As the 2021 holiday season kicks into high gear, many of us are searching for the perfect gift for the important people in our lives (and also our Secret Santa at work with whom we’ve never actually spoken). If there is a blind or low vision person on your holiday gift list, you’re not only looking for something that is thoughtful, fun, and useful, but you also have the added criteria that the gift is non-visually accessible.
Perhaps your child loves their new board game, but is there a Braille version for your blind nephew? Your parents are starting to have trouble seeing; what can you get them that will allow them to continue the activities they love? And then there’s that Secret Santa gift you have to get for your blind co-worker; you have no idea what he’s into other than sending passive-aggressive emails about your timesheet.
I am blind; beyond my own ideas, I also asked several blind teenagers, college students, young professionals, parents who are blind, older adults with vision loss, and parents of blind and low vision kids what they (or their toddler) might like to receive this holiday season.
Here are some of their suggestions:
In This Post You Will Find:
But First…The Obvious…
This should go without saying, but…all blind and low vision people are not the same! Therefore, we will not all want the same thing! We all have different hobbies, interests, talents, and skills.
Some of us are voracious readers who devour at least one novel a week. Others of us might not have time to read anything other than our Twitter feeds. Some of us run businesses. Some of us run marathons. Some of us play the guitar. Some of us play poker. My blind husband is into wood-working, fishing, judo, wake-boarding, and gets up at 5 AM every day to work out before the kids get up. Meanwhile, I do social justice work, figure skate, binge watch too much Netflix, and haven’t touched any of the gym equipment in our garage for months.
Similarly, some blind kids like playing or watching sports. Others like music or technology or Legos or sharks. There are senior citizens with vision loss who can’t imagine life without their iPhones and iPads. And there are other blind and low vision seniors who still love their desktop cassette players and think that the Internet is just a passing fad.
So, by all means, if your blind niece loves superheroes, get her some superhero capes. If your blind bestie loves yoga, get her a cute yoga mat. If your dad who is losing vision likes to cook, get him an apron and chef’s hat. This list is only meant to be a jumping-off point. Hopefully, the list includes a suggestion or two that would be perfect for the blind or low vision person on your holiday list. If not, I hope it will at least get you pointed in the right direction!
For Blind or Low Vision People of All Ages:
Books – Beulah Reimer Legacy, National Braille Press, and Seedlings Braille Books for Children offer large selections of Braille and print-Braille children’s books. These include board books for infants, print-Braille picture books for young children, and novels for older children and young adults. Print-Braille books allow sighted parents and blind children to enjoy books together and are also an excellent gift for blind parents with sighted children. “If the blind parent is a Braille reader and has sighted children, a subscription to the National Braille Press Book Club is a great idea,” said Laine Amoureux of Idaho,
If the person is new to vision loss, has a long commute to work, or has a hard time finding the time to curl up with a book, they might particularly appreciate a gift certificate to Audible, which has thousands of professionally recorded audiobooks. Audiobooks can be great for children to listen to during quiet time, for parents and children to enjoy together, for blind professionals to listen to on their commutes to work, for blind parents to listen to while taking care of housework, or for older adults to keep up with their book clubs or learn more about anything from personal finance to golf.
Audible also has a diverse collection of young-adult fiction that might make great gifts for teen-agers, as well as classic literature, new releases, bestsellers, science fiction, romance novels (even erotica!), personal finance, biographies, and dozens of other categories.
“Gift certificates or gift memberships for Audible are great gifts to blind people because sometimes you want to read a book on the day it is published and not have to wait until the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) or your local library has it available,” said Susan Mazrui of Washington.
Board Games – 64 Ounce Games makes Braille and tactile overlays for popular board games you can buy at the store. Young children love playing games such as Candyland, Shoots and Ladders, or Sorry with their friends and cousins. Older kids, teens, and adults might enjoy games such as Apples to Apples, Bananagrams, or Taboo. These accessibility kits make off-the-shelf games you may already have accessible for people of all ages. There is no reason for anyone to be left out of family game night!
Braille/Large Print Playing Cards – Teach your blind granddaughter to play Go Fish or Crazy Eights. Play blackjack or rummy at family game nights or with friends in your college dorm. Ensure that your dad who is losing vision can still enjoy poker nights with friends. A deck of playing cards can be a useful and fun gift for a person of any age.
For the Blind or Low Vision Child on Your Holiday List
Go! Go! Smart Animals Grow and Learn Farm Playset – “My little one is 2 and just got this for her birthday with the animals,” said Courtney Knoch of Ohio. “She loves that it says the name of the animal, the sound it makes, and the letter that the word starts with (P for pig – oink oink!). The farm responds to the animals and interacts with them, so it’s a great experience with all the animals living on the farm together and helps her make letter sounds, which she thinks is hilarious. It helps her with the idea of playing pretend as well as learning about the animals, which is nice since we don’t often encounter pigs and elephants in our daily life.”
Tic Tac Toe Wooden Board Game – This might be a fun toy for a kindergartener or elementary school student to play with siblings or friends. “When my son first lost his vision and before he learned Braille, this was one of the toys we could use,” said Shawna Vallillo of Connecticut.
Tactile Rubik’s Cube – This classic Rubik’s cube has different textures on each side and might be a fun challenge for both blind and sighted kids.
Braille and Large Print UNO Card Game – Even very young kids enjoy playing UNO. These UNO cards have both Braille and large print, so the whole family or group of friends can play together. This was my own family’s favorite nightly game during the initial coronavirus lockdown and it’s one of the few card games my sighted 4-year-old can understand.
Bop It! – This classic favorite is beloved by blind and sighted kids alike. The game commands players to either “twist it!” “pull it!” or “bop it!” in a random order. Players need to respond quickly and accurately. Be careful though. Moms and Dads are known to get a little competitive with this thing as well!
Eye Swear Apparel – “My son Kai, who is a blind teen, makes sarcastic blindness apparel, Rated G through R. Blindness advocacy with a twist!” said Kim Owens of Georgia. Some of these shirts, sweatshirts, and other items might make fun gifts for that angsty blind teen in your life. Slogans include perennial classics Grandma is sure to love, such as, “I can’t see you. I can hear you, dumb ass” and “I know I don’t look blind. But you probably look confused.”
Experiences – Let’s be honest. Most kids have more than enough toys. Why not gift a blind or low vision kid with passes to the local zoo, kids’ museum, bounce house, or waterpark? Your blind or low vision grandchild would probably love music lessons, swim classes, or an adventure camp experience. Judo, wrestling, swimming, powerlifting, and rock-climbing are sports that require few adaptations for blind athletes to compete against their sighted peers. Providing a blind or low vision child with a taste of any of these sports might light their competitive fire or lead to a lifelong fitness activity.
For the Blind College Student, Young Adult, Busy Professional, or Hard-Working Parent On Your List:
Uber and Lyft Gift Cards – Since people who are blind or have low vision don’t drive, we often walk or take public transportation to get to work, the grocery store, or to take our kids to activities. In larger cities, this can be done with relative ease. However, in many places throughout the United States, public transportation is inadequate to meet the needs of busy blind professionals or parents. Almost any blind adult of any age or stage in life would appreciate a gift certificate to a ride-hailing service such as Uber or Lyft. Before purchasing a gift certificate, it’s important to ensure that the service is available in your loved one’s area. Many small towns and remote areas are not served by Uber or Lyft.
Amazon Gift Cards – Have you ever had a hard time carrying your bags out of Target or the hardware store to your car? Now, imagine doing this all the way home. In the cold. With your four-year-old. It’s no one’s idea of a great time. Most people who are blind or low vision would appreciate a gift certificate to an online shopping site such as Amazon. Blind college students, working-aged blind adults, and older adults with vision loss generally love online shopping, especially for larger, harder-to-carry items.
Aira Gift Cards – Aira is a service that allows people who are blind and low vision to connect with professionally-trained sighted agents through an app on our smartphones. Using our smartphones’ cameras, Aira agents can read mail, give us information about our surroundings, read the label on medication, read the directions on a box of cake mix, or help us position the camera in order to take a great picture of a place we’re visiting.
As someone who has often needed to travel both across the US and internationally for work, I’m fairly comfortable navigating unfamiliar cities and airports. However, Aira has been a lifesaver to me when I was running late for a meeting in an unfamiliar city. I used my cell phone app to connect with an Aira agent who was able to find my current location through my phone and give me turn-by-turn directions as I walked to my destination. (Keep in mind that Aira agents are not meant to be substitutes for long white canes or guide dogs. Aira agents cannot tell you when it is safe to cross a street, so good orientation and mobility training is still a must!) Karen Plimmer from New Zealand said,
“Aira is very helpful for a blind parent who is trying to assemble toys with printed instructions; it can also be helpful when it’s not obvious where the batteries on a toy go!”
Mifold Booster Seat – As blind parents, my husband and I are constantly taking our kids to sports and activities. Our kids play ice-hockey, soccer, baseball, and also take ice-skating and swim classes. We enjoy taking them to the zoo, the kids’ museum, the bounce house place, and fun events around town. Because we don’t drive, this often means buckling and unbuckling car seats and booster seats in and out of Uber vehicles and friends’ cars several times a day. While my husband has no difficulty schlepping around car seats and booster seats with him around the mall, there is no way I could be as active with my kids as I am without the mifold booster seat. It’s so small, about the size of a paperback book, that it fits into my purse. When both of my kids were using them, I could fit both of their booster seats into a backpack. For years this has been, and continues to be, my top recommendation of a product for blind parents. (Keep in mind that a child must be at least 4 years old or 40 inches tall and 40 pounds to use a mifold.)
Kinsa Smart Thermometer for Fever – This can be a practical and appreciated gift for a blind parent with young children. “It’s not a talking thermometer, but it comes with an app you download onto your smartphone that is accessible,” explained Katherine Chavez-Chavarria of Arizona. “It lets you know when the thermometer is on and it reads in Celsius and Fahrenheit. It’s really cool because it also asks if you have any symptoms and you can add additional children to it. It keeps track of everyone’s temperatures and symptoms.”
Self-Care – “I want a spa day,” said Mika Baugh of Indiana. “Because the ableism and discrimination and the hours I spend getting access are tiring.” Let’s be honest. People who are blind and low vision go through a lot. We’re constantly navigating a world that was not designed with us in mind and encountering negative misconceptions about our capabilities. This results in a huge number of us being unemployed or underemployed, which carries with it all the challenges faced by poor and socioeconomically disadvantaged people. Those of us who are working often face long commutes on public transportation and constantly needing to navigate inaccessibility and ableism in the workplace. Many of us are tired of being resilient, persevering, and strong. Why not give the person on your list a gift certificate to a local day spa or nail salon?
Experiences – What is something your friend or loved one would like to do, but can never find the time or justify the expense? Ballroom dancing lessons, a restaurant gift card, movie theatre tickets, concert tickets, a day out with a fishing guide, or a night out at a comedy club all might make fun gifts that will lead to lasting memories.
For The Older Adult with Vision Loss on Your List:
Audible – Although Audible was listed above in the section for people of all ages, it makes a particularly good gift for an older person who is losing vision, doesn’t yet know Braille, and can no longer comfortably read print. Besides bestselling novels and new releases, Audible also carries a wide selection of classic literature, biographies, science fiction, personal finance, health and wellness, romance novels, literary fiction, and travel and tourism books.
Large Print Books – If the person on your list can still read print relatively comfortably, Amazon carries a wide selection of large print novels. Keep in mind that the industry standard for large print novels is 14 point font. This might be helpful for people who are in the beginning stages of vision loss, but can be difficult to read for long periods of time by people with more significant vision loss.
Bump Dots – Bump dots are small, tactile bumps that can be placed on oven dials, stoves, microwave ovens, dishwashers, washing machines, and other household appliances to mark buttons or positions on a dial. For example, many people put a bump dot on the 5 on their microwave oven keypad. With only the 5 labeled, it’s easy to know the locations of all the other numbers. (The 4 is to the left of the dot, the 6 is to the right, the 2 is above the dot, and the 8 is below the dot.) By simply marking the 5, the Start button, and perhaps another frequently used button (Defrost, Time Cook, etc.), your friend or family member can easily continue to use their microwave. Similarly, you may be able to put a bump dot on only the Warm setting on your washing machine’s dial and remember that Cold is to the left of the dot and Hot is to the right. Many people are surprised by how the addition of simple bump dots to household appliances can allow them to continue using them as they always have.
Uber and Lyft Gift Cards – This is another item listed above that can be especially useful for older people who have had to hang up their car keys. Uber and Lyft are convenient, on-demand ride-hailing services that allow the user to request a ride from an app on their smartphone. Although Uber and Lyft are convenient, it can get expensive to use them on a regular basis. Giving someone who has recently lost the ability to drive an Uber or Lyft gift card will help ensure that they can still go to the places they need to get, whether that is to work, to volunteer, or to enjoy events in the community.
Aira Gift Cards – As mentioned above, Aira is a service that allows people who are blind and low vision to connect with professionally-trained sighted agents through an app on our smartphones. Using our smartphones’ cameras, Aira agents can read mail, give us information about our surroundings, read the label on medication, read the directions on a box of cake mix, or help us position the camera in order to take a great picture of a place we’re visiting. Many older people with vision loss feel more comfortable knowing that they can always connect with a trained visual interpreter who can read, describe, or explain things in their home or even assist them in navigating at the grocery store or other public places. (Note: Aira is not a substitute for a white cane or guide dog.)
ZoomText is software that magnifies the contents of a computer screen and can also read portions of the screen aloud. It’s best for people who have lost significant vision, but can still navigate a computer screen visually. Besides magnifying the text and images that appear on screen, ZoomText also allows the user to customize the size and shape of the mouse pointer and the cursor and to customize fonts and color schemes in individual programs. While ZoomText will read emails and documents aloud, it’s assumed that the user can navigate the screen visually if font and images are enlarged enough.
JAWS: If someone has more limited or no usable vision, JAWS is a software program that allows people to access Windows, email, Internet browsing, and most other computer programs completely non-visually.
Both ZoomText and JAWS are for people who otherwise know how to use a computer. Most people who are already experienced computer users can teach themselves to use ZoomText on their own or with 10 hours or less of instruction from an adaptive technology instructor. Even if someone is an experienced computer user, and they have little to no vision and need to use JAWS, they will almost always need at least 10 hours of instruction with an adaptive technology instructor. In addition, many older people with vision loss who have never used a computer in the past can learn to do so. Blind and low vision seniors can learn to use email, the Internet, and other tools that allow them to stay in touch with friends and family and pursue their own interests.
But, learning to use a computer for the first time with ZoomText and particularly with JAWS will require significant training from an adaptive technology instructor. (To find an adaptive technology instructor, contact your state’s department of vocational rehabilitation or search for “your state Older Individuals who are Blind Program.”)
I hope that this list has at least given you some ideas for that special someone on your holiday gift list who happens to be blind or low vision. Happy Holidays!
Gift Guides from Unpacking Disability
Stacy Cervenka is a public policy analyst and advisor who lives in Lincoln, Nebraska with her husband Greg and children Leo and Josephine. When she’s not cleaning marker off the wall or dragging her kids around to sports practices and games, she competes in adult figure skating, co-hosts a YouTube show called Bad Blind Moms, and is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s biggest fan.