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, April 30, 2015

Throwback Thursday Object: Check out this magnificent 1846 Bible in raised letters for people who are blind!

1846 American Bible Society Bible

The Museum received a very rare gift last week from the Ireland Memorial Library in St. Paul, Minnesota:  the eight-volume Holy Bible embossed in raised letters by the American Bible Society in 1846.  It is in excellent condition for its age, with very tight text block and minor cosmetic damage to its leather and cloth bindings. The 1846 ABS Bible was the third U.S. bible for blind readers. This eight-volume set weighs a little under seventy-two pounds!

close up of raised letters on Bible for the blind
The first was incomplete, but very significant. When Jacob Snider, a Philadelphia wine merchant who served on the board of the Pennsylvania Institution for the Education of the Blind—now Overbrook--embossed his “Gospel of St. Mark” in 1834, he issued the very first book embossed in raised letters in the Americas.

Samuel Gridley Howe, superintendent of the New England Institution for the Education of the Blind—now Perkins--reported in 1836 that the New Testament was in press at his school in Boston. Howe used a font designed specifically for his press that became known as Boston Line Letter. By 1842, the entire Bible had been completed, condensed to eight volumes, and sold for $20 per set. Funds for Howe’s printing department, however, were always in short supply.  Embossed books were very expensive to produce.

side view of ABS bible for the blind
In 1843-44, Howe sold the stereotype plates for his bible and the remaining unsold copies for about $10,000 to the American Bible Society, who continued to sell the Howe edition while experimenting with their own printing equipment. The project had captured their imagination, but they were also surprised at how expensive the process was. The ABS embossed their edition from the Perkins plates in 1846.  The only difference between the two editions was the absence of Howe's name from the frontispiece.  For many years, the ABS raised letter bible was one of the few tactile books readily available to blind readers, and this intact 1846 example is a magnificent gift to our collection.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Throwback Thursday Object: What does an old movie camera have to do with the education of blind kids?

Bolex H8 Reflex Movie Camera
Frederick Winslow Taylor and Frank and Lillian Gilbreth pioneered the use of the stop watch and the motion picture camera for time-motion studies in the early 20th century, seeking to improve the efficiency of industrial workers. 

By the 1960s, APH was applying similar techniques to try to understand and improve tactile reading rates. The APH Department of Technical Research purchased this camera around 1967 to study the way blind students read tactile maps. Led by research associate Cleves Kederis, nine elementary school and nine high school students were filmed in four minute segments following a path on a map and trying to identify identically coded areas. 

(You can read about some similar research Kederis was involved in here.)  

According to the 1967 Department report, "attempts to quantify the data left much to be desired," although researchers did conclude that "students used molecular approaches in reading maps to an extent that seriously impaired their working ability." I’m not exactly sure what a “molecular approach” meant unless it was just a “scientific” way of saying the students became lost in the individual tactile details of the maps and struggled to master the larger picture.

The Bolex-Paillard was a high-end, Swiss engineered movie camera. This H8 Reflex used 8mm film and remained popular with filmmakers long after it was discontinued in 1965.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Throwback Thursday Object: The "Crab" Braille Duplicator

This is kind of a wacky looking device that you might first mistake for a braillewriter.  Its six side-splayed keys—say that six times as quickly as you can!--on their long arms give it a crustacean-inspired look, and look very uncomfortable to use over a long day's work.  

It was based on a braillewriter, the Stainsby Braillewriter introduced originally around 1903 by Henry Stainsby (1859-1925), Superintendent of the Birmingham Royal Institution for the Blind in England.  The Stainsby was a hybrid between a braillewriter and a board slate.  Unlike most other braillewriters, which were based upon typewriter designs, the Stainsby mounted its paper on a board, and the writing mechanism slid up and down the board to emboss the braille.  

But the “Crab” duplicator had a more ambitious purpose.  It was used to emboss aluminum stereotype plates. Stereotype plates were folded metal plates you could load into a platen-style printing press to mass produce braille, although the Royal National Institute for the Blind in London marketed a special roller press to work with their braille duplicator. 

"To obtain copies, the paper is inserted between the embossed folded plate which is then passed through the roller press in between boards to afford protection to the braille characters."  RNIB introduced the machine originally as the "Hand Operated Machine for Embossing Aluminum Plates,” but when that failed to capture anyone’s attention, they reintroduced it with some modifications in 1968 with the more colorful name.

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