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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Monday, February 29, 2016

APH Proclaims that 2016 is the Year of Braille

In light of the recent, official adoption of the Unified English Braille (UEB) code in the United States, we offer a brief (and hopefully interesting) history and review of APH software efforts in concurrence with the transition over the past few years.


Liblouis is an open source library that translates text in multiple languages into many braille codes. It has been in development and use for several years. It provides the translation services for familiar programs, such as JAWS, NVDA, DAISY Pipeline,, and more. (See
Liblouis is an incredible international effort that exemplifies the power of collaboration: providing a truly useful tool through mutual cooperation. APH first used Liblouis in 2012 to introduce experimental support for UEB on the braille Android™ device called Braille Plus 18. We called it experimental because while it got many of the UEB rules right, there were also several problems.
Software engineers from APH worked with the Liblouis code maintainers to correct the tables, enhance the rules, and provide exceptions; however, it became clear fairly quickly that fundamental architectural modifications were required to fully support some of the new UEB constructs, especially where UEB streamlined consecutive capitalized words and in regards to the treatment of emphasis.
APH programmer Mike Gray worked with international partners to introduce new operation codes, add expression matching, and obsolete unused status bits. While it was our intention to have these modifications released by the official UEB implementation date of January 4, 2016, the process of balancing radical changes while preserving support for dozens of languages and braille codes proved a bit more challenging than first imagined. The good news is that it works, and it works well; and you can use it today, even before the official APH release. Here is how:
Go to and install Send To Braille. Send To Braille is a free-of-charge Windows Send To shortcut that lets you point to a document from File Explorer, select Send To from the context menu, and then pick Braille to translate the file into quality UEB.
Disclaimer: Send To Braille produces "Quick and Dirty" braille. It does not perform any formatting except to preserve line breaks. It also cannot do anything with inaccessible images and other inaccessible complex file elements; however, if you have a simple document, such as a letter, the Send To Braille shortcut creates an accurate rendering of that file in UEB.
Send To Braille uses the APH beta version of Liblouis to translate the document. The quality is there; now the challenge is to continue carefully merging these changes back into the existing Liblouis body of code.


While Send To Braille gives the average user a “quick and dirty” method to get accurate braille, textbook quality braille is essential for educational purposes. This is where BrailleBlaster comes in. BrailleBlaster is an open source project that uses Liblouis for the translation tasks it performs. BrailleBlaster is an editing tool for braille transcribers that gives them the means to translate; format; split into volumes; add transcriber notes; describe images; create braille tables of content, glossaries, and preliminary pages; and input direct braille for particularly difficult operations. In other words, BrailleBlaster provides all the tools necessary for a trained transcriber to efficiently produce a quality embossed braille textbook from an original publisher file, using the raw translation from Liblouis. Preliminary testing results indicate a substantial increase in the number of textbooks that can be produced compared to the current methods.
The development of BrailleBlaster and modifications to Liblouis are part of the REAL Plan (Resources with Enhanced Accessibility for Learning). The REAL Plan is an ongoing initiative of the American Printing House for the Blind to improve the conversion and delivery of braille and other accessible formats to students who are blind.

Transforming Braille

The APH Technology Product Research and Educational Product Research departments are currently guiding the design and field testing of a new, inexpensive braille reader called the Transforming Braille Display. (See The Transforming Braille Group, LLC, with APH’s Larry Skutchan at the helm as CEO, is holding a sales meeting at the 2016 California State University, Northridge (CSUN) Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference to find wholesalers for the device, which costs one-fifth the price of current refreshable braille technology on the market and can be used on its own as a reader or by connecting to other devices, such as computers, phones, and tablets that support braille input and output.

Nemeth Tutorial

Nemeth is the braille code for mathematics. It has been difficult to find certified teachers and training material for learning Nemeth. APH partnered with Dr. Gaylen Kapperman of the Research and Development Institute and Northern Illinois University to create a universally accessible, online tutorial for learning Nemeth. (See This free-of-charge tutorial includes over 50 interactive lessons. It features an accurate braille font, support for MathML, six-key braille input from a QWERTY keyboard, and full support for refreshable braille displays on any modern Web browser with screen reader support.

Braille Buzz

APH designed and is currently field testing a new early childhood toy for learning braille called Braille Buzz. Reminiscent of oldies like the Speak & Spell™ by Texas Instruments, this simple toy includes a braille keyboard, synthesized speech output, braille embossed letter buttons, and interactive braille games.

Braille Calculator

In August of 2015, APH released a firmware upgrade for the Orion TI-84 Plus Talking Graphing Calculator that includes support for refreshable braille displays. For the first time ever, a student can use this advanced calculator and get output in both UEB and Nemeth braille. (See

Visual Brailler

During the transition to UEB, braille transcribers working on the National Library Service (NLS) certification expressed a desire for a way to perform the exercises on an iPad. The Visual Brailler app for iPad serves that purpose. It performs the same functions as a traditional mechanical braillewriter, with the exception of embossing paper, and enables the transmission of lessons through email.
Visual Brailler is free on the Apple® App Store® online store. (See

Refreshabraille 18

Refreshabraille 18 is an economical and high-quality 18-cell refreshable braille display and braille keyboard used to connect to a host device such as a computer, phone, or tablet.
In November 2015, APH released the 3rd generation of this device, which includes enhancements such as a better USB connection, improved navigation control, simple Bluetooth pairing, and more ergonomic keys. (See

Braille Plus 18

APH recognizes the value in directly integrating a braille display and keyboard into a portable device running a modern mobile operating system; however, in 2015, we regretfully temporarily terminated future production of the braille centric Android smart/phone/tablet called Braille Plus 18. APH is mindful of the value of such a tool; we continue to learn remarkable amounts of relevant information concerning the development of this device. (see

What Else

As you can see from this list of software related activities, APH’s commitment to braille education continues. Similar or greater efforts parallel this dedication in the areas of policy, production, research, and education to name a few.

Friday, February 26, 2016

recorded weather forecasts

Recorded Weather Forecasts

Get Recorded Weather Forecasts Any Time

Options for obtaining weather forecasts have increased throughout the years. No longer is one forced to wait for local radio and television stations to broadcast the forecast. Anyone with a smartphone can ask that phone’s virtual assistant for weather conditions and receive basic data like the current temperature, whether or not precipitation is falling and a very basic forecast for a selected location.

Often, however, the information someone seeks is much more detailed in scope, and it may or may not be local weather information. What would someone do, for instance, if they lived in Philadelphia and needed to travel to Seattle—how would they get the forecast for Seattle? The Weather Channel is an option, but because of its national focus, it may not provide all of the information one seeks. In addition, its current practice of providing little audio feedback during its “Local on the Eights”, the time when it shows local weather information on the screen, is unhelpful for blind people—even those looking for their local forecast.

Another option is NOAA Weather Radio, an absolutely necessary service during times of severe weather. While a few smartphone apps provide coverage of some NOAA radio stations, the coverage is spotty much of the time so you can never be sure that you can hear a station from a particular city or state using such an app. Thus, NOAA radio, though it is extremely beneficial while one is in their local area, probably will not help provide information for someone who is traveling until the person arrives atht their destination, preventing the traveler from using the information to make appropriate preparations.

The National Weather Service has provided a solution to this problem. It maintains a listing of recorded weather information which anyone can access 24 hours a day via recorded messages. The list covers all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and other territories. As you examine the list, you may notice that there is quite a bit of overlap; large areas of one state are covered by one weather service office while some offices cover portions of multiple states. The office in Mount Holly, New Jersey is an excellent example of this tendency as it covers all of New Jersey and Delaware as well as portions of Pennsylvania and Maryland. By calling a given number, you may listen to forecasts for all of the areas covered by a particular weather service office as well as marine forecasts, climate reports and an hourly roundup of temperatures and weather conditions.

The one drawback of this service is that it will not keep you updated on currently occurring severe weather; you cannot depend on the recorded information to do that for you. Nevertheless, if you plan to travel to a certain area, have friends or relatives in a particular place or just want to know what the weather is like somewhere else, this recorded information should assist.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Throwback Thursday: The Press Room

The Press Room
We are continuing on this week with a look at some great photographs from our company archives.  This one shows the far end of the press room around 1931.  I found this picture hanging in our company lunch room a few years ago.  There is a lot going on.  In the foreground a man in an apron, collared shirt, and vest feeds paper into a heavy steel Thompson-Laureate style platen press.  A curved stand supports a large flywheel on the right side of the press.  You can clearly see the braille embossing plates held open by the jaws of the press.  Believe it or not, you can watch a press like this one operating on a tour of APH today.  We use two of them pretty regularly for special jobs, although most modern output comes from digital presses.  Notice that there are no guards or fences to protect the operator.  (Worker safety was only starting to be a national priority and there were few laws to govern it.)  The bare leather belt on the left is connected to an electric motor that is out of sight.  A naked electric bulb is hanging down from a wire near his head to provide light on cloudy days, but the sunlight streaming through the large windows suggest that was not necessary this day.  The bulb’s wire was rigged on pulleys so you could pull it closer if you needed it.  This is the western side of the second floor of the 1923 annex.  It is where our museum is housed today.  In the background, another worker stands in front of a type case setting printer’s type.  The cases held drawers whose compartments helped organize the thousands of pieces of tiny lead type used to “set up” print publications.  To the right of the type case is a Chandler & Price Platen Jobber Printing Press.  It would be years before APH began making large print books.  Here the C&P is being used to print labels, product catalogs, and to “foil stamp” book titles on book covers.  A few years after this picture was taken, we’d be using a C&P to print record labels for Talking Books.  If you’d like to learn more about the history of our embossing and ink-printing presses, we have several pages on our website.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Reacting to Reactions: Facebook's New Reaction Feature

Facebook has just rolled out an update that makes a significant change to how we interact with posts. Besides the “like” button which has existed since 2009, facebook has now added what it calls “reactions”. Reactions add extra choices besides just liking a post; now you can respond with like, love, haha, wow, sad or angry.

Facebook has stated openly that they strive to make their site accessible; therefore, I was somewhat concerned when I could not access reactions at first. So how does one begin “reacting” to posts? Bear in mind that I use an iPhone and cannot comment on the facebook Android app; if you use Android, it is likely that you can make it work by using what gestures you normally use to access content, but you will have to experiment to make sure.

On your iPhone, read through your newsfeed as you normally do. When you want to react to a post, of course, you can simply tap “like” if that is what you want to do. If you wish to use one of the new reaction choices, you can do one of two things. Use a two-finger split tap, the gesture you would use to like, reply or share without double-tapping to open the post. You should see “react” as a new option; (located just beyond like) double-tap it and flick to the right to hear the choices stated above. Double-tap on the one you wish to select, and your reaction is posted. You can change your reaction at any time if you wish.

The other option is to double-tap and hold on the like button and wait a second or so to hear Voiceover say “react”. Then flick to the right, double-tap on your selection, and the reaction is posted. It is important to note that you must be in the newsfeed to use reactions; you cannot access them when viewing notifications. If you receive notifications when a particular friend adds a post, you must double-tap to open the post and use the double-tap and hold method, the second method I outlined, to react to that post.

When using the computer, as of the time of this writing, I have not been able to get the reactions to come up on On the regular facebook site, you place the cursor on the “like” button below the post you wish to react to and press the space bar. Instructions for sighted users tell them to hover over the like button; in this case, the space bar, but not the enter key, does the same thing. You then must move down with the arrow keys and locate the list of buttons which correspond to the react options. The unusual thing is that each button is read twice, and you hear, for instance, “like toggle button” and upon hitting down arrow “like toggle button” again. It appears that you can select either button, and it is unclear if this is a bug or if there is a reason for the two buttons.

As I get more information, I will update this post and make sure to inform you of future updates.

Friday, February 19, 2016

All Aboard: The Sight Word Activity Express

All Aboard! The Sight Word Activity Express                                                                                                                                                All Aboard! The Sight Word Activity Express

Get your student on the fast track to learning high frequency sight words and common nouns with this interactive and versatile set of magnetic print/braille labels!
All Aboard! The Sight Word Activity Express can be used for instruction and assessment of a student's recognition of sight ("high frequency") words -- the most commonly used words in the English language. All Aboard contains a list of 220 words categorized according to grade level: Pre-primer, Primer, First, Second, and Third.
All Aboard! includes print/braille magnetic labels of sight words and common nouns. The set of Contracted Braille/Print Magnetic Word Labels present the contracted braille version; these labels are identified by black text on a yellow background with a diagonal orientation cut in the upper right corner. The set of Uncontracted Braille/Print Magnetic Word Labels includes the uncontracted braille (letter-by-letter) version that utilizes a braille contraction in the "contracted" set; these labels are identified by black text on a white background with a curved orientation cut in the upper right corner. A set of print/braille Accessory Labels (e.g., noun, verb, contracted, uncontracted, one-syllable, two-syllable, short vowel, long vowel, etc.) accommodate a variety of sorting tasks; these labels are indicated by white text on a blue background with two opposite diagonal cuts. The accessory labels also include blank, white magnetic labels in a variety of lengths for creating additional word labels (if needed). All of the word labels can be securely stored and sorted in the binder (in order determined by instructor) using the provided Word Label Pocket Pages.
Blue magnetic sorting strips are provided in two lengths (10 1/2 x 1/2 inches and 8 1/2 x 1/2 inches) and are ideal for creating charts, diagrams, and tactile/visual guide lines for positioning the word labels on the included All Aboard Magnetic/Dry-Erase Board. The Teacher's Guidebook provides activity suggestions. Use the provided Sight Word Assessment Checklist to keep track of the word recognition progress of an individual student. The accompanying CD-ROM provides accessible versions of the Teacher's Guidebook and the Sight Word Assessment Checklist.
All Aboard! The Sight Word Activity Express Includes
  • Contracted Braille/Print Magnetic Word Labels
  • Uncontracted Braille/Print Magnetic Word Labels
  • Accessory Labels
  • Magnetic Sorting Strips stored in a clear 3-hole punched resealable pouch
  • Storage Binder
  • Double-sided, 3-hole punched Word Label Pocket Pages
  • All Aboard Magnetic/Dry-Erase Board
  • Large Print Teacher's Guidebook with CD-ROM
Notes: -- A free-of-charge braille-ready file (brf) of the Teacher's Guidebook is available for download at: -- A free-of-charge Microsoft© Excel© spreadsheet of the Sight Word Assessment Checklist is available for download at:
WARNING: Choking Hazard—Small Parts. Not intended for children ages 5 and under without adult supervision.
UEB Compliant
Recommended ages: 5 years and up (including adult braille readers).
Age Range:
5 and Up
Product Image - click to enlarge

To order, click the following link:                       

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Throwback Thursday: The Round Table, 1956

The Round Table, 1956
Our object this week is a photograph from our company archives.  Our photographic collection is large, and for a few weeks I want to feature it in this space because it is so fascinating.  This is what we called the “Round Table.”  Five women in skirts and blouses—yes ladies in 1956 if you worked back in the APH factory you had to wear a skirt.  We have pictures of women in pants but they are rare.  One of the women is wearing a very practical flowered apron, but another has on high heels(!)  Anyhow, they stand around the table, which is about thirteen feet in diameter.  Stacks of pages from the braille edition of the Reader’s Digest are arranged around the table.  (APH started embossing
Reader’s Digest in braille in 1928.)  As it rotated—the table worked like a large phonograph—the workers picked up a page from each stack as it passed them.  Every publication from APH was collated in that manner.  There are tall metal stools in the foreground stenciled “Round Table,” but on this day none of the women are using them.  In the background, the square brick walls with their brick lined windows let you know that the scene is the 1947 Manufacturing Annex, on the ground floor.  These walls are all gone now, removed when the company expanded in the 1960s.  Incidentally, APH tried to mechanize the collation process many times with little success.  It is hard to design a machine to handle delicate braille dots with the same care as the human hand.  Although we have machine collators that use vacuum suction and mechanical fingers on the floor, you often still see human workers handling the collation on smaller jobs. Digital presses which collate publications as they emboss them also play a huge role.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Quick Tip: Other Louis Resources

A Method for Cutting Food

As a result of my own experiences and those of other blind people I have talked to about this topic, I realized a long time ago that many blind people are quite anxious about going to a restaurant with sighted people, especially if the blind people order food that must be cut. Some blind people have remarked that they avoid the situation entirely; others go to the restaurant but make a special effort to order a sandwich or some other meal that does not include food that needs to be cut.

My father taught me this method for cutting food. It works particularly well on boneless meats, baked potatoes and certain desserts like individual pieces of cake—not so well with bone-in meats, loaves of bread or large desserts like entire pies or cakes. Since it does require you to touch your food, you may choose not to use it when eating particularly messy foods like meat covered in sauce.

Before attempting to cut your food, examine it with one hand enough to know the size of what you are cutting. Once you’ve done this, then you can decide if you want to try to cut the food into small pieces, one or two at a time, or if you want to cut the item in half and proceed from there. Regardless of what decision you make, the method remains the same.

Hold the fork straight up and down in your left hand. The handle faces you. Place the fork in the portion of the food where you want to start cutting. You will determine that based upon the size of the piece you wish to cut. Put the knife in your right hand; hold it sideways with the blade facing down. While keeping your left hand near to but slightly above the place where the fork’s prongs meet the rest of the utensil, insert the point of the knife into the space between two of the fork’s prongs. Where you place the knife also depends upon the size of the piece you are cutting though the process does seem to work better if you place the knife between the prongs closer to the middle of the fork rather than on one of the ends as it keeps both utensils more stable.

Slowly lower the knife, allowing the blade to touch the food. Press down and move the knife back and forth while keeping it in its place between the prongs of the fork. The advantages of this method are many. The food you are cutting is held in place by the fork so you should not end up dropping it on your lap. Since the knife is placed between the fork’s prongs, it can be used safely; you are not touching the blade at all.

As you complete your first cut, you will feel the piece separating from the larger piece of food. Knowing exactly when the cut is complete will take practice. You may find that, at times, the cut is nearly complete but that the piece is barely hanging on to the larger piece of food. In that case, a few more strokes should finish the job.

If you are not particularly comfortable with knives or if you just want to start with something fairly easy to cut, you might try cutting a banana. While cutting a banana is nothing like the challenge of cutting a rib eye steak, cutting that banana will teach you the method, letting you perfect it and giving you confidence to try something tougher like a boneless pork chop or a baked potato.

I am right-handed; if you are left-handed, you may find that you will want to hold the utensils in opposite hands, the fork in the right and the knife in the left. This change notwithstanding, the remainder of the process is the same.

This is not to say that you cannot, when ordering a steak, ask the restaurant employees to cut it before bringing it to you; I have done this at times as have other blind friends. Nevertheless, the goal is to handle this task independently; hopefully this technique will help you. If you use a different technique that works particularly well for you, please share with other readers by leaving a comment.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Building on Patterns: Second Grade: Unit 7 Now Available

We are pleased to announce that Building on Patterns: Primary Braille Literacy Program: Second Grade: Unit 7, Celebrate Books is now available. Building on Patterns (BOP) is a complete primary literacy program designed to teach beginning braille users all language arts -- reading, writing, and spelling.

The Building on Patterns series addresses phonemic awareness (ability to hear and interpret sounds in speech), phonics (the association of written symbols with the sounds they represent), comprehension, fluency, and oral vocabulary, all of which have been identified as important for reading instruction.
This program also addresses specific skill areas needed by the child who is blind, such as language development, sound discrimination, tactual discrimination, and concept development. Braille contractions are introduced from the beginning along with sound and letter associations. Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) Skills such as using tactile graphics and technology are also included.
BOP Second Grade builds on the components of BOP First Grade and contains additional activities.

New Features
  • Timed reading in each lesson
  • Simplified lesson monitoring sheets
  • Special section with information on individual contributors (authors, illustrators, etc.) to BOP in each unit

In This Unit
  • Three complete chapter books
  • Passage Miscue Analysis in each lesson
  • Sources for Braille Children's Books

BOP Second Grade includes more worksheets, part-word braille contractions, and other remaining literary contractions and symbols along with the rules to use them. The curriculum also emphasizes syllables and multisyllabic words, and the effect of certain letter combinations on vowel sounds.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Accessible Voting Machines for the Blind and Visually Impaired

As states begin their primary elections for determining our next presidential candidates, we must be mindful that voting is everyone’s right and that blind and visually impaired people now can do so independently. As a result of the issues experienced by some voters during the 2000 presidential election, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), in October, 2002. This law ensures that all Americans, including the blind and visually impaired community, can vote privately and discreetly, no longer having to rely on poll workers, friends or family members to fill out ballots for them.

An Access World article in 2002 discussed 4 machines that were being tested for possible mainstream use as accessible voting machines. While I am not certain if any of these machines became the standard one used today, I can say with certainty that every polling place in America must make at least one accessible voting machine available according to the HAVA.

Here are some recommendations which may be especially helpful for those who either have never used an accessible voting machine or have not used one in a long time:


  1.  Even if you go to the polling place with family or friends, tell the poll worker that you wish to use the accessible voting machine. It should, by law, be assembled and ready to use. If it is not, let the worker know that you will wait patiently for them to set it up. While this may take time, it should educate the worker and make it less likely that you will not have to have a similar experience the next time you vote. Then, once you do vote, contact your local Board of Elections and let them know that the accessible voting machine was not set up as the law requires.
  2.  Although you do not need to be a technology expert to use the machine, ask for assistance if necessary. Once the card is inserted into the machine, you should hear speech through the provided headphones. Before the ballot is presented, a set of detailed instructions is read which can be reviewed at any time. Nevertheless, a poll worker should be able to assist you if needed.
  3.  Expect that it may take a little more time for you to vote, especially while you are getting used to operating the machine. As you become familiar with the pattern utilized, you can more quickly move through the ballot.
  4.  Finally, ensure that the poll worker removes your ballot from the machine and casts it. Remember—voting is a right, and having an accessible ballot is the law.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Apple Accessibility: Web Resources and the Accessibility Support Phone Number

Most people know about the core products offered by Apple—iPhones, iPads, and Macs. Those of us who utilize accessibility features to use these devices may benefit from the vast resources Apple offers, some of which, at least, may not be familiar to many.

That Apple develops their products with accessibility in mind is evident by the fact that accessibility features are built directly into all of their products. Apple notes that not only are accessibility features included; accessibility principles also are built in since accessibility features work the same way across Apple products and apps.

Their accessibility resources, however, are immense. If you navigate to you find radio buttons for overview, vision, hearing, physical and motor skills and learning and literacy. Choosing one of these radio buttons highlights Apple’s accessibility features pertaining to that disability. Additionally on the same page are links for accessibility features built specifically into OS X, Apple’s operating system for the Mac, iOS, the operating system for iPhones and iPads, tvOS, the Apple TV operating system and Apple Watch accessibility. Apple also provides a special e-mail address for accessibility questions and inquiries,

Finally on their support page, they provide a special number for visually or hearing impaired customers to call for accessibility concerns. If you call 1-877-204-3930, you reach a support specialist who is trained to handle accessibility inquiries and to fix problems with Apple devices from an accessibility perspective. Personally I have called because of problems with iCloud, Apple music and my iPhone and have received excellent service. Representatives are available 24 hours a day except for certain holidays like Christmas. Please note that this department does not handle sales inquiries; you would still call the regular Apple sales number 1-800-MYAPPLE (1-800-692-7753) for sales questions.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Guides Available for JAWS Users for Windows 10

VIP Software Guides for Windows 10

Guides for Windows with JAWS

In a previous Fred's head post from 2013 we learned that a website based in the UK offers several guides to various versions of Windows, Internet Explorer and screen magnification.

The site recently was updated with two guides for Windows 10. These guides include: A Guide To File Explorer and A Guide to the Task Bar

The second guide encompasses the Start menu, search, Cortana, the taskbar buttons, the notification area and notifications. The site contains helpful headings that allow users to locate their desired guides quite easily.

While the guides were developed specifically for JAWS users, most of the information applies to individuals using most screen readers. The site with all of the guides and other helpful links is available at this link

Thursday, February 04, 2016

February 2016 APH News now online

The February 2016 APH news is online and includes articles discussing new APH products including Building on Patterns Second Grade Units 4 and 6. Also the APH news includes an article proclaiming 2016 the Year of Braille, the Unforgettable APH Star Contest, the APH InSights Art Competition and more.

Throwback Thursday Object: indexing cassette player

Today's Throwback Thursday item as well as the encyclopedia which is discussed are items I received while in middle school. It certainly shows the amazing changes in the technology we blind people have utilized throughout the years.
Our object this week is an indexing cassette player introduced at APH in 1981.  Sometimes today we take it for granted that information on any topic imaginable is available with a few taps on our smart phone.  Before the internet, you’d have to visit a library and use an encyclopedia to get access to that much information.  There were a number of encyclopedia publishers but the two gold standard sets were—and are still today—



Britannica and World Book.   One of the largest single projects ever undertaken at APH was the production of a recorded edition of the World Book Encyclopedia.  Imagine it, the recording filled over two hundred four-track cassettes—it took up six feet of shelf space-- and you want to find a short article on the island of Guam.  Without indexing technology, you’d have to find the “GR-GU” cassette and fast forward a bit at a time with frequent starts and stops until you found the material you were interested in.  The specially designed cassette player applied a lot of previous APH research on playback technology.  A paper braille and large type index listed the exact location of each article.  Dials on the player let you select a track and location and go directly to the selected article with the push of a button.  It also included variable speed controls for rapid playback, but that was nothing new by 1980.  The project began in October 1978.  Three brand new recording studios were installed in 1979 to accommodate the recording process.  Some of our narrators read nothing else for many months.  Production of the indexing player began in January 1980.  It first appeared in the 1981 APH catalog, packaged together with the recorded encyclopedia, for $1,176.  Later the player was also sold separately, for $791.  Annual yearbooks for the encyclopedia were produced through 1984-85, the last year it was sold.  Incidentally, I talk like encyclopedias are dead and gone, but you can still buy them in both print and digital versions, and both have impressive on-line subscription services.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Building on Patterns, BOP Second Grade Unit 6 now available!

Building on Patterns: Primary Braille Literacy Program: Second Grade: Unit 6 Student Kit - UEB

A Walk on the Wild Side
Building on Patterns (BOP) is a complete primary literacy program designed to teach beginning braille users all language arts -- reading, writing, and spelling.

The Building on Patterns series addresses phonemic awareness (ability to hear and interpret sounds in speech), phonics (the association of written symbols with the sounds they represent), comprehension, fluency, and oral vocabulary, all of which have been identified as important for reading instruction.
This program also addresses specific skill areas needed by the child who is blind, such as language development, sound discrimination, tactual discrimination, and concept development. Braille contractions are introduced from the beginning along with sound and letter associations. Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) Skills such as using tactile graphics and technology are also included.
BOP Second Grade builds on the components of BOP First Grade and contains additional activities.

New Features 
  • Timed reading in each lesson
  • More independent reading suggestions
  • Simplified lesson monitoring sheets
  • Quick Read for silent reading and reading comprehension practice
  • Special section with information on individual contributors (authors, illustrators, etc.) to BOP in each unit

BOP Second Grade includes more worksheets, part-word braille contractions, and other remaining literary contractions and symbols along with the rules to use them. The curriculum also emphasizes syllables and multisyllabic words, and the effect of certain letter combinations on vowel sounds. For optional map work, each lesson gives the foreign origin of at least one spelling word.

Recommended ages: 7 to 8 years and up.
Prerequisite: BOP First Grade or equivalent skills.

Note: Each student kit includes Lesson Monitoring Sheets, Consumable Unit Assessment Packet, Student Textbooks, and Worksheets Pack.
IMPORTANT: Download the free UEB Teacher supplement here BOP Second Grade Unit 6 UEB Teacher Supplement and use the information to mark up your Teacher's Edition.

RELATED READING LIST: Scroll to the bottom of this page.
Age Range:
7 and Up
Grade Level:
Copyright Year:
>>Additional product information below
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Revised Quick Tip: APH on Facebook

See how you can make sure to always see our facebook posts, now updated with instructions for those using screen readers.

Quick Tip: My List

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Guidebook for Students with Hearing Impairments Preparing to Attend College

An organization named Accredited Schools Online has developed a comprehensive guidebook for hearing impaired students who are preparing to attend college. Accredited Schools Online states that it "is a comprehensive accreditation resource that provides prospective students and families with the tools needed to make well-informed decisions about their education."
The organization describes the guidebook as follows: We have taken special care to provide the most extensive knowledge we can in this guidebook in hopes to make the transition to college a less daunting task than it already is. Our guidebook includes tech tools for students with hearing impairments, how schools create more audible environments, and scholarships for students with hearing impairments.
While this book focuses on students with varying levels of hearing impairments, some of its content invariably applies to blind and visually impaired students, especially as it relates to self-advocacy and determining the disability resources each college offers
All this great information and more can be found here:

Directions For Me

Directions ForMe

Directions For Me

Do you have food stored away that you are not quite sure how to prepare correctly? Are you wondering exactly how you should use a particular medicine? Are you uncertain as to whether or not you should use your favorite cleaning product on certain surfaces? A service is available thanks to Horizons for the Blind called Directions for Me. You can reach it from Horizons for the Blind's site or from this link
You might wish to bookmark the site as locating it via search engine is painfully difficult.

Directions For Me provides directions for making baked goods, proper use of cleaners, frozen foods, tools, medicines, and a host of other things. The homepage offers the categories of food, health and beauty, and other. When in doubt, choose other as the list of available options under other is immense.

The variety of products offered is impressive; for instance, you do not get the directions for making just one kind of Betty Crocker brownies—you get directions for making more than half a dozen varieties depending on the size of the box, whether it uses dark chocolate, peanut butter, etc. There are even directions for store or private label brands like Clear Value and Everyday Value. Also if you know exactly what you are looking for, the site provides a search bar that you can use to find a specific product.

Directions For Me is a tremendously useful service. As you utilize it, if you are so inclined, you may donate to the site using the provided PayPal link.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Who is Paul Ferrara, APH's new social media coordinator?

As a child, I remember receiving many Braille books and noticing that on the first page, at the bottom they said, “American Printing House for the Blind, Louisville, Kentucky.” Having grown up in Delaware—yes Delaware is an actual state—I had no idea where this Louisville, Kentucky was. It seemed like a faraway place. I also remember receiving an abacus, periodic table and protractor from APH but never imagined I would associate myself directly with APH in the future.

I attended Sanford School, a private school in Delaware from sixth grade through high school. Then I attended Gettysburg College, obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. Eventually, I would earn two masters degrees from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the reason I came to Louisville originally.

Except for my time in seminary when there were a few blind or visually impaired students, I was the only blind student at my high school and college so I learned to live in the sighted world. As a result, a career in the blindness/disability field seemed unlikely for many years.

I began working for Citibank in 2008, expecting that my position there would be temporary; at the same time, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up—a scary thing to think when you are well into your 30’s. In 2011, although I cannot remember exactly what caused it, a light seemingly came on in my head. I was working with my computer and my screen reader, and I realized that assistive technology was not just a tool or a hobby for me; it was what I wanted to immerse myself in and make my career field of choice. For the next two years, I worked seemingly in vain, unable to find a suitable position and feeling like I had no hope of a career change. Then, however, the director of what was then APH’s Accessible Tests Department (now Accessible Tests and Textbooks) offered me an opportunity to do part-time assistive technology consulting. I tested test publisher websites and their sample tests for accessibility, recommending modifications when necessary. While I continued seeking any available full-time assistive technology position, I waited patiently also for a suitable job to become available at APH. After slightly more than two years of waiting, I obtained the social media coordinator position. I am pleased to have the opportunity to tell APH’s story on this blog as well as our other social media sites. I look forward to interacting with each of you. You can expect a diverse array of content focusing on APH’s mission and also focusing on products and services that assist the blind and visually impaired community. Let us enjoy this journey together!


Paul Ferrara

Social Media Coordinator

American Printing House for the Blind

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