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, April 19, 2018

Throw Back Thursday: Tactile Drawing Tools

Occasionally, like most museums, we will get a “box” in the mail.  Someone is cleaning house, and either they want to remain anonymous, or they absolutely, definitely do NOT want anything returned.  So, there is no return address.  Last week, I received such a box, carefully packed inside were a New Hall Braillewriter (serial# 3268, nothing special), and an old record album box full of drawing tools.  There were eight in total, all stamped with the Howe Press/Perkins School mark.  Now, I’ll admit, I don’t really like receiving these boxes.  Without documentation, we can’t establish ownership, and we’re reluctant to expend resources on things we do not own.  But these tools help tell the story of how our field made it possible for students who are blind or visually impaired to succeed in classes like geometry, or to make all sorts of maps and diagrams.  So our Throwback Thursday blog is a little long this week.  Mea culpa.

In 1939, Edward Waterhouse, a math teacher at the Perkins School in Watertown, Massachusetts, was designing pioneering appliances to teach mathematics.  Waterhouse would go on to head both the Howe Press and the Perkins School, and was an influential educator in many ways.  In 1939, there were no commercially available adapted tools that would allow students with visual impairments to draw raised lines for themselves.  The production of tactile graphics was consigned solely to the braille presses who were producing maps, or to individual teachers making their own diagrams using tactile materials, glue, and household tools.  By 1941, the Howe Press, the manufacturing arm at Perkins, had introduced “Geometry Instruments,” which we think meant a compass with a star wheel, a braille protractor, a tracing wheel, and three braille rulers. In 1947, the Perkins Annual Report says that their geometry instruments were being made at the Howe Press machine shop, now in Watertown (having moved that year from Boston).  In 1950, the category was renamed “Mathematical Instruments.”  You could buy all six drawing tools in 1956 for $13.45. 

Meanwhile, Harry P. Sewell was part of an ad-hoc research council in the 1940s in New York that met at the American Foundation for the Blind.  He received a patent for his own raised line writing system in 1952.  By 1955, Sewell was manufacturing the kits in a small shop and distributing them through AFB.   (A version is still available today from MaxiAids.)  Sewell’s kit involved a clipboard with a rubber coating, a plastic stylus, and a clear plastic film.  Pressing the stylus into the film (or into aluminum sheets) produced a raised line drawing on the opposite side of the film.

Whether inspired by Sewell, or encouraged by the steady sales of their drawing tools (we don’t really know the whole story yet), by May of 1968, Howe Press and Perkins had introduced their own drawing kit, the Raised Line Drawing Kit (RLDK).  It consisted of a rubber-faced drawing board, a nylon tipped stylus, a tracing wheel, a twelve-inch ruler, a protractor, a compass, and a right angle, along with 100 sheets of ten-inch square Mylar.  Like the Sewell Kit, the RLDK produced a raised line drawing on the opposite side of the Mylar. By 1976, Howe had also introduced their Freehand Drawing Stylus, a tool allowing you to place individual raised dots anywhere on the page.

The American Printing House for the Blind got into the act originally in 1965, introducing its Swail Dot Inverter, a hand tool, designed to emboss raised dots to create simple charts, graphs, and maps.  In 1980, APH introduced its Tactile Graphics Kit, which was intended more for teachers than students, but included a variety of tools to emboss graphics of all types on heavy gauge aluminum that could then be reproduced on a conventional thermoform machine.  But the most important contribution APH made to student produced graphics would come in 2005, when the company introduced its Draftsman Tactile Drawing Board.  Like the Sewell and the Raised Line Drawing Kit, the Draftsman used a rubber coated board and clear plastic film.  But unlike its predecessors, when a stylus was drawn across the plastic film, it left behind a raised line on the top of the film that could be explored by touch immediately.
By the way, Howe Press is not making these tools anymore, so, you guessed it, now they are museum pieces… (And if anyone has one of their original drawing boards, I would LOVE to get it!)

Micheal Hudson, Museum Director, APH 

(Photo caption:  Aluminum braille protractor, braille ruler, and nylon-tipped pencil stylus; blackened steel tracing wheel, compass with star wheel, and plain compass; u-shaped steel freehand drawing tool with wooden handle.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Quick Tip: History in the Making

History in the Making: The Story of the American Printing House for the Blind, 1858-2008 is a handsome keepsake book that describes the rich history of the American Printing House for the Blind.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Excerpt from Cortical Visual Impairment: An Approach to Assessment and Intervention

Below is an excerpt from Cortical Visual Impairment: An Approach to Assessment and Intervention(Second Edition), by Christine Roman-Lantzy.* This publication is available through AFB Press ( APH is in the process of assuming stewardship of AFB Press. This title and others will soon be available in the APH Store.

Introducing Two-Dimensional Materials

The suggestions presented here provide methods for including two-dimensional materials in the learning routines of students who have CVI. It is important to remember that two-dimensional materials are generally used with students who score above 6 on the CVI Range, unless the two-dimensional image is presented using a backlit system such as a tablet. Moving from three-dimensional objects, such as Slinkies, pom-poms, and balls, to two-dimensional pictures requires careful planning, so that students will be challenged at, but not beyond, their assessed level of CVI. The suggestions that follow provide a framework for this progression. They primarily address issues related to the CVI characteristic of difficulty with complexity, but they are also helpful when dealing with other characteristics, including color preference and difficulty with the visual novelty. 

·     Simple, translucent colored pictures, such as the Familiar Objects Pictures (available from the American Printing House for the Blind; see the Resources section in the online AFB Learning Center), presented on a light box can teach picture discrimination, picture recognition, and picture identification.

·     Symbols used for communication or to help students anticipate daily routines can be adapted to make them more easily viewable by children with CVI, by selecting them for such features as preferred colors, familiar items, low levels of complexity, movement and so forth.

·     Simple picture books can be created with only one picture per double-page spread. Images should be selected based on color preference, familiarity of subject, and simplicity.

·     Books that have pictures based on a theme – for example, “foods I eat,” “things I wear,” or “toys I like” – can be created or selected from books that are commercially available. Only outlined drawings should be used initially – avoid pictures with internal details as well as photographs until the student is well into Phase III (7+ to 10 on the CVI Range).

·     Commercially available books that are very simple can be selected for use with a child based on color preference and the child’s interest.

·     When photographs are presented, begin with faces, and only later present pictures of familiar people against neutral or plain backgrounds.

·     Additional photo books can be designated around particular themes of interest, for example, photos of balls or animals.

·     Keep in mind that recognition of oneself in photographs generally occurs around the same time that an individual is able to recognize him- or herself in a mirror image (generally after scoring 7 to 8 on the CVI Range).

*Reproduced with permission of the American Foundation for the Blind.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Scattered Crowns: Tactile Attribute Game

Looking for a fun, versatile board game that encourages young children, especially those with visual impairments and blindness, to develop tactile skills? Check out Scattered Crowns!

Friday, April 13, 2018

April has been declared CVI Literacy Awareness Month!

There have been various strategies explored for learners diagnosed with CVI to help them learn to read. The APH CVI website has several pages addressing literacy, starting with the developmental need of emergent skills. Emergent skills need to be developed before children are ready for formal reading instruction. Exposing young children to books, putting foam letters in their hands, listening to letter sounds and nursery rhymes are great activities! Once a child understands that symbols/pictures have meaning, they may be ready to explore letters and words. 
Another prerequisite to reading is the Learning Media Assessment. We cannot assume that we know how any child with visual impairment will best utilize reading materials unless we collect data through a learning media assessment.
If a learner is determined to be tactual reader, exposure to braille materials is necessary.
If a learner is determined to learn through listening, then listening skills need to be developed.
If a learner is determined to be a print reader, exploration will be needed to determine how print is presented. Consideration needs to be given to the background on which letters are presented. Some children may need a solid colored background while others can discriminate the letter from a more complex background. The amount of space between letters and how many letters are presented at one time can also be determined through assessment. CVI Scotland offers a helpful blog on Fonts. They have also developed a free tool with multiple functions and settings, designed to make reading easier for people with CVI.  
Look can be used for all level of readers, from a non-reader learning to read, to an experienced reader wanting specific settings to read faster and more comfortably.
Look enables the user to insert any text (up to 10,000 words), and adjust the settings, to read a single word on an uncluttered screen, and either change each word manually, or set the speed for Look to present the words automatically at your comfortable reading speed.
To build reading skills, there is the further option to select the number of words you wish to appear on the screen at a time, of more than one, including seeing a whole single sentence at a time.
It may be that a combination of media will work best for a learner. Consistent and ongoing observation and assessments are essential to determine which materials will help the learner be successful.
Once literacy needs are determined, TEACHCVI has developed a Literacy Profile, a practical tool to be used by teachers and other professionals in order to collect information about the functional vision and literacy of children with CVI. 
If you have a product idea related to literacy, please submit them to APH using

Susan Sullivan, CVI Project Leader

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Quick Tip: A Touch

The perfect picture book to help teach young children with blindness and visual impairments pre-braille and pre-literacy skills!

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

The CSUN Synergy - Building a Future That Belongs to Everyone

By Dave Wilkinson, Director of Sales, APH

Dave Wilkinson, APH Director of Sales, discusses
the Orbit Reader 20 with a CSUN attendee
Anyone who has attended the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference knows there is nothing quite like it. I went to my first CSUN in 1999, just 3 weeks after taking my first job in this industry. I was mesmerized by all the hustle and bustle that was going on around me. It seems fitting that just one month into my new position as Director of Sales with APH that I would be back at CSUN as part of the introduction to my new position. The experience did not disappoint. The excitement and wonder that comes with passion and innovation is still in evidence.

APH prides itself for being on the cutting edge of assistive technology.  At this year's CSUN it was easy to see why. People crowded our booth to get their hands on the Graphiti, our one-of-a-kind tactile display. They eagerly sought out the Orbit Reader 20, a device that is revolutionizing the cost of refreshable braille. Our friends at Bristol Braille came to our booth and demonstrated the Canute, the first multiline braille display designed especially for reading books with large amounts of text.

APH presented several packed sessions at CSUN covering topics such as Braille Blaster, our free braille translation program, the afore-mentioned Graphiti, Indoor Explorer (the indoor navigation component of Nearby Explorer), and so much more. APH’s innovations added to the excitement of the conference - there really is a particular vibe at CSUN that you just don’t find anywhere else.

Sessions and exhibits are the public face of CSUN, but behind the scenes countless meetings take place. This is where the magic happens and connections are made for good. For APH, these meetings included opportunities to talk to current partners such as HumanWare and VFO, while exploring new possibilities with companies and organizations like Microsoft, Altix, RNIB, Vision Australia, and others. APH believes in the power of partnerships, and we are always looking for ways to do good work together.

But most of all, conferences such as CSUN are a time for us to connect with the people we serve, to learn how we can meet their needs today and in the future. I remember going to the APH booth at CSUN as as a customer and how cool it was to meet the people who made some of my favorite products. Now I'm on the other side and it's equally exciting to meet those customers who used to be me! APH is always looking for opportunities to reach out to our customers at conferences so if you missed us at CSUN, you can count on us being near you sometime soon. We look forward to seeing you in the near and brighter future.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Friday, March 09, 2018

Check out the March 2018 APH News!

photo of a young girl seated at a brailler

Partnering with local organizations is a win-win for APH employees. Last month’s eighth annual Kentucky Regional Braille Challenge afforded APH employees the opportunity to support 34 Kentucky students who rose to the Challenge to compete in contests of braille skill and ability.

A Few of This Month’s Headlines:

  • Statement Regarding the Availability of Orbit Reader 20
  • APH and KSB Host 8th Kentucky Regional Braille Challenge
  • New! Tactile Algebra Tiles
  • New! Holy Moly
  • Updated! Expanded Dolch Word Cards
  • Updated! Braille Contraction Cards
  • Field Testers Wanted
  • STEM Corner
  • Delta Gamma Foundation Awards $6,000 to Braille Tales Program
  • Share Your Story
  • Social Media Spotlight
  • APH Travel Calendar and more…

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Throwback Thursday Object: the Atkinson Braille Writer

Our Throwback Thursday artifact this week comes from the Braille Institute of America in Los Angeles, or as it was originally called by its legendary founder, “Fighting Bob” Atkinson, the Universal Braille Press.  Atkinson founded the press in 1919 and it was a fierce competitor with APH for embossing and recording contracts.  The Braille Press began funding the development of a braillewriter in the 1930s.  The Atkinson Portable Braillewriter was introduced in 1948.  The design was unique.  Its keyboard, located on the top of the writer and above the paper rollers, made it very different from machines inspired by the Hall Braillewriter.  Most of its working parts were concealed, the paper carriage was fixed,  and only the embossing head moved across the paper.  A machine from another braille press, introduced only a few years later, included most of these advantages in a more traditional typewriter arrangement, and proved to be the better of the two designs.  And the Perkins Braillewriter is still in production today.
First Photo caption:  The Atkinson Portable Braillewriter was charcoal gray, fourteen inches wide, and its keyboard was mounted on a bar on top of the machine.  The paper fed into a flat tray underneath. Second Photo Caption: This is a side view of the Atkinson Braillewriter.
Micheal Hudson, Museum Director, APH 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Throwback Thursday: Legendary Publisher of the Washington Post Visits APH

The Academy Award buzz for Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks’ new movie “The Post” caused me to remember that Katherine Graham, the legendary publisher of the Washington Post, visited APH in 1989.  Streep plays Graham in the movie.  Our Throwback Thursday object this week is a photograph from that day, October 5th, 1989.  Legendary APH narrator Terry Hales Sales stands in a crowd of well-wishers shaking Ms. Graham’s hand on our front steps. Terry is looking back at the camera and Ms. Graham has a large flower pinned to her dress.  Our studio manager, Steve Mullins, stands off to the left.  He has the required patches on his jacket elbows.  I had a coat just like it.  At the time Steve was a monitor, what we now call a talking book editor.  APH had begun recording the Talking Newsweek Magazine in 1959—we still record and distribute it today!—and the company was celebrating the 30th anniversary of the partnership with Graham and Newsweek Magazine.  In 1989, our recorded magazines came on flexible vinyl records.  You could wad them up and throw them away after listening.

Photo Caption:  Katherine Graham greets a crowd at APH in 1989.
Micheal Hudson
Museum Director, APH

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Throwback Thursday Object: the VersaPoint Duo Braille Embosser

Technology is changing so quickly.  Today’s modern miracle becomes a dusty paperweight almost overnight.  Our museum tries to save these dinosaurs, but the pace of obsolescence and even extinction is so rapid that it is often unclear what is a significant technological landmark and what is an abandoned rabbit hole.  Our object this month, a VersaPoint Duo braille embosser from 2000, turned out to be much more interesting than I initially thought, so I am feeling vindicated about all the other dusty paperweights!
The VersaPoint had its origins in the work of Canadian inventor Roland Galarneau (1922-2011).  I had never heard of Galarneau, but I found an online exhibit that tells his story.  Galarneau, blind himself, completed the first version of his "Converto-Braille" device by 1972, essentially a computer linked to an electric typewriter that could translate print into braille.  In 1982, Galerneau sold the manufacturing rights to his second generation model to Telesensory in California.  Telesensory introduced its version as the VersaPoint braille embosser in 1986.  There were eventually several models.  The "Duo" could emboss braille on both sides of the page, known as interpointing.  In the spring of 1998, Blazie Engineering purchased the blindness (and braille) products of Telesensory, including the VersaPoint. Our example was manufactured under Deane Blazie’s nameplate, although he in turn sold the line to Freedom Scientific in 2001.

Photo Caption: The Versapoint Duo Braille Embosser, a dark gray steel rectangle with controls on the right and a central slot for tractor fed paper to enter on the front.
Micheal Hudson
Museum Director, APH

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Throwback Thursday Object: More 160th Anniversary Materials and Information


January 25, 2018
This week the Printing House celebrated the 160th anniversary of our founding in January, 1858.  But that date recognizes the formal charter issued to the company by the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  Our object celebrates the fulfilment of that charter, when the company actually embossed its first tactile pages in 1866.  This engraved print was published in the March 5, 1864 edition of the Scientific American Magazine.  It illustrates a unique iron printing press, designed by famed designer Stephen P. Ruggles, specifically for APH.  The disruptions caused by the Civil War delayed any actual work on the press until an experimental edition of “A Book of Stories and Fables for Children” by the English writer John Gay was embossed in 1866.

Photo caption:  Engraving on paper of a four-legged iron printing press, with a large, spoked fly-wheel in the foreground connected by gears to a central cylinder.
Micheal Hudson
Museum Director, APH

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