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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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Blindness Field Legend Took Part in Selma Marches

By Micheal Hudson, Director, Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind

Although our museum and archives collections center on the history of education and rehabilitation for people who are blind and visually impaired, they also document the impact of outside forces on those very subjects. As our nation prepares to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery, Alabama marches, it seems appropriate to share this unique connection between the blindness field and the national Civil Rights Movement. 

Father Thomas Carroll
Last spring, APH entered into a partnership with the Carroll Center for the Blind to help preserve the papers of rehabilitation pioneer and Hall-of-Famer Father Thomas J. Carroll(1909-1971). There are countless fascinating documents that help us understand the roots of rehabilitation for blinded veterans, adults, and senior citizens. One in particular, however, helps us understand the depth of Carroll’s empathy and humanity.

Tom Carroll was a Catholic priest, a priest who was vitally interested in the changes that were sweeping though post-war America. In early March of 1965, he watched on TV with the rest of America as unarmed demonstrators in Selma, Alabama were gassed and brutally beaten by white officers. When the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. made a national appeal to clergy of all denominations to join him in Selma for a second march on March 9th, Carroll answered the call.  

The first march, on March 7, was organized locally, in response to the murder on February 18 of civil rights activist Jimmie Lee Jackson by an Alabama state trooper.  Met by state troopers and gangs of loosely organized sheriff’s deputies as the marchers tried to cross the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge, the demonstrators were turned away in a violent melee that became known as “Bloody Sunday.” 
 Bloody Sunday march on Selma
Alabama State Troopers attack John Lewis at the Edmund Pettus Bridge
As Carroll lined up on the morning of March 9, prepared to put his own life on the line for social justice, events behind the scenes were unfolding to prevent a similar disaster, although only King and a few others knew it. Federal District Court Judge Frank Johnson had issued a restraining order prohibiting the second march.  In Johnson, King felt he had a potential ally, and wanted to avoid angering the judge by violating the order.  King and the demonstrators confronted the National Guard on the bridge, but retreated after prayer and singing in what became known as “Turnaround Tuesday.” That night, one of the marchers, a minister from Boston named James Reeb, was killed in Selma by members of the Klu Klux Klan. Aware of the danger, Carroll had already left the state. In the aftermath, Judge Johnson issued his famous ruling, “The law is clear that the right to petition one's government for the redress of grievances may be exercised in large groups.” This led to the third march, from Selma to Montgomery, March 21-25, 1965.

Newspaper clipping showing Carroll at Selma
Tucked into the Carroll Papers is a four page transcript of a teleconference between Carroll and prayer groups dated March 13th, 1965, where he describes his experiences on the second Selma march. Carroll’s prose is raw and immediate.  It is obvious that his experiences in Selma have touched and changed him.

We found this video of “Turnaround Tuesday” in the National Archives. When the marchers kneel to pray, the tall, gray-haired gentleman in the dark coat and dark glasses who leans on his cane and remains standing is…  Father Thomas J. Carroll. He had been hospitalized for more than a year in 1957-58, suffering from phlebitis in his legs, and was left physically unable to kneel. Watch the video.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Quick Tip: Child in a Strange Country

"Child in a Strange Country," which shows Helen Keller’s educational journey in an interactive display, is the main traveling exhibit of the Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind. Watch this short Quick Tip to learn more!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Throwback Thursday Object: The SoundScriber: an Early Tool for Blind Professionals


Our object this week is an interesting little electric office dictating machine called a SoundScriber. Approximately an 8 x 10 x 12” rectangle of veneered plywood, it has an open slot in the top with a turntable and tone arm much like a vintage phonograph. In fact it has two tone arms, one to record and one to play back. 

Introduced in 1945, the machine could record 15 minutes of sound on each side of its 6” flexible disks.  It was fairly simple to operate, and some of the first volunteer-dictated talking books were made on the SoundScriber. It was popular for about twenty years, until the cassette recorder made it obsolete.
Russ Williams and Naron Ferguson with Soundscriber
Courtesy of AER Bledsoe O&M Archives, American Printing House for the Blind.
It was also useful for blind professionals, such as Naron Ferguson and Russ Williams. A blinded G.I., Ferguson became the first trainee at the Hines Blind Rehabilitation Center. In this photo,  Ferguson sits in a stuffed chair, with a bright aluminum long cane in his lap. The Center's chief, Russ Williams, is seated behind a desk, on which a SoundScriber machine rests beside a telephone.

 Listen to one of Williams' SoundScriber letters from 1957, written to fellow Hall-of-Famer Warren Bledsoe.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Throwback Thursday Object: Early Braille Shorthand

Braille shorthand writer

English Stainsby "E" Series Braille Shorthand Writer

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries there was a lot of interest, especially in Germany and Great Britain, in training stenographers who were blind or visually impaired for courtroom and business applications. Notes taken originally in braille shorthand on machines such as this would later be translated back into print.

Henry Stainsby (1859-1925), superintendent of the Birmingham Royal Institution for the Blind, along with Birmingham manufacturer Albert Wayne first patented a braille shorthand machine in 1899-1900. Their original tapewriter was developed as a note-taking tool to train students. A roll of paper tape was fed though the machine’s embossing head and taken up on another reel or allowed to spool on the floor.  

Stainsby's goal was employment and stenography was considered just as promising as piano tuning, chair caning,  massage, and other “blind” trades.  Later models like this one were marketed by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB).  The Model E appeared in that institute's 1940 catalog. Eventually the shorthand machines appeared under the brand name "Matrix" and the Stainsby name was dropped. This excellent example was owned by former APH research head and Hall-of-Famer Samuel Ashcroft (1921-2006)

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