by Brad Hodges
From the Editor: If you are like me, this time of year is filled with frantic agonizing over your holiday gift list. I asked the staff in the International Braille and Technology Center (IBTC) to make some suggestions that could help us all both with our shopping and with giving others ideas of things we might enjoy receiving. This is the list that Brad Hodges came up with:
Finding the perfect gift can be a challenge. What exactly do you get for someone who has everything? What about those gadget-happy individuals on your list? While we on the IBTC staff can’t promise that you’ll find something for everyone on your list, here are a few ideas that Santa may wish to consider.
We have provided at least one vendor or source for each suggestion, but you may also find many of these items in your own community. If you have questions, call the Technology Answer Line at (410) 659-9314 and choose option 5 from the automated greeting.
Word Wise 2000:
National Braille Press
Books are always popular gifts, and this one is on the top of the list for those of us who use Microsoft Word 2000. Sharon Monthei, the nationally recognized trainer and author, has created this clear, easy-to-use tool. Available in Braille, large print, and diskette, the book offers detailed step-by-step guidance for configuring MS Word for use with a screen reader. Word Wise will be equally appreciated by the first-time user of Word and those who are experienced but need a quick set of instructions for using one of Word’s more esoteric functions.
Earthlink Internet Services
$21.95 per month, or $19.95 per month if prepaid for one year
Getting connected to the Internet can open a world of opportunities and allow you or someone on your gift list to keep in touch. Earthlink is one of the nation’s largest Internet service providers (ISP’s). They have consistently proven themselves to be reliable. With more than 7,500 dial up locations throughout the country, service is available nationwide. The kind of connections offered by Earthlink works well with computers using screen-reading software. The experience of the IBTC staff and others is that technical support is consistently good and that users who run screen readers have not encountered problems when asking questions of the help desk.
Scanner and optical character recognition software:
Give the gift of reading; it’s easier and less expensive than ever. Installing either of these scanners and the TextBridge Pro software makes any computer a reading machine.
Epson Perfection 1250 Color Flatbed Scanner, desktop:
retail locations nationwide
CanoScan N670U Flatbed Color Scanner, mobile:
retail locations nationwide
TextBridge Pro Millennium, CD, Windows:
retail locations nationwide
When combined with either the Epson Perfection desk top scanner or the Canon Canoscan mobile scanner, TextBridge Pro provides high quality optical character recognition accuracy at a fraction of the price of specialized software for the blind. Because these scanners and TextBridge are off-the-shelf products, they are also relatively easy to obtain either online or at retail outlets.
The Epson Perfection 1250 is at the top of the list of desktop scanners that the IBTC staff recommends. It is easy to use, easy to set up, and fast.
If you have always thought it would be great to be able to take a reading machine to class or the library with you, just slide the CanoScan and your laptop into a bag and head out. It’s easy to do since this USB (universal serial bus) scanner measures only 1.4 inches by 10.1 inches by 15.1 inches and weighs in at under four pounds. And you don’t even have to find an outlet; it draws power from your computer. Please note that you must install a screen reader to use TextBridge, and its standard Windows interface differs from those found on blindness-specific reading systems. We recommend these products only for those who are already familiar with the use of a screen reader.
If the Santa who slides down your chimney is a generous sort of fellow, you might want to ask for the ultimate hi-tech gadget, a Braille notetaker.
$1,999 to $5,495
With almost a half a dozen offerings running the gamut from voice only with either Braille keyboard or typewriter keyboard to units with thirty-two-cell, refreshable Braille displays, BrailleNote has taken the notetaker scene by storm this year. These versatile and rugged digital companions include a full-featured word processor, planner/organizer, scientific calculator, and impressive e-mail program. BrailleNote units are more Windows-compatible than any other notetakers currently available, making it easy to create and share files in the MS Word format. It’s a mighty big package that fits into almost any stocking.
Games are perennial holiday favorites. Here are two that those who like games of the computer variety will find especially fun and challenging. Neither requires a screen reader. They also receive raves from the elves in the IBTC.
Grizzly Gulch Western
The Web page says it all: “Grizzly Gulch Western Extravaganza” is a virtual world set in the Old West created purely from sound imagery. You will have the chance to meet and interact with many crazy characters as you explore the town of Grizzly Gulch. Would you like to settle into the saloon for a game of chance or try to make a name for yourself upholding the law against some of the baddest outlaws in the West with your trusty six-shooter in blazing arcade-style gun battles? It’s all up to you.”
We agree: the quality is outstanding, and the easy-to-use control layout uses only four keys. Headphones are suggested for more advanced levels of play.
ESP Soft Works
Again the Web page says it best. “Take hold of any of six available themed pinball tables and set the ball in motion for non-stop pinball excitement! Each table has its own variety of theme sound effects and ambience as well as scoring objectives. Score mega-points in this real-time accessible pinball game that’ll keep you coming back for more.”
These games also use simple controls but are very challenging. The six tables include widely differing sounds and layouts such as Classic Pacman, Soccer Star, and Haunted House. Not all of the IBTC elves have mastered these virtual pinball machines.
Grown-up toys for grown-up boys and girls are always welcome. Here are a few you will find in daily use by IBTC staffers.
Hand-Held Digital Recorder:
What’s about the size of a deck of playing cards, holds two hours of recorded information in memory, is accessible by blind people, has four separate folders to organize voice messages, and does more? It’s the Panasonic RRQ-R240 digital voice recorder. The well-executed controls of this recorder are easy to use and provide a beep tone whenever they are pressed. Messages can be quickly reviewed with the thumb-wheel control on the top of the machine. The speed of playback can be doubled for even quicker retrieval. No, changing the batteries does not erase the messages.
Digital Answering Machine:
AT&T 1725 digital answering machine
Full Life Products
Santa’s number one fan, Curtis Chong, personally recommends the AT&T model 1725. The unit allows up to four separate voicemail boxes. All control functions and status messages are spoken aloud. The quality of the outgoing message is high, and recorded messages are easy to understand.
Panasonic Cordless Telephones
Target, Office Depot, Best Buy, Circuit City
Panasonic cordless telephones offer a range of features at a variety of prices. A number of them are in use in the IBTC. We particularly like the speaker-phone feature on one which was purchased for only $62.95. Meanwhile the range on the 900 mhz digital units is exceptional, allowing the phone to be used almost anywhere in the National Center.
You will find a dizzying number of offerings from Panasonic, so look carefully before deciding on a particular phone. We have also noticed that units with less complex or no visual display are the most accessible.
Santa’s helpers in the Materials Center are standing by and are eager to help you meet your gift-giving needs. Feel free to call them between 8:00 and 5:00 Eastern Time.
NFB Materials Center
(410) 659-9314, option 4 on the automated greeting
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
A light probe is a simple, practical, versatile gift. Whether detecting control lights on electronic equipment, checking for light in the room, or assisting in a variety of other tasks, this timeless tool comes in handy.
$35, Carbon Fiber
The 50/50 cane is the newest NFB cane. It separates into two sections connected by an elastic cord. It provides the solid feel of our long canes and the convenience of collapsible designs. Available in lengths from fifty-five to sixty-three inches in two-inch increments.
Sony Dream Machine:
This is the ultimate talking clock. The Sony Dream Machine combines an AM/FM stereo radio, CD player, and built-in talking clock. The clearly understandable time announcements are made through the speakers. The table top design offers good bass response. Setting the time and alarms is easy because of voice prompts that let you know what each control does and what you have set.
Attach the Luggage Locator to a suitcase or anything else you want to be able to locate by sound. Keep the key-ring-sized remote control with you. When you want to know where the Locator is, press the button. The Locator will produce a clearly audible ringing tone as long as you are pressing the remote button. This was one of the most popular new items at the 2001 convention.
Talking Caller ID:
The IBTC receives many calls asking where to buy a talking caller ID. You can now order one from the Materials Center. The clear male voice announces the caller’s number. You can also record the names associated with special numbers in your own voice.
Men’s German Braille Watch:
These quartz watches offer German precision in workmanship and materials—gold with white face and jeweled dots at the hours.
Braille Alphabet Blocks:
These solid hardwood blocks are maple. They have both print and Braille lower-case letters. They also include the Nemeth numbers and math symbols—twenty-seven blocks, four complete alphabets, numbers, and math symbols.
Braille Math Blocks:
This set includes sixteen embossed wooden blocks; two complete sets of numbers; and minus, plus, and equal signs in both the Nemeth Code and print.
Both the alphabet and numbers sets are manufactured in the United States by Uncle Goose Toys. They are durable, timeless toys that will be enjoyed for many years to come.
Feel and Find:
For young children this fun game is a good way to learn shapes and use of the sense of touch. More important, reaching into the cloth bag and finding the next piece is lots of fun. The set includes twenty matching shapes and 3D textured tiles in a cloth bag.
Kenneth Jernigan Map of the United States:
Dr. Kenneth Jernigan was our leader and our teacher. The map which bears his name is the most detailed take-apart topographical map of the United States available today. Mountains, major bodies of water, and state capitals are detailed. The states can be removed from the base, where the abbreviation for each can be read in Braille.
Electronic Greeting Cards:
Blue Mountain Cards
Free on the World Wide Web
Select and customize hundreds of electronic greetings. This screen-reader-friendly site lets you choose a card, enter your name and message, and send the card to one or many e-mail accounts. The cards are also easily read by screen readers in case your recipient uses one. The site also offers an extensive array of fee-based greeting-card services, including printing and mailing of greeting cards from the Web.
Electronic Shopping and Gift Certificates:
If the idea of facing the holiday madness at the mall is more than you can handle, why not take that old, still valuable advice to let your fingers do the walking?
The following Web sites are screen-reader-friendly and popular around the IBTC:
Browse among over 100,000 CD, VHS, and DVD titles. Look up disks by title or artist or search for a favorite song for yourself or that hard-to-shop-for music aficionado.
While this site may not be for the novice Internet user, it nevertheless contains a tremendous variety of books, movies, audio CD’s, and electronics. Reportedly one prominent NFB staff member did all his shopping last season at Amazon.com.
These three shopping-mall fixtures also offer Websites. In the past year they have called upon the NFB to help them create Websites that are useful to the blind. They have followed our advice, so, if you would like to give online shopping a try, we can’t think of any better places to do it.
You can also use gift cards, purchased at retail stores only, to place orders from your computer. So if you’ve been thinking about taking the plunge and shopping online, these three Websites are the place to begin.
The holiday season is traditionally a time of giving, a time to share something of ourselves with those around us. Let’s not forget to share that most wonderful of gifts, the National Federation of the Blind. Our movement and our love for one another are something valuable; let’s tuck a bit of it into each card and gift we wrap this season.
Also why not make a financial gift to the NFB? It is the perfect gift for friends who have everything and for everyone else on your list as well. Our campaign to build the National Research and Training Institute is moving along; think of what a gift to it will mean to future generations. Perhaps you have a loved one who is no longer with us this year; wouldn’t a gift in his or her memory to our Campaign to build the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind be a fitting and permanent way to share the true meaning of this special time of year? Happy Holidays from the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind.