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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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.

E-Cards

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!

Should you Send Greeting Cards and Pictures to Someone Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired?

P1020083I recently received the following question from one of our loyal readers and Lighthouse colleagues!

What are your feelings about receiving greeting cards? Recently, I was sending holiday cards to my colleagues and didn’t want to exclude you, but also realized my standard photo collage card wasn’t something you could enjoy. What’s the general etiquette on card giving/photo sharing?

Thanks,

Lisa

 

First off, thank you Lisa for thinking of me as well as my fellow blind/visually impaired Lighthouse colleagues! Like anyone else, blind and visually impaired people enjoy receiving greeting cards and pictures. Just because we can’t see the words or images doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy receiving them! Simple suggestions and even creativity can help you come up with a greeting card or picture album all can enjoy.

 

Tactile cards

 

Some greeting cards nowadays have raised or embossed images. Often the paper has simple embossed designs, while other cards have tactile shapes made from materials like felt or glitter. I personally appreciate it when an acquaintance 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, and this can be a problem if you are on a tight budget. 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 on the Internet.

 

Braille Greeting Cards

 

Several organizations that work with the blind 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. Of course, if you know Braille or someone who does, you can write your message in Braille.

 

E-Cards

 

As the name suggests, these are digital greeting cards one can send via email. They often include picture animations and short audio clips. People can even personalize the cards with pictures and short audio recorded messages of their choice. I personally have a love-hate relation 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. Unfortunately, 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

 

Nowadays, 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 describe who and what is going on in the picture. Of course, if your blind or visually impaired friend or family member is in a particular photo, chances are he or she will remember when it was taken. By providing brief descriptions, we will be able to enjoy them 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. 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 independently. I hope that these tips and suggestions will help our readers get their blind and visually impaired loved ones greeting cards that they will be more likely to enjoy. Thanks Lisa for your holiday card, the Braille message made it extra special for me!

A Special Letter to Santa from Sandy

Dear Santa,SandysView_holiday

Christmas is just around the corner, so I’m sending you this letter – AKA blog post – before it’s too late! Don’t worry, this time I won’t be asking you for the newest toys or technology on the market, I’m sure your sleigh is already piled up with gifts for children around the world! I have really been trying to be good this year in hopes that you won’t leave me a lump of coal! Although I’m all grown up, I still believe in you and the magic of Christmas. Here are my top three Christmas wishes for this holiday season, and all year long.

 

  1. Better education opportunities for blind and visually impaired boys and girls

 

Sadly, many children who are blind or visually impaired still don’t have access to a good education. This is especially true for those children in developing countries, who often don’t go to school because there simply aren’t any resources or assistive equipment for them to participate in the classroom. Schools in third-world countries might not have things like assistive computers or Braille books, and I’m sure they would really appreciate it if you (or any of your helpers) could donate this extremely necessary equipment during this time of year.

 

  1. More job opportunities for blind and visually impaired adults

 

I hope that you can somehow open the minds of employers so that they will understand that blind and visually impaired adults are perfectly capable of working. Simple adaptations, like magnifying or talking devices, help those of us with low or no vision be as effective as everyone else on the job. Also, just because we can’t see doesn’t mean we are more prone to hurting ourselves or our co-workers. Employers can count on us to be as reliable and loyal as our sighted counterparts!

 

  1. A more inclusive and accessible world for all

 

Thanks to laws like the ADA, the United States has become more accessible to those of us with disabilities. Audio announcements allow me to ride on trains and buses independently, while ramps allow wheelchair users to enter restaurants, stores and many other buildings. People with disabilities live all over the world, and they too deserve to have a more accessible and inclusive environment. I sincerely hope that the magic of the holidays will inspire society to open their minds and hearts to make a better world for those with disabilities.

 

The holiday season is a very special time of year for us all. It is a time when we have renewed hopes and dreams for a better world. Santa, I hope that you can work your magic all year long so that my wishes come true. After all, these hopes are shared by all of us who have or know someone with a disability.

 

Thanks for your time, and happy holidays to you and all of the Sandy’s View followers!

 

Merry Christmas to all,

Sandy

Happy Giving Tuesday!

Today is Giving Tuesday, the perfect occasion to celebrate giving and generosity. Those of us in the United States celebrated our gratitude last Thursday, and perhaps even got started on our holiday shopping during the weekend. Giving Tuesday presents us with the opportunity to give to those around us by donating money, time or doing simple acts of kindness.

 

Now in its fourth year, Giving Tuesday celebrates and encourages charitable giving and generosity through social media. Although the observance is relatively new, it has already made a huge impact across the world. In 2014, $30 million were raised in online donations. Today, over 30 thousand organizations and businesses from 68 countries participate in Giving Tuesday. These include nonprofits, small businesses, government agencies and major corporations. Last year, over 40 civic campaigns took place in the United States to encourage the observance of this day. Also in 2014, 15.4 billion impressions were made worldwide in print and social media.

 

To me, the beauty of #GivingTuesday is that it encourages all forms of giving. You can donate money to a local or favorite nonprofit organization, or simply donate your time to volunteer in your community. This is a global movement, and we all can participate regardless of where we are in the world. By simply spreading the word and encouraging your family and friends to contribute with a small monetary gift or their time, you are already making a difference in the lives of others.

 

As you might be aware, the Chicago Lighthouse has kicked off its first #GivingTuesday campaign, which aims to raise $30,000 through online donations to support our various programs serving children and senior citizens. Under the motto “My Vision Is…,” the #CLHgivingtuesday campaign showcases several Chicago Lighthouse participants, who share their dreams, or vision, for the future and for  their lives. If you would like to make a contribution to the Chicago Lighthouse, you can find more information about our campaign on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #CLHgivingtuesday or by clicking here.

 

I encourage you to participate in Giving Tuesday in any way you prefer. Regardless of the cause or organization you support, you will feel good about giving or simply sharing your time and talents with others. The holiday season is here, and what better way to celebrate than by giving to those in need. Happy #GivingTuesday!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is here, and with it comes the start of the holiday season. For Sandysview_thanksgivingmost of us it also means cooking delicious meals and treats! A variety of simple tools and devices can help those experiencing vision loss in the kitchen. I spoke with our very own Bridget McDermott from the Tools for Living Store, who shared with me some of the various gadgets available to make cooking fun and safe. Located at the Chicago Lighthouse, the Tools for Living Store carries a wide selection of assistive technology, independent living and many other products for people who are blind or visually impaired.

 

If baking for the holidays is your thing, then measuring spoons and cups with either Braille or large print are a must have for you! The Pourfect Braille measuring cups come in a set of nine, while the set of 12 Braille measuring spoons will help you get all ingredient amounts just right. A variety of large print and color-coded measuring cups and spoons are the perfect item for those baking enthusiasts with low vision. Meanwhile, tactile, talking and large print timers will let you know when to get those tasty treats out of the oven.

 

Various devices can help when cutting and poring. If you have little or no vision and are afraid of spilling, liquid level indicators can help. Priced at $13, these small devices make a buzzing sound to alert users when liquid is about to reach the top of a glass or cup. Meanwhile, the Magic Knife can help in cutting vegetables and baked goods safely, as its serrated blade prevents self cutting. Another tool that can be particularly helpful to those with low vision is a black and white cutting board. Priced at $20.00, users can choose between the black or white cutting surface for a better color contrast. The VeggieChop is a hand-powered device that can chop fruits and vegetables, and costs $20.00.

 

Blind and visually impaired individuals need not worry about accidently burning themselves when putting or removing something from the stove or oven. Flame resistant oven mitts can help when handling hot pots or pans. Oven guards will keep pans safely in place and prevent people from burning when reaching into the oven. Additionally, the store carries a wide variety of other dishes and utensils made of silicone to prevent users from burning themselves when handling hot foods. You can also find talking meat thermometers and labeling products for your kitchen appliances.

 

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 800-91903375 Or email store@chicagolighthouse.org. To order online, visit http://www.lighthousetools forliving.org. Proceeds from all products support the programs offered at the Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired.

 

Happy Thanksgiving from the Sandy’s View team and all of us at the Chicago Lighthouse! We sure are thankful to have such a wonderful group of followers – thanks for commenting and liking our blog! I hope you have a fun, enjoyable and safe weekend with your family and friends. Happy cooking to all!

Sandy’s View, Halloween Edition

sandysview_halloween2Many of us have fond memories of Halloween from when we were children. Most people enjoy the celebration because of the fun and thrill of dressing up, scaring others, trick or treating and going to haunted houses. Blind and visually impaired youngsters and adults don’t have to miss out on the activities of this holiday!

As children, one of our favorite Halloween activities is picking out a costume. Usually our main priority is choosing something that will impress our friends and classmates! The fact that I was blind didn’t make any difference; I only needed a little extra help to choose my costume. My parents always preferred to take the easy path when it came to costumes, so my mom would take me and my older brother to the store. She would describe the different costumes and let me feel them when possible. Naturally, I’d always pick out something that had some type of texture or sound! The greatest advantage was when it came to masks since I didn’t have to pick something with see through material!

Trick or treating was always my favorite part of Halloween. After all, it was the only time of the year when I could ask for and receive candy from everyone in the neighborhood! Since I can’t see, it was easier for me to tag along with a small group of people. I would generally go trick or treating with family or friends. The various Halloween decorations at different houses didn’t cause much of a thrill for me, unless they had some type of tactile or auditory component. Although at first I was startled by things like hanging spiders and scary sounds, I knew it was all part of the celebration and fun!

Activities like pumpkin carving and Halloween parades were also quite enjoyable for me. With some imagination and a little help, carving pumpkins can sure create fun and tactile experiences for young children! The fact that I couldn’t see the Halloween parades didn’t necessarily mean I couldn’t enjoy them. Friends or family would describe the various costumes, and I would occasionally get to feel some of them after the parade was over. This was probably the best part for me, especially if the costume was that of a favorite character!

Scary movies and haunted houses have never been particularly interesting to me. Most scary movies have a great deal of visual elements, and it can be hard to follow the story even if they have some dialogue. Although some scary movies have audio description, I still can’t always grasp the full plot. However, I can use my imagination to picture the scene. Regardless, I enjoy watching scary movies with my friends on Halloween evening. Haunted houses have never had much of a thrill for me either. While I can tell the difference between light and dark, I am not always able to get the full effect. Like scary movies, haunted houses are mainly based on visual elements.

I still enjoy Halloween as much as everyone else. Having dinner and watching scary movies with my friends are just some of the ways I like to celebrate this fun and scary occasion. Blind and visually impaired children and adults don’t have to miss out on this fun holiday. With some creativity and imagination, we can have a great time by using our other senses. If we really pause to think about it, Halloween is a multisensory experience for everyone! Happy Halloween from the Sandy’s View team and all of us at the Chicago Lighthouse! We hope you have a fun, scary and safe weekend!