November 2015 Issue  Volume 16  Number 11

2015 Holiday Shopping and Gift Giving

AccessWorld 2015 Accessible Holiday Gift Guide: From Free to Extravagant, Something for Everyone on Your List

We all have holiday moments forever stamped into memory.

Here are two of mine.

It is the first Christmas of being married and my new family of in-laws is pulsing with excitement as two brothers-in-law uncover an enormous gift for my husband and me. Too large to wrap, the trigger for unforgettably happy tears, and many deliriously thrilling miles, was my first tandem bicycle! Most significantly, this bike was a gift that demonstrated that these people really loved and understood me. They knew that in order for me, a person with no physical eyesight, to enjoy a bike, it had to be a tandem bike.

Now, fast rewind two years to my first Christmas with that same family. I was just the girlfriend of one of the sons at that time, but a very close friend to every member of the family. Opening one small gift from my future mother-in-law, I felt a sleek plastic cube with a few knobby buttons on the back.

"What is it?" I whispered to my boyfriend.

"An alarm clock," he replied.

"But what am I supposed to do with it?" I blurted, with an instant flash of embarrassment that to this day burns my cheeks when I remember it.

The problem, of course, was that it was a completely visual, inaccessible clock, a clock that I would never be able to set or read or use in any way. Someone who loved me had given the gift in sincere and earnest kindness. I was going away to graduate school, living alone, and would need an alarm. It hadn't crossed her mind that I couldn't see its numbers.

Most of us who are blind or have low vision have experienced such moments. In fact, most of us have probably been guilty of giving a gift that, for one reason or another, was not useable by the recipient.

This year, we've rounded up some gift ideas that you can give with confidence and pride to your friend or loved one who is blind or visually impaired. They range in price from absolutely free to hundreds of dollars, with plenty of sparkling ideas on the continuum between the two. They also range from ideas for the person new to vision loss to the well-seasoned tech geek!

Gifts of Freedom Found in New Approaches

For the friend or loved one who is new to experiencing vision loss, or whose vision has always been low but has recently declined substantially, there are plenty of gifts that don't cost anything but can open a door into newfound independence and adventure.

Audio Books

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) has been providing books and magazines to people unable to read conventional print since 1933. Anyone whose vision prevents reading conventional print is eligible and the service is entirely free. To apply for library service, visit the enrollment page.

Patrons receive a completely free player--a digital talking book machine--that will play audio books recorded on cartridges designed for the machine. Cartridges are sent and returned free of charge through the mail in small plastic boxes.

More technologically sophisticated patrons can sign up for free for the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) service, enabling them to download books to a computer, iPhone, iPad, or Android device.

Help a friend or loved one through the process, and they will think of you for years to come every time they read a book.

Braille Books

Of course, people with limited vision don't have to only listen to books. The NLS also offers plenty of books in braille. Braille books, too, can be either sent free of charge through the mail or downloaded to a computer for reading on a braille-aware device.

For someone new to vision loss who wants to continue that direct connection to the written word, you can sign him or her up for a free correspondence course to read and write braille.

Enroll your friend (or yourself) as a free gift that will last a lifetime..

The Long White Cane Is a Magic Wand

Two common laments of people losing vision are, first, the fear that reading is no longer available and, secondly, a concern about traveling independently.

More than once, I have heard an adult new to vision loss express the sentiment that the acquisition of a long white cane--and learning how to use it--is akin to acquiring a magic wand. Suddenly, the freedom to walk around the block or around the world becomes possible again, with or without eyesight.

There are a number of sources for purchasing white canes, but the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) will provide a free white cane to any blind person in the United States who requests one. Surprise that friend or loved one struggling with independence issues by gifting a magic wand - and, of course, some advice on how to use it.

Order a white cane online from the NFB or call 410-659-9314. While you're there, you can order a free slate and stylus for writing braille as well.

Talking Devices to Help Around the House

If you can't see to read the controls on the microwave, numbers on the clock, or numbers on the bathroom scale, there are plenty of devices that will deliver such information through digitized voices.

A wonderful array of talking clocks and watches can be found at Independent Living Aids with prices to fit every budget. You can find a one-button talking watch and even a watch that announces the time in Spanish for as low as $10.95 on this site. And for the friend who wants to talk to a clock as well as hear its announcement, the Moshi IVR Talking Clock ($45.95), will respond to 12 voice commands, telling you such things as the time, date, indoor temperature, and more, whenever you ask.

Blind Mice Mart offers some 70,000 products, from toys to tools to kitchen gadgets, many of which talk or feature braille labels. The Magic Chef Talking Microwave Oven ($319) is a microwave unit with a lot to say! In a clear male voice, all controls, including the AM/FM clock radio, speak. The Magic Chef Talking Microwave includes a braille user's manual.

Fun and Games for People with Vision Loss

People of all ages love to play games and there are more sources than ever before for games that blind and low vision people can play. Braille and large-print playing cards are available from a variety of sources, including the National Federation for the Blind's Independence Market, which also carries a variety of other games ranging from the popular card game Phase Ten, to board games as familiar as Chess and more obscure games like Shut the Box and Nine Men Morris.

Many contemporary games involve loads of cards with an abundance of print. A new kid on the accessible games block is 64 Oz. Games. A kickstarter graduate, 64 Oz. Games is the brainchild of one couple, Richard and Emily Gibbs, who love games themselves and have plenty of blind friends.

Using 3D printing for some game pieces and QR codes that can be read by smart phones, this small company takes a fresh approach to games. You buy the game anywhere games are sold and order the accessible game kit from 64 Oz. Games. Where appropriate, some games offer tactile game boards. Games range in price from $10 to $50 and include Apples to Apples, Dominion, Cards Against Humanity, Love Letter, and many others.

For the iOS device user or other blind game-playing geek on your list, National Braille Press has released a book that you'll want to put under the tree. Edited by Judith Dixon, Anyone Can Play is a collection of games that can be played if you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Recommended by a group of blind game lovers, the book includes word games, strategy games, role-playing games and more. Available in braille hardcopy or several downloadable formats, the book costs $12 and is available online or by calling 800-548-7323.

While you're visiting the National Braille Press bookstore, you'll find plenty of other books for the new or seasoned iOS device user, all available in braille or various downloadable formats.

If you know a blind child (or just love reading to children as a parent, grandparent, or storyteller), NBP is offering a holiday sale on children's books through December 31. Buy two books from a selected list and get the third half price; buy three and get the fourth one free.

The High End: Computers and More

If you are reading AccessWorld, chances are pretty good that you use or have blind friends who use technology. If a new computer is within your reach as a gift-giver, mainstream products are more accessible than ever before.

We all know that Apple products are now accessible straight out of the box with the built-in screen reader called VoiceOver. Purchase a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro from your local Apple store and throw in an extra $99 for your recipient's training. While not every store location has a staff member with VoiceOver expertise, most are willing and eager to learn. If you purchase training, you can go as often as you like for one year and learn from the experts.

For the dedicated Windows lovers, Microsoft Signature computers are a real find for blind and low vision users--and too long an unintentionally well-kept secret! At your local Microsoft store (or online) you can purchase a computer from Dell, Asus, Lenovo, and other popular brands as a Microsoft Signature machine, which means the computer will come without any manufacturer bloatware. For an additional $129, you can get two years of tech support and personal training from Microsoft.

Last Minute Gifts for People with Visual Impairments

Of course, you can buy everything from furniture to cosmetics to tool kits online and get it fast! A few items that might be overlooked and that are pretty sure to put smiles on the faces of most blind or low vision recipients include:

  • A DVD of an old or new movie with descriptive video. (Many first-run movies are now released with description available in the menus. Check the jacket to be sure.)
  • Headphones (find out if your friend or relative prefers the in-the-ear or over-the ear style).
  • An extra external storage device (USB drive, SD card, micro SD).
  • A CD from a new singer/songwriter.

My own favorite online sources for such purchases include Amazon, Drugstore, and Overstock.

Whether your budget and inclination lead you to gifts in the free or extravagant category, have a wonderful holiday season.

And remember that whether your gift is a new movie, a game, a laptop, or a long white cane, the best way to present a present is to throw part of your own time and company into the giving!

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