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, May 17, 2018

Throwback Thursday Object: NOMAD

NOMAD electronic graphics tablet
If you have seen our prototypes for the new Graphiti Tactile Touch Display, you’ll know why we are so excited about it, but it is not the first electronic graphics tablet from APH.  NOMAD by APH was a talking touchpad device for use with tactile graphics, introduced in 1993. The pad connected to a personal computer and included software for creating files of descriptions of tactile graphics. The user touched tactile graphics placed on the touch-sensitive pad and listened to voice-synthesized speech descriptions.  An Australian, Don Parkes, came up with the original design at the University of Newcastle. Parkes’ original prototype, which we also have in the museum collection, used the guts of singing greeting cards to represent how touch could trigger audio content.  Quantum, a company based in Australia, made the much more sophisticated electronics for the actual device. APH vacuum formed the plastic case and assembled the device using our own tooling and assembly methods. APH also developed a unique silk screen printing process to produce the tactile drawings.

Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director

Caption:  The gray NOMAD case was about 16 x 23 x 2 inches.  The graphic on this example is a map of the APH Museum.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Quick Tip: Expanded Dolch Word Cards, UEB

These flashcards, consisting of 220 sight vocabulary words and 95 words with pictures, can be used for reading practice or an informal assessment of a student's ability to read words in contracted braille and to spell words in uncontracted braille. To learn more, or to order, visit:

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Throw Back Thursday: Relief Puzzle Map

When my son was little, he loved running his hands over our relief puzzle maps in the museum.  If you went to a residential school for the blind in the United States in the mid-twentieth century, you will remember the large puzzle maps from APH, like this one of Asia.  They are large, 41 x 43”, and sit on their own wooden easel.  Each country is a piece to the puzzle, sits in a cutout in the base, is painted a contrasting color, and has its mountains and rivers picked out in exaggerated relief.  (If you were large enough to run your hands over the actual earth, it wouldn’t feel that bumpy—true story!)  Cities are indicated by metal pins.

APH Superintendent Benjamin Huntoon began making wooden relief maps in the basement of the Kentucky School for the Blind in the 1870s.   By 1921, large hand-carved wooden maps were available with a shellac finish.   APH experimented with molded maps as early as the 1930s.  This style map appeared in the 1950s and 60s.  They were molded from epoxy in an involved process.  I guess they fell out of favor when countries started changing borders faster than APH could change the very expensive molds.  Think about it, you spend three months carving out a wood casting pattern of Europe, the wall comes down in Germany, and east and west reunite.  You spend a month fixing that, and Czechoslovakia breaks up into two countries.  What is a wood carver to do? 

Caption:  Colorful puzzle map of Asia


Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Quick Tip: The Keitzer Check-Writing Guide

The Keitzer Check-Writing Guide is a tool that allows you to feel the locations of the various blanks on a standard sized check and write in the correct areas.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Throw Back Thursday: The Portable Plus

Our object this week is the last Talking Book phonograph from APH, the Portable Plus. The machine was designed and entirely assembled at the American Printing House for the Blind under an agreement with the Variable Speed Corporation.  It was introduced in 1990, but APH had already stopped making rigid vinyl records for the National Library Service, and flexible records used for magazines would be phased out a few years later.  

It is a lesson about how long it takes to bring a product from the drawing board to production.  Sometimes it is obsolete even before you start making it.  The Portable Plus only lasted a few years before it was discontinued.  But while available it was a marvel.  The tone arm was spring loaded and would play a record even when the machine was tipped on its side!  And it had an internal rechargeable battery, so you could take it anywhere.

Micheal Hudson
APH Museum Director

Photo Caption:  The Portable Plus was about 13 inches square, with a gray plastic case and a speaker in the lid.

Quick Tip - Color Star

Color Star recognizes color shades, identifies contrast measurements, recognizes the colors of LED lights, perceives light intensity, and recognizes patterns – all with clear spoken voice output.

Color Star is a Registered Trademark of the American Printing House.

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