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Part 3 in Our Holiday Gift Series: Special Gift Ideas for People with Low Vision

Cooking with Low Vision Gift Ideas by Audrey Demmitt

Do you have someone on your gift list who loves to cook but is finding it difficult with low vision? I was having a lot of mishaps in the kitchen as my vision got worse. Here is a list of my favorite kitchen tools to help make cooking safer and more efficient. One suggestion is to give these items in a gift basket.

photo of a white cutting board surface and a black cutting board surface to demonstrate contrast

Caption: Black and White Cutting Board

Older man taking item from oven using long oven mitts

Caption: Older Man Using Long Oven Mitts

Reading with Low Vision--the New Kindle Paperwhite: Large Print on Steroids? by Steve Kelley

Not all low vision readers are the same. Some readers peacefully migrate to narrated books or text-to-speech relatively easily; others want print and fill in as needed with narrated books or text-to-speech. These are the folks who hesitate when, as a professional vision rehabilitation therapist (my day job), I suggest Talking Books, I understand because I am one of them.

The Latest Generation Paperwhite

When Amazon began promoting their new Kindle Paperwhite, featuring a non glare screen, sharper image and text detail, water proof, etc. I started dreaming of those days at Fortune’s Rocks Beach with a paperback book or the local paper in hand, reading beneath the beach umbrella, or just sitting in an easy chair at home, by the fire, reading from a book next to the table lamp with nothing more than my glasses—no magnifier, no electronic magnifier, no weighty iPad—just a book.

The new Kindle Paperwhite held the promise of a lightweight electronic reader that offered crisp text in a variety of lighting conditions, with the benefit of being able to adjust the font size, magnify the screen if needed, and speak the text on those occasions when I preferred the device to read to me.

First Impressions of Accessibility Features

The first week of November I received the Paperwhite, with a 6 inch screen, which I preordered several weeks before, for $129, and I eagerly began setting it up to read fellow peer advisor Elizabeth Sammons's first book, "The Lyra and the Cross" (by the way, another good gift suggestion!).

Like the Kindle Fire tablets, the Paperwhite has an "Accessibility" menu item under the broader "Settings" menu. The Paperwhite, like the Kindle Fire uses the VoiceView screen reader for text-to-speech, and the display can invert the color scheme for light text on a black background. It does not have is "Screen Magnification," (allows the user to enlarge text and graphical information displayed on the screen. ) and this may be for many low vision users, who use both, a significant omission.

Practically, what this means, is that the font size on the Paperwhite may be increased significantly when reading a book or magazine, but when using the menus, or making a purchase, have a magnifier handy because there is no way to magnify the screen electronically, the way you can on the Kindle Fire.

screen shot of large print screen and settings

Caption: Kindle Paperwhite Large Print and Screen Settings

With earbuds in hand, the Accessibility menu open and Voice View clicked on, a dialog box opens—"Searching for Bluetooth audio devices…" meaning of course, that there is no longer any standard audio out jack for earbuds. This seems to be, after all the new standard, right? With an external Bluetooth speaker paired to the Kindle, VoiceView reads menu items on the screen and the text of the book open, with gestures similar, but more limited than those found with the Kindle Fire VoiceView settings.

If you are a regular VoiceView text-to-speech reader, it would almost make more sense to go for the 7 inch Kindle Fire tablet that retails for $49. It too has VoiceView at less than half the price! In addition, it has the screen magnification accessibility option, and might still have the headphone jack!

Lightweight and Waterproof

What really got me excited about this new Paperwhite was the possibility of a lightweight tablet, with crisp looking text, on a screen with less glare from a light or when outdoors.

The Paperwhite does meet these specifications. When reading on the tablet either inside under a light, or outside in the sun light, there is almost no glare and the font size can be made much larger and bolder than standard large print from a book. In addition, the tablet weighs less than many paperbacks do, so it is comfortable to hold. The newest Kindle Paperwhite weighs in at a slender 4.7 ounces, which is lighter than the previous version at 7.2 ounces. Also this latest generation could accidentally be left out on the deck in a rain shower because it is waterproof.

For many low vision users, the crisp, glare-free text on the new Paperwhite, coupled with greater storage, and a waterproof design, will be sufficient. Like me, they may need to keep a magnifier handy to work with the settings or to buy a new book or magazine.

On the other hand, I may return the new generation Paperwhite and instead purchasing a previous generation for a significant savings—$79 for a previous generation Paperwhite instead of $129 for the new generation. Amazon may hook me back in to a newer version when they add screen magnification to the accessibility settings. Who knows. I might even be able to use my wired earbuds on the previous generation Paperwhite!

Other Articles in Holiday Gifts Series

Part 1 Holiday Series

Part 2 Holiday Gift Series

Getting Ready for the Holidays Gift Ideas

Part 1 in Our Holiday Gift Series: Finding Gifts for People Who are Blind or Visually Impaired

by Paul Ferrara, Communications Accessibility Editor, American Printing House for the Blind (APH)

Gifts wrapped with different color paper and ribbons

Finding and selecting a gift for someone who is blind or visually impaired can be a challenge because some items made for people with visual impairments are quite expensive and are often only available through specialty providers. To help you with finding just the right gift, here are some selected gift ideas from the American Printing House for the Blind, as well as three online retailers that you might not have run across, at least some of which are run by individuals who are blind or visually impaired. These websites carry a diverse selection of products. Some products cater especially to people who are blind or visually impaired; others are mainstream products anyone might want. Also, because our pets and dog guides deserve gifts, too, I'll include items for them as well.


APH offers hundreds of unique products that promote independent living and for children and adults who are blind and visually impaired.

BrailleBuzz toy to teach braille and resembles a cartoon bumblebee with keyboard

Caption: BrailleBuzz

Do you have a child or grandchild who is just starting to learn braille? BrailleBuzz, new from APH, is an excellent toy that promotes interest in braille. It looks like a cartoon bumble bee and offers audio feedback, a friendly human voice, and fun sounds along with a Perkins Brailler-style keyboard that is the right size for small fingers. Each of its three modes teaches braille by stating what letter the child pressed, a word with that letter as its starting letter, and much more.

talking thermometer with LCD display, an eyelet at the top to hang it

Caption: Talking Cooking Thermometer

Are you looking for a gift for a cook who is blind or visually impaired? You may wish to consider APH's Talking Cooking Thermometer. It has an easy-to-read LCD display, an eyelet at the top to hang it somewhere within reach, and is simple to operate. Press the On/Talk button to turn it on and to get the temperature once you put the probe in the place where you want the temperature to be determined.

color identifier

Caption: Star Color Identifier and Light Detector

Do you or a family member struggle with discerning colors? You may wish to consider the new Color Star Advanced Talking Color Identifier Light Detector and Light Analyzer. It recognizes more than 1,000 different color shades, identifies contrast measurements, recognizes the color of LED lights, perceives the light intensity in the surrounding environment, and recognizes patterns – all with clear spoken voice output.

The Harbolt Company

The Harbolt Company is a unique website featuring several types of products including: accessories for iOS devices, several Bluetooth accessories, and portable batteries, chargers, and power banks. The Harbolt Company usually has limited quantities of these products, so you may wish to purchase an item you like while you know it is in stock. From time to time, for example, the Harbolt Company offers a 15,000 mAH accessible powerbank that, with the press of one button, provides vibrations, tones, or both to indicate how much power remains in the bank. Smaller 12,000 and 10,000 mAH powerbanks are available too; however, the 15,000 mAH bank has been in and out of stock.

There is even a "one left list", meaning that there literally is only one left of each product on the list. Joining the email list for the Harbolt Company is the most efficient way to find out when new products come in, when an out-of-stock product is available again, or when specials or promotions are running.

Guidelights and Gadgets

Guidelights and Gadgets is essentially two stores in one. One of their catalogs highlights things like pouches, cases, wallets, headphones, and a 10,000 mAH talking powerbank from iWalk that speaks its own level of charge as well as that of the device you charge with it. They also offer a catalog of products for dogs like toys, leashes, and travel bowls.

On the Go

On the Go, part of the Blind Mice Mega Mall, carries beds, bandanas, bowls, charms, and even items you can purchase in memory of a lost pet or dog guide. Similar to all of the other merchants already listed, selection changes frequently with items coming and going quite often.

These are just some of the products available for people who are blind and visually impaired. Be sure to read the upcoming posts in this holiday gift series, with more suggestions from VisionAware peer advisors.

Happy shopping and be sure to read Part 2 in this gift series with ideas from the VisionAware peer advisors.

Part 2 in Our Holiday Gift Series: Gifts for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

The VisionAware Peer Advisor's (AKA Santa's elves) have put together a list of suggestions for holidays gifts for people with vision loss. This list is an annual and very popular tradition on VisionAware. In fact, you should check out our lists from yesteryear for other great ideas. This year we have so many suggestions that we have created a series! Be sure to read the first in the series--how to find gifts.

A Personal Digital Assistant for the Holidays by Steve kelley

Wouldn’t everyone on your holiday list just love to have a personal assistant? Someone to turn on the radio, check the weather, gather the day’s news, and manage the scheduling?

The Scoop on Alexa and Google Home

"Alexa," the personal assistant in the Amazon Echo devices, and the "Google Assistant," in the Google Home, offer hard-working, voice-activated digital assistants, in what are being called "Smart Speakers."

google home device round cylindrical object 5.5 inches tall by 3.3 inches wide

Caption: Google Home Device

This year, both Google and Amazon offer greater variations on the products—several with screens, but the basic units are easy-to-use, relatively simple to setup in a home with WIFI available, and a tablet or smartphone available for the initial setup. Once they are set up, both are used primarily with voice commands.

cylindrical device beside table lamp

Caption: Amazon Echo 2nd Generation

Both will do similar basic tasks:

  • make a phone call
  • look up news, weather, radio stations
  • set alarms and timers,etc.

There are some subtle differences worth noting, however. For the serious reader, who enjoys Kindle and Audible books and podcasts, the Amazon Echo offers far more selections. The Google Home will read Google Play Books; the selection is much more limited than the Echo.

Researching with Spoken Commands

If your gift recipient is more interested in researching things with spoken commands, the Google Assistant frequently does a better job of that and often performs some tasks more conversationally. For example, the Google Assistant will look up a number and place a phone call at the same time. The user could say, "Call the American Printing House for the Blind in Louisville, Kentucky" and the assistant will follow through. The Echo, on the other hand, will read out the number and place the call only if given a second command to call the number.

Sound Quality

As a regular user of both the standard size Google Home ($129 retail) and the Amazon Echo 2nd Generation ($99 retail), I believe that the sound quality of the Echo is superior to the Google Home, particularly when playing music. There are smaller, less expensive versions of both, the Google Home Mini ($49) and the Echo Dot ($49). Both have all the features of the standard model, but smaller speakers. Both can be connected to earbuds, headphones, or external bluetooth speakers. As the holidays approach, watch for the prices to drop on any and all of these! To compare the two, check out, “ Smart Speakers: How They Can Help People With Vision Loss".

For Music Afficianados

For real music aficionados, an extra $100 will buy the Sonos One smart speaker ($199 retail) with Amazon Alexa built in and superior sound! Rumor has it that Sonos will support the Google Assistant by the end of the year. So the Sonos owner might have the best of the Amazon and Google with superior sound!

If anyone reading this is shopping for me…ahem…the Sonos One please!

And remember, the gift of a human personal assistant is also a great idea for cleaning, transportation, and all those chores we like to put off!

Identifying Colors Easily by Sandra Burgess

The Rainbow II Color Reader identifies over 40 colors, plus it can be used to detect LED lights on appliances, etc. It comes on a keychain, and I find it works better than my previous color reader. This product is available from Amazon with free shipping for Amazon Prime members, or you can buy directly from the manufacturer using Paypal. The price is $72.00 plus $4.99 shipping. This price is much lower than buying from catalogs devoted to products for folks with vision loss.

Making a Memory by Trina Bassak

I love it when family members want to contribute to "making a memory." They have bought me ski gear and contributed in so many ways to a memorable week at the Ski for Light International event. I have met and kept many special people and friends at this event. I have networked on many topics and found great resources as well as rebuilt my self esteem. It is my chance to travel alone, rely only on myself and reflect on my life goals! It truly has been a wonderful gift. Find out more about "Ski for Light" in a post by fellow peer Mary Hiland.

mary and her guide standing on the slopes

Caption: Mary Hiland Skiing with Guide

Other memories included trips to plays, concerts, craft shows, unusual lunches or dinners and special time spent with friends and family in so many ways! These are my favorite gifts of all.

Keeping Fit by Lenore Dillon

I suggest the gift of keeping fit (especially after the holidays when we are all making New Year's resolutions to lose weight). Blind Alive has created a wide range of workouts especially designed for individuals who cannot see and follow what the instructor is doing. Unfortunately Blind Alive is going out of business. But for the holidays, are providing all digital workouts are free from now until Dec. 31st.

Other Articles on Gifts

Gift Ideas

Homemade Gift Ideas

The Benefits of White Cane Day

collage of children using white canes, and the slogan: Keep Calm, It's Just a Cane

Many communities have a special event on October 15th, to promote the white cane, and to honor its users. Events may range from an exhibit table in a mall, to blocking off streets and marching through the city. In either case, the goal is twofold: First, to let drivers and pedestrians know what the white cane means. Secondly, to let the public know that people who have a vision loss are productive citizens.

Alabama's Celebration of White Cane Day

For the past six years The State of Alabama has celebrated White Cane Day in a big way. The celebration has moved around from year to year. Birmingham, Talladega, Huntsville, Mobile, Tuscaloosa, and Montgomery have hosted White Cane Day events. White cane walks have now become an Alabama tradition.

On Saturday, September 29th, we met on the Capital steps for the opening ceremony. God and country were honored by prayer, from the pastor of Alders gate United Methodist Church. The pledge of allegiance was led by local boy scouts and girl scouts. While the National Anthem was sung by Dana Barber, Coordinator of Blind services. Dr. John Mascia, president of Alabama Institute of the Deaf and Blind, and Jane Elizabeth Burdeshaw, Commissioner of Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, each gave a motivationally charged speech that energized the crowd. As we were gathered together on the State Capital steps there was a feeling of standing on hallowed ground.

We passed many historical sites as we made our way to Montgomery’s historic River Walk. Audio descriptions were provided for each site; thus participants, both blind and sighted, were able to appreciate the rich history of downtown Montgomery.

Fun continued after arriving at the River Walk. Eighteen exhibitors displayed products and services. A variety of games such as a beeping Easter egg hunt, and goal ball were available for children. Russell Craig, a blind musician, provided entertainment. Of course, everyone loved the free food, water and Italian ice.

Results of White Cane Day Events in Alabama

It was during the fun and festivities at the River Walk that the benefits of White Cane Day surfaced. Three surprising results emerged.

  1. First, students from the Rehabilitation Department from Alabama State University volunteered. They served as human guides, helped with games and with lunch. Not only were they helpful, they fell in love with our profession. Largely because of their enthusiasm, plans are being made to have a guest lecturer come to their class and introduce Vision Rehabilitation Therapy and Orientation & Mobility as possible professions.
  2. Secondly, a local ophthalmologist came and brought her family. Her only concern was that she did not know about the event in enough time to invite her patients. She said it would be a good way for her patients to learn more about vision loss, services available, and to meet other people with a vision loss.
  3. Perhaps the greatest surprise came when blind and sighted children started playing together. It was exciting when they worked together to find a way so that everyone could play tag. We may have some young Vision Rehabilitation professionals in the making.

Putting on a White Cane Day event takes time, effort, team work and planning. It is challenging! The three events described above made it worth all the effort. May White Cane Day live forever!!!

More About White Canes and White Cane Day

Read a history of white cane day

Find out about orientation and mobility skills.

Learn to travel with hearing and vision loss.

White Cane Day Highlights the Importance of White Cane Training

Where Can I Get White Cane Training?

Many people with vision loss are not aware of their need to learn safe travel skills. When they finally realize they are no longer moving around safely and look for training to use a white cane, they often experience long waits for services. Sometimes they are even told there is no such training available in their area due to budget cuts and a shortage of professionals who teach cane skills.

In honor of White Cane Safety Day on October 15, VisionAware is highlighting the Leader Dog Orientation and Mobility program.

client walking on sidewalk using cane being supervised by instructor

Caption: Leader Dog Orientation and Mobility Instructor Supervising Client Learning Cane Skills

Orientation and Mobility training (which includes white cane training) provides people with vision loss the essential skills to get around, to live the life they desire-without limits. Specially trained instructors provide this training.

Several years ago, I was fortunate to take the training at Leader Dogs for the Blind. I was on a long waiting list for orientation and mobility services in my state. Realizing how much I needed to learn these skills to be independent and safe, I knew this was a great opportunity so I applied.

Are you or someone you know in need of white cane training? Read about the program and find out more about this free training available to anyone who wants to learn how to travel safely and independently! Not only is the week-long course free, but it also includes airfare to the training center in Michigan.

More About White Canes and White Cane Day

Read a history of white cane day.

Find out how using a white cane gives confidence and safety.

Read "What will people think about me if I use a white cane?".

Use the VisionAware Directory to find more orientation and mobility services.

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