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.)


Friday, December 28, 2012

New Year's History

Have you ever wondered why we celebrate the passing of one year and the beginning of the next? Or where and when it all started?

This website on the history of New Year's is really simple to navigate. You'll read a lot of the history right on the main page. Did you know that the celebration of New Year's started in 4000 BC?

The rest of the navigation will be found on the side menu. The sections are: New Year's Traditions, Luck in New Year's, New Year's Toasts, New Year's Poems, New Year's Kids Songs and New Year's Quotes.
  • New Year's Traditions: Here you can learn about all sorts of traditions that have been practiced over the years. From making a resolution to the Rose parade to the significance of the New Year's baby, you can find it all here.
  • Luck in New Year's: Have you ever wondered why we all gather together to celebrate New Year's? Well, it has a lot to do with garnering luck for the New Year. Find out more in this section.
  • New Year's Toasts: Looking for a different toast you can use this year? In this section, you'll find a collection of different toasts. Some are serious, some are funny, some are sentimental, etc. Whatever kind you're looking for, you may just find it here.
The other sections are pretty self-explanatory. You get poems, songs and quotes for New Year's too. I was surprised at how much I really didn't know about how New Year's came to be celebrated.

Click this link to learn more about the history of the New Year's celebration.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

My Driving Experience

By Marissa Stalvey

Yesterday, I watched a video about a girl who is blind and her first driving experiencethanks to her high school classmates. When asked what she would do if she could not fail, the girl did not answer with the usual "make millions" or "be famous" answers. Instead, she said she just wanted to drive a car. Learning that she has some light perception, the girl's classmates devised a plan to surprise her on her eighteenth birthday. They strung hundreds of lights in the school parking lot, resulting in what looks like an airplane landing strip. The girl was able to see the lights and drive in between them successfully, an experience she will doubtless cherish for the rest of her life.

As one classmate mentioned, sighted people take being able to drive for granted. For people with vision, it is second nature to be able to get into a car and go wherever they want. For many people who are blind, the ability to drive is a dream, a wish. Being born blind or losing sight before legal driving age deprives many of a pivotal experience of young adulthood.

Although driving is by no means the only (or the most important) difficulty or issue facing people who are blind, the first driving experience is a quintessential part of teenage culture. Some, like the girl in this video, can still have this experience with a little help.

When I was 23, I met a wonderful man who would eventually become my husband. After only knowing me for a little over a month, this man, one night, told me he had a surprise for me. He took me to a deserted, large parking lot after dark. Confused and a little wary, I was shocked when he turned the car off, took the keys out of the ignition, and handed them to me.

"You told me that you've never driven. Well, now you can. I'll help you," he told me. I had told him that, but I had not told him that driving, even just once, was my most treasured dream. Needless to say, I was very nervous, but extremely excited. That night in that empty parking lot, my future husband taught me how to drive. As the girl in the video demonstrates, those brakes are touchy!

When he took me home, I told him he had made my dream come true. I told my roommate that night that I was going to marry him. She laughed, but three years later, he is my husband.

I will never forget that experience. It is difficult to put into words why it was so important to me, as it was to the girl in the video. I think it has to do with how pivotal an experience it is growing up. Although there are other experiences others who are blind and I cannot share with the sighted, this is one life experience that can happen, with a little help from friends.

*We at APH would suggest following the driving laws in your state.
Picture of me in the driver's seat of a silver car with my hands on the wheel

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Finding the Right Car

By Donna J. Jodhan

Now, here's a bit of humor for you.  How do I go about avoiding the wrong car?  When I had vision enough to see, I used to depend on color and size of the car but now that I have lost most of it and not enough to see the car, I have to use
other methods. 

First, I listen for the sound of either the approaching or idling engine.  In almost all cases, I ask those picking me up to blow the horn a certain number of times when they come to meet me and this works very well.  However, if for some reason the horn strategy does not work and there is more than one car waiting out there, I then have to deploy different tactics and it comes down to teamwork between me and the one picking me up.

When I was able to see, and if it was dark, I had a prearranged light signal but now the one picking me up has to come out of their car and call to me.  If I am unlucky enough to walk towards the wrong car then I have to use my sense of smell.  That is, upon opening the door, I have to make sure that the smell is familiar enough to me.  Failing this, I have to use my sense of feel and touch to quickly seek out familiarity with regard to the feel of the car.  Things such as; the feel of the door handle, the seat belt, the seat itself, and anything else that would help me to identify things quickly. 

The strategies used to identify the right car to get into depend on the level of vision.  If one has enough sight to identify color and shape, then these are the strategies to use but if one does not have enough sight then strategies outlined above would surely work.

I'm Donna J. Jodhan wishing you a terrific day and urging you to go out there and share my blogs with the rest of the world.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Learning How to Use VoiceOver with VOStarter App

VoiceOver is Apple's built-in screen-reading software for iOS devices. It helps blind and visually impaired iOS users navigate their devices (iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches) and access apps, the web, messages, etc. But learning how to use this technology effectively can be quite daunting to new users, especially if they are not familiar with high-tech devices. The goal of the VOStarter app is to make learning VO easier through guided tutorials. Although there is a practice section under Settings in VoiceOver, it is not a guided, systematic tutorial.

From the developer: "VO Starter is the first app to offer blind and visually impaired iOS users training on the built in screen reader, VoiceOver. For more information, visit our web site at"

Price: Free

Summary of comments from users on AppleVis Forums:

-Some believe it duplicates the native practice section in VoiceOver itself.
-Most agree that it is very helpful, especially for users unacquainted with VoiceOver. 

-Criticisms include:
            -Grammatical errors in the tutorial
            -Tutorial does not explain how to use the cursor in VO
            -Does not show how to edit text or use certain specific apps

This seems to be a helpful, much-needed app for beginners. The first version trains the user on basic uses for VO. In future versions, more advanced tutorials would be useful.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Traveling with Books: a Review of the Book Port Plus

By Aaron Linson

            I was first introduced to books through commercial audio books while going on long car trips to Florida and Alabama and wherever else family vacations took us.  When I went to the Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB), I was being taught braille and loved it.  Being able to have anything I wanted to read was awesome.  Magazines were a big part of my life, especially Boy's Life, a monthly publication relating to everything that had to do with scouting.  I enjoyed reading a lot and still do to this day.  I soon found out though that while braille was great for taking notes in school and leisure reading, reading textbooks for school in braille was annoying plus who wanted to carry around a volume of a book on a vacation (which I did for a long while).  When I was a sophomore at KSB, I remember hearing about DAISY format books.  The school library already had a lot of DAISY books on file and I read them a lot but what interested me was the prospect of a portable solution for reading on the go.  Enter the Victor Reader Stream from Humanware, the first DAISY player on the market in 2007.  I got my hands on one as soon as I could and loved using it. 
The VR Stream as it is now called was a joy to use and a leap in AT (adaptive technology) for the blind and visually impaired.  Over the years however many companies have seen the potential for the DAISY space and have created their own players.  I want to talk about one player in particular, the Book Port Plus (BBP) from APH (American Printing House for theBlind).  What led me to purchase this player? I've owned VR Stream ever since it came out in 2007 and have watched it grow into  a mature solid piece of technology that I couldn't live without.  I enjoyed using it but recently one morning when I was wanting to catch up on a book I was reading the night before, I turned on my trusty Stream and nothing happened.  Curious what might have happened, I ordered another battery from Humanware.  When that didn't work I contacted Humanware and told them about the issue. The representative said that he'd take a look at it and get back with me.  After a few days the news wasn't good--my VR Stream that had served me for 6 years had completely died, nothing could be done.  I had no choice  but to look for another DAISY player.  My immediate thought was to buy another VR Stream.  Seeing as how the VR Stream hasn't changed much hardware-wise when it was introduced I really didn't want to go with another Stream.  I had heard a lot about the BBP from APH and decided to give it a try.  When I first unpacked the BBP I noticed how much lighter and thinner it was than the stream.  After I drooled over the physical aspects of the device I immediately went online to see if the book transfer software was available for the Mac.  To my surprise it was.  After that program was downloaded and tested with VO (VoiceOver) I contacted the NLS (National Library Service for the Blind) in order to get my key for the BBP to play NLS books.  I was surprised once again when, in the e-mail I was told to just connect my player, open the book transfer software, go to a specific menu item press enter and the key would be placed on my BBP without me having to transfer it myself.  This just made my life a lot easier.  When it came time to download books and documents for school I just put all of my files onto the card without any folder system whatsoever.  I inserted the SD card into  the BBP, wondering if I had to format the SD card and create separate folders for different kinds of media since that is how I had to do it on the VR Stream.  Again I was surprised--the BBP took care of that for me.  I had heard that the BBP was a really good recorder and the most accessible one on the market.  I can say that this is true. I can't wait to use the recording features for my choir practices and piano lessons.  
Overall, my experience is positive. The only things I don't really like is that the battery life isn't as good as on the VR Stream. You really don't turn the BBP off unless you are going to be not reading anything for a few days.  The reasoning behind this is because you use the BBP like a cell phone.  You don't turn it off unless you need to.  I've found this to be somewhat annoying when I've been listening to a book at night. I have set the sleep timer and discover that my battery is at 75%.  Another feature that could be added would be the ability to highlight or bookmark.  This was a very useful feature for me when the VR Stream software supported it and I used it all the time. The highlighting feature on the VR Stream was the same things as a sighted student highlighting a passage for reference later  I wish a feature like highlighting or bookmarking could be added in the near future. 

After only a few days with the BPP, I can say I’m glad I made the decision to get the device. 

Note: you can order spare batteries, extra AC adapter and Battery doors from APH if you loose them.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Thoughts on the Accessibility of Online Shopping

By Donna J. Jodhan

As the saying goes, there is always room for improvement.  Some websites are more accessible than others when it comes to online shopping.  Some websites are more conscious of making their online shopping sites more accessible than others.  Some companies prefer to ignore accessibility when it comes to online shopping, while others give it a best effort try. 

More companies are going the online shopping route and, while this bodes well for society as a whole, it can be viewed as a possible double-edged sword for blind people. Here are a few thoughts for you to ponder.

  • Many blind people are still unable to afford the technology that would enable them to take advantage of the Internet.  
  • Many websites are still not very accessible to blind people.  Accordingly, they need to depend on sighted assistance in order to get by.  
  • Many websites use graphics and icons to illustrate their products and for blind people, this is a big challenge because their screen reading technology is unable to decipher graphics and icons without alt text or descriptions. 
  • Blind people are unable to complete the order forms that are necessary in order to purchase items because the forms are inaccessible. 

It is hoped that with time, all of these issues and more will be addressed by those companies that offer online shopping.  It is not as difficult to affect accessibility as you may think.  Making your online shopping accessible to blind people can benefit many others as well--the technically shy, people with other disabilities, and those who did not grow up in the era of technology. 

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)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tactile Tangrams

Picture of Tactile Tangrams

Catalog number:   1-08439-00

Note: The kit contains a large print guidebook, the braille guidebook is available separately.

Optional Item

Tactile Tangrams: Teacher's Guidebook, Braille (w/CD-ROM containing accessible files): 6-08439-00

Replacement Item

Tactile Tangrams: Teacher's Guidebook, Large Print (w/CD-ROM containing accessible files): 8-08439-00 

A tangram is an ancient Chinese puzzle consisting of seven pieces in three different shapes: triangle (2 large, 1 medium, 2 small), square, and parallelogram.

The materials and activities presented in APH's Tactile Tangrams make this timeless and popular puzzle accessible to students and adults with visual impairments and blindness.

The use of tangram puzzles encourages the development and reinforcement of many educational and recreational skills including spatial reasoning, shape recognition, size comparison, pattern replication, and independent problem solving. Many geometry concepts such as congruence, symmetry, sides and angles, fractions, measurement, area and perimeter, rotation/reflection, and concave/convex shapes are also reinforced.

These skills are also addressed:
  • Visual/tactile discrimination
  • Visual/tactile memory
  • Visual/tactile spatial orientation
  • Parts of a whole understanding
  • Recreational/leisure skills

Tactile Tangrams Kit Includes

  • 2 sets of Magnetic-backed Tangram Puzzle Pieces (for use on a metal surface)
  • 2 sets of Translucent Tangram Puzzle Pieces (for use on a light box)
  • 2 sets of Foam Tangram Puzzle Pieces
  • 26 Tactile/Print Puzzle Frames
  • Tactile/Print Puzzle Solutions showing a dissected view of each puzzle image
  • Magnetic Strips for mounting puzzle frames to a metal surface
  • Tactile/Print Grid Sheets
  • Large Print Teacher's Guidebook (includes CD-ROM with accessible files)
  • 3-Ring Storage binder
WARNING: CHOKING HAZARD -- Small Parts. Not intended for children ages 5 and under without adult supervision.

Recommended ages: 7 years and up.

Subscribe to receive posts via email

* indicates required

Browse Articles by Subject

Follow us on Twitter


Write for us

Your input and support in the evolution of Fred's Head are invaluable! Contact us about contributing original writing or for suggestions for updating existing articles. Email us at


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.

The products produced by the American Printing House for the Blind are instructional/teaching materials and are intended to be used by trained professionals, parents, and other adults with children who are blind and visually impaired. These materials are not intended as toys for use by children in unstructured play or in an unsupervised environment.

The information and techniques contained in Fred's Head are provided without legal consideration (free-of-charge) and are not warranted by APH to be safe or effective. All users of this service assume the risk of any injury or damage that may result from the use of the information provided.

Information in Fred's Head is not intended as a substitute for professional advice or treatment. Consult your physician before utilizing information regarding your health that may be presented on this site. Consult other professionals as appropriate for legal, financial, and related advice.

Fred's Head articles may contain links to other websites. APH is not responsible for the content of these sites.

Fred's Head articles created by APH staff are (C) copyright American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. You must request permission from APH to reprint these articles. Email to request permission.

Any submissions to Fred's Head should be free of copyright restrictions and should be the intellectual property of the submitter. By submitting information to Fred's Head, you are granting APH permission to publish this information.

Fair Use Notice: This website may contain copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright holder(s). This site is operated on the assumption that using this information constitutes 'fair use' of said copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law.

Opinions appearing in Fred's Head records are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Printing House for the Blind.