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, May 28, 2015

Throwback Thursday Object: Cybertalker, an Early Text-to-Speech Device

Cybertalker early text-to-speech device
 Many cell phones, tablets, and computers today come pre-equipped to provide text-to-speech for blind users, but that hasn’t always been the case. If you owned a Speak & Spell as a kid—introduced originally by Texas Instruments in 1978—you owned one of the first electronic speech synthesizers on the commercial market. 

Our object this week is another early speech synthesizer, the Cybertalker 2, developed to make early networked computers accessible for blind users. At the University of Michigan in the late 1960s, programmers developed a system that allowed multiple users to access the university’s mainframe computers from a “dumb” computer terminal. The system, known as MTS, was later adapted for university and government installations in the U.S., Great Britain, Canada, and Brazil, including NASA’s Goddard Space Center. Elliot Friedman, who was an electrical engineer and blind himself, invented the Cybertalker peripheral around 1983 and it was available for sale by the end of that year. The machine converted text into speech, both as it was input on the keyboard and as it appeared as output on the computer screen. The quality of early speech synthesizers was highly electronic and unnatural compared to modern versions which come in a variety of accents, genders, and pitches.

This example in our collection, for you Mad Men lovers, was used by Terry Chaney, a researcher working for McCann Erickson, a large advertising agency in Detroit that was a major competitor of the fictional firm in the television series. Chaney nicknamed her Cybertalker “Sven” because it seemed to speak with a Nordic accent. According to Chaney, Elliott Friedman died from complications of diabetes before his speech synthesizer could be further developed.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

APH Quick Tip: Physical Education (PE) Resources for People who are Blind and Visually Impaired

Check out our Physical Education (PE) webpage to discover everything you need to know about physical education for individuals with blindness or visual impairments. It's all right at your fingertips, and you can learn about this resourceful page by watching this week's Quick Tip!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Throwback Thursday Object: The Hoff Aid, a left-to-right slate and stylus

Hoff Aid slate and stylus
 When we give tours in the Museum here at the Printing House, sighted people just can’t get their mind around the way you write with a traditional slate and stylus.  Of course, because the downward writing stylus raises dots on the bottom of the paper, the braille characters must be written in reverse.  Piece of cake for a six year old, whose brain is a ready and plastic sponge, but possibly more difficult for an older person learning braille for the first time.  

The challenge of designing a slate that would write braille left-to-right has intrigued many an engineer over the years. The Hoff Aid was an upward-writing slate designed primarily for use in making mathematical calculations on paper. It also permitted examination of your work without having to remove the paper from the slate.  Paul Hoff, a teacher at the Minnesota Braille and Sight Saving School, filed a patent application for his aid in 1946, seeing it as a compromise between the light weight and portability of a pocket slate, and the right-to-left upward writing capability of the braillewriter. 

It was introduced in the APH catalog in 1955, and discontinued in 1973 after a total production of 538 units.  In the end it was determined to be too expensive ($35 in 1972) when compared to a traditional slate ($2.50), and too slow when compared to other math tools such an abacus.  

It was operated by pushing buttons on the die box with a traditional stylus, which depressed a rod with a hollow tip over raised dots on the slate’s base.  The die box was mounted on a grooved rod to allow it to advance one space as each character was formed.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

NEW PRODUCT: Chameleon, a Print, Braille, and Tactile Book from APH

Chameleon print braille product APH cover image

6-77951-00 -- $189.00

Chameleon is a print, braille, and tactile book featuring a friendly chameleon! Readers are introduced to concepts such as soft/hard, smooth/rough, big/little, on/under, heavy/light, short/long, and alone/together.

The colorful chameleon shapes can be felt and seen. From a smooth black chameleon, to a fuzzy green chameleon, to the big purple chameleon, contrasts are presented. Some illustrations involve the child in manipulation. A shy chameleon hides “under” a textured leaf. To illustrate heavy and light, each chameleon can be lifted from the page.

Chameleon is intended to be read aloud and shared with children with visual impairments, ages three years and up. Reading aloud can be one of the most powerful contributions adults can make to a young child’s development of literacy. Awareness of written language is developed. Sharing books in an interactive manner, talking about the text and illustrations, has been demonstrated to build vocabulary and strengthen oral language skills.

For emergent print readers, pictures often act as an important bridge helping the child take a more active role in reading, as a listener and as a reader. In addition, they offer critically important opportunities to build tactual discrimination and exploratory skills and to encounter spatial relationships and the conventions of 2 dimensional graphic displays.

Chameleon's text is provided in large print and contracted braille. The clear, silk-screened braille is of high quality and extremely durable. Originally produced in Italian, French, and German, the English version is produced for APH by Les Doigts Qui Rêvent (LDQR) workshop in Dijon, France.

Recommended ages: 3 years and up.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Throwback Thursday Object: TellaTouch: a Very Early Refreshable Braille Display

 Our object this week is a very early and very simple example of what now is called a refreshable braille display. Unlike modern displays, which take digital files and convert them to braille, the Tellatouch facilitated communication between a typist and a deaf-blind reader, one character at a time. 

Jackson Kleber was an electrical engineer who had worked for both RCA and Bell Telephone. Laid off as a result of the Depression, he came to work for the American Foundation for the Blind in 1932 to help continue research efforts on the development of the "Talking Book." 

AFB launched a major effort on behalf of the deaf-blind in the mid 1940s. One of their first projects was an electrical device that would allow a typist to sit on one side, facing a standard keyboard. The machine would translate the keystrokes into a braille symbol on a plate at the back of the machine, "where a deaf-blind person could feel them with a fingertip." Kleber worked out the initial prototype. 

TellaTouch braille display up close
It was later modified by another important AFB researcher, Clifford Witcher. Witcher’s model, the Electro-braille Communicator—doesn’t that sound like something from a steampunk novel?--failed in field testing and was withdrawn in 1952. Later that year, Charles P. Tolman, a semi-retired engineer, was hired as AFB's technical research chief. Tolman solved the machine's problems by converting it from electrical to mechanical power and it was renamed the "Tellatouch" in 1954. They came in several colors—this one is a burnt orange. Tolman’s device looked like a portable manual typewriter. When you pressed a key, metal pins were raised on a finger shaped array to create a single braille cell. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Blindness Hall of Fame Class of 2015: Sir Francis Campbell and Dr. Alan Koenig

Sir Francis Campbell and Dr. Alan Koenig
to be Inducted into the
Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends
of the Blindness Field in 2015

The Hall of Fame is dedicated to preserving the tradition of excellence manifested by specific individuals through the history of outstanding services provided to people who are blind or visually impaired in North America. Although housed at the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) in Louisville, Kentucky, it belongs to the entire field.

The ceremony to induct Campbell and Koenig will take place on Friday evening, October 9, 2015, in conjunction with APH's 147th Annual Meeting of Ex Officio Trustees and Special Guests, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky.  Joining the fifty-four outstanding legends previously inducted, are these two remarkable figures who changed lives around the world. Their stories of accomplishment are powerful.

The Class of 2015:

Francis Joseph Campbell  (1832 - 1914)

Sir Francis Campbell
Sir Francis Campbell’s service began as a music teacher and interim Superintendent of the Tennessee School for the Blind in 1850.  He then served as a music teacher and special assistant to Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe at the Perkins Schoolfor the Blind from 1857 to 1868. In 1872, he established the Royal NormalCollege and Academy of Music for the Blind (RNC) in London where he served as Principal until retirement in 1912. His school was built on the belief that blind people can accomplish great things with good instruction.  He built a firm base of physical education and provided strong academic training with an emphasis on logic and mathematics as a basis for music instruction. Campbell’s school was enormously successful. Today it is known as the Royal National College and continues to receive awards for its status as an extremely effective school and training program for people who are blind.

Francis Campbell was the character and personality on which modern work for the blind hinged.  After Howe, he was the undoubted champion of the capabilities of blind people, both by his own example, his demands on himself and what he asked of other blind people and society.” C. Warren Bledsoe

“His approach was based on a realistic understanding of what was capable without vision and on a strong belief in the ability of blind people to function independently.  He demonstrated the value of educating the whole child.  He understood the need to encourage the development of the physical, intellectual, and emotional sides of each individual.  And he appreciated the need for functional life skills that lead to jobs that enabled independence.  By including Francis Campbell in our Hall of Fame, we will not only honor his work, but we will create an opportunity for future professionals in this field to be influenced by his insights and success.Dr. RichardWelsh

Alan J. Koenig  (1954 - 2005)
Dr. Alan Koenig
Dr. Koenig strongly influenced the way teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs) viewed their roles and responsibilities related to literacy instruction. Alan was clear that TVIs are teaching reading and writing when they provide instruction to young children who will read braille or children with low vision who will read print. 

Koenig revolutionized the way that educational teams approach the decision regarding whether a student with low vision should begin reading and writing in braille, print, or a combination of braille and print. Prior to his landmark work on Learning Media Assessment (LMA), teachers and parents struggled with the decision of whether to teach a child braille or print. LMA provides a data-driven procedure that supports decisions of educational teams. For the first time, teachers and parents had a systematic guide for gathering pertinent information and using that information to support on-going educational decisions.

Dr. Koenig shared his knowledge, expertise, and love of the field of visual impairment with thousands of people at over 150 conference presentations and workshops both locally and internationally. Of particular note was his support of the Unified English Braille (UEB) code. Twenty years ago, the thought of introducing a new braille code to North America was daunting. Without his early support, Canada would likely not be where it is today with respect to UEB.”  Dr. Carol Farrenkopf

“I was fortunate to work with and learn from Alan. My life and my work is better because of my collaboration with him. Although I was his closest and most frequent collaborator, I was by no means alone. Alan was a generous colleague and published with 42 co-authors. Each of these people will have a tale to tell about Alan's influence on them!”  Dr. Cay Holbrook

Additional information regarding the 2015 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will soon appear on the APH website, Visit the Hall of Fame website at for information on the Hall and those inducted.


Questions?  Please contact Janie Blome, Hall Curator, at 800/223-1839, ext. 367 or

The Hall of Fame Voluntary Governing Board:

Billy Brookshire (TX), Chair
Greg Goodrich (CA), Vice Chair
Marje Kaiser (SD), Secretary
George Zimmerman (PA), Treasurer
Jim Deremeik (MD)
BJ LeJeune (MS)
Ann MacCuspie (CAN)
Gary Mudd (KY)
Rosanne Silberman (NY)
Ann Wadsworth (CAN)
Jane Erin (AZ), Past Chair
Janie Blome (KY), Ex Officio Member and Curator
Bob Brasher, (KY), Ex Officio Member

Hall of Fame: Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field is a project of the entire field of blindness, curated by the American Printing House for the Blind, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.

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