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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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Why I love the Draftsmen Kit from APH

by Kristie Smith-Armand, M.Ed, CTVI

“Vision is the art of seeing things invisible”- Jonathan Swift

The other day I read about a contest that the American Printing House for the Blind is offering. Participants will demonstrate in a video their favorite products from APH; I have my strategy and actors all lined up. After all, I love APH products and can see a huge benefit from using their materials with my students who are blind or visually impaired. One of my favorite items to use from APH is the amazing Draftsman Kit because of its ability to be flexible and the many uses that it provides.

At first glance, the Draftsman Kit looks ordinary. You open the box and see a green square shape with a plastic pen and soft interior. Beside the box where the Draftsman Kit lies is a package of plastic sheets. “Hmmm”, you think at first glance as do the general educators when you hand this tool over to them. “Now what on earth do I do with this device?” “I do not have time to use this with a classroom full of students with varying needs,” etc. etc., etc. Awww, however, as the saying goes, “Dynomite comes in small packages” and this product is explosive once you see its value, and once you do see that, you cannot live without the Draftsmen’s Kit.

The teachers also begin to smile once I take out the kit, hand them a kit for their own use, and we brainstorm on the different ways to use the Draftsman. One math teacher began to grin after we placed the plastic between the clamps and began to make images using the plastic green pen. “Oh, my gosh!” she screamed. “Look I can cover this equation by doing this,” she smiled beautifully. Since I am not a math scholar in the least, I nodded in agreement quickly and changed the subject before I was asked to work out a math problem.

Another great example of how useful this tool works was the other day when I was giving the TAKS test to my student and the graphics were extremely detailed. “I do not understand the graph,” he told me, so I picked up the Draftsman and began rapidly illustrating and describing the details that he would need to answer the question. “Oh, I get it now,” he smiled. My heart melted as he worked through each and every problem while asking for many other drawings from the kit.

Since the Draftsman Kit has many incredible uses, I brainstormed below some ideas and activities on how this simple and unassuming kit makes a huge difference in the lives of our children who are blind or have a visual impairment.

Ideas for the Draftsman Kit During a School Day

Math Ideas
  • Teachers can illustrate graphs, shapes, equations with limited details, so that the child understands the meaning behind the words being said.
  • Money Skills- the other day, my student with other disabilities as well as low vision was having trouble counting nickels to pennies. After we felt and identified each coin and the amount it represents, I drew large, medium and small circles on the Draftsman Kit and began explaining the counting system. For some reason the method of only using coins did not work but adding one more assistive tool made the difference in his understanding.
  • For younger students, use the kit to teach one-dimensional shapes after the student understands how shapes represent real objects –(three-dimensional) and begins to make the association from a one-dimensional object to a two dimensional concept and finally to a three dimensional object.
  • You have to be creative to use the kit for this skill but it can be an awesome tool for teaching colors. The student and I learn about colors from using scents, tastes and experiences, so I illustrate (not well I might add) objects that are those colors. For example, yellow represents: bananas, lemons, and a happy experience, so I illustrate different objects that are that color. To make it even more ‘real’ I add the smells to the objects by simply rubbing the food on the plastic sheets.
Reading Ideas
  • Before reading a story, build the background using the Draftsmen Kit. Illustrate characters, setting and plot with diagrams, illustrations, etc.
  • Compare characters using a Venn diagram.
  • Vocabulary illustrations- students will enjoy your pictures while learning the vocabulary words and meaning behind the words with a stress-free material.
  • Illustrate the mood of each characters using drawings of smiley or frowny faces. Also, educators or children may draw the mood or the tone of the story.
  • What a great tool to use when teaching Braille dot formations or printed letters.
  • When teaching letter sounds and the association between letter sounds and printed letters, draw or have the child to make pictures of objects that represent letter sounds.
Science Ideas
  • Illustrate cause/effect ideas through drawing beakers, chemicals, periodic tables, and many other skills that teach chemistry etc.
  • Draw out the scientific procedure on the plastic sheet. Students will feel the way the sighted children are writing down the procedure.
  • Explain energy forms through simple detail drawings.
Writing Ideas
  • Children who are blind or who have low vision will benefit from feeling of the printed letters exactly how they are written and seen by sighted children because in life they will be asked to sign their signature many times.
  • Ask the child to practice printed letter writing on the plastic sheets.
  • Have the student to draw their story like the characters, setting and plot before they Braille their ideas.

I could go on and on about the many ways that this simple and unassuming powerful and unbeatable piece of equipment is beneficial, however, I know that many of you are already using the Draftsman and have come up with many of your own ideas. The Draftsman Kit can be used for many concrete as well as creative skills. In all, the Draftsman Kit’s value brings a beautiful quote to mind by St. Augustine, “The words printed here are concepts. You must go through the experiences.”

Click this link to purchase the DRAFTSMAN Tactile Drawing Board.

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:
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