Holiday Gift Ideas From The Lighthouse’s Tools for Living Store!

Holiday Gift Ideas From The Lighthouse’s Tools for Living Store!

The holidays are here, and with them comes celebration and gift giving! Like with everyone else, you want to give your loved ones with vision loss something they’ll find both useful and enjoyable. The Chicago Lighthouse’s Tools for Living Store has over 900 products for people of all ages. From stocking stuffers to the latest in technology, you’ll be sure to find something everyone will like!

Game enthusiasts will love the wide selection of products. The store carries Braille and large print versions of popular games like Bingo, Scrabble, Checkers, Crazy Eights, Uno, Hoyle and Pinochle. Dominos with raised dots and Brailled dice are also available. With the wide selection of auditory and tactile toys and games, you’ll be sure to find something for children of all ages as well!

The wide selection of Braille, large print and talking watches will help your loved one keep track of time! They include many features, such as alarm, stopwatch, calendar and thermometer. Other talking, large print and Braille products are also available. These include calculators, telephones and thermometers. Those who enjoy cooking will love the kitchen tools, like Braille and large print measuring cups and adaptive cutting boards and knives.

The Tools for Living Store sells a wide selection of assistive technology products. These include hand-held magnifiers, digital players and recorders, screen-reading and magnification software and note-taking devices. Portable CCTVs and talking GPS devices will help those with vision loss be more independent. Wearable technology, like the OrCam and Esight devices, are the latest in assistive technology for people with vision loss, and are available at the Tools for Living Store. Please note that some of these devices require initial consultation in order to insure they are right for the clients.

Chicago Lighthouse mugs, shirts, tote bags and holiday ornaments make great stocking stuffers for everyone! The Braille readers on your list will surely appreciate a Braille holiday or greeting card along with their gift! Other small items, like sunglasses and pocket flashlights are also available. In other words, the Tools for Living Store at the Chicago Lighthouse has something for everyone on the list!

To find out more or purchase any of the products offered at the Tools for Living Store, you may stop in person at our main location at 1850 W. Roosevelt Road in Chicago, or at our Glenview facility, 222 N. Waukegan Road. You may also call toll free, 800-919-3375 Or email To order online, visit Receive free shipping with orders over $150 placed between December 1 and 31! Please note that we suggest you place your order before or on December 11 in order to ensure delivery before the holidays. Proceeds from all products support the programs offered at the Chicago Lighthouse, serving people who are blind, visually impaired, disabled and Veterans.

Happy holidays, and happy shopping to all!

Commentary: Please Support The Chicago Lighthouse This Giving Tuesday!


It still isn’t too late to support The Chicago Lighthouse’s #GivingTuesday campaign! Throughout the last few weeks, we have been showcasing the stories of Lighthouse program participants whose lives have been positively changed by our 39 programs and services. A few weeks ago, I wrote about our #GivingTuesday campaign, and how your support helps us continue providing world class services to people who are blind, visually impaired, disabled and Veterans. Your support of our #GivingTuesday Campaign will also allow us to continue bringing the Sandy’s View blog to people throughout the world!

Here are just a few of the inspiring stories of individuals whose lives have been changed by The Lighthouse.

  • Last summer, Lucio found his voice after participating in our Youth Transitions Program. The experience helped him make new friends and gave him a newly found sense of confidence and independence.
  • Thanks to new cutting edge technology known as the Brainport, Sanya was able to recognize a visual pattern for the first time in her life.
  • Elbra used to spend his days at home with nothing to do. After enrolling in our First Jobs Program, he obtained the necessary skills to pursue a employment. Elbra found his first job, and has become more confident and independent.

You can read these and other stories on our Giving Tuesday and Facebook pages. Please consider donating to The Chicago Lighthouse and spreading the word about our #GivingTuesday campaign by following, liking and sharing our posts. Thanks to the generosity of Board Member Marv Lader and his wife Carol, and Vice Chair Gary Rich and his wife Michelle, the impact of your gift will be doubled if we reach our goal of raising $16,000 by midnight in honor of Giving Tuesday. In other words, if we reach our goal, then we would have raised at least $32,000 for our 39 programs and services. Your gift will help change the lives of many individuals!

Giving Tuesday is a day to remember and support the work done by nonprofit organizations in our communities. Please take a moment to support The Chicago Lighthouse so we can continue to change lives. Be sure to check out our social media pages to learn about the different activities and ways in which you can become involved with our #GivingTuesday campaign.

Commentary: Is Braille Still Important?

Without a doubt, technology has become an integral part of our daily lives, especially for people with disabilities. New devices make it possible for those of us with physical, visual and other impairments to do things that were previously impossible. Not a month goes by without hearing about new devices or apps that allow people who are blind to access and read print material without needing Braille. Just a few days ago, I came across an article about a new ring-like device that would read out loud books, letters and other print documents. New devices like these make people wonder if Braille is still important.

To me, inquiring if Braille is necessary is like asking if print is still important. For people who are blind, knowing Braille is the equivalent of knowing to read and write print by someone with sight. I began learning Braille during preschool, the same time my sighted classmates were learning print. Braille allows those of us without sight to learn to read and write. What’s most important, it teaches us to spell and the rules of grammar and punctuation. It would be difficult at the very least to learn all of this by simply listening to audio materials.

Braille is important even for adults who already know how to read and write. It has long been known that learning Braille can be a tremendous challenge for older adults. Diseases like diabetes make it difficult to be able to decipher the dots by touch. Not to mention the complex nature of the Braille system, which some describe as similar to learning a new language. Still, people who lose their sight at a later age should learn basic Braille. It will help them with simple things like reading elevator signs and labeling household items.

I am not undermining the importance and helpfulness of today’s assistive technology by any means. Thousands of people with vision loss now have greater access to print books and other documents thanks to new devices and software. I can read important letters in a matter of seconds without having to wait for them to be transcribed into Braille or for someone to read them to me. This is incredibly helpful both at home and on the job.  I am sure that new devices like the one I recently read about will continue to allow people who are blind to have more access to the printed word, resulting in greater independence.

Braille will always be an important means of reading and writing for people without sight. Although audio books and screen-reading technology help us have instant access to print materials, nothing can substitute the confidence and independence that reading and writing Braille provides. Both Braille and technology are equally important for people who are blind, and this will always be true no matter the time period we live in.

Top Three Pressing Issues for Americans with Disabilities

Top Three Pressing Issues for Americans with Disabilities

The 2016 presidential and congressional elections are over, and by this point most of us know who will represent us in Washington next year. Without a doubt, this has been a very heated and contentious election season, and – like in previous years – Americans can only hope that all three branches of government will work together for the good of the nation. As the largest minority group in the United States, people with disabilities continue to face several pressing issues that we would like our elected representatives to address. These are the top three topics that are most important to people with disabilities all over the country.

Better Healthcare Access

Programs like Medicaid and Medicare are often the only type of health insurance people with disabilities have. Unfortunately, not all health providers accept these forms of insurance, particularly Medicaid, which is provided to people who are disabled, blind or older than 65 with limited incomes. Unfortunately, few hospitals and clinics accept this form of insurance, making it difficult for individuals with disabilities to have adequate and timely access to health care. This is especially pressing given the high unemployment rate among people with disabilities, who depend on programs like Social Security and Medicaid to get by.

Improvements to Social Security

This has been a longstanding topic of concern to people with disabilities. Most people are not aware, but individuals with disabilities who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) have set limits on what they can make on the job. Furthermore, SSI recipients can only have up to $2,000 in order to qualify for this program. In 2014, Congress passed the ABLE Act, which will allow Medicaid and SSI recipients to create special savings accounts where they can save money without jeopardizing their benefits. I and thousands of other individuals with disabilities and their families applaud this legislation, but feel much more needs to be done to improve the system.

Funding for Programs Supporting People with Disabilities

In Illinois as in many other states, recent budget cuts have affected, or even eliminated altogether programs and services for people with disabilities. These include day programs for those with developmental disabilities, vocational services and other programs providing information and resources to these individuals and their families. In Illinois, for example, centers for independent living throughout the state are being negatively impacted by the lack of funds. These centers are crucial for people with disabilities, as they help them find valuable information and resources on how to become more independent.

The government should work together with the disabled community to address these issues. They are topics often overlooked by the general public and politicians, but are extremely important to people with disabilities and their families. Until the government addresses these problems, people with disabilities will continue to experience the negative consequences. Finding solutions not only benefits this population, but also the community at large. What other disability related concerns should our newly elected government address?   Please share your thoughts!

Commentary: Making Gyms Accessible Benefits Everyone

A few years ago, I attended a seminar about the Americans with Disabilities Act at my local Center for Independent Living in an effort to learn more about what this legislation does and does not cover. Much to my surprise, I learned more than I expected, including the fact that the ADA covers fitness facilities. Gyms, for example, should have accessible exercise equipment, including accessible swimming pools.

These regulations for making fitness facilities accessible to customers with disabilities went into effect in 2012. Still, much more needs to be done to implement said requirements. Recently, LA Fitness modified its membership policy to accommodate patrons with disabilities in New York who need aids to accompany them into the health clubs. The membership fee for these assistants will be waved, and the policy will also require New York LA Fitness locations to train their staff on such policies.

Contrary to popular belief, people with all types of disabilities can and do need to exercise just like everyone else. Disabilities set aside, we have the same need to exercise in order to maintain good fitness and health. It is even more important considering that people with disabilities are less likely to participate in any form of exercise plan. Combined with a high unemployment rate and – in some cases – isolation from the community or other social activities, the sedentary lifestyle of many people with disabilities can lead to poor fitness, obesity and health complications like hypertension and diabetes.

Making gyms accessible is not as hard as it might seem. Simply moving equipment around to give someone in a wheelchair enough room to transfer might be all a customer with a physical disability needs to be able to access the exercise equipment. Someone who is blind or has low vision might benefit from one-on-one, hands-on instruction from a personal trainer, and large print and Braille labels will allow him or her to operate exercise machines independently. By adopting policies similar to that of LA Fitness, those with disabilities who require someone’s assistance will allow these individuals to partake in all the facility has to offer. To me, it is all a matter of finding creative, and often simple, accessibility solutions.

People with disabilities have the same right to exercise and be fit and healthy. Not only does working out help us obtain good health, but it also gives everyone a great opportunity to socialize and meet others. Gyms should create an accessible and welcoming environment for people with disabilities. By doing this, they will both comply with the law, and help an often overlooked community maintain good health and create more social opportunities. In what other ways can gyms be made more accessible and inclusive of people with disabilities? Please share your thoughts!

Argentina: Improvements That Can Be Seen But Not Felt

Argentina: Improvements That Can Be Seen But Not Felt

Axel Davila is a voluntary correspondent for Sandy’s View, and this week he discusses the current situation of people who are blind or visually impaired living in Argentina.

According to Fernando Galarraga, vice-president of the Argentina Federation of the Blind, the living situation of Argentinians who are blind or visually impaired has a major underlying problem. Legislation guaranteeing equal access exists and new construction is designed with this population in mind, however compliance of social norms and laws is scarce.

The country is divided in 23 provinces and the federal capital, Buenos Aires. This means that each region has different norms. For example, the educational system is decentralized and differs from province to province. This means that education is not consistent throughout the country. In some provinces, people with vision loss attend a special school, while in others they go to a school for people with all types of disabilities. Teachers of children who are blind often lack the necessary training to teach things like Braille and orientation and mobility.

According to Galarraga, although Argentina has made some progress in the education system, it has also regressed in certain aspects. Previously, people with disabilities had to go to large cities to receive an education. While they can now go to school in their local province, quality of the education is considerably worse. On another hand, production of textbooks and other materials in Braille and alternative formats has increased, and schools are provided with assistive technology and other equipment that can help students who are blind or visually impaired. Nevertheless, staff has not been given the necessary training on how to operate the various tools, making the equipment useless in the end.

Galarraga says that a continuous complaint of the visually impaired community is the lack of rehabilitation centers to assist those who are newly blind or visually impaired. “People do not receive even basic instruction to reintegrate themselves into society,” expresses Galarraga. On another hand, Galarraga says that on recent years, legislative measures, such as passing a law requiring restaurants to have menus in Braille, have been made. However, Galarraga states that while this is a good measure, there are more important problems that still need to be addressed. As one of his colleagues once said, “nowadays there is copious braille that can be seen but not felt.”

Regarding discrimination, Galarraga confidently expresses that the current situation is similar to that of other countries. However, he presents a new perspective, and points out that nowadays it is more complicated for others to see and acknowledge discrimination. “Sometimes when I am waiting for the bus, people ask me for directions, and I give them the information. However, when they realize that I am blind, they tell me ‘Oh sorry’ and maybe even ask another person instead,” Galarraga recalls. Another misconception according to Galarraga is that people tend to believe that an improvement for a specific disability helps people with all types of disabilities, but this is far from true.

For Galarraga, the challenges for people with vision loss in Argentina stem more from attitudes, rather than lack of legislation or access. Laws forbidding discrimination, and various services and types of equipment are available for those with vision loss. However, if cultural stereotypes do not disappear and adequate training is not given to this population, inclusion will be nonexistent, and Argentina will continue to have improvements that can be seen but not felt.

Commentary: On Voting Accessibility

Early voting for the 2016 national and local elections is in full swing, and disability rights groups throughout the United States are advocating for more accessible polling places. Last week, a story on NPR discussed the many accessibility barriers voters with disabilities still face in the 21st century. From inaccessible ramps to a lack of knowledge from poll workers’ on operating accessible voting machines, the challenges we face are many. Last Saturday, I cast my vote, and although the process went smoothly, I could still identify myself with some of the accessibility issues discussed in this story.

“I would like an audio ballot,” I told the poll worker who checked me in. Theoretically, every polling place should have an accessible voting machine, and workers have received special training on setting it up. Much to my surprise, the worker did not seem taken aback by this request, although she had to ask someone for help. “You know how to set up the audio on the machine, right?” she asked a fellow worker. After waiting for five minutes, I became concerned. Other friends who are blind have gone to vote, only to find out that polling staff cannot start the accessible voting machine.

My mom was also voting that day, so I knew she would be able to read the ballot and cast my vote if need be after she was finished. She would just have to sign an Affidavit so she could accompany me into the booth. Fortunately, the poll worker was able to get the accessible machine to work after finding the special card required to start up the audio ballot. I was able to vote independently and privately by using a pair of headphones and a special handheld keypad to make my selections.

All of my voting experiences have been very similar thus far. Truth be told, I am always concerned even before going to vote. Each time, I worry that the workers will not be able to set up the accessible voting equipment, or that they will not even know what I am talking about. It’s not that I don’t want someone else to help me, but like anyone else, I want and deserve to be able to vote privately and independently. This is a right that those of us with disabilities have fought for for many years, and although laws like the ADA and Help America Vote Act guarantee equal access, simple and even unintentional barriers can prevent us from voting independently, or even getting to our polling place.

It is estimated that over 35 million of Americans with disabilities, or one-sixth of the electorate, are eligible to vote during this election. For this reason, it is crucial to have equal and full access in polling places across the country. Simple things like fixing broken doors or elevators can help those with mobility impairments get inside their local polling place. Educating poll workers about accessible voting machines will allow voters who are blind or visually impaired to vote independently and confidently. To me, there is something special about actually going to my polling place to cast my vote. Everyone deserves this basic right, and more should be done to give voters with disabilities equal access on Election Day.