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!


Tips for Sending Accessible and Enjoyable Greeting Cards and Pictures

Tips for Sending Accessible and Enjoyable Greeting Cards and Pictures

Now that you have some ideas from last week’s post on what to give your friend or family member with vision loss, it is time to revisit the topic of holiday greeting cards and pictures. Everyone appreciates receiving greeting cards, and there are many options for people who are blind or visually impaired. Simple suggestions and even creativity can help you come up with a greeting card or picture album everyone can enjoy!

Braille Greeting Cards

Several organizations that work with people who are blind or visually impaired sell Braille greeting cards. The Chicago Lighthouse’s Tools for Living Store, for example, sells a wide variety of greeting cards for different occasions. A Braille message is included in each card, and space is provided for you to write a personal message. If you know Braille or someone who does, you can write your message in Braille!

Tactile cards

Some greeting cards already have raised or embossed images. A lot of times the paper has simple embossed designs, and other cards have tactile shapes made from materials like felt or glitter. I personally appreciate it when someone gives me one of these cards (although sometimes they do it without realizing it). The down side is that they might cost more than standard cards. If you’re the creative, do-it-yourself type of person, then you can easily make a tactile greeting card. You can find thousands of styles and design ideas online.


These are digital greeting cards that are sent through email. They often include picture animations and short audio clips. You can even personalize the cards with your own pictures and short audio recorded messages. I have a love-hate relationship with these types of cards. Although I can easily click on the link to view the card, I often have no clue what’s in the animation or pictures. Animations aren’t always accessible with screen-reading software, and more often than not, the images aren’t described. I remember once getting a Christmas Hallmark e-card, and although I could hear “jingle bells” playing in the background, I had no idea what the images were.

Describing Pictures

Sharing pictures is increasingly popular thanks to social media. Just like anyone else, blind and visually impaired people love receiving pictures of their friends and family, and of course any photos we might be in! No matter how you send the photos – through email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. – it’s always a good idea for you to add a brief caption describing who and what is going on in the picture. Of course, if your friends or family members with vision loss were in a particular photo, chances are they will remember when it was taken. By providing brief descriptions, we will be able to enjoy these snapshots as much as everyone else!

Regardless of what method you use, those of us who are blind or visually impaired will greatly appreciate the effort you put into sending us a card or photo we could enjoy. Even if the message in the card is handwritten, we will most likely find someone who can read it and describe the picture for us. Still, finding a card that is accessible can help us read and enjoy it on our own. I hope these tips and suggestions will help you get your loved ones with vision loss greeting cards that are accessible and enjoyable. Happy holidays!

Gift Ideas for Those with Vision Loss

inbraille_holiday_webimage.jpgThe holiday season is here, and you might be unsure about what to give your loved ones who are blind or visually impaired. Just as with everyone else on your list, you want to give them something that is both enjoyable and useful. The Tools for Living Store at the Chicago Lighthouse has over 900 products to choose from for people of all ages. From stocking stuffers to the latest in technology, you’ll be sure to find something for that special someone on your list!


The little ones will both enjoy and even benefit from the many toys and games available. A variety of auditory and tactile books and puzzles are the ideal gifts for younger children. Young students who are blind or visually impaired will enjoy the Braille Talking USA Jigsaw puzzle. At just $23, each state on the puzzle is accessible to both auditory and Braille learners. A variety of large print, tactile and Braille cards are also available for the game enthusiasts. Adapted Braille and large print versions of games like Bingo, Uno, Scrabble and Checkers are also available.


The wide selection of Braille, low vision and talking watches will help your loved one keep track of time! Ranging in prices from $25-$65, the watches have many features, such as alarm, stopwatch, calendar and thermometer. With all the different styles of watches available, you’ll be sure to find something that’s just right for your loved one.


Besides watches, the store also sells many other talking, large print and Braille products. These include calculators, telephones and thermometers. Of course, there are also many products for the technology geek on your list. The Tools for Living Store carries a wide selection of assistive devices including hand-held magnifiers, digital players and recorders, screen-reading and magnification software, portable note-taking devices, etc.


If you simply want to get a stocking stuffer, you can choose from Chicago Lighthouse mugs, shirts, tote bags, holiday ornaments and more. 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 at 222 N. Waukegan Road. You may also call toll free at 800-919-3375 Or email store@chicagolighthouse.org. To order online, visit our Tools for Living store. 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 for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired.


For more ideas on gifts for your loved ones with vision loss, check out AccessWorld’s holiday edition. Happy holidays, and happy shopping to all!