When I was seven, my Aunt Mary and Uncle Bob gave me a Christmas gift that would be marked in memory as a milestone all my life. It wasn't a doll or building blocks (both of which I was wild about at that age) but something most kids might not find exciting. It was a watch—an old-fashioned, ordinary, analog timepiece for wearing on the wrist. What made it extraordinary was that it was a braille watch, a watch whose crystal lifted up discretely, so that the exact time could be discovered by touch.

That gift stands out in my memory because it was special—a gift that embraced my different way of seeing rather than taunting it. Today, there are thousands of products that address a particular disability-related need, but there are just as many that were designed with no special group in mind but which have particular benefit for those with limited eyesight. I've rounded up some gift ideas, both practical and whimsical, from specialty niche vendors and major mainstream retailers, and most are less than $100. Some are even free.

Practical Gifts for People with Visual Impairments

There are plenty of ordinary tasks most of us perform every day that get a bit complicated when we don't have typical eyesight. Here are a few of my favorite solutions, some of which will be appreciated as much by those with 20/20 vision as those without.

Beeper Box: Audible Beacon for Identifying Permanent Landmarks

If your driveway is in the middle of a long block or your office is the middle of a long corridor, finding it can be tricky. You can count steps or driveways or doors, but here is an auditory tool that will draw you in to exactly the right spot. Emitting 3 beeps, then a pause, then 3 beeps again, this simple innovation can be used to find a permanent landmark, to follow your partner on a bicycle, to mark the spot in a game of croquet, or any other similar circumstance that comes to mind. $7; NFB Market, 410-659-9314.

Motion-Detecting Alert System

If, on the other hand, you need to know when someone enters your home, retail business, or office—or just when someone passes your porch—a Doorway/Driveway Alert System can detect motion up to 200 feet. You can carry its wireless receiver around the home or business with you or leave it in one central location. A chime sounds when the unit detects motion. $30, Blind Mice Mart, 713-893-7277.

Color Identification

For many with low vision, identifying colors can be a challenge. A color identifier can be a fun and accurate way to make sure your socks match (or to buy just the right shade of throw pillows for your new sofa). If the intended recipient has a smartphone, there are many color identifiers available for mobile platforms, many of which are free. If the recipient doesn't use a smartphone, there are standalone color identifiers available as well. Colorino identifies up to 100 colors, speaks in a clear female voice, and at 3 ounces can fit into your pocket. Press one button to hear color and press the other to determine how much light is in the room. $175; Blind Mice Mart, 713-893-7277.

Kitchen Scale for People With Visual Impairments

Most of us have measuring cups and spoons in the kitchen, but what do you do when a recipe calls for 3 ounces or 6 grams of an ingredient? The Vox 20 Kitchen Scale speaks in 5 languages, offers a large-font LCD display, and weighs food or other items up to 11 pounds. $42; Maxi Aids,

Tools for Healthy Habits for People with Visual Impairments

After weighing food in the kitchen, you might want to weigh yourself. Talking bathroom scales are available from a variety of sources, but the largest assortment I found is at Old Will Knott Scales. Here you will find another kitchen scale, as well as several bathroom scales, speaking in multiple languages, with some models measuring body fat as well as weight, and boasting weight limits of 440, 550, and 700 pounds. All are priced under $100. Old Will Knott Scales, 303-954-0609. (Talking scales can also be found at Wal-Mart and Carol Wright Gifts, 800-345-5866.)

Other useful, albeit ordinary, tools enabling blind and low vision people to maintain their health include talking thermometers ($13) to measure body temperature, and talking blood pressure monitors ($95) from NFB Independence Market.

Diabetics unable to read small LCD screens will appreciate the Prodigy Voice Blood Glucose Monitoring Kit ($50), also available from Independence Market.

Fun Gifts for People with Visual Impairments

Digital Home Assistants

Of course, some of the most popular products this year are the variety of voice-controlled home assistants, which can be completely mastered by the least technically inclined recipient on your gift-giving list while still absolutely enchanting the tech experts in your life. The All New Amazon Echo comes in six variations in color and finish and sells for $100 to $119. The Amazon Echo Dot has many of the same features but sells for $50. The Echo Dot is often on sale or is available in a bundle with other products as well.

Besides playing just about any musical artist or genre you might request, this gift can provide endless hours of news, games, entertainment, and information.

Traditional Games Made Accessible

Of course, there are a growing number of traditional games are available with added accessibility features. Besides large print or braille playing cards, the NFB Independence Market sells a number of games with braille and high-contrast markings including Cribbage, Phase Ten, Checkers (a small magnetic set which travels nicely), and more. Prices range from $10 to $30.

Tactile Coloring Books for Grown-Ups

Coloring is not just for four-year-olds any more. If you missed out on coloring as a child, have a child you would like to color with as a team, or just want to do it because your sighted friends say it's so much fun, there are now a few sources for tactile drawings just crying for crayons. I Am A Crayon, $14, Let's Count and Color, $10, or Tactile Book of Dinosaurs, $12, are all available from National Braille Press, 800-548-7323 ext. 520.

Braille Children's Books

While you are thinking about child's play, children's books make lovely books for braille-reading children, their parents, and their grandparents. National Braille Press has a wonderful collection of popular print books with braille added, many of which have accompanying teaching toys. Try Measuring Penny, which comes with snap-together blocks for experiments in measuring, or The Day the Crayons Quit, which includes tactile drawings and a set of crayons.

Subscriptions to Streaming Services with Audio Description

Streaming entertainment is no longer just for your sighted friends. An amazing and rapidly growing number of TV shows and movies now include audio description from Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Buy a friend or family member a Netflix subscription ($9 a month) or an Amazon Prime membership ($100 annually) and enjoy movies and TV shows together whenever schedules allow.

For a full list of described programs, visit the Audio Description Project.

Gifts for People with Vision and Hearing Loss

For the friend or family member who may be experiencing hearing loss in addition to visual impairment, there is a growing array of products to ensure that nothing in the sound environment is missed. Personal amplifiers can "turn up" the volume of the person at your dining table or in front of you on the bus. Try the Pocketalker, a hand held device that has a simple volume control, on/off switch, and headset for amplifying the sounds closest to you, $139, or the Sonic Alert Alarm Clock for the person who has impaired hearing or just needs something really loud to wake up in the morning! Independent Living Aids, 800-537-2118.

Accessible, Portable Batteries

With so many devices to keep us going each day, portable battery power is popular with almost everyone. The Harbolt Company sells a super powerful battery for all your portable devices that has been designed specifically for blind people. Providing feedback with audible tones and vibrations, the accessible 15,000 mAh Portable Power Bank can charge an array of phones, tablets, and other portable devices and can be easily monitored without sight. $89; the Harbolt Company, 405-471-1200.

Timepieces for People with Visual Impairments

A huge assortment of braille and talking watches are available from all of the sources mentioned in this article, but one highly innovative product warrants mention. Higher priced than most products mentioned here, the Bradley watch, at $300, is both innovative and stylish. Named for a military veteran blinded in Afghanistan, the Bradley timepiece can be enjoyed by blind, low vision, and sighted individuals who want to check the time without attracting attention. A ball bearing on the side of the watch counts hours and another on the top counts minutes. A shake of the wrist realigns the ball bearings if you touch with too much fervor! Available in a variety of colors from Eone.

One Last Gift Idea for People with Visual Impairments

So money is tight this year and you just can't purchase presents for everyone the way you wish you could? If you've got a little more tech savvy than a friend or loved one, spread the joy. A gift of your time to teach someone to use Facebook or Twitter, or to offer a lesson on navigating the virtual oceans of podcasts and internet radio stations will probably be appreciated and remembered far longer than a new tie or coffee mug. Try teaching that special person how to download books or stream video programs — and then sit down and enjoy a sample book or movie together.

Be sure to give yourself the gift of spending time with those who mean the most to you—and have a Merry Christmas and lovely holiday season!

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Deborah Kendrick
Article Topic
2017 Holiday Shopping and Gift Giving