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, 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

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Throwback Thursday Object: Early Talking Book Studio Microphone

Our object this week is an original microphone used in the recording studio at APH from around 1940.  APH began recording talking books for the National Library Service in 1937.  The omnidirectional dynamic microphone was developed at Bell Labs in the late 1920s. Western Electric developed this “mic” in the late 1930s that was omnidirectional to 15 kHz. Called the 630A, it was better known as the “Eight-Ball,” resembling a black billiard ball used on a pool table.  The "acoustic baffle assembly,” the round grill mounted on top of the body of the microphone, converted an omnidirectional mic into a semi-directional mic useful for studio work at APH. 

Caption, Western Electric “8-ball” microphone.
Micheal Hudson
Museum Director, APH

Quick Tip Video: Rolling Right Along Construction Kit. Use it to create your own tactile books!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

January 2018 APH News

APH News is your monthly link to the latest information on the products, services, field tests, and training opportunities from the American Printing House for the Blind.

Nearby Explorer's Indoor Explorer Feature continues to make news. Featured in the Washington Post after the Louisville Airport installation was completed, we move this month to Orlando, where beacons have been installed in the Caribe Royale for the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference.

 A Few of This Month’s Headlines:

  • Flying Through the Airport with Indoor Explorer!
  • New! JAWS®- ZoomText® - MAGic® Suite
  • New Features! Nearby Explorer™- iOS Versions Feature Indoor Explorer!
  • New! Music Braille Code, 2015
  • Field Tests and Surveys
  • On January 10th, Learn How You Can Create Your Own Braille at Home with BrailleBlaster™
  • APH Celebrates 160 Years
  • APH InSights Art Competition 2018 Now Open!
  • Navigating ATIA a New Way! Nearby Explorer's™ Indoor Explorer Feature at the 2018 ATIA Conference
  • STEM Corner
  • 2018 Hall of Fame Nominations Now Being Accepted
  • Social Media Spotlight
  • APH Travel Calendar and more…

Home is Where the Braille Is: BrailleBlaster™ Software Is for Everyone

This is a slightly edited version of the text of the post appearing on AFB’s Family Connect blog on January 10, 2018, regarding BrailleBlaster.

Software for transcribing braille has been available for many years, but due to cost, it has been out of reach for most home users. The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) is changing that by offering the most powerful transcription software available free-of-charge! Originally designed for braille transcribers, BrailleBlaster™ can be downloaded and used by everyone, including parents, teachers, and students. Download at
Special Question and Answer Event on January 17th!

More about BrailleBlaster in a moment, but first we want to invite you to an APH/AFB partner event happening on the FamilyConnect blog. If you have questions about how BrailleBlaster software can make life easier for you and your child, please visit that blog next week on Wednesday, January 17th. We will be answering questions in the Comments section starting at 9am EST. Have a question? Post it in the comments in the original post on FamilyConnector send it to

You Can Create High-Quality Braille at Home
What would you braille for your child? Reminder notes, to-do lists, homework assignments, stories? Transcribe these and more into braille using BrailleBlaster software. As a public service, APH is making its advanced transcribing software available free of charge. Although it is powerful, creating basic braille documents in BrailleBlaster is easy and does not require an in-depth knowledge of braille.

After you download and install the software on your Windows® PC or Mac®, simply copy & paste text from any document into BrailleBlaster. Instantly, excellent quality simulated braille will appear on your screen. This braille can then be edited for formatting in a similar way you edit text in a word processor. For example, to center a heading, put your curser in front of the words you want centered, go to the toolbar, click on the headings button, select center, and the heading will automatically center.
Have an older student? BrailleBlaster is fully accessible and can be used by students to create their own braille!

Getting Braille Into Your Child's Hands

Now that you've created a braille document, there are two ways to get it into the hands of your braille reader: using a braille embosser or using a refreshable braille display.
If you have a braille embosser, you can create hard copy braille by sending your braille-ready file (.brf) from BrailleBlaster to the embosser.
If your child uses a refreshable braille display, you can save the file as a braille-ready file and email it to them.

Frequently Asked Questions about BrailleBlaster
Have questions about using BrailleBlaster at home or at school? Find our BrailleBlaster FAQs here. You can also email questions to APH at

Gaining Access to Braille Technology

Braille Embossers: Although prices have decreased, the cost of braille embossers remains high. Fortunately, there are now more options than ever! Here is a list of possible resources for locating or obtaining an embosser. The list includes local places, such as libraries, that may have an embosser, a list of lower-cost embossers, and ideas on how to raise funds for buying assistive technology.
Refreshable Braille Displays: There are many good options for refreshable braille displays. One device is APH's upcoming Orbit Reader 20™, which has a significant price breakthrough. 
How Will You Use BrailleBlaster?

We know BrailleBlaster will be useful to you at home or to your child's school. It's free, so you can download it an experiment all you like on as many devices as you like. Let us know how you use BrailleBlaster, we're sure users are going to find many uses for it that we haven't even imagined!

Monday, January 08, 2018

This is the Year: Making Big Things Happen

This is the year: Making big things happen
by Craig Meador, President, APH

As another year unfolds, the world anticipates with eagerness — or maybe some trepidation — the changes that lie ahead. Here at APH, we’ve been talking a lot about change for the last 18 months. You might feel like it’s been a lot of talk, but we’ve been hard at work preparing to implement changes that will make APH a stronger organization and give people who are blind or visually impaired even more innovative tools to achieve their full potential.

This is the year we’re going to deliver. We’re ready to make big things happen in 2018, and I’m excited to tell you about the bold steps we’ll be taking. 

This is the year when BrailleBlaster makes it possible for unprecedented numbers of people to use braille — at work, at school, and at home. This revolutionary software tool translates text into braille quickly and accurately, so students can have braille learning materials on the first day of class along with their sighted peers, instead of weeks or months later. But it’s not just students who will benefit. BrailleBlaster is free and easy to use, making printed materials more accessible at work, at home, and in our communities. With the broader availability of braille materials, we think we’ll see even more people of all ages taking advantage of the literacy benefits only braille can provide.

This is the year when Graphiti will change the way the world thinks about accessible graphics. The device  — which uses 2,400 movable pins and image software to create tactile displays of any image — will revolutionize lesson plans and classroom experiences. Students who are blind or visually impaired will finally have real-time graphics alongside their sighted peers, closing another educational gap. People of all ages will be able to experience graphics with Graphiti, including maps, charts, graphs, photos, and drawings.

This is the year when APH expands Indoor Explorer and Nearby Explorer to communities beyond Louisville, which is leading the way in creating accessible cities. In sites across the city, including Louisville International Airport, the Indoor Explorer program places low-power Bluetooth beacons in public buildings, which feed information about amenities and points of interest to APH’s Nearby Explorer app and its new Indoor Explorer feature, which turn a user’s smartphone into an audio guide. Indoor Explorer empowers people who are blind or visually impaired to find their own way to ticket counters, boarding gates, baggage claims, emergency exits, restrooms, and more, when used with a white cane or dog guide.

This is the year when the Orbit Reader 20 becomes the lowest-priced refreshable braille device on the market. APH partnered with Orbit Research to develop a rugged, low-cost display that allows information from a variety of digital sources to be displayed as mechanical braille, generated by computer-driven pins. We’re proud to have dramatically decreased the cost of braille access to electronic files, which is essential to literacy in the digital age.
This is the year when we’ll see more companies committed to accessibility so they can harness the vast potential of a diverse workforce that includes people who are blind or visually impaired. We’re better prepared to be part of that revolution than ever before thanks to technologies like BrailleBlaster, Orbit Reader, and Graphiti.

This is the year when APH will unveil our new brand identity and website that reflect our proud history, but also demonstrate that we’re a forward-thinking organization that’s breaking down barriers to accessibility in every area of life. In addition to being more informative and easier to navigate, our redesigned website will be more accessible than ever before.

Throughout 2018, APH will be introducing new products and innovations. I’m enthusiastic about what lies ahead for APH and the people our products and services benefit, because I know what we have in store — and I know what we’re capable of doing, along with our partners.

At APH, we’ve spent the last 18 months laying the groundwork and implementing our plans, and 2018 is the year we’re going to make big things happen. We’ll keep our partners and supporters informed as these things unfold, because we could not achieve our ambitious goals without you.

This is the year when APH takes a giant leap into the future of our organization, and we are proud to have you with us every step of the way.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Throwback Thursday Object: Celebrating Louis Braille's Birthday!

Today the world will celebrate the 209th birthday of Louis Braille, born January 4, 1809 in Coupvray, France.  After an accident left him blind, Louis was able to attend the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, France.  He met a soldier, Charles Barbier, who had proposed a dot code you could read by touch in the dark.  Louis simplified the code and published it for the first time in 1829.  APH was able to acquire a copy of that book, the Method of Writing Words, Music and Plainsong in Dots, in 2016 and it is the most prized artifact in our museum.  Embossed at the school by staff and students, it is hard to imagine that every copy was not touched in some way by the great inventor.  APH will celebrate Braille’s birthday and our newest exhibit “A Boy Named Louis” at a special event on January 20th.  You can find out more here.
Photo caption (Page 14 from Louis Braille’s “Method” showing its raised letter embossed print and the beginning of his key to the braille code.)

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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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