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, November 21, 2012

The History of Thanksgiving

Who better to bring us the History of Thanksgiving than the History Channel? This is a really in depth site on the history behind the Thanksgiving holiday. You'll find the following sections:

  • First Thanksgiving: Here you can learn all about the food that was eaten on the first Thanksgiving, including some interesting surprises, like seal and swan. You can also learn about their eating habits and even their table manners. Be sure to check out the Pilgrims Menu (which only becomes visible when you've clicked into the First Thanksgiving section).

  • Mayflower Myths: Here you can read some commonly believed myths about the pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower and find out what really happened.

  • Pilgrim Interviews: Plimoth Plantation is a living history museum where you can interact with people portraying the pilgrims. Here you can listen to the interviews with Myles Standish and Ellinor Billington where they answer questions about the first feast. You can also read the text transcripts to the interviews.

  • Proclamation: This section has a Thanksgiving proclamation from 1782. It's pretty neat to see what was passed down to people on the holiday back then.

  • Video: History of Thanksgiving: Here you can watch several videos about the History of Thanksgiving. There's even a video quiz at the end.

  • Resources: Here you can follow links to the resources that all this bountiful information has come from and do a little more exploring on your own.

Click this link to learn the History of Thanksgiving from The History Channel:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Slide-A-Round Math Manipulatives

Picture of slide-a-round math manipulative

A special education teacher in Rome, Georgia was unsatisfied with tools for teaching math to elementary students. This teacher wanted something more tactile that would not be treated like a "toy" by his students. Additionally, the longest number line available only went up to 100.

According to the Slide-A-Round website, the creator writes, "Incorporating movable, interchangeable slides, I have created a number line system that can round whole numbers up to 10,000,000. It can round numbers to the nearest 10, 100, 1,000, 10,000, 100,000 and 1,000,000. During this process, I have consulted with math teachers and specialists, administrators, parents, and students from several different schools and school systems. I have also consulted with an occupational therapist, a hearing specialist, and vision-impaired specialist."

The Slide-A-Round website includes a description of the product as well as how-to videos, a product order form, and product pictures. Common core standards for elementary math are described. In addition, the makers have included several free, downloadable worksheets for the classroom, including one for rounding with 10's, 100's, 10,000's, working with fractions, and many more. 

This is a great product for students who are blind and visually impaired. It gives tactile representation to abstract concepts in mathematics. To learn more about the product or to purchase it, visit the Slide-A-Round website. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Learning from the Experts

By Kristie Smith

          As a vision consultant in Mesquite ISD, I am always excited to see the products that I bring to the teachers being used correctly.  For example, yesterday I went into one of my favorite classrooms and watched the teachers using the light box and Swirly Mats in a sensory station, items from the “Let’s See Kit” dangling on the colorful rope for interactive play, and the teacher was wearing solid black placing the brightly colored yellow objects one-at-a-time in front of her black clothing.  She knew that the color black will help to eliminate visual clutter for our children with visual weaknesses.

 Needless to say, the children in this classroom are thriving!  I taught the teacher, Jackie Clayton’s daughter, Ashley when she was in the third grade and have always been a fan of the family, but now, I am learning from the experts.

 When one of my students continued to try and mouth a toy instead of using it correctly, Jackie spoke sweetly to her, helped her to squeeze the toys and began rubbing her forearms.  

 “When you massage the forearm, you are encouraging touch and tactile awareness,” the teacher taught the teacher. 

I watched as my vision student with limited vision, began releasing the toy from her mouth and began to tactually explore the item. 

As I looked around the room, I was beaming with pride as I saw the All-in-One-Board in place, blocks from the math kit on a child’s tray (we suggested brightly colored pink tape while placing the block on top of a black piece of cloth), the Sensory Kit’s pink vibrating pillow and many other items used in very creative ways. 

I teased Jackie and told her that when I come in to consult with her about vision it is like teaching Billy Graham the Bible verse John 3:16.

We laughed and agreed that it takes a village to observe each child and watch for their strengths and potential. As vision teachers, we approach all specialists for assistance in teaching our children to walk, talk, eat, etc. because 85% of what we learn is visual. 

 John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”  Many times when I walk into an amazing classroom as the specialist, it is often times that I become the humble student and am able to share the building blocks of what I have learned from so many wonderful experts to pass along.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Blind Ambitions Magazine

There is a new magazine out called Blind Ambitions, published by Blind Ambitions Groups.  According to its website, "the mission of Blind Ambitions Groups is to educate the blind and visually impaired, and their families, about available resources, and to encourage each individual to move to the next step, whatever it may be." The monthly magazine comes in two forms: an E-Zine, which is completely accessible, and an audio CD. The upcoming December 2012 issue discusses holiday decorating tips and much more.

To subscribe, you must first register. The magazine is not free, but it is possible to receive a free copy of the magazine as a trial. For more information on how you can receive a free copy of this new magazine, you can send an email to the following email address at and then in the subject line write "How can I receive a free copy of the new magazine?"

Monday, November 12, 2012

U.S. Entries Invited in 2013 T&T Tactile Book Competition

Logo for 2013 Tactile Books Competition

Get your creative wheels turning! Create and send APH a tactile book that makes a winning and appropriate book for children with visual impairments, birth to 12 years!

Typhlo & Tactus (T&T) is an international organization that exists to improve the quality, quantity, and availability of books with tactile illustrations. As part of T&T’s efforts, the organization conducts a biennial tactile book competition. First held in 2000, the 2011 T&T competition included more than 350 tactile books from 16 countries, featuring a wide range of types of tactile illustration (many with collaged textures), appealing visual elements, print/braille text, and innovative designs and formats.
In 2013, APH will participate for the second time, agreeing to be the U.S. national contact organization—publicizing the competition, directing U.S. participants to competition guidelines, and accepting and judging U.S. entries.

A panel of U.S. judges will review each entry sent to APH and select the top 5 books. These will be sent to Helsinki for review by an international jury including individuals with visual impairments and professionals in the field. A single winning entry will be chosen, and 10 additional books will be recognized. Selected books may be featured at the T&T website, appear in posters, or in promotional materials used by T&T.

Start now! Completed books and a brief accompanying entry form must be received at APH by July 15, 2013.

Visit the APH website to obtain the necessary U.S. entry form, a summary of competition guidelines, APH contact information, and to download an informational flyer to post and share.

Visit the Typhlo & Tactus website to learn more about this international organization, see complete competition rules, and view results and photos of winning entries from the 2011 competition.

Friday, November 09, 2012

What Happens When Technological Environments Change?

By Donna J. Jodhan

Whenever change occurs, there is always something that is bound to go wrong for the first while but when this pertains to the environment for a blind person, it is even more challenging.  In the case of the workplace, this often leads to high levels of frustration for everyone involved.  Especially so for the blind employee. 

Think of it like this.  One morning, the blind employee comes into work and is told that their system is going to be upgraded and as a result, it would mean that their access technology and computer hardware will also have to be upgraded in order that they can work with the system wide upgrade. 

The blind employee knows only too well what is going to come next.  As soon as the system wide upgrade is completed, certain challenges will need to be overcome.  They are not looking forward to this occurrence because they know only too well that for the next few weeks at least, their production and frustration levels are going to rise appreciably. 

They seek to gently remind their superiors of this but the latter reassures them that all will be well and that their fears are probably not going to be realized.  However, the blind employee knows better and all that they can do is to wait for the shoe to drop so to speak.  It turns out that more often than not, the blind employee’s fears are realized.  Here is what happens.

  • The version of the software that the blind employee has been using up until the system wide upgrade no longer functions adequately to allow them to be productive.  
  • The new hardware that has been installed is unable to work properly with the existing access technology software.  
  • The blind employee is unable to navigate new screens in a meaningful way. 
  • Certain parts of the system are now inaccessible. 
  • The blind employee is unable to obtain adequate documentation in order to be able to learn the new features of the system wide upgrade.  
  • Sighted employees are also frustrated because they are unable to help their blind coworkers. 
  • The blind employee is told by access technology vendors that they will not be able to obtain upgrades for their access technology to be able to work with the system wide upgrades in their workplace.

Other challenges abound.

These are all variables for all involved to be aware of whenever technological environments are about to be changed.  If these variables are kept in mind, then much can be done to minimize the frustration levels on all sides.  Chances are that not all of the challenges would be able to be dealt with; the challenge of the unavailability of upgrades to enable access technology to work with new system wide upgrades is just one example. 

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, November 08, 2012

Announcing the Braille Plus 18!

Catalog Number: 1-07466-00

APH is proud to introduce the Braille Plus 18, developed in partnership with LevelStar, LLC. Like its popular predecessor, the original Braille+, the new Braille Plus is a mobile device that puts unprecedented computing power in the hands of students and adults who are braille users.

The Braille Plus 18 will quickly become the hub of your on-the-go digital life. Use this handheld device to read books, write class assignments, scan documents, search the web, keep track of appointments, find directions, record lectures, listen to podcasts, run Android apps, and so much more!


  • Built-in 18-cell Refreshable Braille Display: Improve retention, enjoy privacy, and increase literacy. 
  • 5MP Camera with Flash: Quickly and accurately convert menus, papers, and books into braille or speech. Note: Camera does not recognize handwriting.
  • GPS Navigation: Determine current location, discover nearby businesses, and get directions.-- Built-in Google Search: Efficiently start apps or find information.
  • Braille Navigation Stick: Maintain privacy and convenience.
  • More of the internet: Take full advantage of the internet with HTML5 and plugins.
  • Stereo Recording: Record lectures or music with built-in stereo microphones and recorder.--  
  •  Full-Size SD Card Slot and USB Port: Share media and documents.
  • 3G Wireless: Stay connected with 3G wireless capability (data plan required to access data over 3G). Note: Does not include SIM card. Requires a cell phone plan from AT&T or T-Mobile. Verizon-compatible starting in 2013.
  • Text Messages: Send and receive texts
  • Phone Calls: Make and receive calls.
  • High-Quality Speakerphone. 
  • Android Apps: Enjoy thousands of additional apps. Note: Not all programs written for Android are accessible.
  • TV Output: Share or collaborate with sighted peers, teachers, or parents with TV signal outputs. Note: TV not included. 

Additional Information:

  • Improved Feature! -- Natural Speech Output: Easily understand human-sounding speech.
  • Upgraded Features!-- Bluetooth 2.1: Listen to speech or music with a stereo Bluetooth headphone or a mono headset.-- Wi-Fi: Connect to Wi-fi hot spots with wireless 802.11n with custom antenna
Additional Features 
  • Speakers: Enjoy hi-fidelity stereo.
  • Cursor Routing Keys: Quickly move the cursor or click on a button; located above each braille cell.
  • Thousands of Books Available: Download books and periodicals from the National Library Service (NLS), Reading Ally (formerly RFB&D), and; read using the refreshable braille display or natural speech. Book player supports Word, txt, html, DAISY, Bookshare, and is compatible with NLS Digital Talking Books for qualified NLS patrons. Note: Book access requires membership with the respective organization.
  • Word Processor: Create, edit, and read documents in multiple formats and change them to braille.
  • Email: Full-featured email program compatible with POP3 and IMAP protocols.
  • Contracted Braille: Automatically read everything in contracted braille.
  • Calendar and Clock: Schedule appointments and alarms. 
  • Music and podcasts: Play music files on the device or streamed from the cloud with the music player. Audio player compatible with MP3, WAV, and Ogg; stream audio files from the internet. 
Specifications for Braille Plus 18:

  • Operating System: Android 2.3 (version subject to change)
  • Size: 6.5 x 4.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Weight: 15 ounces
  • Built-in stereo speakers and microphone 
  • 5MP camera with flash
  • Memory: 512 MB internal, 1 GB internal, 32 GB flash drive
  • Ports: 3.5 mm stereo headphone, headset, or video out jack; 3.5 mm stereo microphone line-in jack; full-size SD card slot; full-size built-in USB port; Micro USB; SIM card
  • Wireless: Bluetooth 2.1, Wi-Fi 802.11n
  • GPS antenna 
  • Battery: rechargeable lithium-ion (not user-replaceable)
  • USB AC Adapter-- USB Power/Data Cable
  • Audio/video cable (3.5mm to RCA)
  • External Bluetooth GPS device to augment internal receiver
  • Earbuds
  • Print Quick Start Guide, in print and in braille
  • One-year limited warranty
Braille Plus 18 and Wireless CommunicationsWi-Fi: The Braille Plus 18 is a Wi-Fi device that can access the internet through your Wi-Fi router without needing a cell phone/data plan.
Cellular: Braille Plus 18 is also a cellular device that you can choose to activate through AT&T or T-Mobile. At this time, the Braille Plus 18 can only be activated with these two carriers. A cell phone/data plan will allow you to access the internet in many more locations than Wi-Fi alone and lets you make phone calls. Please contact your local AT&T or T-Mobile dealer if you wish to activate your Braille Plus 18. APH does not directly offer cell plans.

ADDITIONAL SHIPPING CHARGE All shipments will incur actual UPS shipping rates based on the destination.

Click here to order!

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

APH News: November 2012

The November 2012 issue of APH News is out! Here you will find information about new products as well as all the goings on at APH, plus much more!

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

The World of Blind Builders

In A Splintered History of Wood: Belt Sanders, Blind Woodworkers, and Baseball Bats, Spike Carlsen devotes almost 400 pages to the subject of wood: where it comes from, its properties, how it's made, and what cultures have done with wood throughout history. You may think this sounds like a terribly mundane and mind-numbing topic...and you'd probably be right. Nevertheless, as the title suggests, there is something fascinating within the pages of this book—descriptions of blind woodworkers and their craft.

People who are blind should be able to pursue whichever career path they desire. I will admit that, at first, I was skeptical of the concept of blind woodworkers. (And not just because of my fear of power tools!) Creating objects (desks, tables, bookcases, etc.) out of wood is a dangerous job, no matter how much vision one has, but it seems especially hazardous for people who cannot see the tools they are using. I'm sure I'm not the only blind or sighted person to have this thought.

Carlsen's insightful, refreshingly non-condescending account of blind woodworkers totally changed my perspective.

Blind woodworkers face many of the same challenges as their sighted counterparts, such as "safety, accuracy, interpreting plans and instructions, patience, and customer satisfaction" (p. 57). When a woodworker lost his finger, it wasn't because he was blind, but because he did something without thinking through it.

One craftsman described his main challenges. He says that figuring out what the client wants the finished product to look like is difficult. He used to have sight, so he understands three-dimensional space, but someone who has always been blind would find that very challenging as well. Most blind people deal with misconceptions on a daily basis. Another woodworker recounts his many trips to the hardware store in which employees thought he was lost or inept.

As you can imagine, accurate measuring is a huge obstacle for blind woodworkers. One man Carlsen interviewed uses a ruler with braille markings. However, this is the only device he uses that was specifically made for someone who is blind. Everything else he and the other woodworkers use are tools sighted woodworkers use as well. One man utilizes aluminum measuring blocks that are precisely 1-, 2-, or 3- inches long, or even smaller if necessary. Another man uses a wooden stick with indentations at every inch. A click ruler also audibly clicks every sixteenth of an inch. To these guys, it's all about what works. Being able to improvise is very important.

As far as the wood itself goes, one craftsman can tell what type of wood he is using by its smell when he cuts into it or by the feel of the grain. All the senses are incorporated into this enterprise. In addition to smelling the wood, the woodworkers can feel the vibrations and listen for changes in sound when using machinery. These changes may indicate a kickback or other problem that could be dangerous or cause a mistake.

Staying informed about new techniques, technologies, styles, and tools of the trade can be difficult without access to current literature on the subject. This is especially true for people who are blind. Magazines and other materials about woodworking are not accessible to people who are blind. Or, they were until Larry Martin changed that. He took popular woodworking magazines and audio described their content, including pictures and diagrams. This venture, which became Woodworking for the Blind, Inc., now has over 50 CDs of woodworking information and an online community for blind woodworkers to share their ideas, strategies, tips, successes, and lessons learned.

Spike Carlsen does a tremendous job of illuminating the lives and work of blind woodworkers without building them up as heroes or marveling at how amazing and unbelievable they are. Woodworkers who are blind use all the tools at their disposal to create beautiful pieces – yes, it is dangerous, but no more so than for sighted woodworkers, and yes, they make mistakes, but they make no more than sighted woodworkers. These people use ingenuity and their ample talents, vision or not.

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The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) makes every attempt to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the data contained in the Fred's Head articles; however, APH makes no warranty, guarantee, or promise, expressed or implied, concerning the content or accuracy of the information provided in Fred's Head. APH does not endorse any technique, product, device, service, organization, or other information presented in Fred's Head, other than products and services directly offered by APH.

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