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, 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.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Throwback Thursday: Talking Book Technology

The TR-1000 phonograph had a boxy gray case,
a bright aluminum tone arm, and foam on
its aluminum turntable.
We have more computing power in our pocket cell-phones than the computers used to take Americans to the moon.  The guts of those handy devices rely on small components called transistors that keep getting smaller and smaller every year.  Transistors replaced earlier vacuum tubes, which were power hogs, less reliable, and heavy.  Our object this week is pretty bulky, I guess, but it still took advantage of transistor technology.  This is the TR-1000 Talking Book phonograph, a new design developed at APH in the late 1960s. The special tone arm was developed in the laboratories of the E.F. Andrews Foundation. It was the first transistorized player produced for APH, and used a compact "polyfoam-type" speaker stored in its lid. It was offered both with and without an electronic speed control.  It was our workhorse model and was available from 1970-1990.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Preparing for College: Understanding Higher Ed Accommodations

by Jessica Minneci

     Now, more than ever, many blind or visually impaired high school students are considering college as the next step in their academic careers. Like any new chapter in life, the prospect of college may seem daunting or scary. Bearing some of these tips in mind can help ease your anxiety as you attempt to find your next home away from home.
     First, be aware that it is never too early to start the college search. Blind and visually impaired students need to find schools that will fit their majors, but will also have appropriate accommodations to fit their needs. The earlier you start, the more schools you will get to learn about and the more likely it will be that you find the right school for you. During your freshman year of high school, begin thinking about your major and what schools you may like to attend. Start by compiling a list of 10 majors and 20 prospective schools that offer those majors. Correspond with the schools and do your best to visit them. If the school is far away, you can always make a vacation out of it!
     When you reach your junior year of high school, narrow the list of majors and schools down. Select two or three majors along with two or three schools that offer those majors. Next, don't be afraid to be your own advocate for your disability. Talk or email with the disability services office and ask them questions. Their job is to support you in any way that they can which includes your accommodations in class and also helping you adapt to college life. Having a good relationship with the staff is key as it may make or break your decision to attend that university.
     In your conversations, find out if the schools' disability services office has worked with a person who has your visual impairment before. Make sure they understand what your vision impairment is like for you and what supports and technology you have used and will need. If they have worked with students with a vision impairment and they ask good questions, odds are that they will know how to accommodate you. Then, let the offices know that you are planning on attending their schools. That way, the staff can start preparing for your arrival. Lastly, immerse yourself in your intended majors. Most colleges or universities will offer a day or overnight program where you can shadow a student in your major and attend classes with them. Not only will you be able to decide if this is the right major for you, but you can also decide if you like the professors and the academic program.
College quad full of students on a sunny day.
     As you continue your college search, work more closely with the staff at the disability service office. Provide them with documentation of your disability. Written by a doctor, this paperwork includes the nature of your disability and how it effects your academic performance. Based on the documentation, schools will give you a list of accommodations that they are willing to offer you. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the school is required to provide you with accommodations that give you equal access to the material and facilities on campus. Institutions may  interpret the ADA differently and you may receive varying answers as to what accommodations they provide. Examples of accommodations include course substitutions, priority registration, note takers, and recording lectures. It should also be noted here that disability service offices are not responsible for giving you personal services like orientation and mobility training, help with laundry, or supplying you with a cane. You will be responsible for covering these areas of campus life.
     After assessing what accommodations are offered, be sure to ask, "What classes are essential for my major and what learning objectives in these classes are essential?“ For example, if you enter as an art major, will you be able to take a clay class and succeed at making sculptures or will you be required to take painting and welding which may be out of your skill set? If the latter courses are essential for your art major, the disability services office can not wave them. They are only able to adapt or modify them by meeting with you and the instructor. If many of the courses have components that are not essential or not feasible for you, pick a different major or school. For instance, if you  are interested in a major in communication, one school's emphasis may be on visual marketing. Odds are that this program and this school is not a good fit. By looking at your major and courses ahead of time, you can figure out if the school's program is right for you. Plus, you can determine what classes are essential for your major and how they can be adapted.
     One final question to ask the disability services office is, "What skills do I need to be successful here?" Answers may include advocating for your needs both in and outside of the classroom, navigating the campus with your cane, and being proficient in technology. As many colleges have online learning systems, being able to use a computer with a screen reader is a very important skill. Make sure you know what platforms the school uses. If they use Windows instead of a Mac, learn Windows or be able to switch between the two platforms if the need arises. Colleges can also tell you about new technologies that they are implementing into their curriculum. Be open to trying them out.
Beginning the search for a great college is often overwhelming and time-consuming. Through following these simple tips, prospective blind and visually impaired students will have an easier, smoother time as they transition from secondary school on to higher education. Reach out and ask questions to ensure that you find the right school for you.

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