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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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!

How Can People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Tell Different Things Apart?

How Can People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Tell Different Things Apart?

I recently came across an article about Braille labels being added to beer bottles in Japan. It brought up one of the questions I often get – how do people who are blind or visually impaired tell everyday things apart without being able to see. With most things having labels only in print, we have to come up with other tips and tricks to keep them organized. Labeling and organizing methods are endless, and these are just a few suggestions to get started.

Keeping things organized

More often than not, I can tell different items apart simply by keeping them organized and in different places. Of course, I first find out what they are  from someone else when grocery shopping. I know, for example, that the cereal boxes are on one shelf of the pantry, and crackers, canned food, etc. are on another. The shape and size of different packages also helps – a can of soup feels very different from a bottle of dressing. Simple things like listening to the sounds of each product also help. Shaking a box of uncooked pasta sounds very different from a box of cereal bars.

Labeling with easy to find household items

There are times when I inevitably have to label things that feel or look identical. Often, using things like tape, rubber bands, paper clips or safety pins helps. Food cans are often identical, and I have to label them as soon as I know what they are. By putting a rubber band around a can of soup, I can tell it apart from a can of vegetables. Using rubber bands on medication bottles is also very helpful when organizing them. Putting safety pins on clothing tags helps me know what color it is. This post gives more information about organizing and matching clothes as someone who can’t see.

Using Braille or large print labels

Labeling things like important documents, CDs, DVDs, etc. can be done with Braille and large print labels. The Chicago Lighthouse’s Tools for Living Store sells a variety of labeling materials ranging from special Braille labeling paper to large print stickers. Generally, I like to label things like folders, binders, CD and DVD cases in Braille. There are also other products for people who are unable to read Braille. The bump dot tactile stickers, also sold by the Tools for Living Store, are a great option for microwaves, stoves, computer keyboards and other electronics. These are sold in a variety of colors and sizes.

Assistive technology devices

There are a variety of “high tech” devices that can help people with vision loss label things and stay organized. The Talking RX Pill Bottle Recorder is a great tool for labeling medications. Other devices, like the PenFriend Voice Labeling System, can be a good alternative for organizing CD and DVD collections, medications, important documents and so on. Similar assistive devices and smartphone apps are constantly being developed.

You can see these and other products offered at the store here. For more tips on how to label and organize household items as someone with vision loss, visit this site from the American Foundation for the Blind. What other labeling methods have you found helpful as someone who is blind or visually impaired? Please share any suggestions with our readers!

Gift Ideas for Dads and Grads with Vision Loss

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With Father’s Day just around the corner and graduation season in full swing, many might still be at a loss as to what to give their loved ones with vision loss. Things like clothing, perfumes, gift cards and tickets to concerts or their favorite sport teams are always a great option. If you are looking for specific and accessible products for your friend or family member with vision loss, The Tools for Living Store at The Chicago Lighthouse carries over 900 different items.

Technology is the perfect gift for both the dads and grads on your list. The store carries something for everyone, from talking devices to digital recorders and of course, the always popular magnifiers. The technology guru will enjoy the Explore 5, a new and very popular handheld magnifier from Humanware. Its regular price is $795, but you can purchase it for $595 for a limited time. The new Orcam device will also facilitate reading for people with little or no vision. Your college bound loved ones might also appreciate a talking or large print calculator or portable note taking device.

The chef in the family will greatly enjoy and benefit from the various cooking tools the store offers. These include Braille and large print measuring spoons and cups, talking meet thermometers, special spatulas and numerous other tools. A variety of other talking, Braille and large print products will also help your loved one be more independent at home, school or work. Of course, it is also important to have some fun after working and studying hard! The store also sells a wide variety of large print and Braille games so you and your loved ones can unwind at the end of the day.

We realize more than anyone that protecting your eyes from the sun is very important during the summer, and this is also true for people who are blind or visually impaired. Everyone will benefit from the wide selection of sunglasses sold at the store. If you simply want to get a souvenir, you can choose from Chicago Lighthouse mugs, shirts, tote bags and more. The Braille readers on your list will surely appreciate a Braille greeting card along with their gift! Other small items, like pocket flashlights are also available. Regardless of your choice, your loved ones with vision loss will both enjoy and benefit from your gift this summer.

The Tools for Living Store is holding an online sale through the end of June. With the purchase of $100 or more, shoppers will get a 10 percent discount at checkout (some exclusions apply.) To order and take advantage of this sale, visit http://www.lighthousetoolsforliving.org. To find out more or purchase any of the products, 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. Proceeds from all products support the programs offered at the Chicago Lighthouse.

Happy Father’s Day, and best of luck to all the new graduates from all of us at The Chicago Lighthouse!

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!

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!

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!