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, July 29, 2016

Free Resources for People Who Are Blind to Learn to Use Apple Products

Free Resources for People Who Are Blind to Learn to Use Apple Products

In this post, we will highlight some websites that offer free tutorials, podcasts and other materials developed to teach persons who are blind and visually impaired how to use Apple products. This list is not necessarily comprehensive; we welcome comments that mention other materials you have used that accomplish the same purpose. Additionally, we include free information here; we may create a separate post which highlights other resources that are available for purchase.




AppleVis describes itself as a “ccommunity-powered website for blind and low-vision users of Apple's range of Mac computers, the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Apple TV and Apple Watch.” AppleVis seeks to accomplish their goal of empowering persons who are blind and visually impaired by providing a wide range of content concerning Apple products.


Getting Started

AppleVis contains a detailed “Getting Started” section which, as you would expect, offers written descriptions and audio demonstrations of persons who are blind and visually impaired using Apple products. AppleVis describes this section of its site as follows:


If you’ve just got your first Mac, iOS device or Apple Watch, congratulations!

To help you get started, we’ve compiled a list of selected content from right across the AppleVis website which we believe will answer many of your initial questions and familiarize you with the accessibility features of your new Apple product.


If you browse any of these lists, you will notice that you can choose particular features of a given device that you want to learn to utilize; alternatively, you can move through the materials in a more systematic manner so that you can learn the most essential features of each device at your leisure.


App Directories

AppleVis has created app directories which describe apps and discuss their accessibility and how accessibility has changed in an app when an update is released or a feature is added or changed. The site says,


“Also be sure to browse our iOS, Mac and Apple Watch App Directories, in which you will find information submitted by our community on the accessibility of 1000s of applications.”

Anyone can sign up for an AppleVis account; doing so permits individuals to write and subsequently post reviews of apps. Such posts are especially beneficial when an app becomes significantly more or less accessible. Remember that an app, particularly one not created for persons who are blind and visually impaired, can gain or lose accessibility when it is updated; read reviews, of course, with the understanding that changes in an app can alter accessibility tremendously for good or bad.

Also, AppleVis has put together a list of apps created for persons who are blind and visually impaired. “If you are looking for iOS apps that have been developed specifically for blind or low vision users and which will help you in your daily life, you can find our list of these here.”

One additional feature of the AppleVis site is the forum section which allows you to post questions or answer questions others have submitted. Follow AppleVis on Twitter @AppleVis or on Facebook at and visit the site at




Maccessibility is another site devoted to providing information about Apple products and their accessibility. The site describes itself in this way:


Maccessibility is devoted to connecting, compiling, and providing easy access to the best resources for blind, visually impaired, and other disability groups using Apple products. It is maintained by a dedicated group of visually impaired volunteers who are Apple enthusiasts themselves. … Today, Maccessibility provides news and commentary, podcasts, and online communities, and more to low and no vision users of Apple products.


One important distinction between AppleVis and Maccessibility is the difference in the way podcasts are grouped and their overall content. AppleVis tends to make their podcast content very specific and much shorter in length whereas often Maccessibility creates much lengthier podcasts that cover a variety of subjects in one podcast. Both sites provide detailed descriptions of the content you will read or hear if you choose to do so. Both sites provide content that can benefit all levels of Apple product users from beginners to the most experienced users. Additionally, both sites provide links that you may use to donate to their work. You can follow Maccessibility on Twitter @Maccessibility. Also, if you browse their podcasts, you may also follow individual contributors on their specific social media accounts as well. Visit Maccessibility at




MacForTheBlind provides a detailed listing of podcasts, tips and tricks, how-to pieces, news, product demonstrations, documentation and news about Apple products. The webmaster is an Authorized Apple Business Affiliate and an Apple Certified Trainer and Support Professional who owns a large number of Apple products. MacForTheBlind describes its mission as follows:


1.      Provide information and answers to common questions about VoiceOver on the Mac or iOS devices.

2.      Make available “how to” posts, tips and tricks, and other basic tutorials on a variety of Mac and iOS related subjects, such as software and apps.

3.      Provide resources, links to podcasts, and other useful links to other Mac related sites in our community.

4.      Offer help for common and even not so common technical support issues on the Mac or iDevices.

5.      Make available opportunities for training with VoiceOver on either the Mac or on iOS devices.

6.      Offer training and demonstration videos and/or podcasts.

7.      Offer advertisement opportunities for developers and other companies.


The webmaster provides training to individuals and groups, the cost of which could be determined by contacting him. The site also offers audio tutorials which you must pay to access. Follow @Macfortheblind on Twitter, visit their Facebook page at and visit their site at




VoiceOver Easy Home Page


This site is different in several ways from those we covered previously. It provides basic lessons for using VoiceOver on iOS devices only. It does not contain forums, blogs or news. Instead its purpose is to teach people, in a step-by-step manner, how to accomplish basic functions on their iPad or iPhone.

One of the most appreciated features of VoiceOver Easy Home Page is its customization based on what device you wish to learn to use. After some introductory material, the site provides accessible combo boxes; the first asks you to select which device you want to learn to use. After you make your selection, you proceed to the next combo box which asks you what version of the iOS software you have on your device. Next you find lessons broken down into units. The units are listed in a table of contents format which you can open or collapse using the provided buttons. VoiceOver Easy Home Page describes its courses by saying, “ courses are tutorials geared toward blind and visually impaired users of iPhones and iPads with Siri capability, and who use Apple Corporation's accessibility technology called VoiceOver to read the screen of their device.”  The site describes its purpose as follows:


This website was developed in order to provide a detailed, step by step tutorial for blind and visually impaired users of the VoiceOver assistive technology found in iPhones and iPads. This site makes no assumptions that the reader has any previous knowledge of or experience with iPhones or iPads, and no previous experience using VoiceOver is necessary to begin using these lessons.


Thus, VoiceOver Easy Home Page is intended to teach persons who are blind and visually impaired basic VoiceOver functions. Although the other listed sites are more detailed and cover more advanced material, VoiceOver Easy Home Page is an excellent place to visit for basic VoiceOver information, even more so if you prefer a site that is more simplified in its design or less detailed. Visit the VoiceOver Easy Home Page at


Miscellaneous Resources

Apple provides a guide for using VoiceOver on the Mac at The guide is broken down into chapters which are links so you may select the chapter you want to read and move back and forth through the guide. VoiceOver also includes a Quick Start tutorial; a Mac automatically presents this tutorial to you the first time you turn on VoiceOver using Command-F5. You can take the tutorial at any time as long as VoiceOver is on by pressing VO-Command-F8 (VO = control-Option keys).

An iOS device also has a VoiceOver practice mode; VoiceOver must be turned on using Siri or by pressing the home button three times. Once VoiceOver is on, go to settings, general, accessibility, VoiceOver, VoiceOver practice, and practice Voiceover gestures. Tap the done button in the top right portion of the screen to close VoiceOver practice.


Finally, you can download the free Looktel VoiceOver Tutorial app which is available on the app store at You also can search for Looktel or VoiceOver Tutorial. Of course, this app familiarizes you with basic VoiceOver commands, a few of which you may need to know already to download apps. However, it uses games and challenges to introduce more and more advanced gestures and provides feedback to let you know that you used each gesture correctly.




While other sites and tutorials may exist, these are the ones most easily located. We encourage you to share any others you find helpful. We may soon provide a post with paid resources; these free resources should provide plenty of material for the development of your knowledge of VoiceOver on Apple devices.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Throwback Thursday Object: 1920's Road Map

Our object this week is a bit of a mystery, but very interesting.  By mystery I mean we do not know who made it, or why, or when.  It is the what of it that is interesting.  It is a tactile map of the U.S. Highway System, probably made in the 1920s.  We know it can’t be much earlier than 1925 because it includes Route 66 between Chicago and Los Angeles.  And it can’t be much later than 1928 because U.S. 60 in Kentucky is not on the map.   The base of the map is made from plywood, and the borders of the states are routed out.  The Great Lakes, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the Gulf of Mexico are routed out and painted blue.  The roads themselves are made from flexible wire that is soldered together where the roads meet.  Brass pins mark the locations of major cities, but only those that are located on the roads.  Louisville, which today has three major interstates connecting it to the rest of the nation, is not marked, because U.S. 60 is not on the map.  There is a brass key to the map in braille in one corner.  It is a large piece, measuring about 48 inches wide and 30 inches tall.  The key tells us that the scale is one inch equals seventy-five miles.  The map was found with a number of molds and patterns from other tactile maps made at APH over the years, so it is possible it was a new product idea that never made it much past the drawing board.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Beautiful Braille: Show Your Love of Braille with Braille Jewelry

Are you looking for a unique gift, something for someone in your life who loves Braille? Maybe you want something unusual, unlike anything you can find in a regular jewelry store. In this post we will describe four websites that offer Braille jewelry, one of which sells other types of jewelry also and three which focus entirely on Braille.
The first site is called Katoj; it carries a line of Braille jewelry. They explain why they make Braille jewelry by saying:
Inspired by Nikki and Kendall, our friend’s twin daughters who are visually impaired, our Braille necklace and bracelet designs are a special edition to our line. Each ½” disc is stamped with one raised Braille cell that can be read by the Blind and Visually Impaired. We solder the jump rings for extra endurance and include a large jump ring on the end to ensure the discs do not fall off the chain upon removal. Our Braille design is not just for the VI community, it has also grown in popularity among young women who simply want a fun and trendy design that keeps their initials a mystery!
The site lets you choose up to 6 discs which equates to six Braille cells. Additionally, you can add one or two charms which could include crosses, stars of David, peace signs, or birthstones among others. Selecting your items is quite easy, and this portion of the site is fully accessible (we did not review the portions that did not include Braille items). Next you pick the length of the chain and write what goes in the discs and add your creation to the cart. Get more information or complete an order at
Next we mention a site called Braille Design which touts itself as, "Your source for custom Braille products made by experienced braillists." Braille Design also states that they are "the home of custom Braille jewelry, t-shirts and gifts. Tactile treasures designed to delight everyone." Some of their offerings include American Sign Language jewelry, Braille cane charms, guide dog harness charms, ID tags, Braille military-style dog tags, Braille neclaces, Braille earrings, Braille bracelets, and much more. You can customize many of these items; the site explains the materials that are used to create the items and the customization that is available. Follow them on Twitter @BrailleDesign or visit their site at
Our third site is called Elegant Insights Braille Creations. They present "Jewelry and accessories with a tactile twist." Elegant Insights groups their offerings into specific collections, such as the Spot-On Dog Tag Collection, the Touch of Nature collection, the Vain Cane Collection, the Initial Impressions Collection, the Touch of Purse-onality collection, the American Sign Language collection (coming soon), and many more. Elegant Insights also lets you customize many of their items. Follow them on Twitter @ElegantInsights, subscribe to their e-mail list to learn about the release of new products, or visit them at
Finally At First Sight Braille Jewelry is another place to find Braille charms, bracelets, bookmarks and more. At First Sight describes itself as "The original Braille fashion jewelry." Some of its products differ in terms of the sayings and items offered including Naughty Braille; they also, however, offer items like a touching words bookmark, a Sing Dance Love crystal bracelet or neclace, a Braille alphabet bracelet, and a Rock Out guitar pick keychain or charm. View their items at
Braille Designs, Elegant Insights, and At First Sight, as we noted above, focus on Braille jewelry. These sites are quite accessible and include well-described photographs of much of the jewelry they sell. Explore all four of these sites; perhaps you will find the perfect Braille gift for yourself or a loved one.

Friday, July 15, 2016

BeSpecular and Be My Eyes: Apps that Assist the Blind in Identifying Objects with the Assistance of Sighted Helpers

While several apps exist that assist persons who are blind and visually impaired with identifying objects, most of them do not involve direct interaction between the person who is blind and a sighted helper. Two differing apps, however, do use interaction between individuals as the basis for their determining objects, colors, and other related information for a person who is blind. BeSpecular is an app that launched in July of 2016 while Be My Eyes has existed for a couple of years.BeSpecular describes its operation as follows:The BeSpecular app equips VIPs (the term the app developers use to refer to persons who are blind or visually impaired) with a tool that enables them to lead more independent lives. Both our groups (visually impaired persons, VIPs and sightlings, which is the term the app developers use for people with sight) will have the BeSpecular app. A VIP is able to take a photo of something that they need more detail about (e.g. what colour is this shirt). The VIP adds a voice message to the photo and sends it to the BeSpecular Sightlings. A Sightling who’s active on their account will receive a push notification (e.g. John wants to see through your eyes). Sightlings can choose to proceed and answer the VIPs question via a text or voice message, or if a Sightling is busy they can let the question expire and rest assured that another Sightling will pick up the VIPs question.While several apps exist that assist persons who are blind or visually impaired with identifying objects, most of them do not involve direct interaction between the person who is blind and a sighted helper. Two recently developed apps do, however, use interaction between individuals as the basis for determining objects or distinguishing colors or other pertinent information for a person who is blind. BeSpecular is an app that launched in July of 2016 while Be My Eyes has existed for a couple of years.
BeSpecular describes its operation as follows:
The BeSpecular app equips VIPs, (the term the app developers use to refer to persons who are blind and visually impaired), with a tool that enables them to live more independent lives. Both our groups, (visually impaired persons, VIPs), and sightlings, (which is the term the developers use for people with sight), will have the BeSpecular app. A VIP is able to take a photo of something they need more detail about (e.g. what color is this shirt). The VIP adds a voice message to the photo and sends it to the BeSpecular sightlings. A sightling who's active on their account will receive a push notification (e.g. John wants to see through your eyes). Sightlings can choose to proceed and answer the VIPs question via a text or voice message, or if a sightling is busy they can let the question expire and rest assured that another sightling will pick up the VIPs question.
Here is how Be My Eyes describes its service:

A blind person requests assistance in the Be My Eyes app. The challenge that he/she needs help with can be anything from knowing the expiration date on the milk to navigating new surroundings.

The volunteer helper receives a notification for help and a live video connection is established. From the live video the volunteer can help the blind person by answering the question they need answered.

Even though both apps seek to assist persons who are blind and visually impaired, the apps differ in several important ways. BeSpecular requires the person requesting assistance to take a photo of the item that needs a description and then to record a voice message. The volunteer with sight responds via voice or text message; if the picture is blurry or out of focus, you may need to retake it in order to receive acceptable results.

Be My Eyes works through video chat; as long as it can make a good connection, the person who is blind can connect to the person who is sighted, and the person who is sighted can direct the person who is blind regarding the placement of an item, the need to move the phone’s camera, etc..

Since each person who is blind is different and has varying abilities in terms of taking pictures and operating their phone, it may be best to try both apps and determine which one works best for you individually. BeSpecular is available for iOS and Android while Be My Eyes currently only has an iOS app available. Both apps have Twitter and Facebook pages, a frequently asked questions page, informational websites, and both are free of charge. You can download the apps from these sites or from your app store of choice simply by searching for BeSpecular or Be My Eyes. To read more information, navigate to and

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

July 2016 APH News now online

**This Month’s Headlines:

  • Building on Patterns Writers Meet to Begin Kindergarten Revision
  • Special Event at AER International: Groundbreaking Developments from APH!
  • Bold...Strong...Together! Annual Meeting 2016
  • APH Needs Your Help with Transition and O&M
  • APH Needs Your Feedback about PAIVI!
  • Treasures from the APH Libraries
  • Social Media Spotlight
  • APH Travel Calendar
  • New Products from APH
  • The Braille Book Corner and much, much more…
  • The news is available at


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