Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

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

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Friday, May 20, 2011

What Does an Executive-in-Residence Do?

Kay Ferrell

What Does an Executive-in-Residence actually DO, anyway? The answer is EVERYTHING . . . and NOTHING. By everything, I mean that the APH leadership includes you in every meeting and every event possible. By nothing, I mean that what the Executive-in-Residence does pales in comparison to what individual staff members do on a daily basis. I am humbled by the experience and grateful for the opportunity to know more about how one of the premier institutions in our field works.

My APH residency occurred as part of my sabbatical from the University of Northern Colorado. I had several goals for my sabbatical, but the primary one was to develop a tactile adaptation of the Boehm Test of Basic Concepts (Boehm—3). I worked with Barbara Henderson on this effort, as well as with the author, Ann Boehm, Professor Emeritus at Teachers College, Columbia University. But the number of other people who were involved in what I thought was a tiny little project was simply amazing – Dr. Ralph Bartley facilitated the whole process; Frank Hayden, Tom Poppe, Katherine Corcoran, and Andrew Dakin designed and produced the prototype; and we consulted with Terry Gilmore, Elaine Kitchel, Loana Mason, Fred Otto, Karen Poppe, Terrie Terlau, and Suzette Wright, all of whom helped in large and small ways. How can you beat having that much expertise at your fingertips? I learned so much about test development from Ms. Henderson—how much more difficult this project would have been without her! By the time I left APH, after 11-1/2 weeks, the tactile prototype was just about ready, the large print version was in process, and we were lining up field test sites.

Another sabbatical goal was to create a blog on how a print textbook becomes a braille textbook. Jane Thompson and the Accessible Textbook Department were generous with their time and took me through the steps, allowed me to view the files to get an idea of the timeline, and posed (sometimes under duress) for photographs. This blog will be used in my courses at UNC to teach my students about the process. I also used the blog to document the progress of the Boehm—3 tactile prototype and to keep track of some memorable quotes made by some memorable people.

There were other goals that ran out of time: I had hoped to work with Gary Mudd on public affairs and with Burt Boyer on the Babies Count project. I was able to provide feedback on multiple other projects at various stages of development during my time as Executive-in-Residence. I was struck by a couple of observations: (a) APH takes its role as innovator seriously and is working, directly and indirectly, on some really exciting products; (b) APH relishes (not just encourages) ideas and comments from the field; and (c) APH truly practices quality control and continuous improvement (many of us talk about it, but how many of us actually do it?). The next time I think it takes too long for a book or product to reach the shelves, I will remember all of the alphabet meetings, the persistence and dedication of staff, the attention to detail, and the iteration of proofreading, design, and specifications that accompany each project.

I think sometimes we outsiders take APH for granted, because we are so often on the outside looking in. I had the opportunity to observe APH up close, in action, and to interact with staff on various projects. Dr. Bartley spoke often about how the staff’s opportunity to interact with ME was so important; I think it was the other way around. I hope I gave as much as I received, but I don’t know . . . . I think I am richer for the experience.

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