term that covers all the things you do leading up to sleep that help or hinder restful sleep.

Good sleep hygiene involves getting your body ready for a good night's sleep and not overstimulating it. How can you practice good sleep hygiene? Start by shifting your perspective on what bedtime and sleep really are. Bedtime isn't just the point where you collapse from working hard and staying up too late, bedtime is the start of a block of time very important to your body. You need good sleep and you should treat your bedtime with proper respect.

Don't drink anything with caffeine in it after dinner. Dependent on age, gender, and other physiological factors the half-life of caffeine in the body is roughly 5-10 hours. In other words, that cup of coffee you drank at 7PM is still with you at midnight. Nicotine is another common stimulant; you should quit or make your last cigarette of the day well before bed.

Don't drink anything with alcohol in it. Alcohol is a depressant and will help you get to sleep. The problem is it depresses everything in your system including your metabolism. Alcoholics report having no dreams because alcohol disrupts REM sleep, a critical sleep phase for both brain and body health.

Step away from the screens. Exposing yourself to the glow of a screen before bed will keep you awake. Your body is hardwired to wake up when light is bright and go to sleep when it gets dark. If you shine a bright light in your face before bed you're telling your body it's time to perk up and be alert. If you absolutely must use a computer or mobile device later in the day, at least turn the screen brightness way down to semi-counter the effect of the light.

Change your body temperature. Your body drops in temperature as you drift off into sleep. You can trick your body by simulating this temperature shift. In the colder months take a hot shower or bath late in the day, your body temperature will rise and then fall again as you cool off from the shower making you sleepy in the process. It's harder to do this in warmer weather, but you can substitute the hot shower with a cold one. While a cold shower seems terribly unpleasant—and trust me, it's not as fun as a hot bath on a winter night!—it will also induce a temperature swing that will make you sleepy.

Minimize external distractions. It's especially important while you're easing yourself into a new sleep routine to minimize external distractions. Have a cat that jumps on the bed at 3AM? Toss them out of the bedroom before bedtime. Neighbor starts up his diesel truck at 4AM to go to work? Wear ear plugs. Spouse gets up and turns on the lights to get dressed before you? Sleep with a sleep mask on.

No napping. Later on when you've ironed out the details of your sleep cycle you may find that a power nap early in the day is great for you. Right now though we're focused on rebooting your sleep cycle. No napping. You need to go to bed at the end of the day when you are tired, not at a later time because you snuck a nap.

Purge your bedroom. No computers, no television, no balancing your checkbook in bed, no reading over those damn TPS reports, no anything but sleeping and getting it on (in whatever order works best for you). If you have a television in your bedroom and you never turn it on, don't break your back hauling it down to the basement. If you're a chronic bedroom channel-flipper however, you need to get it out of the room. Your bedroom should be a place your body associates with nothing else but sleep and sex.

Don't torture yourself. You didn't drink any coffee, you turned off the computer at 7PM, you lugged the TV down to the basement, you put in ear plugs and pulled the shades, but it's 11PM and you're still tossing and turning. Don't torture yourself by laying in bed frustrated. Get out of bed and do something that will relax you. Don't go watch television, play video games, or anything else that will stimulate your brain into thinking it is time to wake up. Go sit in a comfortable chair and read a book for a little while. Sort through magazines you're going to toss in the recycling bin and clip out a few interesting articles. Do something low-stress and relatively boring for 20-30 minutes and then go lay down again. You don't want to get in the habit of thinking of bedtime as unpleasant and stressful.

Your initial energy should be focused on making bedtime pleasant, preparing for bedtime well before the bedtime hour, and making sure to limit stimulating activities (exercise, coffee drinking, action movie watching) to earlier in the day. You need to start doing these things right now. Reading this at 5PM after getting home from work? Put that cup of coffee down right now. Stop telling yourself you're going to get around to finally getting a good night's sleep and start getting one.

Once you've started with the basics outlined above, like decreasing bedtime stimulation, it's time to get serious about the big picture of your sleep needs.

Good sleep isn't accidental. Unless you're a baby fresh off the breast and passed out in a milk-coma you're responsible for your own good sleep. It might seem counter-intuitive since sleep looks like the most passive sport around, but preparation and study is key. Once you start working in our earlier tips it's time to start measuring how effective they are and ensuring you get enough sleep.

Analyze your sleep needs. Do you know how much sleep you actually need? Could you tell someone with certainty that you're happiest after 7 hours of sleep? Do you wake up when the alarm goes off or do you wake up before it and turn it off on your way out of bed? There is only one good way to find out how much sleep you need and that's going to bed earlier than you think you need to. Creep your bedtime forward by 15 minutes every few days until you start waking up on your own in the morning. When you start waking up before your alarm clock consistently—for a minimum of one week, weekends included—you've found your optimum sleep window.

Waking up shouldn't be a jarring affair that involves you smashing your fist on your alarm clock and growling. For months now I've been waking up ahead of my alarm clock and let me tell you, it feels awesome to wake up on your own and not to the sound of a buzzer. "Beating" the alarm clock every day is like a little victory right out of bed.

Obey the Routine. I can't tell you what your perfect routine is. Maybe your routine is no coffee after 3PM, dim the lights around your apartment at 7PM, and read in bed for 20 minutes at 9PM before it's lights out—or maybe it's none of those things. What is important is that you find a routine that works for your schedule and you stick to it. You might not be 7 years old anymore but your adult body appreciates a routine bedtime just as much as it did when you were a kid. Whatever routine you decide on, stick with it long enough to see if it works and tweak it gently and one thing at a time if it doesn't.

Anticipate Lack of Sleep. Sometimes lack of sleep is one hundred percent unavoidable—somebody in your family gets in an accident and you're up all night at the hospital, you get snowed in at the airport and you just can't sleep well on a plastic bench, etc.—but most times we see an event coming that will cut into our sleep cycle. If you know you're going to be up late, take a power nap in the afternoon. If you're coming off a late night bender make sure to adjust your bedtime the day after to get you into bed sooner. Short term sleep deprivation can be quickly remedied with adequate rest. Don't let a wild weekend throw off your sleep schedule for the rest of the month as you stay up too late, sleep in too late, and spend two weeks slowly—if at all—recalibrating your sleep schedule.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Orion TI-36 Talking Scientific Calculator

Orion TI-36X Talking Scientific Calculator

This calculator has identical functions to the popular Texas Instruments(R) TI-36X calculator.

  • Ideal for all students -- junior high through college, algebra I through calculus and applied mathematics such as engineering
  • High-quality speech. Keys speak when pressed, display can be spoken at any time or speech feature can be turned off
  • Unique learn key mode without interrupting current operation
  • Over 127 scientific functions, including 1 & 2 variable statistics, trigonometry, and unit conversion
  • Large, tactile, functionally zoned keys, including backspace/correction key
  • Rechargeable battery, over six hours of continuous operation, power shuts off when not in use
  • Protective cover.
  • Earphone
  • Power adapter, calculator can be used while charging.
  • One year limited warranty.
Not available for purchase with Federal Quota funds. Orion TI-36 Talking Scientific Calculator: Catalog Number: 1-07335-01 Click this link to purchase the Orion TI-36X Talking Scientific Calculator. American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. 1839 Frankfort Avenue Mailing Address: P.O. Box 6085 Louisville, Kentucky 40206-0085 Toll Free: 800-223-1839 Phone: 502-895-2405 Fax: 502-899-2274 E-mail: Web site: APH Shopping Home:

APH 150th Anniversary Essay Contest

First Place Winner: Grades 6-8 Alex Folo


As I go through my school day, I take for granted that I can complete all of the assignments of the day with little or no assistance. But when I look at it, without American Printing House's devices, I would have much difficulty going through my day.

When I wake up in the morning and open my large Braille folder for school, I am using an American Printing House product without even thinking about it. First period when I have to write Spanish letters, I am also using a device from APH, the Perkins Braille Writer. Without this device I would not be able to complete math or Spanish. It helps me by producing Braille dots as I type on Braille paper (from APH as well). Before I started using technology, I used this device for every subject.

During math, I use a talking calculator. This device helps me by speaking the numbers in the calculator which allows me to use a calculator like my sighted peers. In every subject I read Braille books and materials to complete assignments. Braille books are vital to my education and without them; there would be no way for me to access the materials to learn. I believe that this is the most important item provided by APH. Having books available to read is also important to my enjoyment. Books can make you laugh, cry, feel sad, happy or about any other feeling you can experience. They are an important way that humans learn about the world around them. I am fortunate to be able to have the same materials as my sighted peers to read and learn.

The American Printing House also provides technology that I use. An important tool I use is audio recordings. The narrators at APH make this possible by offering their time to record my textbooks so I can keep up with my class work. Audio books and Braille books are the two most important devices that I use in my education.

These are just a few of the devices I use provided by APH. I could name hundreds and they have all affected my life. Without them, I could never be where I am today.

Avoid FarmVille on Facebook

Lots of people enjoy the game Farmville on FaceBook. The opposite is also true, a lot of people don’t. For people who use screen readers, the game is totally useless because of a lack of accessibility. What they do get to see is tons of Farmville updates and requests from their friends who are playing it.

For whatever reason, if you don’t enjoy FarmVille on Facebook, here's a tip you might find helpful to avoid it.

The ability to hide certain notifications has been around for a while, and is the main tip given to FarmVille-non-enthusiasts. Although fairly simple, a lot of people still don’t know they can do this. In your news feed, if you have enough vision, hover your mouse between two notifications, and a Hide button will appear. Clicking it allows you to hide all FarmVille notifications, or all updates from that person. Choose wisely. For those using screen readers, the same hide button can be found on one of those annoying little updates from your friends.

Hiding notifications this way is both incredibly easy and is remembered on your Facebook profile. This means you can use another browser, or sign in from a different computer, and the notifications will stay hidden. On the downside, there is no Hide all applications button, so you’ll have to repeat the process for every existing application, or when a new one is created.

NFB: Walking Alone and Marching Together: A History of the Organized Blind Movement in the United States, 1940-1990

The following audio tracks are the book Walking Alone and Marching Together: A History of the Organized Blind Movement in the United States, 1940-1990. Each chapter has its own track, except for chapters five and seven, which are divided into two tracks each.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Compact+ Hand-Held Electronic Magnifier


This ultra-bright widescreen electronic magnifier enlarges up to 10X and fits in your pocket or purse. Snapshot function holds one image of an area being magnified so that image can be brought closer to the eye.

  • Three zoom levels: 5X, 7.5X, and 10X
  • Five viewing modes: true color, black-and-white, blue-and-yellow, black-and-yellow, and reverse
  • Camera positioned directly behind screen for ease of image alignment
  • Snapshot feature
  • 4.3-inch LCD widescreen
  • Retractable hand-grip
  • Rechargeable battery, up to 3 hours of continuous use
  • Dimensions: 5.3 x 2.9 x 1.2 inches, Weight: 10.6 oz.
  • AC Adapter
  • Leather carrying case
  • One year limited warranty
Compact+ Hand-Held Electronic Magnifier Blue Model:
Catalog Number: 1-07570-00
Click this link to purchase the Compact+ Hand-Held Electronic Magnifier.

Note: shipping charge added - please call for more information.
Not available with Quota funds.

American Printing House for the Blind, Inc.
1839 Frankfort Avenue
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 6085
Louisville, Kentucky 40206-0085
Toll Free: 800-223-1839
Phone: 502-895-2405
Fax: 502-899-2274
Web site:
APH Shopping Home:

Personalize Your Compact+

Optelec is the first low vision provider to offer users the ability to customize their portable video magnifiers. Optelec and its subsidiary company,, a one-stop-shop site for low vision solutions, have partnered with Skinit Inc., the industry leader in on-demand personalization technology, to launch this initiative. A variety of 10 different predesigned skins such as leopard, flames, Hawaiian, confetti, paisley and more are available for purchase through or an Optelec dealer. These skins are outfitted for the Optelec FarView and Optelec Compact+.

APH 150th Anniversary Essay Contest

First Place Winner: Grades 3-5
Mohamed Hadi Somji


On October 17th, a blushing baby was born to the tropical breeze of African land. In three day's time, the newborn suffered from hypoglycemia, damaging his nerves, visually impairing him for life. Devastated, his parents fled to London for immediate treatment. No treatment could be performed, leaving them to pray for his well-being and success. Realizing their child would not be given opportunities in Africa, they moved to America to unlock his potential.

The move was extremely hard to adapt, and I was put into a school feeling odd and helpless, amidst regular people. At that moment, I wished to be like them. I wished to be able to see, to play games, to read. I opened my eyes to see this was never possible since I was legally blind. When I arrived home that day, mom had ordered APH products from a catalog provided by the Division of Blind Services. Soon, I received books with large print, an electronic magnifier, a visual globe, and a talking book player! I started to glow inside, and felt as if I had a chance to be independent. Why couldn't I be the next scientist, or the greatest writer? Why me, why not?

Optelec Compact Mini

The latest innovation in Optelec’s family of electronic video magnifiers is the Optelec Compact Mini. The Optelec Compact Mini is the smallest, lightest portable electronic magnifier available on the market. Ideal for spot reading, at only 4.7 ounces, the ultra thin design and high resolution 3.5” LCD screen gives the low vision user convenience and independence. Reading and writing is simple with fingertip controls, crisp clear 2X to 11X magnification, and multi-color viewing modes. Designed to be stored securely in a pocket or purse, the Optelec Compact Mini provides users with extensive capability, functionality and convenience.

Click this link to visit

The Globe: Tactile and Visual

The Globe

This table model is a standard 12-inch political globe covered with a tactile clear plastic overlay. Among the overlay's features are continent outlines, higher and lower elevations, and raised latitude and longitude lines. Metal stand with a wood base. Recommended ages: 10 years and older.

The Globe:
Catalog Number: 1-01551-00
Click this link to purchase the Globe: Tactile and Visual.

American Printing House for the Blind, Inc.
1839 Frankfort Avenue
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 6085
Louisville, Kentucky 40206-0085
Toll Free: 800-223-1839
Phone: 502-895-2405
Fax: 502-899-2274
Web site:

Oregon Scientific internet-updateable SmartGlobe

Learning about our global neighbors is easy and fun! The whole family will enjoy interactive lessons, complete with 30 English and 6 Spanish activities. Experience quiz games about countries, capitals, major cities, populations, languages, currencies, time, distances, history, science and current events.

The Smart Pen can be programmed for age-appropriate content, and take the Globe on the road - it works with headphones. Downloadable information is kept current with weekly Web updates. Please note: SmartGlobe is for PC use only and is not currently Mac-compatible.

Click this link to purchase the Oregon Scientific internet-updateable SmartGlobe from

Always Current Talking Globe

This talking USB earth globe connects to your computer and allows you to download weekly updates about nation states, governments, political boundaries, culture etc.

There are thirty learning activities with facts about countries, geography, currency, political leaders, history, language, and population. All activities are narrated in a clear digital voice. Once a category is selected on the control panel, users place the stylus on a country to listen to up-to-date global info, or they can compare the currency, population, and travel times of two countries by moving the stylus between the two nations.

Young geographers can test their knowledge in "Find" mode; the globe asks up to four players to find countries, capitals, and cities, and users race against the clock to locate the correct locations with the stylus.

Simply connect the included USB cable to a PC running Windows Vista or XP and access the manufacturer's website to download current statistics and world news. The globe measures 14(H) x 12(W) x 12(D) inches. Download service is free for the first year.

Click this link to purchase The Always Current Talking Globe from the Hammacher Schlemmer website.
APH Shopping Home:

APH 150th Anniversary Essay Contest

First Place Winner: Grades 3-5
Mohamed Hadi Somji


On October 17th, a blushing baby was born to the tropical breeze of African land. In three day's time, the newborn suffered from hypoglycemia, damaging his nerves, visually impairing him for life. Devastated, his parents fled to London for immediate treatment. No treatment could be performed, leaving them to pray for his well-being and success. Realizing their child would not be given opportunities in Africa, they moved to America to unlock his potential.

The move was extremely hard to adapt, and I was put into a school feeling odd and helpless, amidst regular people. At that moment, I wished to be like them. I wished to be able to see, to play games, to read. I opened my eyes to see this was never possible since I was legally blind. When I arrived home that day, mom had ordered APH products from a catalog provided by the Division of Blind Services. Soon, I received books with large print, an electronic magnifier, a visual globe, and a talking book player! I started to glow inside, and felt as if I had a chance to be independent. Why couldn't I be the next scientist, or the greatest writer? Why me, why not?

Reflections on Becoming a First Time Handler

by Ann Chiappetta

I just heard from a friend via email about how her guide dog kept her out of harm’s way. The emotions it provoked as I read the message were the kind the Yiddish word “verklempt” describe. My throat tightened and my eyes stung. How awesome, I thought, that this yellow Labrador retriever named Renny pulled her handler back from a potential catastrophe.

“Renny and I had are biggest traffic check we have ever had,” writes Amanda, a young woman who trained the same time as me and is also a new handler. “We were about two blocks from home at a completely controlled traffic light…we were about a quarter of the way across.  Renny stopped and started to back up and in that split second there was a squealing of tires and a black car in front of us, if we had moved any farther across the street the car would have hit us. I was so stunned that I just stood there until I could get my bearings.  I told her “forward,” by the time I got to the curb I was in tears because I was realizing what just happened. I kind of slipped to my knees and praised her and of course gave her a food reward.  So if it were not for Renny I would be pretty messed up, in the hospital, or worse right now. I am so thankful for my guide; she is the best dog ever.”

Renny saved her handler from serious injury because of two things: it’s what she is trained to do, and it’s what she wanted to do to keep both of them safe. Amanda and Renny are a prime example of a successful team, a partnership built on love, trust, practice, and discipline. It is a relationship, and like any other, it takes time and hard work to foster it.  

Although the general public remains largely unaware of the rewarding partnership a dog and handler share, there isn’t an adequate way of expressing the intricacies of it. Admittedly, I knew very little about it until I experienced it personally.

Since graduating from training six months ago, my own guide dog has proven her mettle and intelligence almost every day. She’s kept me from falling down stairs, in holes, and being struck in the head by a low-hanging sign.

It is because of Verona and dogs like her that we can retain our independence and, in some instances, improve it. As a late-onset vision loss survivor, I experienced not only a progressive loss of sight but also a progressive loss of mobility. As my vision decreased, my ability and willingness to go out on my own decreased. It was this deficit that prompted me to apply for a guide dog.

I wasn’t thinking that I wanted to climb any mountains, but I was missing not being able to walk a few miles independently and safely without great effort or anxiety.  I was a long time white cane user but it just wasn’t suitable for me in certain situations. I wanted more freedom.

Research and interviewing other handlers convinced me that I was destined to obtain a dog and finally regain not only my independence but also rebuild my lost confidence.  Each day I trained at guide dog school, my confidence grew. To me, the build up of my eroding self-confidence was the inspiration to become the best handler possible. The transformation that occurred at training tested my ability to meet the challenges of taking on new skills and responsibilities.

I can recall my first major training dilemma; Verona wasn’t turning left.  I’d stepped on her so many times before that she refused to do it. The trainer had me retry our left turn three times and each time Verona jumped off to the side when I turned and stepped. After the third try I put down the harness handle and cried. I thought, “I can’t do this, what was I thinking? My dog is afraid of me and I’m going to fail.”

It was below freezing out and my tears burned my cheeks. The trainer took my hand and said, “I know this is frustrating but don’t give up. We’ll work it out as long as you don’t give up.” Then she gave me a big hug and I kept going.

Later that night I realized that I almost did give up. What stopped me was the trainer’s support and my desire to do my best for my dog because she was doing her best for me. She knew how to turn; it was me who didn’t know how to do it. Not only was I unable to grasp the dexterity needed to properly manage the leash and harness, I wasn’t ready for the demands of learning how to follow my dog.

What a humbling thought: my dog knew more than I did.

The next day and the days following it, I practiced my turns; in my room while watching TV. I practiced every night with the harness, the trainer supervising my sessions. I worked hard to do whatever the training staff instructed me to do and soon our turns were beautiful. Verona was still a bit shy but she no longer jumped away whenever I moved left.

My friend Amanda went through similar challenges while we were in class, too. Now, however, she and Renny are a great team. Her close call also accurately describes the emotional intensity provoked by such a situation. When our dog keeps us from catastrophe, it is overwhelming, and not just at traffic checks. Our dogs become part of us and the partnership is akin to a symbiosis.  They share our hearts and expertly interpret our every need, and in turn, we learn to provide for them and love them unconditionally. We are interdependent in order to maintain independence.

If I could focus on expressing just one aspect of the meaning behind a dog guide team, for the benefit of first-time handlers, it would be the necessity of fostering the interdependent relationship that makes a guide so worthwhile.

It takes patience, perseverance, and practice to perform the dance. One has to put away the white cane in both a symbolic and physical sense in order to develop mutual trust.

For example, the first time I went on a training route alone with Verona she took me out of harm’s way and I didn’t even know it, but I went with her, backing away as a car crept up onto the ramp leading to the street.  When I realized she prevented me from being hit, I cried.  I followed her and she kept me safe. This is what the other handlers were talking about.  

Now that I’ve had the opportunity to work with Verona, my desire to take travel related chances, like going to new locations, is far less hampered by anxiety and self doubt. Maybe it’s just me, but I still get an immense sense of satisfaction whenever I grab Verona’s harness and say, “Let’s Go.”

Article Source:
Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Doctor's Hang-ups

by Donna J. Jodhan

Now, I would like to start this blog post by tempering my statement so that I am not misconstrued. Like everything else, there are good doctors and there are not so good doctors. There are friendly doctors and there are not so friendly doctors but there is one thing that I have found in general about the good doctors and it is this; they definitely have some hang-ups when it comes to their blind and visually impaired patients. There are very few doctors that I have met in my life who truly believe that: I work for a living, that I look after myself, that I attended university and obtained a master's degree, that I am capable of thinking and speaking for myself, and that I can understand and make decisions for myself.

My opinion is shared by many other blind and visually impaired persons. So often, whether they are aware of it, doctors on the whole seem to give us an impression that they do not really consider us to be level headed Human Beings. In fact, we often feel that we are being treated as sub par Human Beings. At the best of times, doctors seem to make patients feel like this; mainstream or not. I have met doctors who were quite surprised when they learned that I work for a living. I have met others who were practically falling out of their chairs when they learned that I attended one of the best universities in the world and that I had graduated with an MBA.

These hang-ups are very real and exist way beyond the doctor fraternity. Maybe it is time for us to impart some blindness awareness to our doctors. If any doctor is listening, I am blind. I can think for myself, hear and do for myself, and I work for a living. The only thing different about me is that I am unable to see.

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your friendly accessibility advocate wishing you a terrific day. If you'd like to learn more about me, then you can visit some of my blog spots at:
Donna Jodhan! Advocating accessibility for all:
Weekly Saturday postings on issues of accessibility:
blogs on various issues and answers to consumers concerns:

How to Conquer Assistive Technology Barriers for Low-Tech Parents

By Laura Legendary

If you are a parent who has yet to acquire a cell phone, set the timer on the VCR, or who is unaware that most people no longer use VCRs, you may wonder how assistive technology could fit into your life. After all, you may have never even used a computer much less taught a child how to use one. This is sometimes referred to in the media as “the digital divide,” where due to social, economic or educational circumstances, a person may not have access to technology. Any parent might feel guilty at not being able to provide the very best of everything to their child, but for a parent of a child with a disability, the intimidation factor of assistive technology may add to their feelings of helplessness or inadequacy. Here are a few tips that will help you to demystify Assistive technology.

Not all assistive technology devices are computer related. There are high tech, low tech and no tech options. As a person who is blind, one might think my home is outfitted with every technological wonder, and it is. Yet, I find that some of the most useful assistive tools I use do not even plug into the wall.

Many assistive devices for children are much more like a cool toy than any whizbang high-end computer. They are fun to play with and easy to learn. They speak, they provide various types of stimulation, and they are specifically geared toward particular developmental or mobility needs.

Where does one go to learn about AT options? I suggest beginning with some reading material, specifically a catalog. There are some wonderful online companies that provide independent living aids, assistive and augmentative devices and various mobility products, and many offer print catalogs. If you are not computer literate, find a friend who is or go to your local library. Many libraries have workstations for the general public, and if a staff member is available, ask for assistance surfing the web. Jot down a few phone numbers, then call and request that you be added to their mailing list.

Another great place to get tons of information and hands-on demonstrations is at an assistive technology conference. I’m not talking about a regular computer convention or consumer electronics show. There are conferences specifically for AT, with row after row of booths, or even entire wings of convention centers devoted to devices just for children. Even if you think yourself pretty tech-savvy, you’ll be astounded at the array of gadgets and gizmos that benefit people of all ages in their day-to-day lives.

There are four major assistive technology conferences each year, and a number of smaller ones. Among the most attended is a conference held in Los Angeles and hosted by California State University, Northridge. Another major event is held in Orlando, Florida. If you begin to suffer from information overload as a result of your conference experience, I’m guessing while in Orlando you will probably be able to find an entertaining alternative.

While conference attendance is often open to the public, you should know that registration can be costly. However, you may be able to get a sponsor, apply for a grant or scholarship, or find a club or service organization to fund your trip. It is well worth it. You’ll be educated, inspired and very motivated to learn even more. It’s a thrill to discover how some otherwise uninteresting technological gadget can directly benefit your child.

One of the most formidable barriers to assistive technology is the cost. It’s a niche market. None of the technology vendors are selling millions of these devices; however, there are ways around that. There are innumerable charitable organizations that can help with the expense of adaptive and assistive devices. Additionally, there are government programs and vendor financing programs to help offset costs. The good news is, unlike typical consumer products, AT devices have a longer life in that you are seldom required to upgrade to a newer version every few months. If it works now, it will work later. Yes, there are always newer products, but the latest thing may not be useful at all, especially since it may prove to be a frustrating additional learning process for a child already accustomed to the device he or she is using. For a child with a disability, routine, consistency and familiarity are crucial developmental factors.

Take your time while evaluating these products. As in every other industry, there is a new vocabulary associated with assistive technology. Keep an open mind, but do not allow anyone to talk you into buying anything about which you have doubts. You are the authority on your child, and you know best the types of stimuli to which your child will respond well. The education gained by both you and your child will provide a quality bonding and growth experience that will enhance your lives in wonderful ways you have yet to imagine.

Copyright 2010 by Laura Legendary. All rights reserved.

Laura Legendary is a speaker, author and educator specializing in disability awareness, accessibility and assistive technology. Visit Eloquent Insights at to request Laura for your next event. Find Laura's Accessible Insights blog at

Life in the Dorm

Living in a dorm is going to be a shock to your system. The chances are great that going away to college will represent your first substantial time away from home. You will not have a lot of time to get used to these conditions as classes typically begin after the weekend you move into your dorm. It is important to remember the reason you are going to college – to receive a top-notch education. Developing good habits in your new living space is crucial to ensuring your success in your freshman and subsequent years in college.

Your dorm life begins in your room with your roommate. Reach out to your roommate the summer before you begin school. Attempt to develop a rapport with your roommate. Find out what he or she likes to do in their spare time, what they are planning on studying, and a bit about their high school experiences. Even if you do not become best friends, it is imperative that you develop a relationship built on trust and respect. Even if you get along well right off the bat, be sure to go out and experience college on your own. Going to college is such a unique experience, that you do not want to get pigeon-holed with your roommate right away.

This is also important when it comes to other people in your dorm. Certainly, you should take advantage of meeting people that are living near you or on your floor. However, be sure that you get out and meet other people. Make contacts in your classes. Go to the orientation events that your college provides during that first week of school. It is only natural to forge friendships with the people you see on a daily basis, the people in your dorm. Go out with these friends and make other friends elsewhere on campus. The goal here is to be well-rounded.

One other important thing about life in the dorm: do not neglect your studies. Studying in the dorm can be challenging. There is always someone that is looking to do something (go out, watch TV, etc.), but do not feel compelled to always say yes to this person. If you have to, leave the dorm and go study in the library. When you are done with your work, it will not be difficult to find someone who wants to go do something. Achieving a balance between your studies and your social life is hard to accomplish, but try your best not to forget why you are really at college.

Article Source:
Online Universities

100 Inspiring Ways to Use Social Media In the Classroom

Social media may have started out as a fun way to connect with friends, but it has evolved to become a powerful tool for education and business. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter and tools such as Skype are connecting students to learning opportunities in new and exciting ways. Whether you teach an elementary class, a traditional college class, or at an online university, you will find inspirational ways to incorporate social media in your classroom with this list.
Ideas for K-12 Classrooms
Implement these great ideas in your K-12 classroom to have students learning in a dynamic new way.
  1. Make literature real. Have students create a Facebook page for a character from literature you are studying like this class did.
  2. Follow famous people. Many famous people are on Twitter. Have students follow someone related to what you are studying, such as following President Obama when looking at government.
  3. Twitter treasure hunt. Use GPS treasure hunting to send students in search of educational clues as one teacher did. (Skip to number 22 in the slide show.)
  4. Learn probability. This elementary teacher uses Twitter to teach the concept of probability.
  5. Study geography. Use a combination of Twitter and Google Earth to help teach geography-based lessons. This teacher used his network of Twitter followers to create an interactive lesson for his young students. Use her idea to spark your creativity for ways to use these two resources.
  6. Connect with other classrooms. Collaborate with another classroom, no matter where they are in the world, to expand learning opportunities.
  7. Recent public updates. The recent public updates on Twitter shows the most recent posts from all users and is a great tool to use when studying current events.
  8. Field trips. Use Skype to bring the field trip into the classroom when it is difficult or impossible for students to go to the source.
  9. Conference with parents. Stay connected with parents through social media to communicate their child’s progress.
Ideas for College Classrooms
Integrate these suggestions into college classrooms for engaging learning opportunities.
  1. Window to daily life at school. Create a website like the one at University of Chicago Law School. that allows visitors to hear from students and professors about their daily life at law school.
  2. Take a challenge. Look for challenges like this one held by Microsoft and Direct Marketing Educational Foundation.
  3. Create apps. Follow in the footsteps of this class at Stanford and create your own Facebook apps.
  4. Research social media. Social media is a topic itself worth studying. Students are researching and even writing dissertations about social media.
  5. Help in developing countries. Create a project like this joint venture with MIT and a Mexican university, ITESM Zacatecas, that created a Twitter network that has saved small farmers in the area.
  6. Follow mentors. Follow professors, mentors, or other important people in your field of study to find out about their research and professional activities.
  7. Grassroot opportunities. Social media provides opportunities for students to work together on grassroot movements such as the one at the University of British Columbia where students fought to keep the weight room at their aquatic center open.
Ways Students Can Use Social Media
From practicing a foreign language to finding scientific research, these tips will have students using social media to enhance their education.
  1. Find scientific research papers. Check out the Tweprints project that collects abstracts on any scientific paper archived at and mentioned on Twitter.
  2. Tweet famous conversations. Have students tweet imagined conversations between famous literary figures such as Romeo and Juliet, Sherlock Holmes and Watson, or Dante and Beatrice.
  3. Attend lectures remotely. Have students attend a lecture or presentation at another campus via streaming.
  4. Practice a language. If students are learning a foreign language, they can practice with native speakers through groups on Facebook such as this one or by finding native speakers on Twitter or Skype.
  5. Watch citizen journalism in action. World events unfold immediately on Twitter, so invite students to follow citizen journalism along with the mainstream news.
  6. Track a word or phrase. Track a word or phrase to see how it is being used by others to learn the nuances of language.
  7. Learn personal responsibility. Students can learn personal responsibility when they find out about how to use social media sites responsibly.
Ways Instructors Can Use Social Media
No matter what level class you teach, there are ways for you as an instructor to use social media for the classroom, your career, and beyond.
  1. Offer a class. Offer a class featuring social media such as this one featuring Twitter.
  2. Collaborate with other professionals. Learn from and share with other instructors around the world by sharing ideas, tips, and techniques through Twitter or Facebook.
  3. Use Twitter to teach journalism. Have students use Twitter to report news in 140 characters or less to practice communicating important information succinctly.
  4. Answer questions. Be available for answering students’ questions via a Facebook page or Twitter feed.
  5. Prospective students. Monitor Twitter or Facebook for specific key words to connect with potential students like how one man did at Queen’s School of Business in Ontario.
  6. Conferences. Find out what’s going on at professional conferences through Twitter.
  7. Have fun at conferences. If you are attending a conference, give BackChatter a try–a game that uses Twitter and makes attendees interactive participants.
  8. Teach Twitter. Teach students how to use Twitter by offering assignments such as this one designed by Barbara Nixon of Georgia Southern University.
  9. Post notes. Post class notes on Twitter so students who missed a class can find out what they missed and instructors can refer back to any notes they left.
  10. Tweet lesson plans. Teachers can tweet their lesson plans, or links to them, to keep students updated and provide inspiration for other educators.
  11. Faculty or staff forum. After you’ve gained experience using social media in the classroom, host a presentation for fellow instructors to share what you have learned.
  12. Live blog. When you use Twitter to live blog a conference or lecture, you provide a transcript for others of what was discussed and keep awesome notes for yourself.
  13. Instant feedback. Have a student tweet about your class to receive instant feedback. This is especially helpful for those teaching a large lecture class.
  14. Take attendance. Have students tweet one thing you discussed in class as a great way of taking attendance.
  15. Test new technology. Recruit help testing new apps or other technology from social media resources.
  16. Recruit guest speakers. Recruit guest speakers for your class from social media contacts such as colleagues or past students.
Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter offer a great way to enhance communication among students and teachers.
  1. Post homework. Teachers can post homework assignments through Facebook to provide easy access for students and to put the assignment and due date in writing.
  2. Classmate connections. No matter the size of your class, having all the students on a social media outlet brings them all together.
  3. Provide direct communication with instructors. When teachers and students can easily contact each (as through Facebook or Twitter), they create better working relationships.
  4. Send messages and updates. From unexpected absences to reminders of upcoming tests, Facebook and Twitter both offer great ways to stay updated on any occurrences.
  5. Brainstorm. One benefit of social media is the ability to write down thoughts any time they occur. Encouraging students to brainstorm on class topics outside class time provides more opportunities for sharing great thoughts.
  6. Schedule events. Easily schedule events for the entire class using Facebook or by posting on Twitter.
  7. Create groups. You can create groups for entire classes or for smaller subsets such as study groups on Facebook and Twitter.
  8. Help shy students. Shy students who may feel uncomfortable approaching their teacher in person can use social media as a way to communicate.
  9. Share interesting websites. Both students and instructors can share interesting websites related to class topics via social media.
  10. Multimedia. Share multimedia content easily with the entire class on Facebook.
  11. Asynchronous class conversation. When something relevant to class happens during a time when class isn’t in session, students can discuss it through social media.
Class Projects
Assign class projects using social media to have students participate in dynamic learning opportunities.
  1. Share book reviews. Students can post their book reviews for the instructor to grade and other students to read on a class Facebook page, or try tweeting a 140-character book review on Twitter.
  2. Play Knighthood. This Facebook game promotes reading skills and has been used in at least one ESL class.
  3. Poll the class. Use polls as an interactive teaching tool in class using the Poll app for Facebook or PollDaddy for Twitter.
  4. Create a news feed. Have a journalism class report news via Twitter a feed or the Facebook status update.
  5. Follow news stories. Use groups like World News Webcast on Facebook that provide video clips of world news.
  6. Do community service. If your class is community-minded, organize a community service class project like this one that helped bring water to 50 remote villages.
  7. Create stories. Have students create a story, one by one, using only one Twitter post of 140 characters or less and one student at a time.
  8. Post student projects. Set up a Facebook page to showcase student projects as Stanford did.
  9. Author visits. Use Skype to set up author visits that allow students to interact with the author.
  10. Interviews. Have students conduct interviews with teachers, school staff, or other students and share the interview via a Skype feed to other classrooms.
Promoting Community and Collaboration
Working together and promoting a sense of community makes for a richer learning environment. Find out ways to do just that with social media.
  1. Promote community. Students sharing personal information through social media create a sense of community , which leads to more open communication and better learning.
  2. Online communities. Social media can connect online communities such as classrooms or teachers’ groups to help create a larger community.
  3. Interpersonal understanding. Getting to know small bits of others over time, as happens through social media, provides a greater picture of who those people are and develops a deeper sense of understanding for more openness and sharing in the classroom.
  4. Use backchannel. "Backchannel" refers to the conversation occurring secondary to the main lecture or presentation via social media. Use backchannel to enhance both teaching and learning.
  5. Blog. Create a community blog and share it on Facebook to tell what your class is learning and doing.
  6. Guest lecturers. Have guest lecturers visit the classroom through Skype if they are located too far away to come in person.
  7. Collaboration. By definition, social media outlets are designed to promote social interchange, so harness that capability to have students work on activities together through social media.
  8. Stay relevant. Schools moving from an old, skill-centered approach to one that embraces connectivity through social media will provide a better learning environment for students.
  9. Collaborate with professionals. These 7th graders collaborated with the National Museum in Canada via Skype.
  10. Make changes. When a book was not allowed to be taught in one school, students connected with the author of the book and collaborated on how to approach the school board with their case.
  11. Inclusion. Students who may have to be out of the classroom due to special needs or illness can be connected to the class remotely and stay a part of the community.
Social Media Tools for Students
These tools for Twitter and Facebook will provide students even more ways to use social media at school.
  1. TweetDeck. Students can use this tool to help organize their Twitter feeds. It also provides an excellent way to tweet from their iPhones.
  2. Twhirl. Twhirl is another helpful tool for managing Twitter and includes features such as URL shortening and new message notifications.
  3. Posting long links eats up the 140 characters allotted on Twitter, so shorten URLs with this tool.
  4. Tweetree. Twitter can get confusing with several conversations going on at once, so use this tool to group conversations together.
  5. TwitPic. Share photos on Twitter when you use this popular tool.
  6. QuoteURL. If students want to put different tweets all on one page (for summarizing a project, for example), then this is the tool to use.
  7. CiteMe. This Facebook app provides properly formatted citations according to APA, Chicago, Harvard, MLA, or Turabian.
  8. Notely. Notely users who are on Facebook can organize assignments, classes, notes, and more with this app.
  9. CourseFeed. Add this app to Facebook to find online classes or follow your current class.
  10. DoResearch4Me. Steer students away from finding information on Wikipedia with this Facebook app that finds information online from other sources.
  11. Hey Math! Challenge. This Facebook app provides Flash movies that clearly explain difficult math concepts.
  12. CampusBuddy. Find students attending your school with this Facebook app.
  13. Flashcards. Use this app to create flashcards on any subject right on Facebook.
  14. Class Notes. Take a photo of teacher’s notes or your own notes and post them so others in your class can see.
Preparing for Employment
Whether students are graduating from college and starting a career or finishing high school and looking for work, these tips offer a great way to find employment through social media.
  1. LinkedIn. LinkedIn is one of the most popular social media outlets for employment and networking. Even entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki suggests using LinkedIn to let people know you are looking for work.
  2. TweetMyJobs. Use TweetMyJobs, a Twitter tool that connects job seekers and employers.
  3. twitterjobcast. Another Twitter tool to use for job searches is twitterjobcast where you can search for jobs posted on Twitter by keyword or geographic location.
  4. Post your resume. Post your resume on Facebook, LinkedIn, or your personal website.
  5. Establish a positive web presence. Follow these five suggestions to create a professional web presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, or any social network.
  6. Post about your search. One woman found her job after posting about her search on Twitter. Make sure everyone in your social media network knows you are looking.
  7. Use Facebook job search apps. Many of the major online job search sites have apps on Facebook or a Twitter feed, so use them for finding work.
  8. Follow @jobhunting. This Twitter feed offers plenty of helpful information for those seeking employment.
  9. Understand the importance of social networking. Networking is an incredibly important part of finding a job, especially when you consider that only 5-25% of available jobs are even posted.
  10. Include social media on your resume. Make sure your Facebook page is professional or use a LinkedIn page that has no personal information on it and include it in your resume.
  11. Research your target company or school. Investigate the companies or schools in which you are interested to learn about their culture, hiring practices, see if you know anyone there, and more.
  12. Marketplace. Check out Facebook’s classified section, Marketplace, which has a section where jobs are featured.
  13. Find out who to follow on Twitter. Read 50 People on Twitter Job Seekers Should Follow to find a ton of great Twitter job hunting resources.
  14. Add Professional Profile. Put the Professional Profile app on your Facebook page and you can consolidate all your professional information.
  15. Use Facebook ads. These students used Facebook ads to get the attention of potential employers, so you could too.
Article Source:
Online Universities

Friday, May 21, 2010

Website Developers Can Use Accessible Text CAPTCHAs

A CAPTCHA is a test to tell humans and robots apart. You've probably used one before: identifying a string of letters from an image to show that you are human, rather than an automated "bot".

This site provides a web service to generate text-based CAPTCHAs, based on simple logic questions.

  • In the number 6272627, what is the 5th digit?
  • The colour in the list Wednesday, black, Elizabeth or stomach is?
  • The 2nd colour in arm, fifty six, pink and yellow is?

Image CAPTCHAs are inaccessible to visually impaired users, and depending on the level of letter distortion, sometimes quite difficult for fully able ones! An alternative audio test is often provided to address accessibility concerns, but this whole approach remains difficult to implement, awkward to style, and remains susceptible to automatic character recognition software.

This site provides a simple web service to generate text-based CAPTCHAs. These tell humans and robots apart by asking a simple logic question. These questions are aimed at a child's age of 7, so can be solved easily by all but the most cognitively impaired users. As they involve human logic, such questions cannot be solved by a robot.

Want to use such CAPTCHAs on your website? Visit

Recover Lost Router Passwords

Do you have a router in your home that provides internet access to multiple computers or wireless access to various devices? What would happen if this device should ever need maintenance? Do you know the username and password? Do you know the various settings in its configuration?

RouterPassView is a freeware application that taps into a router's configuration file, allowing you to recover important data like router login information, wireless network keys, and more in the event any of that important information goes missing.

Once you load the configuration file into the program, it displays your (supported) router's passwords, wireless keys, and login information. It can also decrypt ISP usernames and passwords. It could be really handy if, say, you're troubleshooting a less tech-savvy friend's router or if you happened to lose that information yourself.

RouterPassView supports a limited number of models, so you'll need to check the website to see if your router will work with the program. It includes some popular router brands like Linksys, D-Link, and NETGEAR. Support for additional routers is planned for the future. RouterPassView is a free download for Windows only.

Click this link to download RouterPassView.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Kapten Talking Pocket GPS System

The Kapten Talking Pocket GPS system and iPod Shuffle share one thing in common, both don't have displays, and for good reasons.

This palm-sized unit relies on voice recognition technology, which means it accepts verbal input where you will need to make navigation requests simply by talking to the Kapten, and will be given spoken directions in return. For those with some vision, you can keep your eyes on the sidewalk, while offering the blind pedestrian spoken directions. It works with a Bluetooth-enabled cellphone as well just in case you need a hands-free kit on the go.

The device is currently available with a US-only map, you can also purchase a model with a Canadian map separately.

Product Features

  • Easy to use with voice commands and voice guidance
  • Use while walking on a bus or in a car
  • Built in MP3 player and FM receiver
  • Includes USB cable wall charger speaker and stereo headphones
  • BONUS Accessory pack with 10 hr spare battery car charger and carry case
Click this link to purchase the Kapten Talking Pocket GPS Navigational System from

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Musical Talent and Blindness Have Often Been Thought to be Linked, Now Research Proves It!

On a normal after-school evening in South Godstone, Surrey, one school boy's bedroom is ringing out to the sounds of a live concert of Gnarls Barkley's Crazy and Tony Christie's Amarillo, with a dash of opera in between.

Listening outside, you might think this was a very eclectic concert of stars. In fact, the performances are all coming from 12-year-old Joshua Black, a blind student with perfect pitch and an astonishing musical ability.

Joshua, who was born prematurely at 32 weeks, is registered blind, with no sight in his right eye and only a small amount of peripheral vision in his left eye. He plays the violin, trumpet and African drums as well as singing; he is academic, but music is his passion.

Joshua says music helps him cope with his blindness, as well as being a good way to make friends, through things like the school orchestra.

New research suggests his musical talent and vision impairment are closely linked. High-profile and brilliant blind musicians such as Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and Andrea Bocelli have long caused people to wonder if there is a link between music and blindness. Now Professor Adam Ockelford, a musician and visiting research fellow at the Institute of Education, London, has some solid evidence. He and his research team surveyed and visited visually impaired children who had been premature babies, at home and at school. Working with around 40 blind children, as well as surveying parents, teachers and music therapists, the study showed that blind children are 4,000 times more likely to have perfect pitch, a traditional marker of exceptional musical ability than their fully sighted peers.

The research, which also quizzed parents whose children were fully sighted, found that 48% of blind children demonstrate significant interest in everyday sounds compared to 13% of those with full sight. More than two-thirds of the blind and partially sighted children played at least one instrument, compared with 41% of the sighted group.

Parents of the blind children reported that music was particularly important as a source of comfort, helping them to relax and express their emotions.

According to Ockelford, the reason is "the obvious one". He explains: "In young babies, the brain is very mouldable, synapses grow and connections are made all the time. In blind children, the areas of the brain involved in sight are not being used, but others, including those used for hearing, become much more important. The greater focus on auditory input makes the brain develop in a different way."

Ockelford says he repeatedly found himself "astonished" by young children singing in perfect pitch during his research. "About 20% of musicians have perfect pitch, and in the wider population it's about one in 10,000, but I was discovering these children singing beautifully in tune, time and time again," he says. "Perfect pitch isn't a condition for great musicianship, but it is necessary in the development of exceptional musicality among people with learning difficulties."

Ockelford says many blind people already use their awareness of pitch to help them overcome daily obstacles. "

Blind people also use pitch awareness to help them get around town: tapping the floor with a cane, for example, triggers echolocation, where listening to echoes bouncing off objects helps with orientation.

Ockelford says his research shows that music teachers should be more willing to make an effort with these children, especially as they are more likely to be talented. "There are still a lot of stereotypes around about children with disabilities being harder for music teachers to teach," he says. "Parents have told me they've tried every piano teacher in their area, but none will teach their child when they find out he or she can't see."

Ockelford says: "Although sheet music is available for blind children in braille, it's only useful for those who are very academically able. For those who have learning difficulties, learning music aurally can be a huge confidence boost."

Article Source:
The Guardian, UK

Shopping for unique gift items?

In this record we have pulled together a number of sources for on-line gifts and novelties. We compiled this list with the help of the Fred's Head Brain Waves participants. We hope it will be useful when searching for those hard-to-find gifts for Mom, Dad, a special friend or teacher at school or even for your favorite four-legged companion.

Initial Necklaces in Braille

Initial necklaces are very versatile so create your own! You may choose to string your own initials; spell out a name or affirmation; choose the first initial of each of your kids’ names and add a birthstone for each; spell out your sorority name; or give a Braille hug and kiss with "XO" hand stamped in Braille. The options are endless, get creative! Each sterling silver disc comes with one initial (or Braille cell). Please preview the charms and birthstones which can be added for a special touch.

Click this link to create your Initial Necklace.
Speak to Me Catalog: is a great source for talking gifts. They have talking and audible products for people of all ages. Their product links are arranged in alphabetical order to facilitate navigation, and the site provides links to audio clips of many of their products. Among their many categories you will find talking cookie jars and stuffed animals, singing key chains, audible luggage locators, talking measuring tape and scales, clocks, and hand-held electronics.
Another on-line source for gifts is the Parents & Friends Association of the California School for the Blind (PFA-CSB): It contains links to a variety of businesses that carry toys, games, and other fun items for visually impaired kids. Some of these items include computer CD-ROMs, movies, music, and talking globes.
The American Printing House for the Blind: is one of the largest producers of materials for visually impaired people. They offer a wide variety of special aids, tools, and supplies that are useful at home, at work, or at school. Some of their products include: 4-track tape recorders, Talking computer software, and educational games. In addition, they carry a line of "Special Touch" gifts. Among these you can find T-shirts with the braille alphabet, sweatshirts, braille key chains, and greeting cards.
Independent Living Aids: is a company that carries products for people with disabilities. In their selection of products you will find nice gift items for those who like games or sports. They have a "Game Balls" category that lists all kinds of audible balls. They also have a variety of board games like Monopoly, Chess, Scrabble, Battleship, Chinese Checkers, Backgammon and different card games. While you are in their Web site, you may also want to check out the "Children's Talking Games" and "Crafts" categories.
Abilitations: is a company that offers products for children with special needs. Many of their products focus on sensory stimulation, movement, positioning, exercise, aquatics and play. Among their products you will find: Therapy Balls, Movement Scarves, Saddle Floats and Tactile Stepping-Stones.
Blind Treasures: is a unique business. It is mainly an Email-based service. Users may subscribe (free of charge) to an Email newsletter, called The Treasure Scroll. This newsletter provides information about new products, which are often one-of-a-kind. If a member likes a product, they may email their request. If the requested item is still available and in stock, payment arrangements can be easily made.
After getting a hat and a T-shirt, what about braille jewelry?

Personalized Braille Pendants by Kim Christiansen Designs

(Note: She is currently not producing any more braille jewelry, but it is unclear if she will be creating any in the future.)

These personalized pendants by Kim Christiansen have become one of the most popular items to hit the braille jewelry market since Christiansen Designs created the world's first line of braille jewelry some 17 years ago.
This handsome sterling silver pendant can be embossed with a person's name or a meaningful word, up to 7 cells. The pendant is 3/4" wide, and 1" to 1-3/4" high, depending on the number of braille cells needed for the word you select (the braille reads downward from the point where it attaches to the chain; to read it properly, you would hold the pendant horizontally in your left hand at the end where the chain attaches, and with your right hand read the braille from left to right). All pendants come with a beautiful 16 inch or 18 inch sterling silver snake chain - your choice.
For yourself or as a gift for another, these lovely pieces will long be remembered.

Click this link to order or see a picture of a pendant: tells us about The Crazy Frog TShirts Ebay store which features several custom-made items with braille messages. You can order various-sized shirts and teddy bears, and choose to have the braille raised (for the blind) or flat (for sighted readers). We are unsure as to the accuracy of the braille on these items.

Click this link to visit The Crazy Frog TShirts Ebay store.
Finally, if you prefer something sweet and tasteful you may want to try the Chocolate Experience: http://members. They manufacture all kinds of chocolate novelties such as braille chocolate bars and chocolate guide dogs. They also have braille cards and gift baskets.

Infant and Toddler Tees with Braille

Bitty Braille is a hip and trendy children's t-shirt line that will make you "see" things a little differently. The fashion forward tees for infants and toddlers featuring simple words in Braille are not only cute but give back to a good cause.
Independent designer, Julie Dutt, of julie*ann handmade goods, is proud to introduce, an expansion on her popular Braille product line that targets a smaller audience, those of the infant and toddler size. Inspired by the success of her Braille pendants and charms, the new tee collection features simple Braille words on stylish 100% cotton tees.
These unique t-shirts are adorned with simple "kid-friendly" words like cutie, laugh, smile and darling, set in Braille using swarovski crystals for the girls and metal studs for the boys. The translation is hand embroidered beneath. You can also get them personalized with your child's name. Bitty Braille tees come in a variety of colors and sizes from 3/6 months to size 4T. They are sweatshop free, made in the USA of 100% cotton and incredibly soft. Each design is handcrafted by the company's owner/designer, Julie Dutt.
Another product offered is a luscious modern baby blanket made with soft, fine-wale ivory corduroy paired with a plush pastel dot fabric. To add more to this textural feast for baby, a soft polar fleece panel features babies' first initial in Braille made using blanket-stitched felt dots. The lovey size of 17" square is perfect for toting around everywhere and sure to be babies favorite blanket.
How about fun hair clips for girls? Sturdy metal clips are covered in rich grosgrain ribbon and feature a first initial in Braille on a pearly white flower. The clips coordinate perfectly with all the Bitty Braille tees for girls and come in olive, sky, pale pink and chocolate.
Bitty Braille products make more than just a fashion statement. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the American Foundation for the Blind ( The tees will come with an information card about AFB and a short history of Braille.
For more information, please contact:

Julie Dutt
julie*ann handmade goods/bitty braille
Phone: 315-533-0824

At First Sight: Fine and Fashion Braille Jewelry

Everyone likes giving and receiving jewelry, especially unique, handmade, and custom-designed items. You don't have to be blind or have low vision to appreciate the beauty of these unusual, finely crafted, and fun braille pieces^DDLthey're perfect for anyone on your holiday gift list.
At First Sight promotes braille literacy within the blind and sighted communities by offering unique, handcrafted fashion jewelry, including bracelets, necklaces, earrings, pendants, and one-of-a-kind items:

Click this link to visit the At First Sight website at

Christiansen Designs

The Braille Collection for men and women includes sterling silver and gold pendants, earring, pins, rings and cuff bracelets, and men's key chains, cufflinks, and tie tacks:

Click this link to visit Christiansen Designs at


Wearable, fun embroidered clothing, including T-shirts, tote bags, hats, and bibs, created by Deb Kersey-Tagoe and her daughter Bronwen Tagoe. Phrases include "Blind People Do It In the Dark," "Braille Is Beautiful," "Dots Talk," "Cane or Canine: That Is the Question," and "Oy Vey." Prices range from $8.50 to $29.00.

>Click this link to visit Braille-A-Wear at

Hand-crafted men's, women's, and children's braille T-shirts use genuine Swarovski® crystals or metallic studs as braille dots. Standard grade two contracted braille phrases include "Brailliant," "Braille is cool," "Can you see me now?" "Can't touch this," and "Feel the love." Also available in grade one braille. Prices range from $12.95 to $29.95.

Click this link to visit

Primitive State T-Shirts

Create your own custom-designed braille T-shirt or hoodie. Choose your word or phrase (a maximum of 10 characters) and then select your T-shirt or hoodie style and color. Prices range from £16.50 to £34.50.

Click this link to visit Primitive State T-Shirts in the UK at

The Chocolate Vault

Chocolate braille plaques embossed with "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays." $10.95 each. When you order, you may choose milk, dark or white chocolate Each piece is presented in a box with a see-thru lid.

Click this link to visit The Chocolate Vault.

STEP BACK IN TIME WITH A RADIO, TURNTABLE, CD PLAYER OR JUKEBOX FROM FUN-RADIOS.COM! Browse the Online Store to see the great selection of Desktop and Traveler Radios, Console and Tabletop Turntables, Music Boxes and more! These are fabulous replicas of the early days of radio, crafted with attention to every detail, built using the finest materials and featuring the latest in audio technology. Fun Radios aren't just your average gift idea - they're fun AND functional too!

Click this link to visit

Search this Online Lamp Shop for the brightest ideas in lighting - from whimsical kids' lamps, fun novelty lamps, to elegant and themed decorator lamps. Looking for a special lamp for a theme room? Know someone who collects frogs, elephants or Elvis memorabilia? they have hundreds of lamps in hundreds of shapes, sizes, colors and designs. Fun Lamps aren't just your average gift idea - they're fun AND functional too!

Click this link to visit

Why settle for an average clock when you can keep time with a Fun Clock from Browse the Online Clock Shop for whimsical novelty and collectible clocks or classy decorator clocks. Looking for a special clock for a theme room? Know someone who collects frogs, sunflowers or Marilyn Monroe memorabilia? they have hundreds of clocks in all shapes, sizes, colors and designs. Fun Clocks aren't just your average gift idea - they're fun AND functional too!

Click this link to visit

Why settle for an average phone when you can talk to your friends with a Fun phone from Browse the Online Shop for whimsical novelty and collectible phones or classy decorator phones. Looking for a special phone for a theme room? Know someone who collects frogs, sunflowers or sports memorabilia? they have over one thousand phones in all shapes, sizes, colors and designs. Fun phones aren't just your average gift idea - they're fun AND functional too!

Click this link to visit

Shadows in the Dark

Shadows in the Dark offers a large selection of braille greeting cards with braille pictures and more than 2,000 specialty gifts. Their contact information is:

Shadows in the Dark
22615 Mathis Road
San Antonio, TX 78264-9581
Phone: 210-621-2070
The Wardrobe Wanderer's Shoppe is another resource for braille greeting cards. Click this link to see their blog post with samples of what they offer.

RNIB Products Come to the United States

Bay Area Digital is a registered agent for Royal National Institute for Blind Persons and carries their product line, making it much easier for US customers to buy their products, some of which are quite interesting. You can get the catalog by clicking this link:
All the businesses mentioned above have made a great effort to make their sites accessible to blind and visually impaired individuals. This should help to make your shopping experience "a piece of cake".

Coping Strategies for Parents Who Have Children with Disabilities

By Laura Legendary 

The only thing more devastating than enduring a disease or disabling condition is when it happens to someone you love, especially your child. For me, growing up while going blind might have been an altogether different experience, and I may have become someone very different than who I am, if it were not for all the things my parents did to give me a full life. As a blind adult, I consider myself among the most fortunate of daughters. A disability does not have to be a barrier to your child’s sense of self-esteem or her ability to live her fullest life. You may be grappling with feelings of guilt, anger and frustration, unsure where to turn. Below are a few coping strategies that may help you to find strength and the support you need. 

Educate yourself. Learn everything you can about the disease or disability. Learn the vocabulary necessary to effectively communicate your child’s needs. Remember, knowledge is power, and if nothing else, you’ll be able to quickly ascertain the depth of education or experience a professional may or may not have with respect to your particular set of circumstances.

Get more than a second opinion. Don’t just consult more than one doctor; consult more than one type of doctor. If, for example, your child is having difficulty with assimilating information, don’t conclude your fact-finding at your pediatrician’s or general practitioner’s office. You may want to see a specialist, a neurologist, or even an ophthalmologist. Sometimes a child can be too quickly “diagnosed” by school officials as learning disabled when in fact the child may actually have a vision problem.  Consulting several doctors will help to ensure the most accurate diagnosis possible.

Keep up on current research. Be careful, however, this may prove to be an emotional trap for a loving parent who can become obsessed with finding answers. It might be a good idea to assign a family member or friend to be the “go to” person when it is time to seek new information. This point person can be the one to surf the net, subscribe to newsgroups, visit parent’s forums and read medical journals or science articles on the latest research. Delegating this task will allow you to focus on quality time with your child and focus on his or her developmental needs. 

Maintain a separate identity. You are not your child and this isn’t happening to you. The disease or disability is happening to your child, and don’t forget that. As tempting as it is, you cannot take that specific burden on yourself. Financial burdens, housing burdens and transportation burdens – yes, those can be yours to shoulder, but not the disability itself. If able, the child must learn that, ultimately, he will be his best advocate. Empower him or her as early as possible. As much as you may desperately wish to relieve your child of that which you believe he surely must be suffering, you cannot. In fact, he or she may not be “suffering” at all, and projecting that onto your child does him or her a terrible disservice. Your child may not be able to comprehend the gravity of the situation, but a child has no difficulty grasping your responses to it. Try not to allow your grief and anxiety to define your child. The best thing you can do for your child is to teach self-sufficiency, encourage resourcefulness and advocate self-determination. 

Don’t take “no” for an answer. No one is a better advocate for your child than your child or you. Do not allow anyone to speak for you if they do not represent your views, needs or best interests, or those of your child. Build a team of trusted professionals, cheerleaders and supporters. 

Give yourself a break. Avail yourself of professional, peer or group counseling. You may feel alone, but you’re not. Let others help you. Allowing another person to help you can be a tremendous gift for you both. Underestimating the extent to which you feel overwhelmed can be detrimental to your decision-making ability. Take good care of yourself, so you can be the best caregiver for your child.

Copyright 2010 by Laura Legendary. All rights reserved.

Laura Legendary is a speaker, author and educator specializing in disability awareness, accessibility and assistive technology. Visit Eloquent Insights at to request Laura for your next event. Find Laura's Accessible Insights blog at

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