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, February 24, 2017

NEW! Amazon's Disability Customer Service Line!


Within the past year, we posted about Apple's Accessibility Hotline and Microsoft's Accessibility Answer Desk. Earlier in 2017, I discovered a new accessibility resource, seemingly by accident.

I wanted to work to improve my skills with Safari on a Mac and decided that working with a familiar site would be beneficial. I pulled up and heard something quite unusual.

If you use the Amazon site on a computer, you probably know about the screen reader optimized site and have already read the message that says, in part, “We have recently updated the screen reader optimized website to include headings, landmarks, and new shopping features to improve your experience. Please follow this link …”. When I pulled up Amazon’s site on this particular evening using VoiceOver, I read a different message, a new link located right after the “Help” link if you are not signed in and right after the “My account” link if you are.

Disability Customer Support Line

What was this new link? It reads: “Click to call our Disability Customer Support Line, or reach us directly at 1-888-283-1678. Immediately I checked Amazon with my Windows PC running JAWS for Windows and received the same message. After calling Amazon’s regular customer service line, I discovered that typically sighted individuals did not see this message; Amazon’s site detected that I was using a screen reader and, as a result, displayed this message and link.

Purpose of the Disability Line

My next task, of course, was to find out what this line’s purpose was, what the agents could and could not do, etc. Thanks to Amazon’s Public Relations department who gathered information from the Accessibility Team, we know the following basic information about the line:

In January, Amazon launched a dedicated customer service line for customers with disabilities. The hours of operation are 3:00am - 10pm PST, 7 days a week, and the dedicated agents can be reached by either following the click-to-call link on the Desktop site or by calling 1-888-283-1678. The agents have been trained in screen reader basics and can help support (or escalate, if needed) technical issues. Agents can also help customers find products, add items to a customer’s shopping cart and support the check-out process. Agents are not able to place orders on behalf of the customers.

I inquired as to whether or not agents could assist with things like setting up a new Kindle or Echo for a customer who is blind and visually impaired. While the line is not set up specifically to do this, these agents may be able to answer basic questions about these devices. If the question is too technical in nature, the agent will transfer you to the specific department for that device.

What Happens When I Call?

The start of the process is exactly like the process you would encounter if you called Amazon’s typical customer service; you provide your name, email, and sometimes your mailing address to verify your account. With this information, agents can confirm details about your account, check the status of an order, assist with returning an item, etc. In short, the disability line works with you to accomplish all tasks the typical line’s agents can do while working with you to resolve problems you may have as a screen reader user.

For instance, you want to purchase shampoo. You know what you want but cannot tell which item is the correct one. The description may be unclear and may not describe the amount of shampoo in the bottle, how many bottles you are purchasing, etc.

Perhaps you are looking at an article of clothing, but you are having problems choosing the correct size and color. Maybe you want to buy an appliance and find it problematic to compare similar items. As is typical with many websites, the interface changes, sometimes causing you to be unable to find the “Add to cart” button. In each of these instances, the dedicated disability customer service line is quite useful. Once you determine which item(s) you want to buy, the agent can add them to your cart. Then, at your convenience, you can return to the site or pull up the app and complete the transaction. If you purchase an Amazon device, agents, themselves may be able to help you set it up, show you how to turn on accessibility features, or answer basic questions about the device. If they cannot do this, they will route you to the department corresponding to the correct device so you can get your problems solved and questions answered.


As we said, agents cannot place orders for you. They can explain to you how to make the purchase but cannot hit the “Place Order Button” for you. You only find the link explaining the line when on the desktop site on a computer. Users of the app or anyone navigating the site on a phone or tablet will not find the link. Agents can, however, explain features of the app and assist you in navigating it. You may, in fact, take advantage of the disability services line no matter how you access Amazon’s site.

Also, as is true of typical customer service agents, they may not be able to answer all questions about Amazon devices; an agent may have to transfer you to the department that specializes in a particular device for you to get an answer to your question.

We trust that this information will assist you.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: The Taylor Arithmetic Slate

Recently one of our followers on Twitter asked us about the Taylor Slate so we decided to feature it in this column. The first photo shows the slate, itself, with this description: “The aluminum Taylor Slate has an 18 x 24 grid of star-shaped holes and a tray to hold types.” The second photo shows a key to represent how rotating the types lets you represent all ten digits and the operatives. The full description is below. The description from Museum Director Micheal Hudson is below.
The Reverend William Taylor became superintendent of the Yorkshire School for the Blind in England in 1836.  While at the school he developed his "Ciphering Tablet,” and the design was eventually used in schools around the world.  A metal board is pierced by rows of star-shaped octagonal holes.  The board came with a stack of metal “types,” basically small rectangles with two raised pins on one side and a raised bar on the other.  By rotating the types in the octagonal holes, each type could assume enough different shapes to represent all the numbers and the operator symbols.  Other inventors had developed boards that used types with raised numbers on top.  Since each piece of Taylor’s type could be used to represent all ten numbers and the operatives, there was less time wasted searching for a particular number.  APH introduced its own Taylor Slate in 1938/1939, made from stainless steel. By 1953, the type was available in both lead and plastic.  The product was discontinued by 1972.  BUT…  you can still buy one, amazingly enough.  A company in India, Advance Engineering makes a lot of the older devices for the third world market.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Friday, February 17, 2017

Retail Savings Guide for People with Disabilities from


Countless websites and newsletters provide online coupons and promo codes for saving money at stores and websites. One of these sites is You may browse the site at your leisure. We mention CouponChief, however, because one of its employees sent us a Retail Savings Guide for People with Disabilities which it recently developed. The site already produced savings guides for women, veterans, and seniors.

The savings guide for people with disabilities is general in scope and is not tailored to people who are blind or to any other particular group. That being said, people who are blind and visually impaired certainly may benefit from the guide.

What is Covered?

The guide is broken down into the following sections:

·         Financial Hardship statistics

·         Organizations that Help People with a Disability Get Discounts and Special Pricing

·         Discounts and Special Offers Available to Those with Disabilities

·         Free Assistive Technology

·         Caregivers, Health Care, and Financial Assistance

·         Educational Assistance

·         Legal Help/Pro Bono Work

·         Tax Assistance

·         Transportation Discounts and Services

·         Utility Discounts

How Do I Use the Guide?

You may navigate the guide by searching for the section you wish to browse or by key words if you know exactly what you are hoping to find. You also can use the h-key to move from heading to heading using a screen reader. Doing this moves you from section to section in succession.

What is Contained in Each Section?

Each section of this guide includes links and descriptions of websites, providing basic information as to what each site does. In several instances, the guide points you to a national resource which breaks the information down by state. The savings guide, then, provides the starting place for your review of potential discounts and savings opportunities. Often you will have to enter a given site and research it carefully to find the information that interests or is relevant to you individually.


While the main CouponChief site concentrates on coupons anyone can use, this guide and the ones created previously seek to assist particular groups of individuals. The CouponChief staff is quick to point out that they assembled this guide not to make anyone feel “less than …”. Rather, since they are a site promoting savings, they offer the guide in the hope that people with disabilities can take advantage of additional savings whenever possible. Perhaps the most important advice the CouponChief team relates is this: JUST ASK! Stores and retailors may offer discounts but may choose not to mention them so as not to offend anyone; nevertheless, if you ask for a possible discount, you may get it. We hope that something in this guide helps you save some money. Whether you save a little or a lot, who doesn’t want extra money in their pocket! Check out the guide at

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Large Type Printing Press

If you have trouble seeing well enough to perform daily tasks, even with glasses or after surgery, then you have low vision.  February is Low Vision Awareness Month.  We dug a photograph out of a scrapbook of newspaper clippings that we’ve been working on to recognize the event.  This is a shot from January 1971 showing a line of Davidson 600 offset printing presses.  Legendary APH production chief Virgil Zickel stands at far right beside Howard Oliver and a salesman, Frank Gatchel.  The operator on the front machine—APH had six of these models at the time—is Roy Carroll.  APH started manufacturing textbooks in large type for low vision students in 1947.  By the 1970s we had rows and rows of offset presses from Davidson, Miehle-Goss-Dexter, and A.B. Dick.  If you want to learn how the offset printing process worked, look here.  In the 1980s, we started experimenting with photocopiers from Minolta, and today our entire production of about eleven million pages of large type comes off only two very sophisticated machines, Xerox iGens.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Quick Tip: Sensory Learning Kit. The Sensory Learning Kit is an extensive set of sensory items and written materials that help the most significantly challenged learners increase their curiosity and, in turn, develop specific skills related to basic communication.

February, 2017 APH News ready to viewe

A Few of This Month’s Headlines:

  • STEM Corner
  • New Products: Echolocation and FlashSonar and VisioBook Carrying Bag; Revised: Push Button Padlock
  • Audio and Video 2016 Annual Meeting Sessions
  • Enter Now! 2017 APH InSights Art Competition
  • Treasure from the Migel: Samuel Gridley Howe Address to Trustees of the New England Institution for the Education of the Blind
  • APH Voted in the Top Ten Technology Stories of 2016
  • Social Media Spotlight: Are You Following APH on Twitter?
  • APH Travel Calendar and more…

Friday, February 03, 2017

How to Help a Loved One with a Vision Impairment set Up a Safe Home

The following article was sent to us by someone who made adjustments to her home to accommodate a relative with low vision who moved into the home. We will include a bit of background information provided by the author, her article, and three resources she mentions in it. You may add comments offering other suggestions if you wish. The specific accommodations will vary depending on the type and size of the home; nevertheless, this article provides a detailed description of what one family did to modify aspects of their home to assist a visually impaired relative who came to stay in that home. Here is her information and story.
My name is Jackie Waters, and I am a mother of four beautiful and energetic boys. I live with my family on our three acre hobby farm in Oregon. 
My husband’s sister, who has been visually impaired since childhood, recently came to live with us. While we were excited to welcome her to our home, we knew our old farmhouse presented a lot of potential obstacles and hazards for her. So, my husband got to work tackling home repair projects, and I got to work organizing and rearranging to make our home more accessible for her and her guide dog.

How To Help A Loved One With A Vision Impairment Set Up A Safe Home

living-room-1952072_640 (1).jpg

Photo via Jill111
Our homes are a place of comfort and safety -  the place we go at the end of the day to relax and spend time with family. But for individuals living with a vision impairment, home can also be a hazardous place full of hidden dangers. If you have a loved one who is experiencing vision loss, it’s important to talk to them about what their specific needs are and help them modify their home to be more accommodating and safe for the coming years.
There are many things to think about, so start with the big ideas and work down to prevent being overwhelmed. For instance, changing lighting and furniture placement is key and will take some planning with your loved one. Figure out their regular paths through the home and help them determine where items would be the most useful.
Here are some other ways you can help your loved one with a vision impairment.
Organize the kitchen
The kitchen is one of the most dangerous places in the home, so it’s important to keep things well organized and brightly-lit. Pots and pans, utensils, and dishes that are used most often should be kept near one another. Pantries and cupboards should be neatly organized, with like items on the same shelves.
A fire extinguisher should be kept near the stove at all times, with stove knobs marked in brightly colored tape to minimize confusion. Cleaning products and bug spray should be kept well away from food items.
Prevent falls
Hardwood floors should be treated with a non-slip wax, while throw rugs should be eliminated altogether as they’re trip hazards. Stairs should be marked with brightly colored tape and should also be well-lit to take care of shadows and prevent falls.
Depending on the type of lighting in the home, glares can be created on flooring and other surfaces, which can cause disorientation or falls. To minimize this risk, curtains can be replaced by mini-blinds. It’s also important to make sure that the locks work properly on all windows and that the window itself is properly installed to prevent the leakage of hot or cold air.
Painting the walls a dark color to contrast with the white sink and toilet can be very helpful for those living with visual impairment. Non-slip mats should be placed on the floor and in the tub, as well as a removable shower head and grab bar. It might also be helpful to install a landline phone in the bathroom in case of emergency.
Service dog
If your loved one lives alone or is very independent, it can be extremely helpful to have a service dog, especially for trips outside the home. Much more than pets, these animals are useful companions who can help navigate through a busy intersection or the grocery store, giving those living with a visual impairment more mobility.
About the photo
The photo shows the image of a living room taken from the inside of the house. Imagine yourself standing at the center of the living room, facing a round center table proportionate to the size of the 5-seater sofa. The aisles are clear for passage, but take a step too far out on either side and you will be faced with a padded armchair, a side table with a glass vase filled with flowers and a lamp. The passageways meet at the end, where you will be faced with wooden doors with glass tiles that swing inward.
Here are the resources that Jackie included in the article:


Thursday, February 02, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: The Fifteen Puzzle

Our object this week is a braille sliding puzzle from England, probably around 1920 or so.  The goal was to arrange the fifteen game pieces, each topped with a braille number, into consecutive order, without lifting a piece from the bright red tin box.  The pieces are arranged in a four by four grid with one space left empty.  Like all sliding puzzles, you could only shift one piece at a time.  Probably not as easy as it sounds.  The square pieces are cast out of an early brown plastic called Bakelite.  Sliding puzzles were the Rubik’s Cube of the late nineteenth century, introduced commercially by a Boston woodworker named Mattias Rice.
The RNIB was founded in 1868 as the British and Foreign Blind Association for Promoting the Education and Employment of the Blind.  Its name changed to the National Institute for the Blind in 1914, and to Royal National Institute for the Blind in 1953.  In 1920, NIB expanded its mandate to include the production and sale of "Apparatus for Use by the Blind" and produced its first catalog soon after.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

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