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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What’s New with CRIS Radio?

CRIS logo_sandys view

For nearly 40 years, Chicagoland Reading and Information Service (CRIS) Radio has provided individuals who are blind, visually impaired or have other reading disabilities with important information and entertainment broadcasts. CRIS Radio is the largest and oldest radio reading service in Illinois, and has been housed at The Chicago Lighthouse since 2003. The station covers a variety of topics, including daily readings of newspapers and other entertainment broadcasts. Some of the newspapers include The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times, among others. Programming includes The Beacon, FAACT, On the Air, The No Look Pass and various audio described movies. CRIS broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Recently, many readers have asked how they can access CRIS Radio. Long-time listeners are familiar with the special receivers through which CRIS can be heard. While we are no longer distributing the receivers, listeners can still tune in to CRIS with this equipment. These are the other (and newer) ways individuals can listen to CRIS:

  • On your computer or mobile device: CRIS Radio is available on our website. There you can either listen to the livestream, or to podcasts of previous shows. CRIS can also be heard on the TuneIn app, available for both iOS and Android smartphones and tablets. While in the app, simply search for CRIS Chicago and start listening. Make sure to add us to your favorites! Users of the Victor Reader Stream device can also find CRIS on ooTunes. This app is also available for iOS devices.
  • By telephone: listeners who may not have access to the Internet can dial 712-832-2724 from anywhere in the United States. Please note that calls use mobile minutes, and long-distance rates may apply.
  • Listen to The Beacon on radio: recorded at CRIS, The Beacon is the nation’s only show for individuals with disabilities, senior citizens and Veterans. The weekly broadcast covers various topics of interest to these communities, including health and entertainment. Those of you in the Chicagoland area can catch The Beacon on WCPT 820-AM Sunday mornings at 7 am. You can also listen to the show’s podcasts on our website.

We would also love to get your feedback! In order to better serve our audience, CRIS is currently working on developing new programming. We invite you to please take this survey and tell us more about what you’d like to hear on CRIS Radio. You can also visit our Facebook page and stay connected and updated on the latest developments at CRIS Radio. Thank you for listening, and stay tuned!

How Do People Who Are Blind Or Visually Impaired Read Printed Text?

How Do People Who Are Blind Or Visually Impaired Read Printed Text?

Reading is part of everyone’s life. From looking at bills and letters to enjoying magazines and books during our free time, we read every single day. Unfortunately, not everything is printed in Braille or audio format for people like me who cannot see. From assistive technology that scans and reads print out loud, to organizations that provide books, newspapers and magazines in audio or Braille formats free of charge, there are numerous ways of accessing print materials. The following are just a few of those methods people with vision loss use to access printed text.

Recorded Book Collections

People living in the United States can take advantage of The Library of Congress’s National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, or Learning Ally. Both services provide a collection of thousands of audio recorded books, magazines and periodicals to qualifying individuals with print disabilities. The BookShare websitealso provides a broad collection of books in different audio and electronic formats. Subscribers can listen by using special software and audio players, or on their smartphones and tablets by downloading the mobile apps offered by each provider (click on the links for more information.)

Assistive Technology

Tools like the BookPort and Victor Reader are portable devices that can serve many purposes. These often include an audio player, digital recorder, radio and can even read text files. Newer versions can also connect to the Internet, and users can listen to online radio stations or instantly download audio books onto the devices.

OCR, or optical character recognition, allows people to scan books, letters and other materials. Once a page is scanned, the OCR software or device begins reading the text out loud. To me, this technology comes in handy when reading letters or other literature I get in the mail, for example. Most OCR devices consist of a camera – which takes a picture of the text – and text to speech software. New tools like the OrCam allow users to instantly scan and read letters, books, etc. There are also Smartphone apps that can scan and read print materials out loud. You can see and purchase the latest in assistive technology in ourTools for Living Store.

EBook Readers

Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s NOOK are some of the most popular EBook readers in the market. Users can purchase books from the respective websites, and begin reading them in a matter of seconds. The accessibility of these devices for people with vision loss is constantly improving (previously, users with limited vision could not navigate through the various menus). Both devices also offer iOS and Android apps, which are accessible to people with visual impairments.

Other smartphone and tablet apps, like iOS’s iBooks and Android’s Google Play Books are also quite accessible. Users can easily navigate by page, chapter, etc. using their phone’s or tablet’s screen-reading software. These apps can come in handy when a book is not available in audio from other sources. There are numerous other accessible apps for reading books.

Accessing Newspapers and Magazines

Reading the day’s newspaper has now become easier for people with visual impairments thanks to modern technology and resources. The Chicago Lighthouse’s CRIS Radio provides daily readings of popular newspapers like The Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, Washington Post and New York Times. Users who are blind or otherwise cannot read print because of a disability can tune in via a special receiver, and by listening by phone or online.

The NFB NewsLine provides audio versions of daily newspapers and magazines to people who are blind or visually impaired throughout the United States. Publications range from daily magazines and newspapers to weekly sales circulars for various stores. Subscribers can listen to the publications online, with the NFB NewsLine app, by phone and on devices like the Victor Reader.

What other methods do you use to read and access print text as someone who is blind or visually impaired? We’d love to hear from you!