12/10/2019
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Stacy Cervenka

As the holiday season approaches, many of us find ourselves looking for gifts for family and friends that are thoughtful, meaningful, and useful. For people with parents on their gift lists, we want to get something that will make their lives easier or allow them precious moments of self-care. For sighted people who have a parent who is blind or has low vision on their list, choosing the perfect gift can be particularly confusing. Perhaps you love your child’s new booster seat, but is it portable enough for a blind parent to install and uninstall from Uber or Lyft vehicles several times a day and then carry around the mall or the zoo? Perhaps you’ve discovered a new board game that your family enjoys playing together, but is it accessible out of the box for a blind parent? If not, is there a braille version?

In addition to publishing AccessWorld's annual holiday gift guide, we asked blind and low vision parents who are members of the Blind Parents Connect Facebook group what gifts they would most appreciate receiving. Here are some of their suggestions that you may not have considered:

Books. Several non-profit organizations offer print/braille versions of a huge variety of both classic and current children’s books. These allow blind parents to read and enjoy these books alongside their sighted children. There are even print/braille picture books and board books for parents to read with their infants and toddlers. You can buy print/braille books from National Braille Press, Seedlings Braille Books for Children, the Braille Bookstore, and the Beulah Reimer Legacy. In addition, many blind parents enjoy listening to audiobooks both for their own pleasure and with their elementary and high school-aged children. Audible has a diverse array of children’s and young adult books parents and children can read together, as well as adult novels that a parent can get lost in at the end of a long day.

Games. Several companies use braille or audio to make popular games available to people who are blind. 64 Ounce Game Store sells dozens of braille overlays that can be placed on top of popular games for children, such as Memory and Ghost Blaster, games for adults, such as Cards Against Humanity, and games that the entire family can play together, such as Apples to Apples. They also offer other board game accessories, such as braille dice. Earlier this year, Target began offering the card game Uno in braille in both its stores and its website. Independent Living Aids and NFB Independence Market are other places where you can purchase accessible board games, card games, and accessories such as braille dice and dominoes.

Baby carriers. Blind and low vision parents walk and take public transportation a lot. For many of us with infants and toddlers, it’s easier to carry a baby in a front carrier or on your back than to navigate pulling a stroller on and off buses and subways and up and down curbs and stairs.

There are two main categories of baby carriers. Unstructured baby carriers, such as wraps and slings, are long pieces of cloth that are wrapped around the body and tied in place to keep the baby safe and close. The advantage of these carriers is that they are very soft and comfortable, just like wearing another shirt, so it’s easy to keep them on all day, take a baby in and out as necessary, and even nap in them. These carriers also offer a variety of positions (“holds”) that a parent can choose from, such as a kangaroo hold for newborns and small infants, a front hold, a side hold, and a back hold. The disadvantage to unstructured carriers is that many people find it difficult to learn to wrap them properly. It can take a lot of trial and error to find the best wrapping technique, the best holding position, and to figure out how to adjust the fabric for the greatest possible comfort on your own body type. The most widely used unstructured carrier (and my personal favorite) is the Moby wrap. Many other parents find that the Baby K’tan has many of the advantages of the Moby wrap, but easier and quicker to put on.

Meanwhile, structured carriers have more of a “backpack” feel, with straps, snaps, and buckles used to secure the baby in place on an adult’s front, side, or back. Many parents find structured carriers faster to learn to use, since there is no need to learn wrapping techniques and there is less room for error. Also, although unstructured carriers can often be used for babies up to 35 pounds, there are structured carriers that accommodate toddlers up to 65 pounds, which can come in handy after a long day at Disney World or Six Flags. The disadvantage of structured carriers is that they are not something a parent will likely want to leave on all day around the house to pop baby in and out of while doing housework. Furthermore, some parents find all the snaps and buckles confusing and actually prefer the flexibility of an unstructured wrap or sling. My husband, who is also blind, prefers the Beco line of structured carriers as well as the Lillebaby Toddler. Ergobaby also sells a line of baby carriers that are very popular with blind parents.

An off-shoot of traditional baby carriers are those meant specifically for hiking and rugged outdoor use. These are extremely structured carriers, similar to camping backpacks, that can only be worn on a parents’ back.

“I am absolutely in love with the Deuter Kid Comfort Active backpack and so is my son!” said Amanda Vaughn Bonham of San Diego, CA. “I can now take my baby on outdoor walks and hikes while being able to use my cane. It is comfortable and adjustable and it even has a built-in sunshade for the baby. It can hold a child up to 40 pounds. It is also very breathable. If anyone is outdoorsy and wants to take the baby out with them, I highly recommend it.”

Baby-wearing is extremely popular among parents who are blind or otherwise can’t drive. Before purchasing a carrier for a loved one, it’s important to research the specifications of each product and ideally to ask the parent about their personal preferences.

Lightweight and portable car seats. As nice as baby carriers are, sometimes parents just can’t walk or take public transit everywhere they need to go. Installing and uninstalling car seats from Uber and Lyft and carrying them around the mall or the zoo can be exhausting. However, there are some car seats that blind parents find light and portable enough to meet the demands of their busy schedules and transportation constraints.

“The Pico car seat is the main car seat my daughter wants to use,” said Stephanie Enyart, AFB’s Public Policy and Research Officer. “I love that it fits very comfortably in a lightweight backpack that’s sold separately. I can even stuff other things into the backpack with it. I can also easily install it and uninstall it in the cars that I get in and out of throughout the day.”

“I absolutely love the Doona infant car seat," said Alyssa Hicks of Simi Valley, CA. "It has made my life so much easier. I’m able to walk with my guide dog while pulling the Doona on the other side. It’s super narrow and easy to pull. It’s a car seat and stroller combo, so you can easily collapse the wheels to use it as a car seat and then push the button to bring the wheels back down if you want to use it as a stroller. It makes taking my baby out in public so much more manageable and enjoyable!”

“I use the Lilly Gold Sit’n’Stroll, which is a car seat and stroller combination," said Nicole Fincham-Shehan of Palm Beach Gardens, FL. "I started using it for my son when he was nine months and used it until he was 39 months old. The Chicco KeyFit infant car seat is also another awesome device for newborns and infants. It is very easy to install in vehicles and convenient to take places.”

If the parent on your list has a child who is at least 30 pounds and 3-years-old, they can also use the Ride Safer Travel Vest. With this product, a child wears a vest with a five-point restraint harness (like the ones in typical car seats) that clips into the car.

“It will change your life when your kid can carry their own car gear on their back in a backpack,” said Mazen Basrawi of Arlington, VA. “No more carrying around bulky car seats. Now your kid can be safely strapped in using a seat belt and this easy-to-use harness.”

Other car seats recommended for infants included the Graco SnugRide, the Graco Extend2Fit, and the Chicco Fit2 as long-lasting infant car seats with handles for easy carrying.

Lightweight and portable booster seats. The day will eventually come when a blind parent is no longer legally required to carry around a giant astronaut car seat everywhere they go. Once a child is at least 40 pounds and 40 inches tall and are four years of age, they can legally switch from a car seat to a booster seat. The most lightweight and portable booster seat currently on the market is the mifold. The mifold has been popular among blind parents for several years and is now gaining popularity among sighted parents who travel often or who live in large cities where many people don’t own cars. When folded, the mifold is about the size of a paperback book and it fits easily into a purse, backpack, diaper bag, or laptop bag. As blind parents ourselves, this is my husband and my top recommendation of a baby gear product. If a parent prefers a high-backed booster seat, the same company recently released the hifold, which folds to fit into a small carrying bag.

Fitness apps. It can be hard for any parent of an infant or toddler to find the time or childcare necessary to maintain good physical fitness. For blind parents, it can be particularly daunting, as it may be difficult to find regular, affordable transportation to the gym or a fitness class. Many blind parents may also be anxious about whether a fitness instructor or coach will be welcoming and inclusive of a blind person in their yoga or pilates class. (One blind mother mentioned loving and succeeding in her barre class, until a new instructor took over the class and decided that it was too much effort to call out verbal directions.) Therefore, blind parents find exercise and fitness apps particularly useful. One popular app that is widely used by people who are blind and low vision is Aaptiv, which includes dozens of audio fitness classes, led by certified personal trainers. Classes include treadmill workouts, strength training, and elliptical workouts at a variety of different fitness levels.

“It would be so very useful to have workouts at my fingertips that I can do at the house without having to worry about paying for transportation to and from a gym or worrying about childcare for my toddler,” said Jordan Moffitt of Cypress, TX.

Lyft and Uber gift cards. By far, the most frequent gifts requested by blind and low vision parents were Uber and Lyft gift certificates. Many cities in the United States do not offer adequate public transportation to meet the needs of busy parents. Bus, subway, and light-rail service can be sparse or non-existent. Paratransit can be unreliable and impose burdensome rules on riders, such as requiring reservations up to 7 days in advance and not allowing parents to make stops to drop their children off at school or childcare on their way to work. Lack of transportation is a primary reason for the high unemployment rate among blind Americans. Ride-hailing services like Lyft and Uber offer promising solutions to this barrier, but using them every day as their main source of transportation is prohibitively expensive and completely impossible for many blind parents. Therefore, gift cards for ride-hailing services such as Lyft and Uber are always appreciated. (However, please do your research; these services are not available in all locations, particularly in rural and even some suburban areas.)

Experiences. As noted above, the cost of transportation can make family outings extra costly for many families with blind parents. Besides paying for the cost of admission at an event, parents may also spend significant amounts of money on Lyft or Uber each way, which can double, triple, or even quadruple the expense of a family fun day. Consider giving the gift of a membership to the local children’s museum, zoo, or bounce house place. Mom and Dad need some time to pursue their own interests and hobbies too. They might enjoy a gym membership, concert tickets, ballroom dancing lessons, or a massage gift certificate. And, of course, don’t forget about this season’s biggest development for parents: Disney+.

“We would love a subscription to Disney+!" said Maureen Bassmaster of Littleton, CO. "Disney+ has a lot of fantastic movies with audio description and my whole family enjoys watching them together."

Memberships or gift cards to shopping services. You think it was bad when your child threw a tantrum in the grocery store and had to be carried out to the car? Now, imagine walking home with that angry child in the snow while carrying grocery bags. Been there. Not fun. Shopping can be a time-consuming and labor-intensive experience for many blind parents with limited access to transportation. Consider giving the gift of an Amazon Prime membership or a gift card to grocery and food delivery services like Shipt, Instacart, Postmates, Grubhub, DoorDash or Uber Eats.

“I absolutely love Amazon Prime," said Nicole Fincham-Shehan of Palm Beach Gardens, FL. "It makes ordering diapers, wipes, bottle liners, and any other items that baby may need very easy to get. In addition, not having to lug huge boxes and the baby in and out of public transportation is truly a lifesaver. Most items from Amazon Prime are delivered in the next day or two."

“Gift cards to places like Sam’s Club or Costco are helpful," said Dacia Cole of Columbia, MO. "I find it more efficient to be able to buy diapers and other baby care items in larger quantities, which saves me from having to figure out transportation to go buy them more often."

It is necessary to remember that not all of these services are available in every part of the country, so be sure to do your research on whether a particular service is available in your friend or family member’s area.

Date Night/Self-Care. Being a parent is stressful. Give your friend the gift of time with their significant other, with gift certificates for their favorite restaurant, a movie or concert tickets, and perhaps a Lyft gift card. Alternatively, consider a gift certificate for a spa day or a day out with a fishing guide. Maybe even offer to baby-sit!

We hope that this list has inspired you with some fun and useful gift ideas for that parent on your holiday gift list who happens to be blind. Basically we want pretty much the same things all parents want: ways to make our lives easier and our kids happier and to squeeze in some of that elusive “me” time!

Editor’s note: Neither the American Foundation for the Blind, the author of this blog, nor any member of the Blind Parents Connect Facebook group has any known financial relationship with any of the companies or organizations mentioned in this piece.

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