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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Friday, April 29, 2016

New Career Advantage Employment Preparation Primer for Visually Impaired Persons

The National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision (NRTC) at Mississippi State University has received funding from the United States Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) to create Career Advantage, an employment preparation primer for blind and visually impaired persons. The NRTC describes this new program as follows:

Are you blind or visually impaired? Are you making the transition from high school, college, or other training program into the workforce? Or are you an adult seeking to find or change employment? If so, this self-guided program was designed for you!

Career Advantage offers eight instructional modules which you can explore at your own pace. Portions of the program require advanced reading levels, which those with a high school degree typically have. The first four modules provide tools to take you, step by step, through the processes of self-assessment, career exploration, development of effective job search techniques, and decision-making about resume design and development. Information about job accommodations, talking to employers about vision loss, and the interview process are covered in modules 5 through 7. The final module of Career Advantage offers information, suggestions, and activities to help you move beyond learning new skills to applying them as an effective job-seeker. The NRTC researchers and designers of Career Advantage wish you success in your efforts to secure employment that is a good fit for your skills and interests!

In order to gain access to the program, please complete the survey found at this link:

 Read more about the program at the following link:

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Throwback Thursday: OCR the Old-Fashioned Way!

Our object this week may not look like much, a couple of large putty colored plastic and aluminum boxes.  You’d need a suitcase to carry them around, but today their equivalent fits in your pocket.  This is a Kurzweil Personal Reader by Xerox from about 1988.  The box on the left is an optical scanner.  It worked much like a modern flatbed scanner.  You raised the lid, laid your reading material down on the glass plate, and scanned your material one page at a time.  The box on the right was stuffed with electronics that took the scan and converted it into synthesized speech.  In essence, the Personal Reader worked like a photocopy machine, but instead of printing a copy of a page, it read the page out loud.  (Incidentally, the machine used Digital Equipment Corporation's DECtalk, a speech synthesizer and text-to-speech technology developed in the early 1980s, based largely on the work of Dennis Klatt at MIT.)  With the Personal Reader, almost anything that was in print could be read by a blind or visually impaired reader, and at their convenience.  No more waiting for a volunteer reader to record a book, or for it to be translated into braille.

Raymond Kurzweil, a pioneering futurist interested in pattern recognition and artificial intelligence, founded Kurzweil Computer Products in the early 1970s to develop reading machines for people with vision loss.  He was the first to develop practical optical character recognition for blind readers.  His first desktop models came out in 1978 at a cost of $19,400, a price affordable only for libraries and institutions.  Xerox bought the company in 1980, renaming it Xerox Imaging Systems.  Under that name, Kurzweil developed several different generations of his original machine.  The Reading Edge, introduced in 1992, was the first stand-alone and "almost portable" version.  At less than $6,000, it was the first reader that might be possibly affordable for the average blind consumer.

If you have a cell phone in your pocket, and the right app, you can scan a sign or your mail or just about anything, and your phone can read it to you in seconds.  It’s not always perfect, but it works, and the technology in that little box can be traced back to the technology in these big boxes.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Use Facebook Messenger to Book a Ride with Lyft or Uber

Facebook recently added a very useful service to its Messenger app, an app you can use even if you don’t have a Facebook account.

Messenger now allows you to book a ride with Lyft or Uber directly through Messenger as long as the particular service is available where you live. Facebook says the following about its new offering: Today, we’re expanding the services available to you with our launch of transportation on Messenger. With this new feature, you can request a ride from a car service without ever needing to download an extra app or leave a conversation. It’s super easy and doesn’t take you away from the plans that you’re making with your friends or family.

Admittedly it is rather difficult to spot the location of this service in the app; I located it while browsing the newest version. In order to utilize this service, you must open up any conversation you are having in Messenger.

Once you do this, flick down past the options for text, camera, etc. Locate the “more” option and double tap it. You will see several choices; “transportation” is one of the first choices. Double tap it when you locate it.

Next we find the one accessibility issue with using this service. It is one, though, that you can work around even if it is rather annoying. As you flick to the right, once you hear the “like” option, you can flick two more times. When you do, each time you hear only a click sound, the sound you hear when you try to do something and your phone’s screen reader is locked up or moving slowly. It is different from the bonk sound you hear when you have reached the final item in a list; it is a barely audible click. Fortunately, even if you have trouble hearing it, you should be able to remember that after “like” are two options with only the click as feedback.

The first click represents Lyft; if you double tap after hearing that first click, a screen comes up allowing you to sign up for or sign into Lyft without using or downloading the app. You get messages about the driver’s whereabouts and whatever else you need to know.

If you flick twice past “like”, you reach Uber’s icon; double tap it and notice a very similar screen with the same options and functionality.

You may receive a free ride for using this service if you are a new user of Lyft or Uber; existing users do not get this free ride at this time. Again, you can request the ride without downloading any other apps and without interrupting your conversations on Messenger.

The services, of course, are available only in areas served by Lyft or Uber. Check and to get this information.

Remember you can take advantage of this service through the Messenger app itself; you need not have a Facebook account.

Messenger continues to add new features; if any others are added that may benefit the blind or visually impaired community, we may highlight them here also.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Crab Braille Duplicator

Our object this week is an interesting device introduced by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) around 1968 to emboss metal stereotype plates by hand.  The “Crab Braille Duplicator” was manufactured by the Coventry Gauge & Tool Company in Coventry, England.  Coventry did other braillewriters and slates for RNIB as well, under the brand name Matrix.  The basic design for the “Crab” was based on the much older Stainsby-Wayne Braillewriter (introduced around 1903) and it worked in much the same way, except its heavier castings allowed it to emboss metal rather than paper.  Each time the keys were pressed, the carriage would advance one space to the right until it reached the end of the line.  Pins on the carriage fit into holes in a backing board and could be advanced down the board one line at a time, literally by the lifting the carriage and sliding it down one position.  The most distinguishing feature on the machine, its widely splayed six keys, is what gives it the name, as they resemble the legs on a crab.  The operator would sit with elbows held out away from their body in order to get their fingers in position.  It is hard to imagine what your arms would feel like after a long day of that!  But it would allow a small shop to inexpensively prepare braille stereotype plates.  The plates could then be used in a modified printing press to emboss braille, or even used in a roller press (it looked and acted like an old fashioned wringer on a washing machine) also available from RNIB.  This example was found in our model shop at APH.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Commemorative Medal

Our object this week is a new acquisition, donated by Mireille Duhen.  Ms. Duhen works at the Association Valentin Haüy in Paris, and is constantly reminding me how many innovations in education for the blind had their roots in France.   It is a commemorative medal, cast in bronze, remembering Dr. Valentin Haüy (1745-1822).  It features his face in profile on the right, with his hair neatly pulled back into a pigtail tied with a bow and his sideburns curled.  Dr. Haüy founded the first school for blind students in the world in Paris, France in 1784, the Institut Royale des Jeunes Aveugles .  He also invented the tactile book.  By the time the medal was made, the name had been changed to Institut National, reflecting the fall of the monarchy during the French Revolution  This medal, sculpted by Frederic de Vernon, was completed in 1887.  A rectangle left blank on the back of the medal allowed it to be used for various awards, in this instance the Prix Wilkins de Varney.  The award was established at the school in 1857 for good character by a female student, and was awarded based upon a vote by students and teachers.  There are examples of different medals being used for the award on the web over the years.  We don’t know who Clotilde Liserta was, but it does personalize the medal a lot for me to imagine her proudly clutching it and surrounded by her admiring friends after receiving it in 1895. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Accessible ThermostatsPart One

My goal for this post seemed simple enough--to identify and discuss options for accessible thermostats which blind people could control. Finding talking thermostat options was easy enough, however, I also knew that options existed which permitted smartphone users to control thermostats using the aforementioned smartphone. Thermostats which fall into this second category are much more numerous so we will discuss those options in the second installment of our series. For now let's look at talking thermostat options.

At one time, blind people had two talking thermostat options; one was the Kelvin Talking Thermostat. While several references to it still exist online, the reviews and commentary that one will locate dates back to 2007-09 with perhaps a sparse reference to 2012-13. Most sites show the Kelvin as no longer available while one review from 2009 says that it is a clearance item. This site states that it is available, but I was unable to locate an accessible way to add it to the site’s shopping cart.

Thus if one prefers a talking thermostat, the best place to look is the VIP Talking Thermostat site which offers 2 models, the VIP 1007 and the VIP 3000. The 1007 can control single stage 24 Vac gas, oil and electric furnaces and single stage air conditioning systems. It replaces most 2, 3, 4 and 5 wire alalog and digital thermostats; it does not work with heat pumps.

The 3000 (images included) is a “universal multi-stage talking thermostat that can control most 24 Vac AC and heating systems including the newest multi-stage (up to 3 stages of heat and 2 stages of cooling) gas, oil and electric furnaces, air conditioners and heat pump/dual fuel systems with 1 or 2 stage compressors and auxiliary heat. The 3000 also has other enhancements not found in the 1007 as the 3000 uses newer technology. When the Report button is pressed on the VIP 3000, the user hears the room temperature, the temperature setting and the mode, heat, cool or off. The mode was not announced on the VIP 1007. The Up – Down arrow buttons not only announce the temperature setting, they also announce the mode. Again, Heat or Cool.  The VIP 1007 did not announce the mode. The biggest enhancements, though, are in the System Settings.  The VIP 3000 uses push buttons that talk. When the user pushes the Fan Button, the VIP 3000 announces “Fan On”.  Push again and the thermostat announces “Fan Auto”.  The VIP 1007 uses an Up – Down mechanical vertical switch that does not talk.  Up is “Fan On”, down is “Fan Auto”. When the user pushes the System Button to change modes, the VIP 3000 announces “Off”, push again, it announces “Cool”, push again, it announces “Heat”.  If the VIP 3000 is programmed for Heat Pump operation, it will announce “Auxiliary”.  Lastly, if the VIP 3000 is programmed for “Automatic Changeover, it will announce “Auto”.  Again, the VIP 1007 uses a mechanical vertical switch that does not talk.  The VIP 1007 does not have the “Auxiliary Heat” or “Automatic Changeover option”. The 3000 is demonstrated well in this VIP 3000 YouTube Video.
Information on thermostats one can control using a smartphone will follow soon.

Friday, April 08, 2016

JAWS and MAGic Student Edition Available through APH

Freedom Scientific and the American Printing House for the Blind have partnered to make a “JAWS® and MAGic® Student Edition” available starting today to K-12 students in the U.S. using Federal Quota funds! These special software subscriptions are purchased exclusively through APH and allow students to install full versions of JAWS and/or MAGic on ANY computer they access (up to three machines). This allows students to have 24 hour, 365 day-a-year access to their computers at both school and home! One subscription purchase gives the student access to full versions of both JAWS and MAGic with all updates included. For more information, go to

Cerebral/Cortical Visual Impairment: A National Conversation

Cerebral/Cortical Visual Impairment: A National Conversation

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) came together to sponsor a full day workshop on CVI at the AFB Leadership Conference in Arlington, Virginia held March 3, 2016.
The conversation was designed to unite a core group of people to work together to build upon prior knowledge, initiate research, and discuss best practice interventions in support of the CVI population.
Presenters shared their work on CVI assessment, research, intervention strategies, need for multi-disciplinary teaming and the development of university coursework for future vision professionals. Attendees shared their concerns and needs regarding this complicated diagnosis. Discussion points arose related to the need for theory-based, ongoing research, educational product development, adaptations for curriculum, and guidance in the area of orientation and mobility. A CVI Division of AER was proposed and will be pursued as a way to continue the national conversation that began at AFBLC.

Presenters: Susan Sullivan (APH), Dr. Chris Clark-Bischke, Dr. Christine Roman-Lantzy, George Abbott (AFB), Dr. Lotfi Merabet, Dr. Amanda Lueck, Mindy Ely, Dr. Mary Morse, Melody Furze, and Michelle Clyne.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

April APH News

The April 2016 APH News is now available. Read about new products, an article on a conference discussing Cerebral/Cortical Visual Impairment, the Orbit Reader 20, JAWS and Magic Student Editions, and much more. To read the full version go to 

Quick Tip: Time For Art. Check out this book featuring loads of art projects specifically designed for individuals with blindness or visual impairments!

Friday, April 01, 2016

Touch Mapper: Create a Tactile Map of any Outdoor Area

Touch Mapper,, is a service where anyone can create a tactile map automatically of any outdoor area. A typical map, 17 cm (6.7 inches) across, costs 35 euros (about 40 dollars though prices are subject to change). If you happen to have access to a 3D printer, you can print the map yourself, free of charge.


The maps include roads, buildings, railways and water areas. Roads of all sizes are included. Since pedestrian roads are often the most essential ones to label, they are elevated tactually more than other roads shown on the map. This feature allows blind people more easily to locate or determine a route that they intend to navigate on foot.


You can choose between different scales and map sizes. Roads can be printed in a different color than the rest of the map if desired.


The website is quite accessible with screen readers. The area that you wish to map out is selected by entering a street address into the edit box, and a tactile marker is placed on the map in that location. The north-east corner of the map is raised so you know which way to hold the map. 

Map data comes from OpenStreetMap, an open source map that anyone can edit, like Wikipedia.


Because the price point for these maps is much lower than the typical price point for traditional tactile maps, Touch Mapper makes it possible for the first time to get a tactile map for areas important to you; getting a map of your own neighborhood is a good example for a likely scenario for utilizing the service.

For more information, visit or email

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