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, December 29, 2016

Throwback Thursday Object: Early Large Type Book

Early Large Type Book
Our object this week continues our December holiday theme.  Hall of Famer Robert Irwin started his career leading classes for blind students in the Cleveland public schools in 1909.  One of his many innovations was the creation of “conservation of vision” classes around 1913 for low vision students.  These later became known as “sight-saving” classrooms and to facilitate his work, Irwin founded a publishing company to print the large type books his students would need.  Our object is one of Irwin’s books from the Cleveland Clear Type Publishing Committee, “The First Christmas Tree,” from 1926.  It was printed in a 30 point san serif font, with no illustrations.  It is bound in a simple green linen.  The story, by American religious writer Henry Van Dyke, revolves around a trip by the Christian missionary St. Boniface in the 8th century A.D. to tribes in Germany.  Let’s just say that Marvel’s super hero Thor is the bad guy and leave it at that.  But my favorite part is the State of Louisiana Free Textbook Form pasted inside the front cover. It required students to pledge to a “Good Citizenship Code,” including a promise to “arrange my books neatly in my desk” and “respect and take care of the Property of the State.”  This example was donated to APH by Warren Figueiredo at the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired. The first picture is a wide shot of the book; the second shows the title page while the third is an example of the book's text.

Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Throwback Thursday Object: Hellen Keller Describes One Christmas As a Student at a School for the Blind

Our object this week continues our celebration here at APH of the holiday season.  In the December 1906 issue of Ladies' Home Journal,  author and activist Helen Keller describes the Christmas holidays as experienced by herself and other blind students at the Perkins Institution for the Blind in the late 19th century.  Enjoy!

*The Ladies' Home Journal, December, 1906

Christmas in the Dark, by Helen Keller

When I was a little girl I spent the Christmas holidays one year at the Perkins Institution for the Blind. Some of the children, whose homes were far away, or who had no homes, had remained at the school. I have never known a merrier Christmas than that.

I hear some one ask: "What pleasure can Christmas hold for children who cannot see their gifts or the sparkling tree or the ruddy smile of Santa Claus? "The question would be answered if you had seen that Christmas of the blind children. The only real blind person at Christmas-time is he who has not Christmas in his heart. We sightless children had the best of eyes that day in our hearts and in our finger-tips. We were glad from the child's necessity of being happy. The blind who have outgrown the child's perpetual joy can be children again on Christmas Day and celebrate in the midst of them who pipe and dance and sing a new song!

For ten days before the holiday I was never still a single moment. I would be one of the party that went Christmasing. I laid my hands on everything that offered itself in the shops, and insisted on buying whatever I touched, until my teacher's eyes could not follow my fingers. How she ever kept me within the bounds of the fitness of things, maintained the scale of values, and overtook the caprices of my fancy, is matter of amazement. To the prettiest doll I would adhere a moment, then discover a still prettier one, and by decision the more perplex her and myself. At last the presents were selected and brought home.

Next, a great Christmas tree, a cedar which towered above my head, was brought to the house where the children lived and planted in the middle of the parlour. Preparation kept'. us busy for a week. I helped to hang wreaths of holly in the windows and over pictures, and had my share in trimming the tree. I ascended and descended continually on the ladder to tie on little balls, apples, oranges, cornucopias, strings of popcorn and festoons of tinsel. Then we attached the little tapers which should set the tree aglow. Last came the gifts. As we placed one and then another, it became more and more difficult for my fingers to thread their way in and out between the candles, the dangling balls, and the swinging loops of corn and tinsel, to find a secure position for the gifts. It seemed as if the green, sweet-scented branches must break with the burden of love-offerings heaped upon them, and soon the higher branches did begin to bend alarmingly with each heavier bundle, "like the cliff-swallow's nest, most like to fall when fullest."

One of the last gifts I hung in the midst of the thick branches was a most unseasonable and incongruous exotic -- a toy cocoanut palm with a monkey, which had movable limbs, and which at the pressure of a spring would run up and slide down with a tiny cocoanut upon his head. Behold the miracle of toyland, a palm grafted upon a cedar! What matters botany? When a little girl wants anything to happen at Christmas, it happens and she is content.

Finally the tree was trimmed. Stars and crescents sparkled from branch to branch beneath my fingers, and farther up a large silver moon jostled the sun and stars. At the very top an angel with spread wings looked down on this wondrous, twinkling world -- the child's Christmas world complete! But I think the stupendous view must have made him a little dizzy, for he kept turning slantwise and crosswise and anywise but the way a Christmas angel should float over a Christmas tree.

My teacher and the motherly lady who was matron in that house were children themselves; it really seemed as if there could not be a grave, experienced grown-up in the world. We admonished each other not to let fall a whisper of the mysteries that awaited the blind children, and for once I kept the whole matter at a higher value than a state secret.

On Christmas Eve I went to bed early, only to hop up many times to rearrange some package, to which I remembered I had not given the finishing touches, and to use all my powers of persuasion with the unruly angel whom I invariably found in a reprehensible position.

Long before any one else was downstairs on Christmas morning, I took my last touch-look at the tree, and lo! the angel was correctly balanced, looking down in serene poise on the brilliant world below him. I suspected that Santa Claus had passed that way, and that under his discipline the angel, probably only a demi-angel, had been released from his sublunary infirmities. I turned to go, quite satisfied, when I discovered that Sadie's doll had shut her eyes on all the splendour that shone about her! "This will never do," I said -- "sleeping at this time!" I poked her vigorously, until she winked, and finally, to show she was really awake, kicked Jupiter in the side, which disturbed the starry universe. But I had the planets in their orbits again before it was time for them to shine on the children.

After a hurried breakfast the blind children were permitted to enter the parlour and pass their hands over the tree. They knew instantly, without eyes, what a marvellous tree it was, filled with the good smells of June, filled with the songs of birds that had southward flown, filled with fruit that at the slightest touch tumbled into their laps. I felt them shout, I felt them dance up and down, and we all crowded about and hugged each other in rapture.

I distributed all the gifts myself and felt the gestures of delight as the children opened them. Very pretty gifts they were, well suited to sightless children. No disappointing picture-books, or paint-boxes, or kaleidoscopes, or games that require the use of sight. But there were many toys wonderful to handle, dolls, both boys and girls, including a real baby doll with a bottle in its mouth; chairs, tables, sideboards, and china sets, pincushions and work-baskets, little cases containing self-threading needles that the blind can use, sweet-scented handkerchiefs, pretty things to wear, and dainty ornaments that render children fair to look upon. Blind children, who cannot see, love to make themselves pretty for others to see.

There were animals, too, fierce lions and tigers, which proved that appearances are most deceptive, for when one took their heads off one found them full of sweet things. One girl had a bear that danced and growled whenever she wound a key somewhere in the region of its neck. Another had a cow that mooed when she turned its head.

The older children received books in raised 'print, not mournful, religious books, such as some good people see fit to choose for the sightless, but pleasant ones like "Undine," or Hawthorne's "Twice-Told Tales," or "The Story of Patsy," or "Alice in Wonderland." Fairy tales, novels, essays, books of travel and history, and magazines well filled with news of the world and gossipy articles are thumbed by the blind until the raised letters are worn down. Books of gloomy, depressing character, and many that are full of dry wisdom and no doubt very good for our morals, are likely to repose on the top shelf until the dust takes possession of them. The blind are rendered by their very affliction keenly alive to what is joyous and diverting. Their books are necessarily few, and most of them ought to be delightful and entertaining.

After we had touched our presents to our hearts' content we romped and frolicked as long as the little ones could go, and longer. If you had looked in on our unlagging merriment and had never seen blind children at play before, you might have been surprised that in our wildest gyrations we did not run into the tree, or knock over a chair, or fall into the fire that burned on the hearth. I think, we must have looked like any other group of merry children. You would have learned that the way to make the blind happy at Christmas, and all the time, is to treat them as far as possible like other persons. They do not like to be continually reminded of their blindness, set aside and neglected, or even waited on too much.

Had you been our guest you would have received a gift from the sightless, for they have one precious gift for the world. In their misfortune they are often happy, and in that they give an inspiring challenge to those who see. Shall any seeing man dare to be sad at Christmas or permit a little child to be other than merry and light-hearted? What can excuse the seeing from the duty and privilege of happiness while the blind child joins so merrily in the jubilee?

"Tiny Tim" was glad to be at church on Christmas because he thought the sight of him might remind folk who it was that gave the lame power to walk. Even so the blind may remind their seeing brethren who it was that opened the blinded eyes, unstopped the deaf cars, gave health to the sick, and knowledge to the ignorant, and declared that mightier things even than these shall be fulfilled. All the afflicted who keep the blessed day compel the affectionate thought that He abides with us yet.

The legend tells that when Jesus was born the sun danced in the sky, the aged trees straightened themselves and put on leaves and sent forth the fragrance of blossoms once more. These are the symbols of what takes place in our hearts when the Christ- Child is born anew each year. Blessed by the Christmas sunshine, our natures, perhaps long leafless, bring forth new love, new kindness, new mercy, new compassion. As the birth of Jesus was the beginning of the Christian life, so the unselfish joy at Christmas shall start the spirit that is to rule the new year.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Friday, December 16, 2016

Get Information for and About Children Who Are Blind from Paths to Literacy

In this post, we wish to share a comprehensive online resource called Paths to Literacy that provides a wide range of information for and about children and youth who are blind, deafblind, or have multiple disabilities. Besides general information about Paths to Literacy, we also will share a specific post to their blog written by an APH employee.

What Is Paths to Literacy?

We received the following description of Paths to Literacy from one of its main contributors:

Paths to Literacy is an online Community of Practice, devoted to literacy for children and youth who are blind or visually impaired, including those with deafblindness or multiple disabilities.  A collaboration between Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and Perkins School for the Blind, the site offers lesson ideas, resources, tech updates, and more.  The emphasis is on practical ideas that can be used in the classroom, home or community.  Topics range widely, from braille drawing to UEB lesson ideas to the creation of story boxes and experience books.  There is an active presence on social media as well, with lively discussions, questions, and frequent updates.

Subscribe to the free weekly newsletter to receive posts, such as this one on beginning tactile graphics.  The site welcomes contributions from its readers! Parents, veteran TVIs, graduate students, and O & M instructors all share ideas, questions, and resources.  Contact for more information.

APH Contributes to Paths to Literacy’s Blog

We encourage you to peruse their site, sign up for their newsletter, read their blog, and interact with them on social media. We also wish, however, to highlight one specific blog post that was written by an APH employee.

Reach Out and Touch the Picture: From Concrete to Abstract Thinking was written by Dawn Wilkinson, APH’s Early Childhood Project Leader who also is a certified teacher of the visually impaired. In this article, Wilkinson describes the process of teaching a child who is blind to learn increasingly more complex concepts through the reading of tactile graphics. As a student who is blind begins to understand simple concepts included in a tactile graphic, the student can proceed to learning more advanced concepts and, eventually, learn to read braille.

Wilkinson’s article describes how children who are blind have learned from several APH products like one book in our On the Way to Literacy Series entitled Jennifer's Messes (shown in the included photo). Learn about several APH early childhood products and develop a greater understanding of how children who are blind progress in their learning and recognition of objects by reading this informative post at

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Throwback Thursday Object: APH Employees Standing behind an Unusually Unique Ornament

In honor of the holiday season, our object this week comes from the photograph collection of long time APH employee Jim Hill.  Jim was an amateur photographer and he loved APH and all of its various characters.  Before he retired a few years ago, Jim donated his huge collection of snapshots of his coworkers and we are still going through it.  This photograph features four women standing with big smiles on their faces behind an impossibly ludicrous table ornament that looks straight out of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”  It is constructed of six or seven striped orange boxes of gradually decreasing diameter, topped by an orange cone and a glass tree topper.  The whole confection is wrapped with a string of electric lights and tinsel garland trimmed with tiny glass balls.  It towers over the four women.  Betty Cook, a receptionist, stands on the far left next to office manager Jane Kent, another unidentified lady is partially obscured behind the table decoration—maybe she is hiding?—and on the far right is a lady in a wonderful print dress that we can identify only as “Joanne.”  The picture is dated December 1974 and it is a lot of fun.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Friday, December 09, 2016

The Sero App: Available for Your Listening Pleasure

One can find a plethora of apps and websites that broadcast music, sports, and talk shows. Many are excellent resources providing seemingly endless entertainment. As good as these services are, they, with just a few exceptions, fail to include audio with a special interest to or created by people who are blind and visually impaired. One app seeks to change that.


Sero, formerly iBlink Radio, contains several types of information and resources especially tailored to people who are blind or anyone who wishes to know more about blindness issues and concerns. The app, developed by the assistive technology company called Serotek Corporation, offers both free content and paid/premium content.


Thanks to Serotek’s technical support, here is a brief history of Sero:

The iBlink Radio app was first published to the iOS App Store in the fall of 2009. We released the first Android version in the spring of 2011. In 2012, we extended the iOS version with access to the paid subscription service, which was then known as SAMNet (System Access Mobile Network). The Android version got a make-over in late 2013 and limited access to SAMNet in mid-2014. We announced last year that we would rebrand iBlink and SAMNet as Sero. (Sero was released in September).

Free Content

Here is a summary of the categories of the free Sero content:

  • Audio Tutorials and Interviews--some of which deal with Serotek products while others discuss general computer concerns
  • Blindness Resources--over 30 websites, organizations, and content providers with information about many topics related to blindness and visual impairment
  • Community Radio--over 40 radio stations run by people who are blind and visually impaired
  • Podcasts--nearly 60 series of podcasts covering assistive technology, other blindness-related issues, and more
  • Reading Services--nearly 50 services, some of which are specific to a state while others read national magazines
  • Sero Premium Content Sampler--a list of some of what is available as a paid subscriber to Sero
  • Local Content--displays all resources from all categories that are based in or near your current location
  • Recently Played--a list of content you last accessed on the app

When you find something you like, you can save it as a preset and access it from the presets section. Also, if you want to find something quickly, you can type into the search field which you reach when you first open the app.

Paid/Premium Content

Here is a listing of some of the categories of Sero’s premium content; you can view all of them on the app.

  • Featured Movie
  • Featured TV show
  • Email--allows you to create a Sero email account
  • Community forums and chat rooms
  • News--audio and text news covering sports, tech, current events, and other topics
  • Sports--schedules, headlines, and information about different sports including beep baseball
  • Weather--enter requested information to get weather for any United States location
  • Entertainment--consisting of accessible games, audio books, and 14 other categories
  • Information--32 categories of information including content of interest to the blind community, the place where some of the free Sero content resides, radio, technology, food, shopping, and more
  • Website--a way for you to create and customize your own website

You can save favorites, add stories to a section called My Newspaper, bookmark sites, and save information from the app that is important to you. If you wish, you may still search for content. The search feature is especially useful for locating free content that is placed elsewhere once the premium content is unlocked.


A Sero subscription costs $16.95 per month or $149 per year. Or, for $21.95 per month or $240 per year, you can get the Sero subscription plus access to Serotek’s DocuScan Plus for Windows and Mac and their System Access screen reader for Windows. Read about these two pieces of software on the Serotek website.

Serotek wants people to make informed decisions about their products. As a result, all Serotek products, including the Sero app, offer a 14-day free trial so you can review all of the premium content for 14 days and then purchase it if you wish. The other great thing about the trial is that no credit card is required to receive it, and you do not have to contact Serotek if you do not want to pay for the premium content. To sign up for the trial, you must create an account; you do that by tapping “Log in” on the home screen of Sero. Enter your information, and create the account. You should receive an email fairly quickly. Open it and click the included link to verify your email address. If you fail to do so within three days, your account is deleted automatically.

Other Considerations

When you view the available material—free or premium—the content is listed alphabetically. For example, as you flick to the right on the screen showing free content, you hear the app say: “Blindness resources” … “Community radio” … etc. Double tap on the category you want to explore, and its selections appear alphabetically as well. Sero is available in the iOS, Mac, and Android App Stores.

Normally I advise people to search for an app in the appropriate App Store instead of trying to find its link because this procedure usually is easy to do. In this case, however, you must search diligently as there are other apps with Sero in their name. These apps have nothing to do with the field of blindness, and some are apps you must pay to download. To know if you are downloading the correct app, you should hear, “Sero, formerly iBlink Radio”. Be sure to download the app with that description. Alternatively, you may search for “iBlink” and locate the app in the same way. If you would prefer to find it straight from a link, get it on the iOS app store at or the Mac App Store at or on the Google Play store at

Monday, December 05, 2016

December 2016 APH News

APH News
 is your monthly link to the latest information on the products, services, field tests, and training opportunities from the American Printing House for the Blind. 
A Few of This Month’s Headlines:

  • Annual Meeting 2016 Photo Memory Photo Album
  • New Products: TADPOLE Interactive Images
  • Field Tests and Surveys, including Interactive U.S. Map
  • On the Road at New York State School for the Blind
  • Treasure from the Migel: Hall of Fame Living Legends Video
  • Social Media Spotlight: Throwback Thursday from the APH Museum
  • Quick Tips Corner: Some Favorite Videos
  • APH Travel Calendar and more…

Friday, December 02, 2016

iDentifi: Object Recognition for Visually Impaired

Apps used to recognize objects and/or read text for people who are blind and visually impaired have increased in number. We have discussed TapTapSee recently, an others exist as well.

This post details iDentifi, a new free app that attempts to describe objects and read text for people who are blind and visually impaired.

What is iDentifi?

Anmol Tuckrel, a high school student from Toronto, Canada, began work on the app about a year ago. According to a TechCrunch article, Tuckrel was fascinated by the possibilities of machine learning and computer vision. The app uses Google Vision, CloudSight and Google Translate, all trusted resources that can distinguish objects easily. These facts indicate that iDentifi uses artificial intelligence to identify objects whereas apps like TapTapSee use crowdsourcing.

Using the App

Before attempting to use the app, please note that you must be connected to the internet to use it. The app’s layout is quite easy to comprehend. Its initial screen contains four buttons, one in each corner of the screen--“Settings” in the top left, “Instructions” in the top right, “Select photo” in the bottom left and “Take photo” in the bottom right. Of course, if you flick left and right, you will locate the same buttons in the same order. Knowing their location, however, allows you to find the button you want without extra flicks or swipes.

Each button and the area surrounding it is brightly colored with a different color included for each button or area of the screen. As a result, people with low vision can distinguish the buttons easily, and individuals who use both VoiceOver and their remaining vision benefit since the app’s functionality is excellent in both cases.


If you press the “Settings” button, you first choose the language for all interactions with the app from the list of over 25 languages. Next is the mode button where you choose from “Images low accuracy”, “Images high accuracy”, or text. The low accuracy mode provides a general description of the picture you take and returns the quickest response. The high accuracy mode gives you a more detailed description of the image and requires more time for receiving a response. In text mode, the app tries to read the text from the image you’ve taken.

The final setting is speaking rate—how fast you want the app to speak to you when it reads its results; the settings are very slow, slow, normal, fast, and very fast.


The instructions describe some of the app’s functionality and tell you the location of important buttons on the app. The instructions do not stay on the screen, but if you need to hear them again, double tap the instructions button a second time.

Select Photo

Selecting a photo sends that photo to the app; iDentifi then tries to determine what is in the photo. You must allow iDentifi to access your photos and also the camera. Once you hit the select photo button, you see the standard camera interface that you would use to send a photo to Facebook, include one in a message, etc.

Take Photo

When you double tap this button, you see a screen that mimics the standard iPhone camera screen with buttons for flash, viewfinder, camera mode, camera chooser, take picture, and cancel. If you are satisfied with the camera settings, double tap the “Take picture” button, located just above the iPhone’s home button. You will hear a sound as the phone takes the picture. You then can select “Retake” or “Use photo”, found on the bottom left and bottom right of the screen respectively. If you have usable vision and believe that your picture is not satisfactory or if you just want to use a different picture, select the retake button and start the process over.

If you tap on use photo, you hear the app say, “Loading”. At this point, the picture runs through the app for identification purposes. You can retake a picture as many times as you like, but you must hit the use photo button for the app to begin the identification process. All photos you take using this app are not saved. The identifications given by the app are not able to be reread and do not remain on the screen, but you can try the three-finger quadruple tap gesture to put the response on the clipboard and add it to a message, email, etc.


Currently iDentifi is available on the iOS platform only; the developer plans to create an Android version in the future. Because the results of the picture recognitions are not shown on the screen, individuals who are deafblind and anyone using a braille display may have problems accessing the results. The app will read text and does a good job doing so. It will not replace an OCR app like KNFB Reader, though, especially if you store files for later reading. If you don’t need to store the file or go back and read it multiple times, iDentifi will work well.

The developer hopes to increase the available languages to close to 100 and wants the app to work in video mode. He appears to be responsive and open to suggestions so send them and help improve the app.

Finally, the only other limitation, as is the case with all camera apps, is the ability of each person to take a suitable picture. Fortunately, you do not have to have the camera perfectly centered to take a usable picture.


The iDentifi app is an excellent choice for anyone who is blind and visually impaired. It identifies objects quite well and reads text reasonably well also. Remember to turn the mode to text if you want the app to read text; otherwise, it will simply tell you there is text without reading it. The results with the mode set to high accuracy are very good; its descriptions of objects and their colors are quite helpful. You may find that this app also doubles as a color identifier, at least for basic colors. Would you like to see the app in action? Watch this short video and view another one included in the TechCrunch article written about the app. For more information about iDentifi, visit the website at The site discusses the numerous awards and the press coverage the app has received and tells you how to get support or make comments about the app. Get the app at the following link or search for iDentifi on the app store; remember that the d is the only capitalized letter.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Throwback Thursday Object: Tactile Picture of a Turkey

To celebrate Thanksgiving and the subsequent holidays, this week, our throwback object comes from our excellent collection of nineteenth century tactile prints by Martin Kunz (1847-1923).  Kunz was a pioneer creator of mass-produced tactile graphics, operating out of the print shop at the Blind Institute in Illzach, Germany.  He also published influential tactile science illustrations and maps that were used in schools for the blind across Europe and the United States.  His pictures were embossed in wooden molds and—as this one is--reinforced with varnish and plaster.  The second picture shows the Illzach printing operation with the heavy iron press and molds stored on racks.   Our glorious turkey— meleagris gallopavo—is joined on the print by fellow ground birds grouse, partridge, and guinea hen.   There are print captions in French, Italian, German, and English.  The braille captions are in German Braille.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

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The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) makes every attempt to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the data contained in the Fred's Head articles; however, APH makes no warranty, guarantee, or promise, expressed or implied, concerning the content or accuracy of the information provided in Fred's Head. APH does not endorse any technique, product, device, service, organization, or other information presented in Fred's Head, other than products and services directly offered by APH.

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