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, June 25, 2015

Throwback Thursday Object: Pen Used to Sign into Law the 1961 Amendment to the Act to Promote the Education of the Blind

Pen and Ink Well from 1961 Kennedy signing Federal Quota bill into law

When laws are signed in Washington, frequently several pens are used and awarded to the participants as souvenirs. Our object this week is an interesting pen and pen holder (a dip-less fountain well) of clear & black lucite made by the Esterbrook Pen Company in New Jersey.  A silver plate on the pen holder is inscribed "On Sept 22, 1961 President John F. Kennedy Used This Pen To Sign Public Law 87-294, An Amendment to the Act to Promote The Education of the Blind." The pen is stamped, “The President, The White House.”

The pen was given to Finis Davis, superintendent of the Printing House at the time the bill was signed. The amendment authorized semiannual payment of the annual appropriation, allowed a reasonable sum of the appropriation to be used for salaries and expenses of experts and staff assisting special committees, stated that the ex-officio trustees are members of the Board of Trustees only for purposes of administering this Act, and struck out "the sum not to exceed $400,000" and replaced it with "such sum as the Congress may determine." The Act to Promote the Education of the Blind was originally passed in 1879. It was only the second piece of federal legislation addressing special education (the first created Gallaudet University). The Act originally created a fund of $10,000 from which students across the U.S. could draw to get accessible educational materials from APH. The fund, we call it the “Federal Quota”, had been enlarged several times over the ensuing 82 years, but by 1961, Congress realized it needed the flexibility to adjust the fund’s size without amending the Act on an annual basis.

By FY2014, the Federal Quota Fund was authorized at $24.5 million and served over 60,000 students nationwide.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Throwback Thursday Object: 1950s Game Board for the Blind

Our object of the week is a 1930s game board from the National Institute for the Blind.  You could use the tactile board and pieces to play traditional chess or checkers—or as the English called it “draughts.”  The board is embossed with dots that indicate "black" squares and left smooth to indicate white (or red) squares. Holes in the middle of each square hold the plastic game pieces. Holes on the margins hold pieces that are not in play. Game pieces are black and brown, with the brown side having a central point on top. Pieces are further distinguished by their top shape. For example the knight has a conical top and the rook has a ring.  Our set is missing one pawn. 

The NIB was founded in 1868 as the British and Foreign Blind Association for Promoting the Education and Employment of the Blind.  Its name changed to the National Institute for the Blind in 1914, and to Royal National Institute for the Blind in 1953.  In 1920, NIB expanded its mandate to include the production and sale of "Apparatus for Use by the Blind" and produced its first catalog soon after.  You can still buy a chess set from RNIB, although their modern pieces more closely resemble standard chess pieces than this unique set.  Chess sets adapted for players who are blind or visually impaired have a long tradition and blind players are often encountered in chess tournaments.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Throwback Thursday Object: How do you correct errors on a metal braille embossing plate?

When Frank Hall, Superintendent of the Illinois School for the Blind, invented his braille stereotype machine in 1893—don’t worry, we'll feature it one of these days—he made it possible overnight to quickly and cheaply manufacture braille embossing plates. Put a plate in an adapted platen style printing press and you can make as many copies of a page of braille as you want. Braille production sky-rocketed and the price of braille books dropped dramatically.

APH stereotype machine operator hammers out an offending dot while preparing the Braille edition of Every Week Magazine, circa 1950

But if you made a mistake while typing the plate on the stereotyper, fixing it involved a humble pair of correcting tongs. Our object this week is an early pair of tongs used at APH to repair our embossing plates. This was a specialty tool that would have been made locally or in the APH machine shop. By striking the tongs briskly with a hammer, the technician could erase an incorrect dot by flattening it, repair a damaged dot, or insert a missing one. Although embossing plates are infrequently used at APH today—most of our braille is embossed on a digital press driven by a computer—some special projects are prepared with embossing plates and the old tongs are still occasionally used.

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