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.)


Monday, August 30, 2010

Everyone Likes to Play Games Including the Blind

by Alena Roberts
When you think of video games, you likely don’t think of the blind playing them, but this isn’t the case. From games that have been adapted to be playable by the blind, to mainstream games that the blind figure out how to play without modifications, the blind are definitely a part of the video gaming world.
I myself just started playing a game online called Kingdom of Loathing, and when I was a PC user, I played games all the time.
So the question is what kind of games are out there, and where can you get them. I think the best place to start is a visit to a site called Their database includes hundreds of games, many of which are free. The categories also range from fun word and card games to first person shooter and strategy games. All the games that are listed on this site are designed to be playable by the blind.
As I mentioned, when I was using a PC I played lots of these games. Here are a couple of my favorites.
Spoonbill software offers many free card and puzzle games. All you have to do is email the developer with your request and he sends you the game.

Finally, if you want to play with people online, a great option is All In Play. There is a subscription fee to play these games, but there is a free trial. Also, the games are playable by the blind and sighted so it’s a great option for families.
What are your favorite video games? If there was a game you wish was more playable for the blind, what would it be?

Article Source:
Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind

Windows Mail with JAWS

This guide, written by David Bailes explains Windows Mail, the email program for Windows Vista.

Windows Mail is similar in many ways to Outlook Express, which runs under Windows XP. Two of the main changes are:

  • There are now Junk E-mail and Phishing filters, which are described in the Unwanted messages section.
  • The Address Book in Outlook Express has been replaced by Windows Contacts, which is described in the Windows Contacts section.
Click this link to read the Windows Mail Guide.

Money Handling and Budgeting

Money Handling and Budgeting

Resource guide with an adapted practice checkbook that helps students learn vital money handling skills. Recommended ages: 11 years and up. Addresses These Topics:

  • Coin and bill identification
  • Counting money and making change
  • Budgeting
  • Basic employment strategies
  • Banking skills (e.g., paying bills, acquiring loans, using savings accounts, etc.)
  • Handling money in simulated and actual daily living situations
Money Handling and Budgeting:

Print Edition:
Catalog Number: 1-83080-00

Braille Edition:
Catalog Number: 1-83081-00

To Reorder Consumable Items

Complete Adapted Practice Checkbook only:
Catalog Number: 1-03501-00

Bound Practice Checks/Deposit Tickets only (pack of 5):
Catalog Number: 1-03502-00
Click this link to purchase Money Handling and Budgeting.

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:

Share Files Over Miles

FilesOverMiles is a direct file sharing tool for quickly and securely sending files over the internet. There is no installation or sign up and transferred files are not stored anywhere.

To start, simply choose the file on your computer and FilesOverMiles will generate a web URL for the transfer. Copy the link and forward it to any one you want. When the recipient clicks the URL the file transfer will begin. Ans since, the file transfer is direct in that case both sender and receiver should be online.

Features include:

  • Browser to browser p2p file transfer.
  • Sent as many files as you like.
  • Files are not stored during the transfer.
  • The connection between users is secure and encrypted.
  • No restrictions on file size or bandwidth.
  • Both sender and receiver MUST be online.
  • Free, no sign up needed.
Click this link to share files with

Windows Explorer 7 Guide for JAWS

This guide, written by David Bailes, explains Windows Explorer on Windows 7. Its uses include browsing or searching the contents of disks, folders and libraries, opening files, deleting files and folders, renaming them, copying and moving them around, and creating new folders. One way of opening Windows Explorer is to press Windows Key+E, and other ways are described later in the guide. This is a must read for anyone who is using the JAWS screen reader!

Click this link to read the Windows Explorer (7) Guide.

The Pooch Power Shovel

If your backyard is starting to look like a minefield of dog poop, you’re going to need something a little stronger than a shovel. Something with power. Something like the Pooch Power Shovel.
This device is basically a dog poop sucking vacuum on a stick. You open it up, thread a bag through the nozzle, and suck up some dog business. The “good stuff” goes neatly into the biodegrable bag, which you can change without getting your hands dirty. No need to bend down or scoop; just push the button and the rechargeable battery does the work for you.
It doesn't matter if you own a single Chihuahua or multiple large breed canines, the robust motor and rechargeable battery can pick up a whole yard's worth of waste in one go. Plus, it removes the waste from virtually any surface without you ever having to get close to it.

Purchase the Pooch Power Shovel from PetPowerProducts.

Taskbar (7) Guide for Users of JAWS

This is a guide to the taskbar on Windows 7 written by David Bailes.

The taskbar is a thin bar that normally runs across the bottom of the screen, and contains:

  • The Start button, which opens the Start menu. From this menu you can open programs, Control Panel items, common locations, and files, and you can also shut down the computer, log off, etc.
  • A group of taskbar buttons, which can be used for opening programs, and switching between open windows.
  • The Notification area, which contains a clock and a number of icons which represent background programs or services.
  • Show Desktop button. The large area of the screen which isn't taken up with the taskbar is known as the desktop, and normally contains a few shortcuts. Program windows are displayed in this area, and so either partially or completely hide the desktop. If you press this button (Windows Key + D), then all open windows are minimized, and the desktop becomes the focus.

The new features in the Windows 7 taskbar include:

  • Jump Lists. For many programs, Windows 7 provides a Jump List, which contains recent or frequently opened items, and which allows you to quickly open one of these items.
  • There are some new convenient keystrokes for using the taskbar buttons to open programs and switch between open windows.
  • You can now maximize a window by simply pressing Windows Key + Up Arrow. When a program window opens, then by default it only takes up part of the desktop area. However some windows are read better by Jaws if they take up the whole desktop, which is known as being maximized. For a particular Start menu item or Taskbar button for a program, once the window has been maximized, then Windows normally remembers this, and you don't have to do it again.

You can learn more about the Taskbar by clicking this link to read the Windows 7 Taskbar Guide for people who use JAWS.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Technology Assistance Available from the Chicago Lighthouse National Help Desk

The Chicago Lighthouse’s National HelpDesk is an assistive technology support line that helps visually impaired people successfully resolve computer problems.

The Help Desk, operated by Ray Campbell, who is totally blind, has served people in 48 states, six Canadian provinces, China, South Africa and New Zealand. More than 2000 calls have been received.

The service was made possible in April 2005 when The Chicago Lighthouse successfully matched a $41,000 grant from The Boeing Company. 

If an issue can not be resolved over the phone, an on-site visit can be scheduled with customers residing in the Chicago metropolitan area.

For more information, contact:

Ray Campbell, Help Desk Technician
Toll Free: 888-825-0080 (voice/Relay)
Phone: 312-997-3651 (Voice/Relay)
AIM Screen Name: tclhelp

Prius Offers Optional Noise to Alert Pedestrians

Most consumers want a car that's quiet on the road. But Toyota's Prius is too quiet at times, and an optional speaker system will help give the car some of the noise it's lacking.

According to the Associated Press, Toyota will start selling a $148 speaker system in Japan on August 30 that will play sounds under the hood to help it achieve the "same noise level as a regular car engine."

For now, Toyota will only be selling the speaker system in Japan, and the purchase is voluntary. But a Toyota rep told the AP that the company is considering bringing the feature to the United States and other markets.

Pedestrians have the biggest issue with the Prius. Many people simply can't hear the car coming, due to its ability to run in a nearly silent electric mode during most of its drive time.

Toyota isn't alone among automakers looking into how to increase the sound of their hybrids to keep pedestrians safe. Nissan, for instance, plans to include a safety sound system in its electric Leaf vehicle, coming in December.

Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that hybrid vehicles are twice as likely to be involved in accidents with pedestrians and bicyclists than other vehicles.

How to Activate High Contrast on Windows

How to Activate High Contrast on Windows

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit
Are you sick of your old, dull looking computer? Pimp it out! By changing to High Contrast you can give your computer a fresh new look.


  1. Go to "Start".
  2. Open "Control Panel".
  3. Open "Accessibility Options".
  4. Go to tab: "Display".
  5. Check mark "Use High Contrast".
  6. Press "Apply".
  1. Press Ctrl, Alt/option, Apple, 8
  2. And the colors will go negative EVERYTHING.


  • You can also press Alt + Shift + Print Screen to turn on high contrast.
  • You can change the look of "High Contrast", beside the check mark on the "Display" tab you will see a "Settings" button. Then choose your view from the drop-box.


  • This definitely works on XP and mac osx 10.4 and higher. It may work on the other Windows versions and macs with osx 10.3.9 and lower. It may not be present on XP Pro 64 bit.

Related wikiHows

Article provided by wikiHow, a wiki how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Activate High Contrast on Windows. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

World's Largest Braille Library

The largest Braille library in the world sits at the end of a cul-de-sac, down the road from a Motel 6, in a city with only an average number of blind people.

It's mostly an accident of geography that Salt Lake City is home to the world's biggest Braille collection: The city's crossroads-of-the-West location is perfect for a 20-state lending library. But the distinction is also fitting, because in 1931 Utah Sen. Reed Smoot co-sponsored legislation that provided annual federal funding for the books. The Utah State Library for the Blind and Disabled celebrated its 75th anniversary Aug. 7.

Prior to the Pratt-Smoot Act, special books for the blind were limited and random. Today, a blind person can borrow books and tapes and recorders, mailed for free anywhere in the United States. In a cavernous room the size of a supermarket, the Utah State Library for the Blind and Disabled holds 100,000 books that have been transcribed into Braille, including a Bible that fills 23 volumes, each the size of the Salt Lake City Yellow Pages. More than 6,000 shelves also hold 400,000 "talking books," the logical evolution of the program set in motion by Smoot and Sen. Ruth Baker Pratt 75 years ago.

Today, only about 5 percent of people who are blind read Braille, and most of them have been blind from an early age, says the library's Braille production coordinator Jan Sonshine. The tactile language is difficult to learn, especially for those people who lose their sight later in life, says Sonshine, who tried to learn Braille as an adult, even though she is sighted. "By the time I figured out the second letter, I'd already forgotten what the first one was."

Sonshine uses a computer and Braille printing machines to produce a new book about every six weeks, a process that used to take at least nine months on old hand-operated machines.

Because most books are transcribed into Braille by the Library of Congress, the Utah library transcribes mostly locally written books. The same holds true for books on tape, which in Utah are read by volunteers that include inmates at the Utah State Prison. Volunteers also come to the library's offices, in the Utah State Library building on 1950 West, to read and record stories from the Utah's daily newspapers, which are then broadcast on the library's closed-circuit radio station. The library is always looking for more volunteers, volunteer coordinator James Shulfer says. When reader Pat Cox of Salt Lake City retired from the University of Utah's special education department, she was happy to find a volunteer opportunity that could be both helpful and fun. She loved to read to her children when they were little; now she has a new audience.

Every Friday morning she shuts herself inside a recording booth at the library and reads local news stories, obituaries, editorials and the comics. "I pull out all the stops," she says about her weekly rendition of the comic strip "Pickles." "I become Earl and Opal."

Patrons of the library must have a doctor's certification of disability, but over the years this has been broadened to include not just blindness but also disabilities that make it hard to hold a book, and now even learning disabilities such as dyslexia, director Bessie Oakes says.

The library's arsenal of reading aids includes large-print books, descriptive videos, talking computers and computers with "refreshable Braille" keyboards that transcribe computer text. Patrons also can bring in their own documents letters, research, utility bills that can be scanned into the computer. For patrons who have limited sight there is also a machine that enlarges print, as well as a computer that can magnify print so large that one letter of the alphabet fills an entire screen.

It's a laborious process to navigate the Internet this way, but as librarian Lisa Nelson notes, "anything to be able to read."

Article Source:
Daily Herald, Utah

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Amazon's Clearence Bin

Once again, our friends at have found a great resource for saving money. I checked out the site and was amazed at the items available. Here's what they had to say!

"Like many other grocery stores, Amazon inevitably ends up with a stockpile of products which are approaching their sell-by date or that are just taking up space on their virtual shelves. To clear out some of this excess, Amazon offers Warehouse Deals on grocery items, some at pretty drastic savings. The stock changes quite frequently and quantities are limited. For instance, we'd tell you about the 6-pack of Taco Bell Dinner Kits available for $9.99, but we bought the last one. There's currently 6 bottles of Wish-Bone Fat Free Ranch Dressing for $5.99 or a buck per bottle, but that may or may not be there by the time you read this. But there'll most certainly be new items to replace these, as the selection is ever-changing. Follow the link on this post and check back often to find the latest offers."

The only thing the site doesn't have that would make life even easier is either a Twitter or RSS feed to show when new items are added.

Click this link to visit the Warehouse Deals page at

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How to Add Your Facebook Stream to Windows Live Messenger

You can now add your Facebook updates directly to Windows Live Messenger and share your Facebook updates with anyone you choose. The following steps will get you up and running!

  1. Select “Add (Manage Services)” in the right bottom side of the Messenger.
  2. Select Facebook
  3. After selecting “Facebook”, a popup window will open. Choose the options you want and then click “Connect with Facebook”.
  4. Enter the username and password for your Facebook account to login from Windows Live Messenger
  5. Windows Live Messenger asks you to allow WLM permission to connect to your Facebook account. Click "allow".

Now you are ready to use Facebook through Windows Live Messenger. Enjoy!

Surf the Web Anonymously with IP Privacy

Online privacy is a hot-button topic. There are numerous services that we use every day that keep track of our IP address. Unless you use dial-up Internet, your  IP address is like your real, physical address. It is a fixed address that is associated with you and can be pulled up by web masters. Most people wouldn’t feel comfortable walking around with their home address printed on their shirt, but that is what you’re doing when you browse the Internet.

The solution to this is to use a proxy web server. A proxy server acts as a barrier between you and the Internet. When you send a request for information, say, you visit, that request first goes to the proxy server and is then routed to the final location. This disguises your IP address. The only problem is that using a proxy can be a real pain in the butt for users who are not very familiar with how they work.

That’s where IP Privacy comes in. This utility enables one-click proxy web surfing.  When you first open the program, you will be greeted with the main screen, on which there are two big buttons. For now, we are only going to touch on the top button, labeled Enable Online Anonimity.

Above that button you will find a drop-down list. This, when opened, shows a list of proxy servers that IP Privacy has made available for you. Selecting a server will open a testing window. Press the Start button to begin testing the proxy server, it should only take a second.  If the test is successful press Done, if it is not successful press Cancel and select a different proxy.

By pressing the Start button you have already enabled anonymous online surfing.  Websites will no longer see you by your real IP address but will instead see you by the IP address of the proxy server. You can of course turn your anonymous surfing on or off by pressing the big Enable/Disable Online Anonimity button.

Now let’s talk about the second big button labeled Enable Privacy. Pressing this button enables global privacy settings for your computer’s web browsers. No matter what web browser you use, your privacy settings will apply. By default, the privacy settings block invasive Javascript that might be used to collect information from your computer. The settings can also be adjusted so that ActiveX is blocked.

Finally, IP Privacy has global web browser history settings. You can delete information from your web browser’s history including Internet history, typed URLs, temporary Internet files, Internet cookies, autocomplete forms, autocomplete passwords, and favorites. The history will be deleted at user-specified intervals. The default setting is every five minutes, but you can adjust it as you desire.

IP Privacy is an excellent privacy utility for any Windows computer. It takes a task that is hard for the typical user and makes it very simple to achieve.

Click this link to download IP Privacy from

Technological Barriers in the Workplace

by Donna J. Jodhan

It is probably never going to go away but the truth is; disabled employees may always have to face some sort of technological barrier in the workplace. Why is this? Because the evolution of technology is moving at a much faster rate than the development of access technology for disabled users. This is a chronic challenge that disabled persons will probably always have to deal with both at home and in the workplace and it includes both hardware and software as well as access to information. This should not come as a shocker or shaker to anyone who has knowledge of this topic. I will focus my attention on three types of technological barriers: Hardware, software, and access to information.

In the case of hardware: The technological barriers may be a bit less in that keyboards are fairly user friendly to disabled persons but when it comes to using such things as touch screen technology and dealing with flashing indicators on phones for example, then these problems will continue to exist unless there are other hard coded ways to deal with them. Strides continue to be made in this area but as I mentioned above, three steps forward for mainstream technology computes into at best one step forward for access or adaptive technology for the disabled. If we're talking about the workplace, then the hardware to consider would range from computer keyboards to scanners, and from phones to PDAs. If I have missed out on mentioning of any other piece of hardware, then my apologies.

In the case of software: Many of the operating systems that are used today are for the most part accessible to persons with disabilities but the real challenge comes when so-called add-ons are included. Disabled persons, in particular blind and visually impaired persons, often run into problems because of incompatibility between the mainstream software in question and their access or adaptive software. This is mainly due to the graphical interfaces that mainstream software is made up of and the inability of screen reading software to decipher graphical interfaces.

An example would be: A piece of mainstream software that needs to be installed and the installation process is made up of a graphical interface. Another example would be when the disabled user tries to use the piece of mainstream software itself and the software is not very user friendly because of icons that need to be clicked on. Blind and visually impaired users are unable to use a mouse to click. Many employees in the workplace are often called upon to install or download software either from the Internet or from CDs. One thing that comes to mind for me is the difficulty that blind and visually impaired persons continue to face in environments that require them to communicate with screens that contain a lot of graphical information. Typically, in help desk and banking types of environments.

Access to information: In the case of blind and visually impaired users and the print disabled as a whole, The problem often occurs when they are unable to access information on the Internet. Some of the primary offenders of this situation come as a result of the following: Websites that are not user friendly or accessible, access or adaptive software that is unable to decipher website content that includes forms and downloads, and websites that do not provide information in alternate formats. I will note here that information provided in PDF format is not considered to be an alternate format.

To summarize: Disabled employees in the workplace will continue to face technological barriers for as long as access or adaptive technology is unable to keep up with evolution of mainstream technology. Technological barriers include access to hardware, software, and access to information. The print disabled in particular blind and visually impaired employees are the most affected.

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your friendly accessibility advocate wishing you a terrific day and encouraging you to go out there and tell the world that yes indeed! Blind persons can certainly enjoy things by using their sense of touch. 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:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My Signature is No Different

by Donna J. Jodhan

If there is anything in this world that puts me on an equal footing with the mainstream person it is this: Signatures that are almost impossible to decipher. It does not matter you can see or not, at the best of times it is almost impossible to decipher the majority of signatures.

When I had vision I learned how to sign my name and according to my mom it was somewhat legible if I took the time to concentrate when I was signing but now without enough vision it is almost impossible for anyone to decipher. There are signature guides that a blind person can use when signing their name but before using this they need to learn how to form their letters. These signature guides are very inexpensive and easy to make if you do not know where to purchase one.

Here’s how it works. It is made out of a piece of material that does not slip when placed on a sheet of paper; like rubber or sturdy cardboard. The shape of the signature guide is usually rectangular with a space in the middle. The bottom half of the guide is placed on the bottom line where the signature is to be written, the space is where the person is supposed to place their pen to sign, and the top half of the guide is meant to prevent the person from going above the space where their signature is supposed to be. The left and right bars of the signature guide are meant to help the person remain within the designated spot so that they do not start before and finish after the spot.

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your friendly accessibility advocate wishing you a terrific day and encouraging you to go out there and tell the world that yes indeed! Blind persons can certainly enjoy things by using their sense of touch. 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:

APH Signature Guide

Aids people who are visually impaired in writing their signatures. Small, pocket-size frame has an opening with an elastic band. The band provides a guide for writing and flexes to allow for the descenders of letters.

Revised guide is made of durable, flexible plastic with the same rubber backing as before to prevent sliding. Measures 4 1/2" x 2 1/4". Recommended ages: 8 years and up.

Catalog Number: 1-03530-01
Click this link to purchase the APH Signature Guide.

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:

How to Buy College Textbooks for Less

As a blind or visually impaired student, you don't have the luxury of waiting to purchase your textbooks at the same time as the rest of your classmates. You may need to get that book recorded, enlarged or find a reader for assistance. 

College is a big business, and one of the biggest moneymakers for any college are the required textbooks. Nothing hits your party pocketbook like a trip to the campus bookstore. To make matters worse, you get little or nothing when you try to resell your books (even the ones you never opened)! 

Don't take out the extra loans. Justfollow this lesson to lessen the cost of your education.

  1. If you haven't done so already, get connected with the Talking Book Library in your area. Make sure that you're all signed up and that you can receive books when you request them.
  2. If you're not a member of Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic click this link to sign up or call toll free: 866-732-3585. With more than 109,000 titles in their CV Starr Learning Through Listening Library, RFB&D is the number one producer in the world of audio textbooks for people who can't effectively read standard print. 
  3. Familiarize yourself with the Louis Database of Accessible Materials at the American Printing House for the Blind. Make sure you can effectively search this online resource and find the titles you need. 
  5. Register for classes as early as possible. Start researching courses as soon as you can, and solidify your schedule early. If you have to change classes at the last minute, it'll be hard to escape high textbook prices.
  6. Find out what books you'll need for your classes. Go to the bookstore just to browse. Leave the wallet at home, but bring a pen and paper or recorder. Look for your classes and the new semester's required books. Ask the bookstore employees to assist you if needed. If your classes' book requirements are not in yet, inquire as to when they will be and come back on that date. You may also be able to get this information off the bookstore's website or your classes' web pages.
  7. Write down or have someone read you the following information for each book:
    • the name and edition of the book
    • the name of the author
    • the book's International Standard Book Number (ISBN), found on or near the barcode on the back of the book
    • the price.
  8. Take this information home, to the Disability Student Services office or to your school library if it has an accessible computer with online access and a telephone.
  9. Begin your search. This will require the book's ISBN or International Standard Book Number. Call RFB&D or visit the Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic's website to see if they have the books in their catalog.
  10. Search Louis: the Database of Accessible Materials.
  11. If the book is more of general reading than an actual textbook, call your local Talking Book Library to see if they have it. This works well for classic books from authors like Mary Shelley or H. G. Wells.
  12. The search has ended for accessible versions of your books. Now, you're going to have to find someone to read the book to you or find some way to convert it into a format that you can use.
  13. Try to find the books in the library. Check the catalogs of your school library and the local public library. If you can't find a book there, try to obtain the book via interlibrary loan. Depending on the library's borrowing policies, you may be able to check out books for the whole semester or at least for as long as you'll need them. You'll want to get on this early, though, because supplies will be limited. Ask for assistance if needed.
  14. If you haven't found all your books at this point, you're going to have to buy them. Let's change our focus to purchasing the cheapest possible book.
  15. Find out if any books are optional, and think twice about buying them. Some optional books are really quite necessary, while others aren't. Ask your professor or TA for advice if in doubt, and consider your own study habits. If you tend to ignore the optional materials anyway, then there's no point in wasting your money on it.
  16. Search for books on the Internet. All you'll need is the book's ISBN. In the search box of your favorite search engine, enter only the ISBN number, without the dashes that separate the digits. You should come up with several exact matches; in the unlikely event that you don't, try searching by title. Verify that you have the correct book using the other information you wrote down or recorded. If a search engine search isn't very fruitful, try searching directly at online booksellers' sites. 
  17. When the price matters more than the store, online textbook price comparison engines shine. When you don't care what truck your $200 Chemistry book fell off of or what far reaches of the world it has to travel from to get to you as long as it's dirt cheap, comparison engines are the perfect tool. is by far the most popular comparison engine. BigWords has expanded over the years to cover not just the buying and selling of textbooks but price comparisons for DVDs, music, games, and other consumer products. While isn't as polished as BigWords', it does search forty-one book sites, ensuring that whether your book is on or you'll end up with a low price. Unfortunately, AddALL cannot do multiple comparisons like BigWords can.
    A great website for finding books at a great price is This is an affiliate of eBay but there are no auctions to mess with. You will need a Paypal account to buy books from this site.

    With this site, you'll be able to trade your current books for ones you need, easily. Just tell the site what books you have and what books you need. You'll then be able to make contact with people who are in your same situation. Just send them your books, and receive the ones you need. This sort of communal book trading will greatly decrease the amount of money you spend on books. All you'll have to do is share with others and you'll receive what you need. This concept of sharing books should be sending chills down the spines of many college bookstores. Signing up is free, and you'll instantly be eligible to become a part of the sharing process.

    Click this link to visit

    Here's a great service for both bookbuyers and libraries. BWB solves libraries' problem of unwanted discards and donations by selling them online and passing on proceeds to the libraries and their nonprofit literacy partners. Buyers can select from 1.8 million used books and 500,000 new ones, knowing that the money will go to libraries and literacy promotion. Click this link to visit Better World Books at
    Another site for purchasing books is Get the books you need for 50% off! Save even more by buying a pre-read copy in nearly new condition!

    Free Textbooks from Orange Grove. When we came across this link to free college-level textbooks in .PDF format from Orange Grove, we were naturally skeptical, thinking they would probably not be accessible. But to our surprise, the website and books appear to be quite usable, downloadable as standard .PDF files. This page lists over 100 titles ranging from politics to history, all available for free. It's a part of the University Press of Florida. is a site with a very interesting business model. They rent textbooks rather than selling them. This makes getting a hold of textbooks much cheaper and you don't have to deal with selling them or holding on to them after you are done with the book. Chegg is the Netflix of textbooks. How it works is simple. You go to the site and select the textbooks you need. You pay the one-time rental price for each book and pay for them to ship it to you. You then keep the book until you are finished with it or you have the option to purchase the book later. When you are finished with the book, revisit the site and you can print out a shipping label for the books you want to send back and you ship them back to Chegg. It's as easy as that! 

    Here's a great service for both bookbuyers and libraries. BWB solves libraries' problem of unwanted discards and donations by selling them online and passing on proceeds to the libraries and their nonprofit literacy partners. Buyers can select from 1.8 million used books and 500,000 new ones, knowing that the money will go to libraries and literacy promotion. Click this link to visit Better World Books at

    Here's another website that may be helpful: Not only does this website sell books for a lot less than you would normally buy them for, but they sell International Edition textbooks. 

    Two additional resources: and

    What is an international edition? The website explains that textbook companies print textbooks not only for buyers in the United States, but for those in other parts of the world as well. These international editions are often identical to their American counterparts in content. The only differences might be that the cover looks different and the book is a paperback instead of a hardback book. Because people in other parts of the world won't pay the high prices on books that Americans pay, these books are generally much, much less than those sold in the United States. Textbooks R Us also reassures buyers that they will only sell international edition textbooks with identical content to their American counterparts. This could be perfect for anyone who is going to scan the book or have someone read the book aloud.
  18. Continue to Shop around online. Just about any price you find online will be cheaper than the bookstore, but check as many sites as possible to find the cheapest priced book. Check out online auction marketplaces. While you won't be able to find as many books at auctions, you may be able to find some great deals. is an online book price comparison site that lets you quickly compare book prices across 30 major book retailers including Amazon,, Powell’s,, Walmart, Book Closeouts and more. When you search for books it brings up all the options (new, used, ebook, rental) and presents them on one table. You can then scroll through the available prices for each format, select the book you want and go to the bookstores site to purchase it.
  19. Check out local bookstores. You may be able to find a good deal locally, especially once you factor in shipping charges. Even if you can't quite match an online price locally, you'll be able to see the book before you purchase and you'll get the satisfaction of helping local merchants.
  20. Consider used books. Used books are almost always cheaper than new ones, and if you can find a used version online in good condition it's probably a good bet. You may also be able to get used books at your campus bookstore, especially if you shop early or pre-order. Compare prices to find the best deal.
  21. Inquire about earlier editions. If the current edition's used price is still too much, use the book name to find an earlier edition: enter the book title in the search box and remove any references to what edition it is. Before buying, ask your professor or TA if the earlier edition is acceptable. Sometimes it is not, and you don't want to have to pay for a book twice.
  22. Scour your campus. Some colleges have student groups that sell used textbooks for older students or that otherwise facilitate buying and selling of books. Ask your friends, look at flyers around campus, and watch the student paper for deals. Don't forget to ask in the Disability Student Services office, maybe someone there has already taken the class and still has the book. Many blind students will leave their copy of books that have been recorded for the next student to use.
Resell your books. If you don't foresee that you'll need a book after the semester ends, or after you've had it scanned or recorded, try to resell it as soon as possible. Find out what your campus bookstore and local booksellers will pay, and consider putting up flyers around campus and/or selling it online. If your book is in high demand, you may be able to sell a book online within a day, and at a much higher price than you'll get at the bookstore. 

Always include shipping costs in your calculations. You may be able to save money on shipping by purchasing several books from one merchant. 

Don't forget about international editions. They're generally exactly the same as their American counterparts, except they often come only in paperback, and the pages may feel a bit different. 

Using more than a few online book resellers might not be beneficial. Don't waste time and confuse yourself with multiple sites; focus on finding what you need, especially if the prices all appear to be about the same. 

The best time to buy is between semesters, when people online are trying to get rid of their old books, but before people are buying new ones. It's usually between 2 and 4 weeks before classes start. If you track sale prices over time, you can see the dip, then a radical increase. Buy when the price is low, but you still have at least 2 weeks for shipping before school. If you want to sell, try selling the first week of school, or the week before when everyone is running around like madmen

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Encounter

Have you ever wondered what to do when you see a blind person on the street? Should you help them? Should you leave them alone?

This cartoon from the Nebraska Center for the Blind has all the answers!

Part 1

Part 2

Parents' Guide to Transition of Adult Children

This guide has tools for parents to prepare them for their child's transition from public school to postsecondary education & adulthood. Includes information about laws that protect parents' rights as well as the rights of adult children in college.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Terror at Security Checkpoints

by Donna J. Jodhan

With more and more security checks being implemented at airports across North America and indeed at major airports around the world, it is becoming scarier for those of us who are blind and visually impaired.

I ran into a very scary episode recently at Toronto's major airport; Pearson International airport. When I got to the security checkpoint, I placed my carry-on bag along with my cane and jacket into the plastic box as instructed but the fun started after I walked through the tiny tunnel. For a better way to describe it, the tiny enclosure that one has to go through before a security agent pats you down.

Without any warning, I was told that my bag had to be searched because they found chemicals on it and in addition I had to be given an entire body search. Nothing too out of the ordinary with all of this except for: I felt completely helpless without my cane and I am quite aware that they had to x-ray my cane but what most mainstream persons of the sighted world do not understand is this: A cane is practically part of a blind person's physical being or make up. Take it away from them without warning and the blind person becomes extremely anxious and starts to develop feelings of helplessness and if not explained properly as to why it has been taken away then the blind person can often become extremely stressed. A feeling of nakedness without my cane is how I felt.

A cane gives me confidence. It enables me to find my way. It helps me to feel secure; somewhat like having a security blanket. Take it away from me and I am left to negotiate my way blindly as they would say and when a blind person has their cane taken away from them in unfamiliar territory it is thrice as bad. Add to all of this the stress of having to deal with unfriendly security agents and you have just created a powder keg for disaster.

If you would like to learn more about how and why blind persons use canes and where you can purchase one, please visit either or

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your friendly accessibility advocate wishing you a terrific day and encouraging you to go out there and tell the world that yes indeed! Blind persons can certainly enjoy things by using their sense of touch. 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:

Changing Voice Profiles with Jaws

The following tip comes from the Tech Access Weekly blog. It explains how to easily change your voice profiles in JAWS 11.

Click this link to play this audio tip.

Phone Disk: - iPad, iTouch, iPhone Disk Mode for Mac and PC

iPad, iTouch or iPhone Disk Mode is made easy with Phone Disk. Using your standard USB cable, this tiny program runs in the menu bar or system tray of your Mac or PC. When it finds an iPod Touch or iPhone it seamlessly mounts it to your file system so you can directly access its files using Windows Explorer, Finder and every other program.

Features include:

  • Preview, open, edit and save images, documents and more directly on the device.
  • Access the device directly through other programs such as a document editing program.
  • Mount multiple iPhones and iPod Touches simultaneously
  • Browse the iPhone in Finder and Windows Explorer
  • Works with or without jail breaking the device. It's a simple application that runs in your system tray and won't clutter or slow your computer.
  • Fully integrated with OSX and Windows
  • Optionally, automatically launch program at startup.
Click this link to download Phone Disk:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Two iPad Applications for the Classroom

Docs Anywhere

As the name implies, Docs Anywhere allows iPad users a high degree of portability for their digital documents. Capable of reading Word, Excel, PowerPoint, .pdf files, rich text, plain text, HTML, and other file formats, it allows transfer between desktop and portable device using USB and iTunes. Teachers who prefer working on their home machines can very easily transport their work to the classroom on their iPads, which also provides e-mailing capabilities for an added dimension of file preservation.

Click this link to try Docs Anywhere:

Free Books

Any educators with a need for quick reference to 23,469 books (and counting!) should absolutely download this amazing resource. Completely free, not only does it provide access to classic novels, but autobiographies, letters, speeches, and other writings by significant historical figures and recognized geniuses, including the American presidents, works of philosophy by Seneca and other influential thinkers, Shakespeare’s plays, and more!! Because of this, even teachers who do not focus on English still benefit greatly from what Free Books offers.

Click this link to download Free Books:

Talk to Your Friends on Facebook From Windows Live Messenger

With the release of Windows Live Essentials beta 2 Windows Live Messenger received a new feature which people have been craving for a while: the ability to chat with Facebook friends. This has been expected as in the previous beta there was some Facebook integration mostly having to do with status updates, but it did show contacts as well. The messenger also has connectivity with many other social networks truly making this a social hub.

Directly from Windows Live Photo Gallery you can upload to Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr, as well as the company's own SkyDrive. Then from Windows Live Messenger you can chat with all your friends on Facebook without needing to visit the site. The interface works the same as a regular instant message, so this will feel right at home.

A note on how to set up Facebook chat: If you have already connected Facebook to WLM, you will have to click on the Facebook icon on your contact list to edit the connection, and then make sure you place a check by the chat option. Click Connect with Facebook and it should update your contact list momentarily.

How Being Polite Can Be Insensitive to People with Disabilities

Growing up, we are taught that it is not polite to stare at someone with a disability. However, we are so paranoid that we will mess up and stare that we don’t dare even look at the person.  As a result, our well intended politeness inadvertently renders people with disabilities invisible. It is a tale of two extremes. Either people with disabilities are stared at or we don’t look at them at all.

You have probably witnessed or experienced first hand a child pointing at someone with a disability and asking the adult they are with, “What’s wrong with that person?” Typically the adult responds by grabbing the child’s hand as quickly as possible and then gives a powerful “shhhh”. Now the kid is scared half to death and we wonder where we get the message of how we are to treat people with disabilities.

So what could we do? Kids are curious so we should provide them with information and not frighten them.  In as simple terms as possible, do your best to explain your perception of the situation. For example, you might say that the person is using a wheelchair because their legs are too week or they have cerebral palsy and their legs don’t work like ours.


Many of us are so afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing that we make the biggest mistake of all and say or do nothing, thus furthering the isolation that many people with disabilities experience. Here are a few suggestions that may improve the quality of our interactions.

Greet the person as you would any other person. We commonly greet one another with a handshake and just because someone has a disability should not deter us. In the event someone holds their left hand out to shake, follow their lead, as they may not have full use of their right hand. If the person is blind, wait for them to hold their hand out. If you are uncertain it is okay to wait and follow their lead.

Speak directly to the person with the disability. If the person uses an interpreter or aide, direct all of your conversation to the person, not to their interpreter or aide.

Do not speak louder or slower. If someone is blind there is no need to shout, remember, they are blind not deaf. This also applies to people with cognitive or developmental disabilities.

Refer to the disability only when it is relevant to the discussion.

Use of Common expressions. There is no need to worry if you use a common expression such as saying to a person who is blind, “see you later” or to someone who is a wheelchair user, “let’s go for a walk”.

Tell a person who is blind when you enter and exit a conversation.

Offer assistance but do not force help on anyone. Think “assist” not “insist”.

Do not lean on or take control of a wheelchair without the owner’s permission.


One of the most important elements to keep in mind with our use of words is always keep the person first. In the list that follows you will notice that the person will always come before the descriptor. It is also best if you do not use the word “the” before descriptors, such as “the mentally ill or the deaf”, etc…

You may wonder why it is so significant to place the person first; after all, doesn’t it convey the same meaning? No, it does not. First, we'll give you the outdated or offensive, then the acceptable and  appropriate terms separated by a colon.

  • Disabled, Handicapped: Person with a disability
  • Retarded, Mentally ill: People with a developmental or cognitive disability
  • Hearing impaired: People who are deaf or hard of hearing
  • Visually impaired: People who are blind or partially sighted
  • Confined to a wheelchair, Crippled: Wheelchair user or person who uses a wheelchair, physically disabled
  • Midget: Little people, LP, person of short stature
  • Normal: People without a disability, non-disabled

Approximately 19% of the U.S. population has a disability (US Census Bureau, 2008).  However, most disabilities are not obvious so you may not be aware of just how many people may be impacted by your words and action.

Most people are well intended and do not want to cause harm to anyone.  Yet sometimes unknowingly our words and actions do just that. What we intend to be polite may end up being insensitive. We end up making lots of people invisible and the saddest part is that we think we are being nice.

Article Source:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The SpamNEWS Blog

An antivirus program and a firewall are indispensable tools to keep your data safe and your computer running smoothly. However, no matter how careful you are, new computer viruses and malware find the most peculiar ways into your system.

Hackers can exploit holes in your software, you could run into a novel virus before the definitions of your antivirus tool are updated, or you might fall for one of many new phishing email messages. You will never be 100% safe.

One precaution you can take is to stay up to date with the latest threats. Learn about the traps before you’re stuck in the middle of one.

The spamNEWS blog provides frequent updates on anything that threatens your digital experience. Besides spam, you will also find updates on phishing attacks, security vulnerabilities, or Facebook scams.

This news blog relies on several sources for its information, including Sophos, Secunia, MessageLabs, and SecureWorks. It’s the perfect central news resource for the curious, but not overly worried among you.

spamNEWS RSS Feed

How to Delete Friends on Facebook

How to Delete Friends on Facebook

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit
Are you just tired of that friend who constantly bugs you with messages or just spams your Facebook wall? Do you want to "un-friend" him? Here's how.


Method 1
  1. Log into
  2. Go to "Account" at the top right hand corner. You can view this any time on any page of Facebook.
  3. Go to "Edit Friends". You will see that you are in the category of "Find Friends".
  4. Click on the category of "All Connections", just above from "Find Friends". Here, you will be able to view all of your friends and all the groups that you are a fan of.
  5. Find the friend that you would like to delete. Across from your friend's name, you will see a little tiny "X". Click on the "X" and it will ask you if you want to delete the connection permanently. Say "Yes", and it's done!
Method 2
  1. Find the friend you want to de-friend.
  2. Go to the top of the page, and select the button on the panel that says "Profile".
  3. On the left panel, go to the box that says "Friends". Click on "See All".
  4. Type your friend's name in the search box.
  5. Click on your friend's name.
  6. Scroll down and look on the left side of the page, right at the bottom. Select "Remove from Friends".
  7. You'll get a confirmation. Hit "Remove from Friends".
  8. You've removed your friend! Hit "Okay" to close the window. If not, it'll close in a few seconds.


A quick video demonstration of using the tools to remove friends on Facebook (updated version of Facebook).


  • A warning message will not be sent to your friends, so feel free to delete as many friends as you want.
  • Another option is blocking, which is temporary and also prevents your friend from seeing your profile in any of their friends lists or search results. You can remove the block at any time, and your profile will reappear to them.


  • You will, however, be removed from your friend's friend list, too, so if he/she actually tries searching for you, they will figure out that you aren't their friend anymore.

Things You'll Need

  • A Facebook account
  • Facebook "Friends"
  • Internet access

Related wikiHows

Article provided by wikiHow, a wiki how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Delete Friends on Facebook. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Information Barrier

by Donna J. Jodhan

I don't think that this topic would come as a shocker or shaker to anyone within the blind and visually impaired community but sad to say, it just might within the sighted world. There are so many of our sighted friends and associates who still do not understand when we complain that information barriers still exist for us and that they are very mountainous. The majority of websites are still guilty of not granting us equal access to information. Companies and organizations still continue to send out information in printed formats that are still not accessible to us and reachable by us. Important emergency procedures are still not in alternate formats that we can read and manuals that come with equipment and appliances are still not being produced in alternate formats.

For some inexplicable reason, websites continue to offer forms and downloadable files in PDF formats and even our Federal government is guilty of the same. Many websites are still offering forms that are not totally accessible to us. We are already living in a world of darkness so to speak but the information barrier makes our world even darker. Everyone needs information in order to keep up with their surroundings, learn, and understand. We are living in an information based society and as blind and visually impaired persons it is imperative that we have equal access to information. Inadequate access to information on the Internet means that we are unable to independently garner knowledge and we need to depend on sighted assistance to help us. Inaccessible forms means that we are unable to take full advantage of e commerce opportunities and access information that requires us to complete forms in order to receive information. Inaccessible forms also mean that we are unable to apply for jobs and funding and as a result we need to again depend on sighted assistance.

If procedures, especially emergency procedures are not available to us, then we have to again depend on sighted assistance and in addition, we are often at the mercy of kindness and compassion on the part of others. Nowadays, there is no excuse for not being able to make information available in a format that we can read. Information is almost always developed electronically so why can't society in general take that extra little step to make it available to us? Via email, or in other alternate formats? It is time for us to make a committed effort to break down the information barrier.

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your friendly accessibility advocate wishing you a terrific day and encouraging you to go out there and tell the world that yes indeed! Blind persons can certainly enjoy things by using their sense of touch. 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:

New Gaming Trend! iPhone Games You Can Play With Your Eyes Closed

little boy kid listening on headphones

They might be for niche audiences, but the world's first audio-only iPhone game, Aurifi (or-if-EYE) was released a few weeks ago and the second one, Papa Sangre, is slated to be released in September.

What's behind this new trend in gaming?

It isn't new technology, which is fairly commonplace in the industry, says Aurifi developer Chris Walker of Punk Pie.

Walker said they mainly used Apple's Logic software and plug-ins to create the game, which contains several mini-games in which players use only audio-cues to complete tasks.

Instead, like many iPhone-app stories, it's mostly the new distribution system that's helping these sorts of apps come to life.

Before the iTunes store, designers had to come up with a concept, convince a developer, and secure a publisher. Nowadays, "if we can find a small amount of funding, we can execute the game," Walker says, which allows for a lot more adventurous developing.

Once they'd decided to create an audio only game, Punk Pie chose the iPhone because it was one of the first phones to support 3D audio, and has better market penetration than other phones.

Walker admits that the game is for niche audiences, but suspects audio-only will become a genre because "to be noticed at all in computer games now, it requires something different."

Aurifi has over 11,000 active users within its first 8 weeks, and is particularly popular among visually impaired users. That's not enough to make Walker the next app-store millionaire, but the app has pulled in thousands of dollars since launching.

And stay tuned for Papa Sangre, an audio-only 3D thriller game, which is launching in the fall.

Article Source:
Business Insider

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Vision Hotels: a UK Not-for-Profit Service for the Blind

Vision Hotels, which has four AA three-star hotels in Devon, West Sussex, Somerset and Cumbria, has been set up by Action for Blind People to provide accessible breaks, regardless of disability.

Each hotel has made simple adjustments - such as wet rooms, textured surfaces, talking alarm clocks and large button phones - to ensure guests can relax and enjoy their stay.

The individual hotels have been open for some time, but it is only now that they are being branded as Vision Hotels. They include the 47-bedroom Cliffden hotel in Teignmouth, Devon; the 37-bedroom Lauriston hotel, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset; 40-bedroom Russell hotel, Aldwick, West Sussex; and the 28-bedroom Windermere Manor, Windermere, Cumbria.

Bookings can be made by contacting the individual hotels directly or via the first fully accessible website and booking system at

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Giving And Receiving Directions; While Walking With A Sighted Guide

Instead of allowing others to grab onto you while you are walking with them, you will find that it is both safer and more comfortable for you to hold onto their arm. Let others know that this is your preference and demonstrate for them how this technique works.

Grasp their arm above the elbow gently but firmly. Walk slightly behind them so that you can follow their motions. Let them know that physical cues are usually all that are necessary to signal where they are going and that verbal explanations usually are not needed.

Tell others that if they think you might need assistance, they should simply ask if and how they can be helpful. Ask them not to make assumptions about your needs. By making this request, you are asking others for the same courtesy they would extend to anyone.

Let people know what type of information you wish to receive. Let them know that specific terms such as "right," "left," "north," and "west" are better than pointing or saying "over there." Ask clerks in stores to take you directly to the aisle and not to say "in aisle 4."

This tip is used by special permission from the Oregon Commission for the Blind:

Determining Compass Directions

Do you know how to determine north from south--and where the sun is not shining? Because moss grows far more profusely on the north side of a tree than on its south side, if a tree is close by, it is normally not too difficult to ascertain north from south. Useful information, don't you think, for the blind and sighted alike?

Contributor: Gerry Ellis

Instruction In Music from NLS

Audio-recordings available from the Talking Books Collection of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) include a set of cassette tapes with instructions to use when teaching or learning chording on a keyboard instrument. These tell you a bit about the keyboard and include some basic melodies you can play. The cassettes are recorded in a slow-speed format with four monophonic tracks each. Please note that specialized playback equipment is needed to listen to these recordings.

National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS)
Toll Free: 800-424-8567

Contributor: Fred Gissoni

Riding Escalators

Riding escalators can be tricky. Putting your hand about 12 inches forward on the moving rail is a way to give yourself better stability--and it will also help you in getting information about when the escalator is approaching the top or bottom so you will be prepared to step off. This method also provides more stability than using the arm of a sighted person when riding an escalator.

Contributor: David Murrell

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

NFB Newsline

Do you know about NFB-NEWSLINE, the free service that gives print-disabled individuals anytime, anywhere access to over three hundred publications and wire feeds, as well as TV listings?

With NFB-NEWSLINE, subscribers can easily and independently access the vital information contained in newspapers and magazines, and become aware of news and events from around the world and in their own hometowns.

Subscribers can read their favorite publications in a variety of ways, allowing for their preferences and technological ability. Subscribers can access NFB-NEWSLINE on the phone, by e-mail delivery, via the Web, or by download to a digital talking-book player or MP3-playing device.

The national publications available include The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Economist, Time, Science News, Smithsonian, The New Republic, and Rolling Stone.

NFB-NEWSLINE is available to any individual who, due to visual or physical disability, cannot read the printed word, and eligibility is not dependent on, or restricted to, affiliation with any particular consumer or support organization. Anyone who is signed up for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is already qualified for NFB-NEWSLINE®.

To learn more about, or to sign up for, NFB-NEWSLINE, please visit, call toll free (866) 504-7300, or email

Raymond Kurzweil: Life, Inventions, and Business Career

Early life

Ray Kurzweil grew up in the New York City borough of Queens. He was born to secular Jewish parents who had escaped Austria just before the onset of World War II, and he was exposed via Unitarian Universalism to a diversity of religious faiths during his upbringing. His father was a musician and composer and his mother was a visual artist. His uncle, an engineer at Bell Labs, taught young Ray the basics of computer science. In his youth, he was an avid reader of science fiction literature. In 1963, at age fifteen, he wrote his first computer program. Designed to process statistical data, the program was used by researchers at IBM. Later in high school he created a sophisticated pattern-recognition software program that analyzed the works of classical composers, and then synthesized its own songs in similar styles. The capabilities of this invention were so impressive that, in 1965, he was invited to appear on the CBS television program I’ve Got a Secret, where he performed a piano piece that was composed by a computer he also had built. Later that year, he won first prize in the International Science Fair for the invention, and he was also recognized by the Westinghouse Talent Search and was personally congratulated by President Lyndon B. Johnson during a White House ceremony.


In 1968, during his sophomore year at MIT, Kurzweil started a company that used a computer program to match high school students with colleges. The program, called the Select College Consulting Program, was designed by him and compared thousands of different criteria about each college with questionnaire answers submitted by each student applicant. When he was 20, he sold the company to Harcourt, Brace & World for $100,000 (roughly $500,000 in 2006 dollars) plus royalties. He earned a BS in Computer Science and Literature in 1970 from MIT.

In 1974, Kurzweil started the company Kurzweil Computer Products, Inc. and led development of the first omni-font optical character recognition system computer program capable of recognizing text written in any normal font. Before that time, scanners had only been able to read text written in a few fonts. He decided that the best application of this technology would be to create a reading machine, which would allow blind people to understand written text by having a computer read it to them aloud. However, this device required the invention of two enabling technologies, CCD flatbed scanner and the text-to-speech synthesizer. Under his direction, development of these technologies was completed, and on January 13, 1976, the finished product was unveiled during a news conference headed by him and the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind. Called the Kurzweil Reading Machine, the device covered an entire tabletop. It gained him mainstream recognition: on the day of the machine’s unveiling, Walter Cronkite used the machine to give his signature soundoff, “And that’s the way it is, January 13, 1976.” While listening to The Today Show, musician Stevie Wonder heard a demonstration of the device and purchased the first production version of the Kurzweil Reading Machine, beginning a lifelong friendship between himself and Kurzweil.

According to former Kurzweil Computer Products employees, the Kurzweil Reading Machine’s designer was engineer Richard Brown, a KCP employee at the time.

Kurzweil’s next major business venture began in 1978, when Kurzweil Computer Products began selling a commercial version of the optical character recognition computer program. LexisNexis was one of the first customers, and bought the program to upload paper legal and news documents onto its nascent online databases.

Two years later, Kurzweil sold his company to Xerox, which had an interest in further commercializing paper-to-computer text conversion. Kurzweil Computer Products became a subsidiary of Xerox formerly known as Scansoft and now as Nuance Communications, and he functioned as a consultant for the former until 1995.

Kurzweil’s next business venture was in the realm of electronic music technology. After a 1982 meeting with Stevie Wonder, in which the latter lamented the divide in capabilities and qualities between electronic synthesizers and traditional musical instruments, Kurzweil was inspired to create a new generation of music synthesizers capable of accurately duplicating the sounds of real instruments. Kurzweil Music Systems was founded in the same year, and in 1984, the Kurzweil K250 was unveiled. The machine was capable of imitating a number of instruments, and in tests musicians were unable to discern the difference between the Kurzweil K250 on piano mode from a normal grand piano. The recording and mixing abilities of the machine, coupled with its abilities to imitate different instruments made it possible for a single user to compose and play an entire orchestral piece.

Kurzweil Music Systems was sold to Korean musical instrument manufacturer Young Chang in 1990. As with Xerox, Kurzweil remained as a consultant for several years.

Later life

Concurrent with Kurzweil Music Systems, Ray Kurzweil created the company Kurzweil Applied Intelligence (KAI) to develop computer speech recognition systems for commercial use. The first product, which debuted in 1987, was the world’s first large-vocabulary speech recognition program, allowing human users to dictate to their computers via microphone and then have the device transcribe their speech into written text. Later, the company combined the speech recognition technology with medical expert systems to create the Kurzweil VoiceMed (today called Clinical Reporter) line of products, which allow doctors to write medical reports by speaking instead of writing. KAI exists today as Nuance Communications.

Kurzweil started Kurzweil Educational Systems in 1996 to develop new pattern-recognition-based computer technologies to help people with disabilities such as blindness, dyslexia and ADD in school. Products include the Kurzweil 1000 text-to-speech converter software program, which enables a computer to read electronic and scanned text aloud to blind or visually-impaired users, and the Kurzweil 3000 program, which is a multifaceted electronic learning system that helps with reading, writing, and study skills.

During the 1990s Ray Kurzweil founded the Medical Learning Company. The company’s products included an interactive computer education program for doctors and a computer-simulated patient. Around the same time, Kurzweil started website featuring computer programs to assist the creative art process. The site used to offer free downloads of a program called AARON visual art synthesizer developed by Harold Cohennd of “Kurzweil’s Cybernetic Poet”, which automatically creates poetry. During this period he also started, a website devoted towards showcasing news of scientific developments, publicizing the ideas of high-tech thinkers and critics alike, and promoting futurist-related discussion among the general population through the Mind-X forum.

In 1999, Kurzweil created a hedge fund called “FatKat” (Financial Accelerating Transactions from Kurzweil Adaptive Technologies), which began trading in 2006. He has stated that the ultimate aim is to improve the performance of FatKat’s A.I. investment software program, enhancing its ability to recognize patterns in “currency fluctuations and stock-ownership trends.” He predicted in his 1999 book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, that computers will one day prove superior to the best human financial minds at making profitable investment decisions. In 2001, Canadian rock band Our Lady Peace released an album, titled Spiritual Machines, based on Kurzweil’s book. Kurzweil’s voice was featured in the album, reading excerpts from his book.

In June 2005, Ray Kurzweil introduced the “Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader” (K-NFB Reader) pocket-sized device consisting of a digital camera and computer unit. Like the Kurzweil Reading Machine of almost 30 years before, the K-NFB Reader is designed to aid blind people by reading written text aloud. The newer machine is portable and scans text through digital camera images, while the older machine is large and scans text through flatbed scanning.

Ray Kurzweil is currently making a movie due for release in 2010 called The Singularity is Near: A True Story About the Future based, in part, on his 2005 book The Singularity Is Near. Part fiction, part non-fiction, he interviews 20 big thinkers like Marvin Minsky, plus there is a B-line narrative story that illustrates some of the ideas, where a computer avatar (Ramona) saves the world from self-replicating microscopic robots.

In addition to Kurzweil’s movie, an independent, feature-length documentary was made about Kurzweil, his life, and his ideas called Transcendent Man. Filmmakers Barry and Felicia Ptolemy followed Kurzweil, documenting his global speaking tour. Premiered in 2009 at the Tribeca Film Festival, Transcendent Man documents Ray’s quest to reveal mankind’s ultimate destiny and explores many of the ideas found in his New York Times bestselling book, The Singularity is Near, including his concept of exponential growth, radical life expansion, and how we will transcend our biology. The Ptolemys documented Ray’s stated goal of bringing back his late father using AI. The film also features critics who argue against Kurzweil’s predictions.

Kurzweil said during a 2006 C-SPAN2 interview that he was working on a new book that focused on the inner workings of the human brain and how this could be applied to building AI.

While being interviewed for a February 2009 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, Kurzweil expressed a desire to construct a genetic copy of his late father, Fredric Kurzweil, from DNA within his grave site. This feat would be achieved by deploying various nanorobots to send samples of DNA back from the grave, constructing a clone of Fredric and retrieving memories and recollectionsrom Ray’s mindf his father.


Kurzweil’s first book, The Age of Intelligent Machines, was published in 1990. The nonfiction work discusses the history of computer AI and also makes forecasts regarding likely future developments. Other experts in the field of AI contribute heavily to the work in the form of essays. The Association of American Publishers’ awarded it the status of Most Outstanding Computer Science Book of 1990.

Next, Kurzweil published a book on nutrition in 1993 called The 10% Solution for a Healthy Life. The book’s main idea is that high levels of fat intake are the cause of many health disorders common in the U.S., and thus that cutting fat consumption down to 10% of the total calories consumed would be optimal for most people.

In 1998, Ray Kurzweil published The Age of Spiritual Machines, which focuses heavily on further elucidating his theories regarding the future of technology, which themselves stem from his analysis of long-term trends in biological and technological evolution. Much focus goes into examining the likely course of AI development, along with the future of computer architecture.

Kurzweil’s next book published in 2004, returned to the subject of human health and nutrition. Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever was co-authored by Kurzweil and Terry Grossman, a medical doctor and specialist in alternative medicine.

The Singularity Is Near was published in 2005. The book is currently being made into a movie starring Pauley Perrette (NCIS), and scheduled for 2010 release.

In February 2007, Ptolemaic Productions acquired the rights to The Singularity is Near, The Age of Spiritual Machines and Fantastic Voyage including the rights to Kurzweil’s life and ideas for the film Transcendent Man. The feature length documentary was directed by Barry Ptolemy.

Kurzweil’s newest book, Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever, a follow-up on Fantastic Voyage, was released on April 28, 2009.

The book he’s currently working on is called “How The Mind Works and How To Build One”.

Recognition and awards

Kurzweil has been called the successor and “rightful heir to Thomas Edison”, and was also referred to by Forbes as “the ultimate thinking machine.”

Kurzweil has received these awards, among others:

First place in the 1965 International Science Fair for inventing the classical music synthesizing computer.

The 1978 Grace Murray Hopper Award from the Association for Computing Machinery. The award is given annually to one “outstanding young computer professional” and is accompanied by a $35,000 prize. Ray Kurzweil won it for his invention of the Kurzweil Reading Machine.

The 1990 “Engineer of the Year” award from Design News.

The 1994 Dickson Prize in Science. One is awarded every year by Carnegie Mellon University to individuals who have “notably advanced the field of science.” Both a medal and a $50,000 prize are presented to winners.

The 1998 “Inventor of the Year” award from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The 1999 National Medal of Technology. This is the highest award the President of the United States can bestow upon individuals and groups for pioneering new technologies, and the President dispenses the award at his discretion. Bill Clinton presented Ray Kurzweil with the National Medal of Technology during a White House ceremony in recognition of Kurzweil’s development of computer-based technologies to help the disabled.

The 2000 Telluride Tech Festival Award of Technology. Two other individuals also received the same honor that year. The award is presented yearly to people who “exemplify the life, times and standard of contribution of Tesla, Westinghouse and Nunn.”

The 2001 Lemelson-MIT Prize for a lifetime of developing technologies to help the disabled and to enrich the arts. Only one is meted out each year to highly successful, mid-career inventors. A $500,000 award accompanies the prize.

Kurzweil was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2002 for inventing the Kurzweil Reading Machine. The organization “honors the women and men responsible for the great technological advances that make human, social and economic progress possible.” Fifteen other people were inducted into the Hall of Fame the same year.

The Arthur C. Clarke Lifetime Achievement Award on April 20, 2009 for lifetime achievement as an inventor and futurist in computer-based technologies.

In 2008, the Arizona-Based experimental band “The Singularity Is Near” was formed, later changing their name to “Ray Kurzweil’s Face” in 2009. They are now respected as one of the most influential musical groups in Arizona over the past several years, raising awareness about Ray’s world-changing ideas and inventions, more specifically how humans will relate to technology and the universe in the coming 4060 years.

Kurzweil has received sixteen honorary degrees from as many institutions:

Type of degree


Year awarded

Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters

Hofstra University


Honorary Doctorate of Music

Berklee College of Music


Honorary Doctorate of Science

Northeastern University


Honorary Doctorate of Science

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute


Honorary Doctorate of Engineering

Merrimack College


Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters

Misericordia University


Honorary Doctorate of Science

New Jersey Institute of Technology


Honorary Doctorate of Science

Queens College, City University of New York


Honorary Doctorate of Science

Dominican College


Honorary Doctorate in Science and Humanities

Michigan State University


Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters

Landmark College


Honorary Doctorate of Science

Worcester Polytechnic Institute


Honorary Doctorate of Science

DePaul University


Honorary Doctorate of Science

Bloomfield College


Honorary Doctorate of Science

McGill University


Honorary Doctorate of Science

Clarkson University


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Monday, August 09, 2010

Vision Had and Vision Lost

by Donna J. Jodhan

Vision had and vision lost is the term that I use to describe so many people who were either born fully sighted and have lost it afterwards, or those who were born with some vision but have lost it later on. No matter how you look at it, this type of person has had to suffer so many setbacks. Some people have managed to overcome this great loss and move on but for others they struggle with the loss for their entire lives.

For me, I was born with precious little, gained a tremendous amount when I was a teen, and then lost almost all of it a little over five years ago.

Many doctors have called my situation unique because there are not too many people who have been able to gain after being born with very little. So in so many ways, I know what it is like to have and lose. For me, it has been one of the bitterest pills to swallow but whenever I think of those who were born with it and have lost it later, it must be even more difficult for them. For the teen, for the adult, and for the senior; there are different set of challenges for each group to face.

I have met teens who became blind and they have had to struggle with so many things. One minute they are on top of the world as carefree teens and the next their world has been shattered to bits and they suddenly find themselves having to cope with darkness so to speak and having to learn new and challenging things. In addition, many of them find themselves without sighted friends and have to learn to cope in a new social circle.

I have met adults who have lost their vision and for them, it is an uphill struggle to cope. Some have lost their spouses after becoming blind. Others have lost their jobs because their employers did not want to keep them on. Still others have lost their ability to enjoy their favorite pastimes and have had to readjust.

For seniors, the challenges are still different. Having to cope with loss of vision as a senior is in my opinion one of the most difficult things to endure but having to deal with loss of vision after having had it for any length of time is just so sad.

We can only hope and pray that society starts to become more aware and accepting of those who have lost their vision and that governments and companies start making more committed efforts to make life easier for those who have had and have lost. As for me, I cope by remembering. By meditating on beautiful colors, bright beautiful colors and pictures of Mother Nature's wonders. Silver raindrops, big fat white snowflakes, yellow sunshine, red roses, pink mists, blue skies, jade green sea, and golden sand. You got it! Colors, colors!

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:
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