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, June 15, 2018

The Braille Challenge

Changing the Lives of Youth Since 2001

By Jessica Minneci

            It is difficult to fathom how understanding a six-dot cell and its accompanying combinations of dots can bring children of all ages from across the US and Canada together, all of them yearning to prove their mastery of the Braille code. Yet, in mid-June of each year, the Braille Institute hosts the National Braille Challenge in Los Angeles for the top 50 children with the highest scores in their category.
            Beginning in 2001, children who are blind and visually impaired from grades 1-12 have competed in regional rounds of the Braille Challenge. They are tested in the categories of proofreading, reading comprehension, speed and accuracy, charts and graphs, and spelling. Winners receive a ribbon and cash prize. In May, the top 50 contestants are selected and participate in the national round in June. After the contestants and their families arrive in L.A., the weekend kicks off with a welcome party followed by a day of competition. At night, everyone attends the award ceremony where cash prizes and assistive technology is awarded to the winners, sometimes by a celebrity guest.
image shows Jess and three friends posing
 for a picture at the Braille Challenge
            Having been a finalist in 2012, 2014, and 2015, I can attest to how amazing an experience the National Braille Challenge was. Although there was a different theme and group of participants each time, the magic of my adventures in L.A. was never dampened. Meeting other children who were visually impaired and my age is a rare pleasure as most of us are few and far between. Everyone has a different visual impairment, background, and story. Hearing all of them is both exciting and exhilarating.
            Added perks include free Braille books, enthusiastic volunteers, and rekindling old friendships as new ones are formed. The icing on the cake, I’ve found, is stepping out of your comfort zone, pushing yourself to meet new people and do the best you can even if it means your friend wins. After all, the challenge is about something bigger than winning prizes. It is about promoting Braille literacy, showing others your love of braille, and thanking all of those individuals who taught you to read and write. Braille is the system by which people who are blind define words. Without it, we would not have a voice.
            For these reasons, I find myself relying on my fingers to read instead of always listening to spoken text. I covet the few Braille books I own and save my money to buy more. I am appreciative of the Braille skills I possess because I know that not everyone has the opportunity to learn Braille. Therefore, I thank the Braille Challenge for their kindness and contributions to my academic and professional success for I don’t know where I would be today had I not started competing in 2008.

 Jess Minneci is a senior at Seton Hill University and an intern at APH. 
She is a three-time National Braille Challenge participant and has 
previously volunteered with ACB. She is a poet and aspiring 
novelist who enjoys filming youtube videos about young adult 
novels and spending time with her guide dog Joyce.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Throwback Thursday: List of Books in Embossed Type

Our object this week is a humble little booklet published by the Library of Congress in 1918, but it gets at a subject I want to talk in more depth, the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the Revised American Braille Code in June 1918 (or at it was also known, Braille Grade One and a Half).  For readers who were blind or visually impaired back then, a trip to the library was like a walk through the Old West:  it was an adventure.  There were books in raised letters, books in New York Point, books in Modified American Braille, books in Moon Type, and books embossed in British Braille or even a few in a short-lived code called Standard Dot.  The Americans had been negotiating with the British since around 1905 to come up with a unified English code, but by 1917, those negotiations had bogged down and America decided to go it alone, adopting the lightly contracted Grade 1.5 over the heavily contracted British Braille Grade II.  But the 1918 catalog of books in the Room for the Blind at the LC demonstrates how much worked needed to be done to introduce the new code after decades of disunity.  There are twenty-two pages of entries for Modified American Braille, the code adapted in 1868 at the Perkins School, which used Braille’s six dot symbol but reassigned the values.  There are nineteen pages of entries for British Braille.  There is a single page of works in the new Revised American Braille, covering only nine titles(!)  There are ten pages of entries in Moon Type, the raised letter code invented by William Moon in 1845.  There thirty-one pages of entries in New York Type, the braille alternative developed by William Wait in 1868.  And finally there are seven pages of entries for raised letters. But things were about to change…

Caption:  (Light blue booklet titled “List of Books in Embossed Type.”)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Quick Tip: Tactile Globe

Tactile Globe - Want to have the world at your fingertips? Try out our Tactile Globe.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Throwback Thursday: Thiberge Auto-Professeur

Many of the artifacts in our collection were designed to help sighted teachers work with students that are blind or visually impaired.  Our artifact this week, the Thiberge Auto-Professeur, or “Automatic Teacher,” works the other way around.  Raymond Thiberge (1880-1968) was a brilliant pianist who lost his vision at age nine.  He grew up to be a talented and well respected piano teacher who eventually founded his own school in Paris, France.  Along the way he became dissatisfied with the traditional manner in which piano was being taught, so he invented his own simple but effective techniques.  His teaching machine featured windows with sliding shutters.  With the sighted student seated at the piano, Thiberge would unshutter a window, revealing a single print note, which the student would have but a moment to recognize and strike the corresponding key on the piano.  Thiberge could tell which note would appear in the window, because the card printed with the notes was connected to a corresponding card embossed in braille.  Cards could be switched in and out to help students master all the scales.  He found that the automatic responses he was able to instill in his students dramatically accelerated their mastery of sight reading, although he himself was using no sight at all.  The Auto-Professeur was manufactured initially in 1933 by the American Braille Press in Paris, led by George Raverat.  This example, from about 1950, was donated by Mireille Duhen.

Mike Hudson
Museum Director

(Caption:  Green linen-covered frame, about 7.5 x 17 inches, with clear windows in the middle revealing music notes on a scale.  A card with embossed braille protrudes on the right.)

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