November 2014 Issue  Volume 15  Number 11

2014 Holiday Shopping and Gift Giving

AccessWorld 2014 Holiday Gift Guide: Great High- and Low-Tech Ideas Under $100

We've all had the experience of the great gift idea falling flat. You open a gift from your mother-in-law and it's a digital alarm clock that doesn't talk, beep, or have buttons you can feel, and you wonder what on earth you can possibly say to be polite. Or, you give someone a gift that you thought was pretty fabulous only to have silence follow the enthusiastic removal of ribbon an wrapping paper.

While there are no guarantees that every gift in this particular round-up will please every gift recipient, we think they're all pretty cool. The following are high- and low-tech gifts that are completely accessible to people who are blind or who have low vision--and they are all priced under $100.

We're publishing this guide (pricing and purchasing information can be found at the end of this article) in plenty of time, so that you can buy these for one or more lucky individuals on your gift list. And, of course, you might also put one or more of these items on your own wish list for someone else to brighten your holiday.

Hello, Moshi

Before we had Siri, there was Moshi, and she's still alive and well. This voice-activated alarm clock will tell you the time or temperature or set or cancel an alarm--and all you have to do is tell her so. Saying "Hello, Moshi" gets her attention, and you can then instruct her with 12 different commands. Alarm sounds include beep, chirp, and bell (all of which are persistent enough to wake up even serious sleepers).

Small but Mighty Speakers

Whether you have music or books on your device(s), a small speaker that sends gorgeous sound out to an entire room and beyond is a great gift for anyone. We found two under $50, both carried by businesses owned by blind entrepreneurs: Sound Cube and SoundPods.

Either can be paired with your favorite Bluetooth device or connected directly to any MP3 or other audio device of your choice via the included audio cable. They also each have an onboard micro SD slot for you to load your own music or other audio.

Make a Note

Whether your preferred method of taking notes is with a laptop with magnification, a braille notetaker, a slate and stylus, 20/20 pen, or iPhone, sometimes it's just too much trouble to fish one those items out of your bag of tricks and get it cued for a short and simple note.

For taking the phone number of someone as you're getting off the train or quickly adding an item to your shopping list, a simple digital recorder can be the most efficient way to make a note.

The Wilson digital recorder and Mini Wilson are simple to operate, allow you to store and retrieve multiple messages, and are small enough to slide into any pocket (the Wilson) or hang on your keychain (the Mini Wilson).

The Wilson records up to eight hours of your lists, phone numbers, or brainstorms. The Mini Wilson holds up to two hours of recording.

Cooking from your Couch

Take the guess and the fret out of getting that gorgeous ham or salmon filet to just the right temperature by using a smart cooing thermometer that connects wirelessly to your iPhone or iPod touch. The iGrill Mini employs an app called iDevices to let you know from up to 150 feet away when your food in the oven or on the gill has reached a specific temperature or range of temperatures.

Turn the iGrill Mini on, insert the probe into the food to be monitored, and run the six-foot connecting wire away from the oven or grill to keep the Mini itself distant from the heat source. The iDevices app, completely accessible with VoiceOver, can sound an alarm of your choosing (either a standard beep tone or your favorite track from your music collection). You can safely monitor cooking temperature across the room or across the house while you prepare the rest of the meal or just elax with friends or your favorite book or movie.

The iGrill Mini comes to with one probe, one coin-cell battery (battery life is about 150 hours), and a probe wrap for storing that six-foot wire properly when not in use. The user's manual is available either through the iDevices app or a more easily navigated version on the A T Guys website. The iGrill Mini includes one probe and has does not have a visual display; the iGrill 2 comes with two probes (and can accommodate up to four) and has a visual display. The iGrill Mini measures about 2 inches by 2 inches, while the iGrill 2 is about twice that size.

State your Case

Executive Products Inc. (EPI) designs custom leather cases for just about every portable device in the blind/low vision industry. Cases are customized to each individual product, and thus allow access to all ports and switches while the device is in the case. Most include a zippered pocket for storing SD cards, USB drives, earbuds, or other accessories. Cases for notetakers typically use magnetic rather than Velcro closures, thus being much kinder to your favorite sweater or silk jacket, and all include shoulder and/or wrist straps.

In addition to all of the popular AT product manufacturers (like HIMS, HumanWare, Freedom Scientific, and American Printing House), EPI also has a customized case for the digital talking book machine that is distributed free of charge to all National LibraryService for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) patrons. The case has a shoulder strap and provides access to all of the machine's buttons and slots along with a zippered pocket that an hold up to three cartridges. This particular case is made of water-resistant faux leather, rather than the genuine leather of most other EPI cases.

The cases may be a bit pricey, but they are lovely, and are designed to protect equipment that costs many times more.

And, speaking of cases, owners of the iPhone 4, 5, or 6 might be interested in a heavy-duty canvas pouch designed for these devices and sold by the Harbolt Company. These rugged oversized cases will fit any iPhone, even one with a larger battery-charging case. The pouch will completely protect a phone while you are running, cycling, climbing trees, or hammering nails, and has a sturdy belt clip for attaching to your clothing.

Let the Games Begin

No holiday gift roundup is complete without a game or two, and while the above might all arguably be considered toys, there's one no-tech game that just became accessible this year. Phase 10 is a popular card game that is now available with braille cards. Something akin to Rummy (but loads more fun!), Phase 10 can be played by 2 to 8 players and is appropriate for ages 7 to 107. Cards come in two sturdy plastic cases, and instructions are included in both print and braille.

Other Ideas

There are also plenty of high-tech or low-tech gifts you could give that require more time than money. How about loading a bunch of books onto a flash drive for the NLS patron you know who just isn't tech savvy enough to download for herself? Or spending some time showing that blind or low vision newcomer to the world of apps how to navigate some of your favorites?

Look for other ideas elsewhere in this issue of AccessWorld. May your holidays be filled with joy and memorable moments.

Product Information

Hello, Moshi Alarm Clock, $39.95, Independent Living Aids
Sound Cube Speaker, $49.95,Harbolt Company
SoundPods Speaker, $49.95, A T Guys
Wilson digital recorder, $35.95, Independent Living Aids
Mini Wilson digital recorder, $24.95, Independent Living Aids
iGrill Mini, $39.99, A T Guys, 269-216-4798
iGrill 2, $99.99, A T Guys, 269-216-4798
Leather Cases, NLS case, $35.99; most others,$40—$80, Executive Products Inc.
iPhone 4, 5, or 6 pouch, $24.99, Harbolt Company; 405-633-2572
Phase 10 (braille) card game, $20.00, NFB Independence Market

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