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, January 27, 2017

Accessible 2017 Tax Publications and Videos Available from the Internal Revenue Service

We are happy to report that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) again makes accessible documents, videos, and other resources available for people with disabilities. The IRS provided the following article:
IRS Services for People with Disabilities
Hundreds of accessible federal tax forms and publications are available for download from the IRS Accessibility Web pages. Visit and select the Forms & Pubs tab to access the Accessible Forms and Pubs link.  You can choose from large-print, text, accessible PDFs, e-Braille, or HTML formats that are compatible when used with screen readers and refreshable Braille displays. The IRS also provides videos in American Sign Language with the latest tax information and has a dedicated ASL YouTube Channel that houses the videos.
IRS Tax Return Preparation Help is Available       
People who are unable to complete their tax returns because of a physical disability or are age 60 or older may get assistance through the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) or Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs. You can find a nearby VITA or TCE location by using the available locator tools or calling 1-800-906-9887. Publication 907, Tax Highlights for Persons with Disabilities, explains the tax implications of certain disability benefits and other issues, and is available at
To reach the IRS accessibility site directly, go to
The IRS also provided the following YouTube playlist of videos in American Sign Language. The video that begins when you open the link describes all of the accessibility information in even more detail. Watch any or all of the videos in this playlist at
We hope these resources make the tax preparation process easier for you.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: First Annual Report of the American Printing House for the Blind

First Annual Report of the American Printing House for the Blind

Our object this week celebrates our “Founder’s Day,” observed on January 23rd every year, the day in 1858 that the President of the Kentucky Senate signed the bill that chartered our company and sent it to Governor Charles Morehead to be signed.  You can read a copy here.  Our first annual report was not published until November 1860, and much of it was written by our first “General Agent,” a colorful character named Dempsey B. Sherrod.  This is a complicated story, so my blog this week will be a bit longer than usual.
Sherrod was a graduate of the Mississippi School for the Blind.  Like other blind men of his age, he had been taught to read using raised letters, but there were very few books available in that format.  So he took it upon himself to change that.  He began traveling around the South and Midwest, urging legislatures to support this thing he called The American Printing House for the Blind.  His first success was in his home state but he eventually got support from several other states:  Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee, Missouri, Ohio, and Indiana.  We do not have any documentation about exactly why he—or his supporters--decided to place it in Louisville, but the Mississippi Charter, passed in November 1857, stated that it was to be located in Louisville.
Remember that the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers were major routes of southern and western Commerce in the mid-19th century.  The steamboat and the beginnings of the railroad had made Louisville a very important western city.  So it was a logical move to put it in Louisville.  Plus, the board at the Kentucky Institute for the Education of the Blind (KIEB) was very supportive.  William Bullock, one of the major movers on that board, had authored both the state’s first public school law and the legislation creating the state school for the blind.  But we don’t have documentation explaining any negotiations between the board at KIEB and Sherrod.  Even the KIEB Annual Reports just announce the foundation of APH as a promising development for getting more textbooks, without explaining any role they might have had in bringing it to Louisville.
Interestingly enough, although Sherrod was the company’s first “general agent,” after the Civil War he had a falling out with the APH Board and, soon enough, was in Washington lobbying Congress to create another body called the American Printing House for the Blind.  Not very original, huh?  This “double dipping” earned him heavy criticism from the leaders of the major schools of the day and by 1875 he was being described as a “bold, bad, blind man.” To this day, we are not entirely sure if Sherrod was an aggressive and confident blind visionary who was suppressed by the sighted leaders of the residential schools, or if he was a bit of a self-serving snake oil salesman.  What is undisputed is that he lobbied several state legislatures to pass charters creating APH and is one of the key figures in our early development.  Unfortunately, we don’t have a picture of Sherrod, and few of his papers.  All we have of his writings are a few letters in the Archives at the Perkins School, and this report: “In 1857 I traveled through South-Western Mississippi, soliciting aid in our enterprise, and secured pledges to the amount of $12,035.25, to which, as you are aware, the Legislature added $2000, after our Board was incorporated. Previous to the incorporation of our Board, I had raised by collections, under an advisory committee, the sum of two thousand dollars for a specific purpose, viz: to publish an edition of Bullion's Analytical and Practical English Grammar, and Davie's Bourdon. On consultation, it was deemed advisable to reserve this fund, to be so used when the present contemplated Publishing House should be in practical operation, and this amount enters into the aggregate of total collections. As we had selected Louisville, Ky., as the most eligible location for an Institution of this kind, and that point was designated in the Charter, I accordingly visited Kentucky in the winter of 1857-'58, and succeeded in procuring its incorporation, under the name of the "American Printing House for the Blind."
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Nature for the Blind: Connecting People Who Are Blind and Visually Impaired with Opportunities for Outdoor Exploration

What ideas and thoughts come to mind when you think of nature, especially as it relates to persons who are blind and how they interact with it? Perhaps you’ve had experiences as I have where people with typical vision talked about how much they wished I could see one or more aspects of nature or some outdoor phenomenon that seemed only to be understood by people with typical eyesight.

While people with blindness and low vision may not experience the outdoors in the same way as people with typical vision, they can enjoy it, learn about it, and experience it in their own unique way. This post highlights a new website,, dedicated to enhancing the understanding and interaction with nature and the outdoors by people who are blind and visually impaired. We will discuss the site’s founder and his inspiration for creating it, the information the site provides, and how you may add to its content.

Nature for the Blind

The Nature for the Blind website strives to connect people who are blind and visually impaired with opportunities for exploring nature and participating in outdoor recreational activities. Always interested in nature, the site’s creator, Evan Barnard, started working with the visually impaired community at age 12 in 2010 when he helped clear pathways and replace stolen Braille signs along a vandalized Braille trail in the Nature Conservancy-owned Marshall Forest in Rome, Georgia. Barnard collaborated with the local Rome-Floyd County chapter of the Georgia Council of the Blind and began advocating for increasing their access to natural areas.

Barnard eventually designed and built another Braille nature trail, the Whispering Woods Braille Trail, to give more people with visual impairments access to the outdoors. The trail was designed with input from members of the Georgia Council of the Blind and built by student and adult volunteers with grants and corporate donations. The finalized Braille trail was officially dedicated with a nature walk for Georgia Council of the Blind members in 2014.

Barnard began coordinating local nature walks and programs along the new Braille trail for youth and adults with visual impairments and blindness, creating the organization Nature for All to bring student volunteers together with youth who are visually impaired or blind to share nature experiences. While Barnard researched the creation of a new Braille trail at the Georgia Lions Camp for the Blind, he discovered that Braille trails and sensory gardens existed in other cities across the United States and around the world. He also determined that no one had compiled a directory that provided an opportunity for people who are blind and visually impaired to locate these mostly unpublicized trails and gardens. As a result, Barnard surmised that many people with low vision or no vision did not know that these opportunities existed, even when the trails and gardens were a part of someone’s own community, and he decided to change that situation by creating the Nature for the Blind website.

Site Contents

Barnard’s site, Nature for the Blind,provides locations and information about Braille nature trails and sensory gardens for members of the visually impaired community as well as people with other disabilities in the United States and around the world. It lists detailed information on 165 Braille trails and sensory gardens found in 28 countries worldwide, including 93 trails in 31 different U.S. states and Puerto Rico. These trails and gardens are incredibly diverse in terms of location, natural features, trail design, and opportunities for interaction.

States like California and Massachusetts have as many as nine different Braille trails and sensory gardens, and, internationally, South Africa has 14 Braille trails, most at national parks. There are special tours available for people who are blind and visually impaired to travel to multiple national parks around South Africa and experience the different Braille trail locations with others. Some Braille trails have themes, such as a trail in Tennessee based on the book series The Chronicles of Narnia and a discovery Braille trail in South Africa based on fossils.

What are Braille Trails and Sensory Gardens?

A Braille Trail is a nature trail with Braille informational signage and physical aides that allow people with no or limited vision to experience the trail without assistance. These trails usually include a guide rope or rails to hold. The ropes or rails usually follow along a guide dog friendly path with Braille informational signage about the natural surroundings. The trails often include stations for experiencing physical trail features placed at key points along the guide rope. Some trails have tactile walkways to provide direction while others have audio components such as guided audio tours or smartphone access. Many have features making them wheelchair-accessible.

A sensory garden is designed to provide tactile experiences through the usage of specific plants in a specially designed layout to create opportunities and accommodations for people with varying disabilities to enjoy the touch, sounds and scents of the outdoors. Sensory gardens utilize aromatic and textural plants, and often have Braille informational signage, guide ropes or rails, audio features, and tactile pathways for people who are blind and visually impaired to walk along them without assistance. Many sensory gardens also have wheelchair-accessible walkways and raised garden beds.

Other Site Content

The Nature for the Blind website also provides information on the history of Braille trails, the importance of connecting individuals with disabilities to the outdoors, links to outdoor and travel resources for the blind and visually impaired community, and other educational opportunities and programs. Educational resources on the website include links to schools for the visually impaired around the world, as well as summer camps, education programs and other informational links. Contacts for outdoor sports for people with blindness and low vision highlighted on the site include golf, horseback riding, beep baseball, bowling, and others, such as snow skiing and wind surfing for people who are blind.

Additional Braille trails and sensory gardens are under construction and will be added to the website directory when their construction is complete. Barnard hopes to expand the website to provide additional resources and opportunities for youth and adults who are blind and visually impaired to connect through common interests and share outdoor opportunities in their communities with others. Therefore, the site likely will be updated regularly, highlighting these new trails, gardens, and educational activities.

Getting Involved

Barnard desires for the site to grow and feature as much information as possible. For this reason, website visitors from around the world are encouraged to share information and photos of local Braille trails, sensory gardens, and other outdoor opportunities and events for people who are blind in their communities with Nature for All. Please send any submissions via email to for inclusion on the Nature for the Blind website. Your photos and other information may also appear on their Facebook page at

If you have any questions or desire additional information on Nature for All or the new Nature for the Blind website, please contact

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Comprehensive History of Braille

January is Braille Literacy Month

'Procede pour ecrire les Paroles, la Musique et le Plain-chant au moyen de point', 1829, by Louis Braille (1809-1852). Embossed at the L'Institution Royale des Jeunes Aveugles in Paris, France, in 1829, it was the first publication of the Braille Code
APH’s copy of Procédé pour écrire les paroles, la musique et le plain-chant au moyen de point, 1829, by Louis Braille (1809-1852).
Dear Readers:
January marks Braille Literacy Month, an opportunity to take a step back and contemplate the importance of braille in the lives of children and adults who are visually impaired or blind. Literacy has taken on increased importance in our world as we’ve moved through history, and it has never been so critical to success and fulfillment as it is today. The ability to read and write, whether using the senses of vision, hearing, touch, or a combination of senses, is considered a critical skill for employment and leading a well-rounded life.
Literacy through touch has not always been a given for those who are blind, and methods of reading tactually have evolved. Thanks to APH Museum Director Micheal Hudson, we are able to provide you with a detailed chronology of the evolution of braille and the literacy it has brought to the hands of thousands of individuals.

Landmarks in Braille Literacy

1786: Valentine Haüy pioneers literacy for people who are blind when he invents the raised letter book at the Institut Royale des Jeunes Aveugles in Paris, France.
1829-1837: Louis Braille introduces an elegant and easy-to-learn tactile code based on dots, providing a simple way to read and write. Its adoption around the world will take many decades.
1854: The Braille System is formally adopted in France, two years after the death of Louis Braille from tuberculosis.
1860: The system is published for the first time in America by the Missouri School for the Blind.
1871: The American Association of Instructors of the Blind(AAIB) adopts an American adaptation of braille—New York Point—and it is soon widely used in American residential schools.
1875: The American Printing House for the Blind(APH) publishes its first New York Point book.
1878: Joel Smith, a teacher at the Perkins Institution, introduces a second adaptation of braille that he calls Modified American Braille. It is used by only a few U.S. schools initially, but they are influential—Perkins, the Overbrook School, etc. The period of competing systems will become known as the “War of the Dots.”
1892: Frank Hall, Superintendent of the Illinios School for the Blind, invents the Hall Braille Writer, the first successful mechanical braille typewriter. In 1894, Hall invents a stereotyping machines allowing the inexpensive and rapid production of embossing plates. The plates allow a dramatic expansion in braille production over the next thirty years.
1893: APH embosses its first textbooks in Modified American Braille.
1905: The Uniform Type Committee is formed by the AAIB and the American Association of Workers for the Blind(AAWB) to adopt a single uniform code for all English speaking readers. The committee decides that British Braille—basically the original French alphabet code with a complicated set of contractions—was superior to both New York Point and Modified American Braille. Initially, the committee adapts a new code—Standard Dot—that combines the strengths of all three, but there is no enthusiasm for Standard Dot outside the U.S.
1918: After years of unsuccessful negotiations with the British, the Uniform Type Committee adopts Braille Grade One and a Half, basically British braille but with a simplified set of contractions. British readers can easily read the American code, but American readers cannot read the British.
1932: At the London Type Conference, delegates from the English speaking world approve a uniform braille system, Standard English Braille. It is mostly the British braille code from 1905, but with a concession to the Americans, contractions do not break over syllables.
1941-53: Thousands of infants have their sight damaged by the oxygen in their hospital incubators. The educational community is unprepared for the sudden spike in BVI students. Many overflow into the public schools, just as public opinion is shifting against segregated schools for children with visual impairments. In the public schools, Braille education is generally poor, and students with failing but residual vision are encouraged to use audio players and video magnifiers. Braille literacy in this generation drops dramatically.
1950: The Joint Uniform Braille Committee is formed by the AAIB and the AAWB to approve some proposed changes in Standard English Braille. In 1952, the committee recommends the adoption of the Nemeth Braille Code, an advanced code for mathematics.
1959: English Braille, American Edition is adopted by the AAIB and AAWB. The Joint Committee becomes the AAIB-AAWB Braille Authority.
1960s: Working with International Business Machines, APH adapts computers to translate print to Braille, dramatically increasing the speed of translation, and later, overall production.
1976: Oleg and Andie Tretiakoff, working in France, introduce the first commercially available paperless braille machine, the Digicassette. More advanced machines soon follow.
1976: The Braille Authority restructures, inviting other blindness organization to participate, into the Braille Authority of North America(BANA).
1990s: Blindness organizations begin to react to decreasing braille literacy. BANA determines that one cause is the complexity of the code and begins work to revise it. Organizations like APH develop tools to help parents and teachers assess at an early age when braille is the right choice. Consumer groups like the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind, unable to unite on other issues, are unified in their promotion of braille literacy. University programs responsible for training the next generation of teachers reemphasize braille.
2004: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act is passed, requiring the creation of the National Instructional Materials Access Center(NIMAC), where parents, students, and teachers can find source files to produce accessible, student-ready specialized formats, such as Braille and audio, for students in K-12 with qualifying disabilities.
2012: BANA passes a motion to formally adopt Unified English Braille, a revised code which seeks to bring braille into the 21st century.
2017: APH introduces the Orbit Reader 20™, the first refreshable braille display available commercially for under $500. The Orbit 20 is the end product of the Transforming Braille Group, an international body formed in 2011 and spearheaded by the Royal National Institute for the Blind in England.

Throwback Thursday Object: Todd's Improved Edison-Mimeograph Typewriter

To continue looking at alternative writing tools as we celebrate Louis Braille’s birthday, this week we feature an early typewriter adapted for users with vision loss.  Famed inventor Thomas Alva Edison developed this machine in 1894 to cut stencils for his Mimeograph machine. (A Mimeograph was an early duplicating machine that I learned how to use as a page back in my own middle school.)  The Edison Mimeograph Typewriter used a rotating disk on the base to select a letter, then a lever on the left of the machine was pressed to activate a hammer that struck a plunger that typed on the underside of the roller. To view what had been typed, an operator had to swing the carriage upward. W.G. Todd, Superintendent of the Kansas Institution for Education of the Blind from 1893-1895, sold a modified version of the Edison-Mimeograph Typewriter that he had adapted for use by people who were blind or visually impaired. Todd rearranged the keyboard and put raised letters on the keys. This example was used at the Kentucky School for the Blind, which bought its first typewriters in 1900 after Superintendent B.B. Huntoon saw them being used at other schools for the blind.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

January 2017 APH News

January is Braille Literacy Month! Some of this month's headlines include:

  • Celebrating Braille Literacy Month
  • Orbit Reader 20 Preview
  • New Products: Braille Badges and UEB Little Breath of Wind
  • New Feature! STEM Products
  • Video: Denna Lambert, Annual Meeting Keynote
  • APH Receives Golden Apple Award
  • Treasure from the Migel: Father Thomas Carroll Letter
  • Social Media Spotlight: What You'll Find in APH's Facebook Feed
  • Quick Tips Corner: Braille-Related Videos
  • APH Travel Calendar and more…

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: the Noctograph

The Noctograph
Our object this week dates back to the days of Louis Braille. And Louis wasn’t the only person who was blind searching for better ways to write. Ralph Wedgwood, an English inventor credited with inventing carbon paper, was issued a patent for "An Apparatus for Producing Duplicates of Writings" in 1806. The device, as described in the patent, is similar to this object, an original “Prescott's Noctograph.”
William Hickling Prescott (1796-1859), an American historian, was gradually losing his vision and invented this device for writing. The writing frame of the Noctograph is wrapped in fine green leather, and features a series of parallel brass wires. Measuring 10 1/8 x 8 3/8 in., it was used with a stylus, instead of pencil or pen.
Carbon paper--thin paper coated with carbon or another colored substance--was inserted between two sheets of writing paper that were placed beneath the writing frame. When the stylus was pressed into the top sheet of paper, the carbon paper transferred the writing onto the lower sheet. The user did not have to worry about inking a pen, or spilling the ink. And the brass guides kept the lines straight. As we’ve noted before, these writing guides were all the rage in the nineteenth century, but became largely obsolete when the typewriter became widely available toward the end of the century. But the dot system of Louis Braille is still going strong.

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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