Aaron Preece, with contributions by Melanie Peskoe and Melody Goodspeed
Once again, we at AccessWorld bring you our annual holiday gift guide. With few exceptions, most gifts appropriate for someone sighted will also be appropriate for someone with vision loss. That being said, there are many items that are of interest to people with vision loss in particular that might not always be obvious. In this gift guide, I will provide my personal recommendations for gifts for people with vision loss. All of my recommendations are products or services that I use personally and can vouch for. In addition to my recommendations, we also have recommendations from other staff here at AFB for gifts in various categories.
In addition to this gift guide, be sure to check out our gift guides from last year. Bill Holton wrote a detailed guide providing suggestions for accessible kitchen products. The products he suggested are still on the market aside from the "Fox Run Glass Boil Alert" and the "Gotham Steel 7-in Nonstick Ti Ceramic Pancake Bonanza." Deborah Kendrick also wrote a gift guide with a focus on gifts for people with vision loss that is still relevant today.
It is easy enough to determine if something like a computer, smartphone, tablet, streaming media device, or other piece of technology is accessible with a quick search of the AccessWorld back issues. What can be less obvious is the suitability of the various tech accessories that we use with our devices every day. In this section, I will cover a few tech accessories that I use daily and have found are particularly useful for someone with vision loss.
Raycon: The Gaming Earbuds
I still find that Apple's Airpods are the gold standard for accessible wireless earbuds, but like most things Apple, premium quality also comes with a premium price tag. The most common issue I find with other wireless headphones is the unfortunate tendency for a high-latency connection. Latency is a measure of delay in a network—in this case, how long it takes for your device to send an audio signal to Bluetooth headphones. Even if a pair of headphones has great sound, if they have high latency, even a half-second delay in the audio getting from your phone to the headphones can make using a screen reader an absolute pain.
Enter the Raycon Gaming Earbuds. Raycon is a company that produces a range of Bluetooth wireless earbuds and speakers. I picked up the gaming earbuds specifically because they have a mode called HyperSync, which aims to reduce latency as much as possible. Happily, I've discovered that with this mode enabled, the latency when using VoiceOver on my iPhone is near nonexistent.
The earbuds are accessible in other ways, as well. The online manual found linked on the Raycon site isn't perfect, but accessible enough that you can learn the various touch controls available on the earbuds. The earbuds are also quite verbose, including voice prompts when the headphones connect to each other and your device, as well as announcements as you change audio profiles and make other changes using touch controls.
One downside to the Raycon Gaming Earbuds that I noticed personally is that they are in-ear headphones. Since I am using my phone with VoiceOver the majority of the day, I find myself walking around with earbuds in most of the time. For that reason, I prefer headphones that don't block sound from outside so I can be more aware. One compromise I noticed is that it is possible to take the ear tips off of the earbuds and use them without. This allows outside sound in, but also makes the sound of the earbuds quite tinny. If you either don't mind in-ear headphones or are willing to switch out earbud tips depending on what you are listening to and the situation, these might make a great choice for low-latency earbuds.
At the time of writing, the Raycon Gaming Earbuds retail for $99.99. It is also often possible to find coupon codes that lower the price further; for example, there was a 15% off code available when I made my purchase.
The Plugable Bluetooth Full-Size Folding Keyboard
Bluetooth keyboards can be a useful and versatile tool, though I've personally found that the more compact they are, the more difficult they are to use. On the opposite side, full-size Bluetooth keyboards are often too large and unwieldy for easy transportation if you are trying to travel light. The Plugable Bluetooth Full-Size Folding Keyboard solves that problem by being a full-size laptop keyboard while also folding into a size barely bigger than a large smartphone. What I personally appreciate is that once the keyboard is unfolded, the three sections fit together flawlessly, providing a whole keyboard that feels as if it was one piece, without any awkward gaps or protrusions between folding sections. The keyboard can be used wirelessly on Windows, Android, iOS, and possibly other operating systems but can also be connected to a device using the included USB cable and used as a wired keyboard.
As you might expect in a product coming from A.T. Guys, the keyboard is described in great detail on the page above and all the functions are explained in an accessible way. The detailed description and clear, accessible instructions were some of the reasons I picked up this keyboard.
The keyboard has only a few downsides and these are dependent on your use case. I use the device primarily on Windows, and the F1-F12 keys are not the defaults for the top row. This means that any time you want to use a function key, you have to hold the function key toggle each time you enter your command. After consistent use, this becomes second nature, but isn't quite as fluid as using a dedicated function row. Due to the way that the keyboard folds, it isn't feasible to rest the keyboard directly on your lap without a solid support beneath it. Luckily, I have discovered that if you reverse the case so that it is folded with the inside facing outward, you can balance the keyboard on the case, which lifts the entire thing high enough above your lap so that it doesn't fold on you. To make sure the keyboard doesn't slide off the case in this position, I set the case so that the two raised tabs that hold the keyboard when the case is closed are facing the same direction that the keyboard is tilted. For example, if the leg where I've balanced the keyboard is elevated, I will set the case so that the tabs are facing me.
At the time of writing, the keyboard retails for $54.95 from A.T. Guys.
We have previously recommended various streaming services in this gift guide, from Netflix to Amazon Prime Video, but streaming services are not only restricted to audio or video. Even though it might not seem so on the surface, Amazon's Kindle Unlimited is essentially a streaming service for books! If the person on your list is an avid reader and has seemingly exhausted the books of interest to them available from services like Bookshare or the National Library Service, Kindle Unlimited may be a good choice. For $10.00 a month, you can download and read as many books from the Kindle Unlimited catalog using the accessible iOS, Android, or Windows Kindle app or a physical Kindle Device. The collection contains millions of books, and in comparison to Bookshare or NLS, contains primarily self-published work. This opens up an entirely new catalog of reading material for the avid reader and in addition, Kindle Unlimited also allows a user to subscribe to three different magazines as part of their membership.
I personally love the Kindle app on iOS in particular for its accessibility and ease of use, and have found many books I would not have otherwise if I hadn't subscribed to the service. The fact that most of the books are self-published may make some wary, but I have been surprised at the quality of most of the books I have read using Kindle Unlimited.
I see Kindle Unlimited as a way to supplement a subscription to either Bookshare or NLS, as both of these services provide all of the traditionally published books you could ever want. But if you find yourself having read most of the greats in your genre of choice and are looking for something new, and in some cases more daring, a self-published book may be just what you are looking for. To get you started, for fans of fantasy, I can highly recommend the Cradle series by Will Wight. Wight started self-publishing his novels around 8 or so years ago, and recently earned a place on The New York Times Best Seller list for audio books. His Cradle series is a fast-paced fantasy epic inspired by popular modern Chinese novels with all 10 books to date available on Kindle Unlimited.
Gifts for the Senses
Next up, Melanie Peskoe, AFB's Public Policy and Research Coordinator, recommends some gift ideas for the person who enjoys experiencing life with all their senses. Whether its luxurious texture, opulent fragrance, decadent tastes, or superb sounds, here are some gift suggestions suitable for everyone on your list.
When shopping for gifts of texture, think about things that feel good against the skin. This could be a cozy blanket or some fuzzy slippers. Here are a couple of great options for both. This super-soft, cozy cashmere-like throw blanket is so soft and luxurious, and at only $35 it will be a perfect gift that doesn’t break the bank. Texture can also come in something cozy for the feet. Here are a couple of warm and stylish slipper options for both men and women that look very similar to a couple popular name brands without the name-brand price.
If you have someone on your list who loves fragrance and scented things here are a few ideas to get your nose headed in the right direction. This Crisp White Linen Reed Diffuser Set will provide a fresh neutral fragrance that’s great in any room. Or, for the person who enjoys the ambiance of candles without the potential fire hazard, check out this rustic black metal and vintage light bulb wax warmer. Simply plug it in and add a scented wax melt and enjoy both the aroma and the warm light as well.
Moving into gifts to please the foodie on your list, here are some delicious options. Roasted in small batches, Bones Ground Coffee Sampler Pack is a great option for the coffee connoisseur in your life. Not into coffee? How about Godiva gourmet hot chocolate, anyone? If something more in the chewable category is in order, here is a tasty meat and cheese box from Hickory Farms that’s also quite tasty. Let’s not forget the chocolate lovers out there. Here’s and absolutely scrumptuous Godiva Gold sampler box of chocolates to be savored and And finally, saving maybe the best for last, is a budget-friendly but exceptional quality pair of wireless Bluetooth earbuds by Anker. These babies pack a powerful audio punch for the person on your list who loves to groove. With these little gems you can’t go wrong!
Book Recommendations from Blind Authors
On September 15, AFB was proud to host a conversation with blind authors on writing, publishing, and the creative process, moderated by JoAnna Hunt, head of accessibility at Amazon Books and Retail. The conversation featured three authors who write in a variety of genres, and they offered some great book recommendations for the avid readers on your list. Be sure to check out their books, too!
JoAnna Hunt asked all of the panelists to share the books that they are really passionate about and that “you’re pushing into the hands of your families and friends and peers and colleagues and saying, ‘You must read this!’”
Jo Elizabeth Pinto—author of Daddy Won't Let Mom Drive the Car: True Tales of Parenting in the Dark and The Bright Side of Darkness, replied, “Well, in true fashion of sharing other blind people's work, Kristen Witucki has written a story called Outside Myself that's really good. It's got great blind characters in it. And Amy Bovaird has written nonfiction books about her sight loss from retinitis pigmentosa and journeying into the mobility situation. She has some that are serious and some that are more humorous. She's got a whole series called Mobility Matters. And finally, to start your journey into reading blind authors, Patty Fletcher has a book about getting a guide dog called Campbell's Rambles: How a Seeing Eye Dog Retrieved My Life.
Georgina Kleege is Professor of English at University of California, Berkeley, where in addition to teaching creative writing classes she teaches courses on representations of disability in literature, and disability memoir. She is the author of More Than Meets the Eye: What Blindness Brings to Art (2018), Blind Rage: Letters to Helen Keller (2006), Sight Unseen (1999), and Home for the Summer (1989).
Kleege recommended a collection of contemporary plays by disabled playwrights called Beyond Victims and Villains, edited by Victoria Ann Lewis. She noted, “One in particular is by a writer that I admire, unfortunately he passed away a few years ago. His name was Lynn Manning. He was an African American poet and playwright and performer. Manning himself was blind and the main character in the play is blind and sort of coming to terms with his blindness. One of the things that I like about the play is it's a play that audio describes itself.”
Zachary Shore is Professor of History at the Naval Postgraduate School and Senior Fellow at the Institute of European Studies, University of California, Berkeley, and author of A Sense of the Enemy, Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions, and What Hitler Knew, among other works. Shore said, “This is going to be the hardest question I'll be asked today, I'm sure!” He went on, “I like nonfiction, of course, and Say Nothing, by Patrick Radden Keefe, is one of the best page-turners I've read in a while. It's a gripping history about the Irish Republican Army and the troubles in Ireland. Very artfully done. Absolute potboiler-page turner.”
“Another is Candice Millard's River of Doubt, about Teddy Roosevelt's trip down an Amazonian tributary. I think it was 1912, 1913. That's an adventure read, also a page-turner, but you learn a lot about the region and the tensions in the group that go down there. It's just a gripping read.”
“For a more thoughtful, reflective book, there's an older book that I often go back to that I always enjoyed called The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen, a classic. The outer journey to the Himalayas reflecting an inner journey. Those are always fun. Those are three I would choose among hundreds more I'd like to recommend, but I'll stop there.”
Giving to Give Back
Looking to give while gifting? AFB's Major Gifts Specialist, Melody Goodspeed, has a range of suggestions for several gifts that either directly allow you to give to AFB, or find a gift from one of our friends or partners.
First, AFB is currently selling Limited-edition Braille Hats with proceeds going to support our development and airing of a full-length Helen Keller documentary. As the page states:
Your purchase funds this feature-length film that celebrates Helen Keller's legacy of activism while moving the conversation ahead to a collective story of full access for all, rather than an individual story of one person's exceptional accomplishments. The documentary also employs a new and exciting creative approach to audio description, sound design, and descriptive transcription by those who are part of the blind community, exemplifying blind pride, creativity, and interdependence.
If you are curious what each hat looks like, we have provided highly detailed descriptions on the page above.
Victoria Watts is the founder of Victorialand Beauty, an amazing skin care line that is fully inclusive. She uses a symbol system and raised QR codes on the packaging. I LOVE her products! She also is a sponsor of AFB!
Aille Design, pronounced "I" design, produces fun black or white braille t-shirts. You can have them custom made, or select either the black t-shirt which states "Fashion is for everyone" or the white T-shirt, which states, "My simple white T," all in Swarovski pearls. She also sells masks. A percentage of the proceeds is donated to AFB.
ESAS Beauty produces organic cologne that is an amazing hand sanitizer. The bottles are lovely and have braille on them. They make great stocking stuffers.
All of the above suggestions come from individuals who have also been interviewed on AFB's Inform & Connect podcast. If you would like to learn more, check out the Inform & Connect homepage which contains links to all three seasons to date.
The Bottom Line
We hope you find the gift suggestions we have provided helpful as you shop for the important person with vision loss on your list, or even yourself. Remember that at AccessWorld we often review products, services, software/apps, and others that might also serve as great gifts through the year. For example, this year, we began a multi-part series focused on the various streaming services available, with the first being published in our February issue. Have a look through our Back Issues, you never know what you might find!
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.