2017 Holiday Gift Ideas

The holidays are upon us, and so is the time for gift giving! I am often asked by others for advice on what kinds of gifts to get their loved ones who are blind or visually impaired. I have always appreciated these kinds of questions, because they mean people really want to give us things we can appreciate and use! This week, Brett Shishkoff, my colleague at CRIS Radio who’s also totally blind, joins me in offering some suggestions.

Sandy’s Suggestions from the Tools for Living Store:

Photograph of two individuals looking at kitchen items at the Tools for Living Store.

The Lighthouse Tools for Living Store sells a wide variety of high-tech and low-tech products for individuals with varying degrees of vision loss. Independent living aids, like the Wilson Recorder, Bold Line Note Pad and the PenFriend 2 will help those with little or no vision stay organized and keep track of important things and events. The easy to see, giant 2018 wall calendar makes a perfect gift for the upcoming new year!

Cooking enthusiasts will enjoy products like large print and Braille measuring cups, contrast cutting boards, and talking timers and meat thermometers. Adapted games, including large print and Braille cards, dominos with raised dots, large print crossword puzzles and a tactile version of Connect 4 are sold. The store carries different tactile and auditory toys for children who are blind or visually impaired. In addition, other products, like Braille and talking watches, signature and check-writing guides, are very useful for those of us without sight.

Brett’s Suggestions:

There are also many mainstream products that are accessible and useful to people with vision loss. Popular video streaming services, like Netflix, Amazon and iTunes now offer hundreds of audio described movies and television programs. Best of all, set top boxes, like the Apple TV and Amazon TV are accessible to people with visual impairments, and can help them enjoy the videos they purchase through these services. Voice-controlled home assistance like Amazon ECHO and Google Home are also gaining popularity among people with vision loss or other disabilities. Users can begin listening to their favorite music, news updates, sports scores, and audio books in a matter of seconds. They can even search for recipes and find out the weather forecast by simply asking the device!

Technologically inclined individuals might also benefit tremendously from a smartphone or tablet. Devices like Apple’s iPhone or iPad and Android phones and tablets have many built-in accessibility features for people with vision loss. In addition, users can install various apps that will help with things like traveling, identifying money, and even reading print documents. Finally, if your friend or family member enjoys audio books or music, consider giving them a gift card for services like Audible or iTunes. This will be sure to provide hours of endless entertainment!

These are only a few of the many gift possibilities that people who are blind or visually impaired are sure to enjoy this holiday season. For more gift ideas, visit this page from the American Foundation for the Blind, which shares great suggestions for people of all ages. If you have other ideas you would like us to mention, you can email me at sandysview@chicagolighthouse.org. Thanks for reading, and happy holidays from all of us at The Chicago Lighthouse!

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Commentary: Remembering Bill Jurek

 

This past weekend, members of The Chicago Lighthouse family were deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Bill Jurek, director emeritus of The Lighthouse’s CRIS Radio. CRIS Radio is the oldest and largest reading and information service in Illinois for people with visual impairments or who have other disabilities, and broadcasts programming specifically targeted to these communities. Bill, who was himself totally blind, had been the station’s director since 2006. He was also the host of The Beacon, the country’s only advocacy radio show recorded for and by people with disabilities. Prior to joining The Lighthouse, Bill worked for many radio and television stations, including WLIT-FM, WGN, WIND, WLS-AM and NBC. He was also the voice talent for numerous companies. Bill lost his vision in 1995, and was a strong mentor and advocate for people with vision loss, especially those interested in the broadcast journalism field.

I first met Bill nearly four years ago, when I was looking for a job after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. My supervisor at the organization I was interning for at the time suggested I contact Bill Jurek. After all, Bill was also blind, and it wouldn’t hurt to ask him for some words of advice for my future career. Bill’s reply to my email was completely unexpected! He told me CRIS Radio could possibly offer me an internship, and asked me to call him right away. I began my internship with the station a few months later, where I helped schedule and record interviews for The Beacon. Little did I know that this internship would help launch my future career as a journalist! I now work full-time at The Lighthouse, both as an associate producer for CRIS Radio and development assistant.

I will always remember Bill’s kindness and great sense of humor. Ever since our first conversation over the phone, I could immediately tell he was a friendly and caring individual. I will always treasure the wonderful and fun memories of working with him. Whether discussing future segments for The Beacon, or recording the show, our conversations would inevitably turn into talking about food, some of the funny or embarrassing experiences we encountered as people who are blind or other random musings! I could always count on Bill to learn about good restaurants or other places I might want to check out.

The Sandy’s View team and The Chicago Lighthouse extend our deepest condolences to Bill Jurek’s family, friends and colleagues. We all lost a great friend and mentor who will always be remembered. Bill’s services will take place this upcoming Saturday, September 9. For more information and to read more about Bill’s work with CRIS Radio, please visit this page. Thank you Bill for being a great friend and mentor. Most importantly, thank you for giving me an opportunity and opening the path to a wonderful career for myself and countless others. The following is a video Bill and I recorded nearly two years ago for the Chicago Community Trust, where we talk about CRIS Radio, and the high unemployment rate faced by individuals with vision loss.