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 13, 2018

More Than Just a Desk: Helen Keller's Desk Displayed at the APH Museum

by Jessica Minneci

A hand touching the glass top of a wooden desk
     When I touched the smooth glass-topped surface of Helen Keller's desk at the APH museum, I thought of how the texture beneath my fingertips revealed a normal, average desk. It was like something you would find in any office: a large desk with two sets of drawers on either side, a wide surface, and a wooden guard to protect papers from sliding off. Yet, the normalcy of such a piece pales in comparison to what it represents. After all, Helen Keller did some of her finest work while sitting at her desk. She was a writer, pacifist, feminist, and an advocate for women and for the blind and visually impaired community. Touching the desk helped me get closer to Helen Keller and renew my support for everything she has done.

Jess, standing with Helen's desk in the APH museum
     As a college student, I am able to relate most to Helen's piece "To Girls Who Are Going to College." Published in The Youth's Companion  on June 8, 1905, her piece gives emerging college students advice about how to be successful in postsecondary school. A lot of her advice is practical such as studying and working hard. She also discusses being fearless, kind, accepting of diversity, and doing your best. More than that, Helen emphasizes that people should be happy in everything that they do as they throw themselves into activities and be of service to others. She wrote, “Joy is the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow. Work without joy shall be as nothing. Resolve to keep happy and your joy and you shall form an invisible host against difficulties." In today's world, people are often told to take a job that will give them the most money so that they can live a good life. In all reality, however, money will not make people happy. Rather, the work that they do that is rewarding to them will yield happiness. Helen knew this and was wise to give students this advice for she believed they deserve to enter into a career that brings them joy.
Helen Keller is admired for her many contributions to social action, peace, the rights of women, and those who are blind or visually impaired. As a writer and a person who thirsts for new knowledge, I especially admire her words of wisdom about happily serving others. For these and numerous other reasons, touching Helen's desk was a surreal experience as I touched one of the possessions of an inspiring deaf-blind woman. At a glance, the desk may just look like a simple piece of furniture, but it is more than that. It stands as a symbol of Helen Keller's life and the work that she did to help others. If you are an admirer of Helen Keller, go visit APH and experience the desk. In doing so, remind yourself of what Helen Keller means to you.

For info on visiting the the Museum at APH click here.

Throwback Thursday: Kentucky Winter Wonderland

Black & white photograph of APH employees in the snow.
Our Throwback Thursday object this week is appropriate for the season. An undated photograph from around the time of World War One, let’s say circa 1919.  It features almost our entire staff, we only had twenty employees in 1918, posing in the snow with a snow covered tree in the background.  Two older men, one of them the production manager, Owen McCann, are laying in the snow in front. Everyone else, most of them young women in long coats and wonderful hats, smile in a row behind.  I grew up in Kentucky, and this photograph is familiar.  We do not get a lot of snow in the winter, but it is pretty, and for some, reason to celebrate!

-Mike Hudson, Museum Director at APH

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

2019 Hall of Fame Nomination Process Open Now Through April 30

 2019 Hall of Fame Nominations are 
Now Being Accepted

The nomination process will close Tuesday, April 30, 2019.

"The Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field is dedicated to preserving, honoring, and promoting the tradition of excellence manifested by the specific individuals inducted into the Hall of Fame and through the history of outstanding services provided to people who are blind or visually impaired."
Hall of Fame Plaques on display 

Who should be the next inductees in to the Hall of Fame for the Blindness Field? 

If you are interested in learning more about the easy (electronic) process for submitting a nominee to join the 62 inductees, please visit:

What are the criteria?
  • Persons who have made significant contributions to improve the lives of those who are blind or visual impaired in such areas as professional practice, research, writing, leadership, direct service, and/or in their professional organizations.

What is Required to Nominate Someone?
·    Nominators must submit a comprehensive nomination packet including a thoroughly completed nomination form and three letters of support.

Who is Eligible?
  • Persons are eligible five years after departure/retirement from positions where their significant lifetime body of work was made.
  • Individuals from North America are eligible for nomination. (North America is defined as US, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean).


2018 Inductees: Susan Jay Spungin and Frank H. Hall
To be inspired by their achievements, please visit their Hall biography pages.

Questions?  Contact:

Micheal Hudson, Curator, Hall of Fame,

Bob Brasher, Co-Curator,

The Voluntary Hall of Fame Governing Board

Frances Mary D’Andrea
Jim Deremeik
Micheal Hudson
Marjorie Kaiser
BJ LeJeune
Rosanne Silberman, Chair
Ann Wadsworth
William Wiener
George Zimmerman
Greg Goodrich, Past Chair
Janie Blome, Ex Officio Member 
Bob Brasher, Ex Officio Member

Monday, December 10, 2018

Braille and Audio Together: Enhancing the Collegiate Learning Environment

by Jessica Minneci

      What style of learning a blind or visually impaired student should employ while in the university setting is a topic that has been widely considered. Separately, Braille and audio have their advantages and disadvantages but when used together, students can reap the benefits of both platforms. By discovering the best ways to utilize Braille and audio, you will be better equipped to tackle more rigorous coursework.
     In particular, it is a common misconception that colleges do not offer Braille textbooks. While audiobooks are most frequently used in the classroom, Braille books are also available upon the student's request. If you notify the disability services office months in advance of the start of the class, the staff can find a publisher to emboss the Braille book. Despite its bulkiness and large number of volumes, Braille material is helpful as it allows you to read diagrams and maps. For this reason, students taking a math, science, or geography class require Braille texts. Additionally, learning a foreign language is difficult as the Braille code may vary. This fact prompted me to have my Italian book Brailled. 
Two students in a library, one using a braille textbooks
     Topping off the list of the value of Braille is the fact that it makes the note taking process smoother. Instead of having to listen to VoiceOver jabbering in the background or connecting my BrailleNote to my computer, I prefer to compose class notes on my BrailleNote alone. The small number of keys used to type allows me to get words written accurately and quickly. In the same breath, my BrailleNote has aided me in  proofing papers. You can swiftly comb through the text for fine details, such as the correct syntax and use of punctuation marks. As a creative writing major, I also find Braille to be the best way for me to edit my poetry as I can feel the separations of the poem's lines better than if I was reading it with VoiceOver on my Mac.
     On the flip side, since there is a wider range of textbooks produced in an audio format, students gravitate toward those titles. Unlike Braille, audiobooks are not bulky, making them portable. With a membership, you can acquire audiobooks from Learning Ally and Bookshare. The amount of assistive technology available provides you with many options for storing books. Popular devices include a Victor Reader, BrailleNote, or BookPort. Depending on the speed at which you listen to them, you can read the books faster than your peers or at the very least, faster than you can read Braille. Similarly, if you are an auditory learner and your accommodations allow for it, you can record lectures and listen to them later, editing your notes for different things you may have missed during class time. 
     Another advantage of speech is that it translates into how students turn in assignments and do research on computers. Multiple screen readers give you the ability to work on a computer and access the same material as your peers. As the accessibility of school websites and online learning systems is always improving, you will find it less of a pain to navigate and complete Internet tasks. If you have a Braille display, you can also connect it to your computer and read everything that is on the screen.
     Separately, the benefits of Braille and audio can be understood. However, it is up to you as the student to work both modes of learning into your work. For example, you may have one foreign language class with a Braille textbook and audiobooks for your other courses. If you are like me, you may take notes on your BrailleNote in class and use your computer to do the rest of your work. Alternatively, you could use your computer to take notes or your Braille display with your computer to take notes. Since the combinations of how you can utilize Braille and audio materials are endless, I encourage you to explore your options and find the best way that these platforms can assist you in your success.


Saturday, December 08, 2018

New BrailleBlaster Version Available for Download

BrailleBlaster version 1.1.17-stable is now available for download here! With this update you can expect a refining of previous processes and improved accessibility. Download the new version today to check out these updates including:

Hands on a braille booklet
  • New file type fixes - Headings are now getting KeepWithNext. No unnecessary blank lines are appearing between list level changes. ePUB3 elements that appeared spatially are now appearing on a single line and editing them does not cause any issues. Minor bug fixes for specific files.
  • Spatial Math Editor - Nonspecific alerts have been made clearer.
  • Accessibility - Installer works with high-contrast settings. TOC Builder Headings drop down accessible by keyboard.
  • Uncontracted tables - Uncontracted UEB and UEB with Nemeth tables are using the same math translation tables as the contracted versions of those tables.

We also want to invite you to support BrailleBlaster and help to make this amazing tool even better. While BrailleBlaster is free software, it takes resources to continue development and provide support. Donate to the effort here!

Thursday, December 06, 2018

More Great Changes Coming to MATT Connect

Close up of the MATT Connect screen corner
Even more great changes are coming to the MATT Connect this winter. Get yours here. These updates, including changes in software and hardware, will make the MATT Connect more durable and easier to use than ever!

What changes to expect in the MATT Connect:

·             New Clip Design and Tools
·             Android Update
·             Screen Protector
·             Stylus

New Clip Design and Tools: The MATT Connect will have a new design! The clip located on the front of the stand that releases the tablet will now have the option of being fixed in place. The updated design will ensure that the tablet cannot be removed from the stand without the use of an included screwdriver. The packaging will include all of the tools necessary to fix or remove the tablet as desired. This is great news for teachers and parents who want to keep the tablet safely affixed to the stand!

 The clip is now black instead of orange to bring less attention and distraction from the tablet. The clip now has a small whole to place a screw to lock the tablet in place using the included screwdriver as needed.

(Image left: orange clip; image right: black clip)

Android Update, Screen Protector, and Stylus: The new Android version improves the touchscreen sensitivity; this allows the use of a stylus and a screen protector, which will now be included with the MATT Connect. 

When connected to WIFI your MATT Connect will automatically prompt you to install the update. Before starting the update, make sure that the tablet is connected to the power supply. This update should take approximately 15-20 minutes to install. 

A screen protector will now be included in future units to make the MATT Connect even more durable. To increase accuracy when navigating on the touch screen there will also now be a stylus included. Both of these features will be available when you order a MATT Connect starting later this winter.

Already have a MATT Connect? If you have purchased a MATT Connect and would like a stylus and screen protector for when you install the update please click here!

You can contact HumanWare 800-722-3393 or

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Changes Coming to APH Accessible Textbooks

At American Printing House for the Blind, we talk a lot about making sure students have the learning tools that best fit their needs. Sometimes the best way to help students is to change the way we do things, or the products we create. Last year the APH Educational Products Advisory Committee (EPAC) made a recommendation for APH to phase out the production of APH Traditional Enlargement for textbooks. After consideration, APH will follow that recommendation, putting our renewed commitment and resources into the APH Large Print Textbook process.

To better understand these changes, it’s important to know the differences between the different enlargement options APH has offered.

Text "What size book would you want to carry?" Below that shows the average size textbook which is the same size as the APH Large Print compared to the larger APH Traditional Enlargement textbook.

APH Traditional Enlargement (PHASING OUT)

At its basic level, the APH Traditional Enlargement is just taking a textbook, putting it on a scanner and then stretching it to be larger. At its best, this can increase the text to about 14 points, but most times only 12 points or smaller. This makes the book really big, with 11.5 x 14inch pages, and often the images are distorted because they are stretched beyond their original resolution. A standard textbook can have up to 60 different typefaces. In this textbook process, these all remain, they’re just bigger.

APH Large Print (HERE TO STAY)

APH Large Print is all about optimal readability. We use a specialized process, coupled with field tested designs and specifications that make our textbooks perfect for a reader who has low vision. The final result is a book with only a few different accessible typefaces, a new layout, and full resolution large text. 

The improved layout is printed on standard size textbook pages. This means the textbook comes in volumes, but they are the same dimensions as the books their peers use. All APH Large Print textbooks are available in a digital download from the APH File Repository making the books even more accessible. Not only do students like APH Large Print better, but it creates a better, barrier free learning environment. 

Text reads "Original 8.5 x 11 inches; APH Large Print 8.5 x 11 inches; APH Traditional Enlargement 11.5 x 14 inches" 
Two images comparing original textbook page to APH Large Print page. Text reads "Original Textbook: -As many as 50 typefaces -All different sizes; APH Large Print: -Select number of accessible typefaces -Clean and uncluttered pages"


The phase out of Traditional Enlargement will happen slowly. To make sure you don’t get caught unaware, below is a detailed schedule of what will be happening and when it will happen. The schedule has been spaced out to accommodate your needs and make the full adoption of APH Large Print a smooth transition for everyone.

Jan. 31, 2019- We will be removing all Large Print and Enlarged Print textbooks 10 years or older with low sales from our collection. The removal of these titles should affect very few people and help eliminate out of date information (health, science, technology). These books will also be removed from the Louis Database. For anyone that would like to order one of these textbooks, a list of these titles will become available soon.

Sept. 30, 2019- We will no longer accept new textbook titles for the APH Traditional Enlargement process. Textbooks released from that date on will only be available in APH Large Print and digital options.

Sept. 30, 2021- We will cease reprinting all APH Traditional Enlargement textbooks.

The removal of the APH Traditional Enlargement process and the renewed focus on APH Large Print books will help us create the most comprehensive and accessible collection of textbooks for K-12 students produced in the United States.

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Theater Belongs to Everyone

For the past 7 years the Museum at APH has put on a unique performance. The actors are all blind or visually impaired, and most read from embossed braille scripts. They use gestures to convey actions, but mostly rely on intonation to express their character’s motivations. The untraditional production opens up the performing arts to people who are blind and visually impaired.

Actress Barbara Henning has performed with APH since 2012. She’s calls herself an imaginative person and has enjoyed this opportunity to learn about her potential. “It has given me permission to explore inside my soul, to figure out who I really am.” She has played a wide range of characters over the years, from Anne Sullivan in The Miracle Worker to Lady Hero in the Shakespearian Classic Much Ado About Nothing.

The cast of a previous production of Braille Reader's
Theater performing in the round
While admittedly there are challenges to portraying these roles on stage while reading braille -  like timing and keeping your place - they are greatly outweighed by the benefits. “As a child, I loved to listen to the narrators who read the books from the National Library Service Library. They would bring the stories alive with their voices. I wanted to do that too. I love to act and read out loud!”

The opportunity to perform not only gives Barbara an artistic outlet but also helps her build  valuable skills. She says she is more confident now that she has performed in front of audiences. Barbara also attributes acting to being able to better step into other people’s shoes. “When I am acting, I truly am outside looking in. I see that character doing what they are doing. If I stop and think about what may be going on, I feel like it’s an “Out-of-body” experience! I don’t have other words to express such a deep happenstance. I want to “walk and talk” my characters.”

This accessible form of theater is great for performers and audience members who are blind and visually impaired. APH believes that art is for everyone; being blind is not a barrier to the performing arts but an opportunity to perceive it in a new way. Talented and passionate performers like Barbara prove that to be true year after year.

Barbara’s advice for people interested in performing, but hesitant due to visual impairments? “Go for it. You can teach folks who are sighted to look deeper inside themselves by showing what it is you can do. Make recordings of reading out loud. Try out for plays. Listen to good actors and narrators and have fun!”

2019: Upcoming Braille Reader’s Theater Production

Are you interested in getting involved? The Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind will hold auditions for the Braille Reader’s Theater production of Charlotte’s Web, to be presented March 14-16, 2019. Auditions will take place in the Museum Reception Room at 1839 Frankfort Avenue between the hours of 1:00 and 3:00 pm on Thursday December 6; between the hours of 11:00 am and 1:00 pm on Friday, December 7; and between the hours of 1:00 and 3:00 pm on Saturday, December 8.

Charlotte’s Web is based on the classic children’s book by E.B. White. It begins when a soft-hearted farm girl named Fern interferes with her father’s plan to turn a scrawny piglet named Wilbur into pork chops. As Wilbur grows and begins to cost his owners a fortune in feed, it takes the help of all his farmyard friends to save his life again, including a silly goose, a moody sheep, a selfish rat, and the miraculous talents of a very special spider named Charlotte. This heart-warming tale of friendship, selflessness, and the circle of life will enchant audiences of all ages. 

Children’s parts of Fern, Avery, Wilbur, and the lamb have already been cast.  Parts for adults and teens are as follows:
·             John Arable -- a farmer, and Fern’s father
·             Martha Arable -- Fern’s mother
·             Homer Zuckerman -- a farm, Fern’s uncle
·             Edith Zuckerman -- Fern’s aunt
·             Lurvy -- a hired hand
·             Templeton -- a rat
·             Charlotte -- a spider
·             Goose, Gander, Sheep, Lamb -- farm animals
·             Various extras – reporter, photographer, spectators, judges, fairgoers, announcer

The cast will meet for a read-through shortly after parts are assigned. Rehearsals will take place beginning in the middle of January.  For more information, contact Katie Carpenter at or 502-899-2213.

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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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