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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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The History of Halloween

Welcome to the History of Halloween. Every year, tons of kids around the USA dress up in costumes and go trick or treating, but what's the real history behind this holiday?

Well, if you're interested, you've come to the right place. You'll find navigation on the side menu. The sections are Holiday Origins, Creepy Videos Clips, The Great Pumpkin, Ghost Stories, Around the World, Historic Haunts, Halloween Treats, Jack-O-Lantern Cut Outs, Fast Facts and Boo-ography.

Holiday Origins: Here you can learn all about the origins of Halloween, from ancient times to modern day. Also, read about the evolution of Halloween as a holiday.

Creepy Video Clips: Check out these video clips about ghost stories and folklore. Choose a video from the left hand menu and it will play in the center video pane. Learn about the ghost Lavender and Barnsley Gardens if you dare! You can even find out about some of the ghosts haunting the Wild, Wild West.

The Great Pumpkin: Here you can learn all about pumpkins and how the Jack-O-Lantern came to be!
Ghost Stories: Here you will find three ghost stories that may be based in fact, but are most certainly interesting to read.

Around the World: Here you can see how Halloween is celebrated around the world and learn about the two related holidays: Guy Fawkes Day and El Dia de Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead).

Historic Haunts: This section centers on the haunting of presidents and of the White House itself.

Halloween Treats: Here you can find some recipes for Halloween treats. There are cupcakes, cookies and even icing.

Jack-O-Lantern Cut Outs: Here you can find two Jack-O-Lantern Templates that you can use on your pumpkins for easier carving. If you click them, they enlarge and you can print them out too.

Fast Facts: Here you can find a lot of fast facts about Halloween. They're just like little blurbs really, but there were some interesting ones, like how many pounds of pumpkins were produced per state.

Boo-ography: And last, but not least, this is really its own site. It will pop open in a new window. Here you can find spooky biographies, celebrities who were born or died on Halloween, Halloween origins and even another section called Halloween Around the World. This was by far my favorite part of this visit!

Are you ready to get your spook on?! Click this link to learn the History of Halloween.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Battling with Batteries

By Donna J. Jodhan

I often get asked how I deal with batteries and here is my response.

There are a few things for me to deal with when interacting with batteries:
-First, I need to know the size of the batteries needed.
-Second, I need to know how many batteries are needed.
-Third and most important of all, I need to know which way to insert my batteries. 

Through experience, I can normally tell which size of battery is needed for whatever I am working with.  Most times it is either AA (double a) or AAA (triple A) size batteries or in some cases it is the good old C battery or the larger one.  However, I am sometimes fooled between determining whether or not it is a triple a battery or one of those little round batteries.

The number of batteries needed usually depends on the number of slots within the battery compartment.  However, in the case of those little round batteries, it is sometimes difficult to tell how many are needed.

The most difficult part in dealing with batteries is to determine how to insert them but once you get the hang of the technique it is not too difficult.  I insert the back of the battery, the end that does not have the raised bump, against the spring that is jutting out in each of the slots inside of the battery compartment.  In most cases, there is usually more than one slot and the batteries usually need to be inserted in opposite directions.  Example; if you have three slots, then the first slot would have the spring on one side and the second slot would have the spring on the opposite side and so on.  For little round batteries, it is a bit different knowing how many are needed.

How do I know that batteries have been inserted correctly?  Simple!  If I have done it the right way then things work when I flip the switch and if I haven't, then it does not.  Now that I am unable to see clearly, I can't really tell readily when a light is on so I put my hand close to the screen or light bulb to see if it is warm.  Truth be told however, batteries only work if you have inserted them correctly and if the device works after you have changed batteries.  My most difficult task I think is when I deal with clocks.  I sometimes need sighted assistance to tell me if the hands are moving and if I am unable to remove the face of the clock to feel the hands.  This trick however does not work for digital clocks and other digital devices.

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your freelance writer and reporter wishing you a terrific day.
If you'd like to learn more about me, then you can visit some of my blog spots at:

(Donna Jodhan! Advocating accessibility for all) 

(Weekly Saturday postings on issues of accessibility)

(Weekly features on how to increase your success with your business ventures)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

JAWS 14 vs. NVDA

Robert Kingett, a guest blogger, discusses the new features of the JAWS 14 screen reader, as well as how it compares to NVDA. He also lists several NVDA bug fixes.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Tools of New York Point

This wood and nickel-plated brass desk slate was set up to write in the New York Point system.

Our APH museum has a lot of braille-writing tools. We have the first successful mechanical braille writer, invented in Illinois in 1892. We have handwriting guides and slates in many shapes and sizes. We even have tools for writing in other systems that competed with the Braille system in the 19th century. So when Lisa Parker of Wellston, OH went online in search of information about her great grandmother's strange old clipboard and that stack of dotted cards, it did not take her long to stumble across our website.

Her great grandmother, Maude Gilliland Burton, had had an interesting life. Blinded at birth by a doctor's mistake, she had attended the Ohio School for the Blind in Columbus from 1900-1907 but returned home to graduate. She married a local farmer, Walter Burton, raised a son on the family farm they bought from her parents, and from all accounts lived and worked a normal life. Her family remembered her abilities to cook and work around the farm as "almost magical." But her time in Columbus was a virtual unknown to the family. And how the metal frame with its odd little windows fit into that story was another mystery.

Parker had done her homework. She thought the dots on the stack of cards looked different from the braille we use today. We were able to confirm that the cards were written in New York Point, a dot system introduceded at the New York Institute for the Blind in 1868. Most schools for the blind in the U.S. used New York Point, and it was taught in Ohio until replaced by braille after 1910. Maude Burton's wooden and nickel-plated brass desk slate was set up to write in the New York system.
The Parker Family decided to donate the slate to the Printing House Museum in memory of Maude Gilliland Burton. One of the embossed cards contained a cryptic cookie recipe that you can find here

"Cookies Smedley"

Transcribed from a manuscript written in New York Point by Maude Gilliland Burton, ca. 1905. New York Point was a dot reading and writing system that competed with braille in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
1 qt. flour
2 c. sugar
1 lb. lard
1 ts. bp {baking powder}
2 ts. soda
2 c. buttermilk
Mix as any other cookies

How Close is Disability?

 By Donna Jodhan

Before embarking on my thoughts for today, I wish to state the following.  These are the perceptions that I believe that are held by many people and not necessarily my opinions.  If anyone finds this editorial to be offensive in any way, then I apologize.  However, I believe that these are my perceptions that have come about after having interacted with many who have not had an opportunity to fully understand the world of disability or to have had the chance to become aware of and familiar with issues pertaining to disability and with people who have a disability.

More often than not, we seem to ignore the frightening reality that like it or not, disability is only a fraction of a blink away.  Many of the mainstream world may choose to believe that they can avoid disability.  That if they ignore it, it will just simply go away and that if they don’t think about it, it would probably never affect them.  Right?  Wrong!

Believe it or not, disability can affect anyone.  Disability does not discriminate and it can make anyone its victim whenever it wants and wherever it chooses.  From the youngest to the oldest.  From the tiniest of babies to the oldest of people. 

An innocent child could be born with a disability; a crippling disease, a mental disability, or with loss of vision.  A healthy child or teen could unexpectedly develop a disability, lose their vision, or be crippled in an accident and the same could be said for any older person.  It lurks around the next corner. 

So what is my message for today?  It is always wise to remember how close disability is.  It lurks in the shadows.  It often turns up unexpectedly.  It often comes into our lives uninvited.  It comes in several forms; blindness, mental illness, loss of hearing, physical disability, and more. 

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your freelance writer and reporter wishing you a terrific day.
If you'd like to learn more about me, then you can visit some of my blog spots at:

(Donna Jodhan! Advocating accessibility for all) 

(Weekly Saturday postings on issues of accessibility)

(Weekly features on how to increase your success with your business ventures)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Forging New Learning Pathways Using Bookshare

Roger Price, a Texas teacher in Keller ISD, Fort Worth, recalls many years of observing his students who are blind and visually impaired struggle to keep up with their reading assignments. In the past, these students were routinely burdened with heavy volumes of printed textbooks. Images and photos were low quality, text was black and white, and students would straddle their desks to read the large print – requiring extra space to accommodate their learning needs; indications of being labeled ‘different’. Mr. Price says, “Advancements in reading technologies and the availability of accessible educational materials in digital and audio formats have given my students more freedom to forge new learning experiences.”

“The Keller ISD school district has made technology and digital accessible books a priority for students with qualifying print disabilities,” said Jill Ross, Special Education Coordinator for the district. “Today, many of our students are comfortable using MacBooks, iPads, PC laptops and desktop computers to download and read digital text. Some use smart phones and devices such as the Braille Note Apex, PlexTalk audio and Bookport Plus.” Mr. Price wants his students to read in braille first and then use digital text so they can hear information read aloud through text-to-speech. “This reinforces tactile learning and also enables students to improve their reading comprehension, spelling and grammar,” he said.

Mr. Price shares the following stories about his students using digital books from Bookshare and reading technologies. Bookshare is an online accessible book library, free for U.S. students with print disabilities who qualify through federal awards from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

“J” came to Keller ISD five years ago. He spoke no English and was on the verge of retinal detachment failure. Eventually “J” would lose his sight. Through the efforts of Mr. Price and teachers at the Texas School for the Blind, “J” became an avid reader of digital books. He learned how to use many electronic devices and is now very tech savvy. “J” is at the top of his class in academics, speaks English and is learning French. In general education classes, he signs on to the Bookshare website and downloads literature in English and Spanish to his iPad, MacBook or computer. “J” is an inspiration to all of us!” said Price.

“S,” a 10th grader, has severe cerebral palsy and low vision. His motorized wheelchair gets him to and from his classes. “He only types with one finger, but can quickly whip out his MacBook and navigate through digital text,” said Price. “Accessible formats enable him to more easily change font size, set color contrasts, and modulate speech. They are an equalizer for him!”

This year, Mr. Price and Ms. Ross watched “E,” an 8th grader with Stargardts Disease or juvenile macular degeneration, a condition that causes extremely low vision, receive six distinguished learning awards in school. She took all advanced placement classes and reads a lot of digital books on her Plextalk, iPad and Kindle Fire. “Without Bookshare and the portable technology devices, this student would not have kept pace with her peers in school,” said Price. “It’s such a contrast now from the days of learning with closed circuit TVs. My students are tech-savvy. They use the latest technologies and digital books and are the students who carry flash drives, download MP3 formats, use braille and text-to-speech. These advancements help them fit into a social norm and for the first time, the stigma of being labeled ‘different’ is finally fading.”

Resource Links: Get Started With Bookshare:

• Qualifications -
• Memberships -
• Reading Technologies -

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Long and Winding Road: APH’s Annual Meeting in Kentucky

By Kristie Smith
         I have been a frequent blogger for Fred’s Head for about two years. Imagine how thrilled I was when one night I began to play with the new item, “TACTILE TOWN”. I was home alone, feeling lonely, when the lights went out from a storm, as did the television set.  I looked over and saw Tactile Town sitting in my living room.  

         The nerd in me jumped up and began building a community.  The ideas began to unfold for me as I was playing (working) for my student.  I grabbed The Game Kit from outside and Recipe cards as well as a large print ruler, a Talking Calculator and may other items in my garage.  

         I began writing activities for a community – a bank, a bakery ( I was hungry for cupcakes) a pond and railroad tracks with houses.  The brailled labels helped my imagination.  

         The following morning I thanked APH for this teaching tool that is unbeatable.  Next thing I knew, I was on my way to the conference and was in for an incredibly educational and fun trip.  (I did run to the Princess Diana exhibit at the Frazier Museum and had to run to meet with one of the awesome project leaders. “See my new Princess Diana earrings?" I told everyone on the shuttle on my way to see the "palace," APH.  The women were impressed and asked all about Princess Diana’s dress. It was awesome.  

         I met the geniuses and creators during my visit, and these are simply amazing and caring people who want the best for our children and adults who have a visual impairment. 

         Karen Poppe presented Tactile Town and I was her co-presenter.  Karen is one classy lady, beautiful inside and out, and I kept wondering how lucky I was to be there and learn about all the materials and the creation from Karen’s husband, Tom.  What another great genius I met.  He demonstrated the makings of the new globe with tactual formatting.  It was incredible to watch and listen to the intelligent people while I am playing with activities across the Tactile board laughing as I make my movable people cross town and go fish in the pond along with many other activities.  

         The conference was one of the most fun and exciting conference I was able to attend.  

         I can’t wait to go next year, if they have lifted the stalking bond off of me.  (Just Kidding!)  It was a great time and a wonderful time to learn so much.  

         Karen opened up with the words from “The Long and Winding Road." After listening to the words, two words came into my mind, “Well said!’ 

The long and winding road that leads to your door
Will never disappear
I've seen that road before it always leads me here
Leads me to your door

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

IDEAL Currency Identifier from U.S. Department of Education


Timothy Muzzio, Education Department, (202) 245-7458
Darlene Anderson, Treasury, (202) 874-2229

The U.S. Department of Education announced the launch of the “IDEAL Currency Identifier,” a free downloadable application (app) to assist individuals who are blind or visually impaired to denominate U.S. currency on some mobile devices.
The IDEAL Currency Identifier was developed by IDEAL Group, IQ Engines, and the Wireless Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) at the Georgia Institute of Technology through a grant from the Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), a component of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. NIDRR is the primary U.S. government agency focused on disability and rehabilitation research. Its mission is to generate research knowledge and assistive technologies while promoting their effective use in improving the abilities and opportunities of individuals with disabilities in performing activities of their choice in the community. The initiative supports the Department of Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) in its mandate to provide increased access to U.S. currency for persons who are blind and visually impaired.
Dr. Charlie Lakin, the Director of NIDRR, issued the following statement: “Through our dialogue with the BEP, a special opportunity emerged to fulfill our mission in support of persons who are blind and visually impaired. The IDEAL Currency Identifier uses advanced image recognition technology to read a note and, in a matter of seconds, provides users with an audible response indicating the note’s denomination.”
Treasurer of the United States Rosie Rios applauded the Department of Education’s role in the app’s development. “Treasury is committed to providing meaningful access to U.S. currency and, by using technology, we can help hundreds of thousands of individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Our collaboration with the Department of Education allowed us to be resourceful and, in turn, more individuals will have the means to independently denominate the U.S. currency they use in daily commerce.”
The app, which interacts with Google’s “Eyes-Free” applications, can be downloaded for free on more than 1,250 different wireless devices. The IDEAL Currency Identifier was developed by Apps4Android, Inc., a subsidiary of IDEAL Group that develops mobile applications. Android-based devices are produced by 48 manufacturers and distributed by 60 wireless service providers in 136 countries.
This new app is one of several measures the government is developing to assist people with vision impairments to denominate currency. In April 2011, the BEP introduced EyeNote®, a similar currency reading mobile app. There have been more than 8,000 free downloads of the EyeNote® app since its introduction.
In May 2011, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner approved three measures to provide accessibility to U.S. currency for those who are blind or visually impaired. These measures include implementing a Currency Reader Program to distribute a currency reader device to blind and visually impaired U.S. citizens; continuing to add large high-contrast numerals and different background colors to redesigned currency the BEP may lawfully change; and adding a raised tactile feature to U.S. currency unique to each U.S. Federal Reserve note that BEP may lawfully change, which would provide users with a means of identifying each denomination via touch. For more information about the IDEAL Currency Identifier and other accessibility apps, please visit

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