Accessible Toys for the Young and Young at Heart with Vision Loss
With the holidays fast approaching, the aisles of virtually every toy store will be buzzing with activity. Parents, grandparents, family, and friends are likely already pondering the gifts to purchase for children and the young at heart. Often, individuals are of the belief that shopping for a blind or visually impaired child is an immensely more difficult task. Although it is true that some toys and games present greater challenges, there is a nearly endless supply of gift ideas available for children everywhere.
Generally speaking, there are two major groups of gifts to consider when purchasing toys and other fun items for children who are blind or visually impaired. Many items, such as building blocks or some electronic games, are completely usable out of the box without modifications. In other words, a blind child can open their gifts and begin playing immediately. But a bit of ingenuity and creativity can open the door to another class of toys which can be made accessible with a bit of tinkering, brailling, or marking. We've split up this buying guide into several sections in order to help you find the items you're looking for. You can browse through these sections using the headings below.
Toys for the Little Ones
Many toys for infants and toddlers are naturally usable because of their lack of complexity and multisensory designs. These toys play songs or music, emit funny sounds or tones, and are very colorful in presentation. They usually include large, uniquely shaped buttons and controls. All of these qualities make them perfectly usable by the little ones.
Those looking for a talking and singing companion or two may consider the new Sing-a-ma-jigs! from Mattel. These squeezeable characters speak gibberish and sing songs on their own. But the real magic comes when you put more than one of these huggable friends together, as the toys spontaneously join each other in perfect harmony. As their motto confirms, "They love nothing better than singing together."
Toys for Learning
What better way to teach a child the alphabet, spelling, or mathematics than with toys? Many such toys are tactile in nature, and some even come with braille or other tactile markings. Lindenwood, Inc. has manufactured the popular Uncle Goose braille blocks for over 20 years. These wooden blocks include embossed braille letters or numbers, depending on the set chosen, and can be used to learn braille, spelling, and arithmetic. Sets with deeply embossed print letters, which can be felt by touch, are also available. Many teachers would concur with the importance of a blind child also learning print numbers and letters. There are a number of manufacturers that produce magnetic letters and numbers, which often can be felt by touch. The best ones are most likely magnets cut in the shapes of the letters, as opposed to flat magnets with letters printed on them.
For a richer multimedia experience, check the clearance bins or online stores for Leapfrog's Fridge DJ. It's like a mini music player for kids, but instead of listening to Lady Gaga, they can tune to three stations featuring songs about letters, numbers, and other elementary concepts. Because it has dials to switch between the songs, it's perfectly usable by children who are blind or visually impaired.
For older learners, the Educational Insights Geosafari Talking Globe remains as a popular option for the visually impaired and sighted alike. Intended for children grades 3 and up, it asks over 10,000 questions on topics ranging from states and capitals to European rivers. The presentation is similar to a TV game show, and all of the questions are read aloud. Although the globe itself isn't tactile in nature, the bulk of your child's time will probably be spent playing the various games. You could put some tactile marks on the globe if you felt it necessary.
When shopping for accessible educational toys, watch out for many of the electronic computers and visual games. These items may talk, but often require visual assistance to play or set up. The Leapster Explorer, for example, falls into this category because of its inaccessible touch screens and its visual interface.
Dating back to the days of the first electronic Simon or the Speak 'n Spell, electronic games have been delighting children for decades. Although many early titles produced just a few beeps and blips, many modern entries are fully interactive, human-sounding machines sure to engage children and adults alike.
Perhaps the most well known of the current crop of electronic game franchises is the Bop It line of games from Hasbro. Available over the years in several models, including Bop It Extreme and Bop It Blast, the general concept requires the user to perform the requested command to the unit. To "Bop it" is to press or hit the big round button on the center of the unit. Other actions often include "pull it," "twist it," and "spin it." Because the commands are spoken out loud or given using sounds, Bop It has become one of the most popular handheld games for the blind. The most widely available iteration currently is simply called Bop It and includes a new "shout it" mode where you must shout or say something when commanded. Bop It Bounce is a recently released addition to the Bop It family and includes various games involving a ball and a paddle, with the same audio high jinks as the other models. This one may be more challenging to play by anyone, but with some determination and patience, it's a great way to practice coordination and dexterity. Other Bop It models may be available online or through auction sites such as eBay.
If you're seeking a more intellectual challenge, Radica's Say What offers a pop culture mind game for young and old. The goal is to unscramble a famous phrase from TV, music, or pop culture. Each portion of the phrase is represented by a ball, and these balls must be rearranged as fast as possible to unscramble the secret phrase. The phrases, scoring, and instructions are all voiced by a recorded male voice, and the game includes three levels of difficulty. Race against the clock and compete against your friends for pop culture glory.
Educational Insights, makers of the Geosafari Talking Globe mentioned above, has released a new talking category game called Freeze Up. Can you think of a fruit that starts with M? Think quickly, because time is ticking in this fast-paced and self-voicing title, similar to the parlor game Scattergories. It includes over 170 categories and is intended for two to eight players.
A variety of other talking electronic games have been released over the years, though some of these have been discontinued. BrailleGifts.com is an online store specializing in these hard-to-find titles and includes many gems, including the NuJam Guitar, Groove It, and Torx, all fun and potentially addictive time wasters.
Board and Card Games
Although many board or card games are not easily playable by a blind child out of the box, they often can be made accessible. Cards can be marked using a braille writer or Dymo labeler, and Puffy Paint is often a simple way to mark sections or paths on a game board.
Bananagrams is quickly gaining popularity as a fast-paced, competitive word game, similar to Scrabble. Each player draws a set number of titles and then must create a grid of words using these tiles, similar to a crossword puzzle. Players can exchange unused letters, albeit for a penalty, and the player who empties the pile is declared the winner. The game is packaged with 144 letter tiles, and upon brailling these tiles, the game would be playable by a blind person.
Another game that should be relatively easy to braille is Mattel's Apples to Apples. The game invites participants to suggest comparisons of seemingly unrelated items. The game cards usually contain one- or two-word phrases, and the size of the cards is plenty large enough to fit the required words.
Scattergories by Hasbro is a classic parlor game of words and categories. Players have roughly three minutes to think of 12 items that all begin with the same letter and fit the categories for the round. Blind players can braille or type up a listing of the categories for the game and then record their answers using a braille writer, notetaker, or raised-line paper. The only partially inaccessible item in the game is the 20-sided die, which includes small letters that may be difficult to feel.
Don't forget the classics. A braille deck of playing cards has the potential for hours of fun, whether for a four-year-old playing a game of War or Go Fish, or an older child or adult playing Rummy or Spades. Other card games, such as Uno, Old Maid, or Phase 10, can be easily marked with braille. In addition, many stores that offer products for the blind and visually impaired include braille and other accessible games in their catalogs. An eBay seller who goes under the username "bjornskov" has been creating and selling braille and tactile games and toys for several years. Some recent items have included a Fisher-Price Fun-2-Learn Teaching Clock, a Playskool ABC Game, and a braille Rat-A-Tat Cat card game. Most items are priced similarly to their print counterparts, making this a rather affordable option for family or friends who lack the expertise or ability to adapt games as gifts for the blind.
Accessible Computer Games
Audio-based computer games offer opportunities for blind children to enjoy a wide variety of entertainment. Younger users may be interested in the low-cost titles from
7-128 Software. The PizzaGames for Children offers opportunities for learning the placement of keys on the computer keyboard as well as letters and simple addition. Older users may be interested in Q9, a side-scrolling action game from Blastbay Studios. The title character is an alien who needs to traverse through 12 levels in order to find his spaceship, killing everything in his path.
In addition, two websites offer subscription-based online games that are playable by both visually impaired and sighted players. All inPlay offers six games with full multimedia sound and graphics. These range from card games like Blackjack and Crazy Eights to two-word game titles. All of these games are multiplayer, meaning you can compete against others from around the world. Blind Adrenaline offers a similar service geared especially toward card game fanatics. The six game titles include Hearts, Spades, Poker, and Euchre.
In summary, when shopping for a toy or game for a blind or visually impaired youth, the possibilities are limitless. Many items are quite accessible out of the box, whereas others can be modified so they are just as enjoyable. Truth be told, the people with vision loss you are shopping for want many of the same things as their fully sighted friends, and there's no reason to deny them of this fun just because of their vision loss.
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