The Braille Monitor                                                                                         October, 2003


Suggestions from the IBTC Holiday Elves

by Brad Hodges

From the Editor: When the International Braille and Technology Center (IBTC) staff have put their minds together before to suggest holiday gift ideas, readers have been enthusiastic. Here is this year's list of ideas. Whether you give or receive them, we hope they help you in the coming months.

The holiday season is rapidly approaching. For some the seasonal requirements to find that perfect gift are an exciting challenge; for many more the idea of hunting up something of use is a daunting task about as pleasant to contemplate as the next appointment with the dentist.

We have great news for those who struggle to generate really clever gift ideas. In FY 2003, Santa implemented an advanced enterprise solution, facilitating distributed fulfillment and real-time collaborative communication. He has referred the research and development of this gift list to a particularly busy group of elves. Housed at the Baltimore regional office, otherwise known as the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, these well-informed holiday advisors make the following suggestions.

1. Compact flash memory and a compact flash reader. It is about the size of a matchbook and can store the equivalent of over 400 floppy disks: it is compact flash. All notetakers currently available can use this economical and amazingly convenient storage technology. When you insert the flash card, the device recognizes it just as it would a hard disk or floppy.

Connect a USB flash reader to your PC, about $30, and voilą!, you can slip the card in the slot and instantly read, transfer, or save files to it, just as you would to a hard drive.

2. Microwave oven with convenient tactile controls. Not all good things come from Santa's workshop. Some can be found at the mall or at Sears. Two of these useful devices are the GE JES1246 microwave oven and the Sears Kenmore Elite 63664.

The GE unit is a medium-sized, counter-top oven. Of particular interest are the controls, which are not the traditional flat-panel variety. Each control is an easy-to-feel bubble in the flat background surface.

The Kenmore is a top-of-the-line, over-the-stove model. As with the GE, you can easily identify all of the controls by touch. Each function of the oven and all the digits have separate push buttons.

3. MP3 player. Since elves are a diminutive group, they are really excited about the RCA Lira MP3 player and the Book Port from APH.

The Lira is amazingly small, about the size of four match books, and easy to use. The player has four basic controls, is a powerful music machine, and supports MP3 and WMA file formats. Connected to your PC or using a memory card, not compact flash, you can convert your CD collection to MP3 files and download hours of music for listening on the go.

The Book Port is about the size of a VCR remote control. In addition to MP3 file playback, you can also download DAISY digital talking books and standard text files. If you remember the Road Runner with fondness, you will probably put the Book Port high on your list. As an added convenience this device accepts compact flash memory cards.

Both units require stereo headphones. A high-quality pair is always a welcome gift. We'll let you in on an elfin secret: Santa gets his phones from <> or by calling toll-free (800) 828-8184.

Ann Taylor holds the Telex Scholar DAISY book player.
Ann Taylor holds the Telex Scholar DAISY book player.

4. Portable digital talking book player. Since students always enjoy high-tech gadgets, especially those that combine elements of school work and relaxation, consider a digital talking book player from Telex or Visuaid. Since most college students are using digital books recorded on CD-Rom from RFB&D, check with them to ensure that the unit you are considering will play their titles. When study time is over, the player can also pump out tunes from music CDs.

If you would like to give some music CDs, we'll let you in on another elfin secret: <> is a relatively accessible shopping site, which allows you to preview many of the titles.

5. High-quality, tabletop radio. What is the perfect gift for the audiophile or the person who craves the highest-quality sound in the smallest possible package? Why, one of the current crop of tabletop radios available from Tivoli, Cambridge Sound Works, the CC Crain Company, or Bose.

Brad Hodges holds the Tivoli Portable Audible Lab (PAL).
Brad Hodges holds the Tivoli Portable Audible Lab (PAL).


Tivoli offers wonderfully crafted mono and stereo radios. All of them share the same manual tuning mechanism and straightforward controls, a total of three in all. Mono tabletop, mono portable, and a two- or three-piece stereo version are available. The sound is fantastic, and the feel and quality are unsurpassed.

Cambridge Sound Works offers an all-in-one stereo clock radio, which rivals or surpasses most stereo receivers for sensitivity and selectivity. Either as a radio only or with a built-in CD player, the reviews are outstanding.

If you also want short-wave, check out the CC Radio from CC Crain. It is tweaked for maximum AM performance and is portable. Instructions recorded on audio cassette are also available at no additional charge.

Bose is the big boy on the block in tabletop audio. It has earned a reputation for quality and outstanding sound over many years. The Bose Wave Radio is a perennial favorite among reviewers. It is available direct from Bose as a radio only or with an integrated CD player.

6. Internet service. Santa is making a list and checking it twice to see who is online, and he has noticed that lots of households might enjoy Internet service during the next year for the first time. The IBTC elves unanimously agree that Earthlink is as good as it gets. They especially appreciate the fact that, if you call technical support and tell them that you are using a screen-access program, your agent will not try to run off and hide, as can sometimes happen with other Internet providers. DSL service is also available from Earthlink. If you are subscribing to DSL, request one of the new generation of UHP modems. These allow you to read the modem settings independently with either JAWS or Window-Eyes, a real advantage when trouble develops.

If you think that someone you know would enjoy using the Internet but really doesn't like the idea of learning to use a computer, consider Internet by Phone. It is an alternative that some people may really enjoy, especially those who are primarily interested in simple email or other information.

7. PC-based reading, Kurzweil 1000 and Bookshare subscription. The computer can be both powerful and flexible. Among the most useful technology available is that which turns the lowly PC and an ordinary flatbed scanner into a reading machine.

Kurzweil 1000 is a powerful and mature software package. It is designed specifically as a self-contained reading package for the blind. In addition to scanning and reading text from almost any kind of printed publication imaginable, the software supports fax-sending and -receiving.

Bookshare is an online service that allows subscribers to post and download scanned books and other materials. The text quality is rated as part of the annotation for each item, allowing you to decide if you care to download the text. Registration in print is required; subscribers must meet National Library Service qualifications in order to use the service. Modest registration and annual subscription fees are assessed.

While elves possess many talents, building scanners is not among them. Therefore they suggest the Epson 1660 flat bed scanner. Remember, scanner models change rapidly, so check with Kurzweil before making your choice.

Robert Jaquiss reads a print/Braille book.
Robert Jaquiss reads a print/Braille book.

8. Books for one and all: Seedlings books for children, Children's Book Club from National Braille Press, Twin Vision® lending library for children, and Free Braille Books.

So you want to find a gift that doesn't require regular recharging or a connection to the Internet and will last for years? Try some of these books, publications, and services--no assembly required.

The Children's Book Club from National Braille Press offers a new print/Braille children's book every month for preschool through third grade. The same children's picture book you buy at any store is enriched with the identical text in Braille, embossed on transparent plastic sheets. Prices range from $4.95 to $15.95. There are two ways to join: free membership entitles you to receive monthly notices (in print or Braille) describing each month's featured book. You are not obligated to buy. For a yearly subscription of $100 you can automatically receive a print/Braille book each month.

Seedlings: Braille Books for Children provides books for children of all ages, from board books that encourage toddlers to explore on their own to classic children's literature for older readers. Averaging $10 in price, many titles are available.

Free Twin Vision® books for prereaders and Braille books up to the eighth-grade level are available on loan from the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. Complete an application by going to <>.

In addition, thanks to another program from this organization, blind children can now discuss the newest book with their classmates and build their very own collections of books--just like their sighted friends. The program is called Free Braille Books. For several years now it has concentrated on making available, free of charge, titles from a number of popular children's series. Children receive six books from one series each year. Recycled books from past series can be obtained from the National Center for the Blind, if available, upon request.

9. DVD/VCR player, described movies, and a talking remote to operate the machine. Everyone has at least one couch potato on his or her holiday list. Why not make the cold midwinter more entertaining this year? Sony offers the SLVD 300P, a nicely packaged combination DVD player and VCR. The unit is the size of a standard video component and connects to virtually any TV, with both s-video and component video outputs.

Although the controls of the unit are usable with the included remote and front panel controls, DVD menus are generally not accessible. VCR performance is impressive with a fast, smooth transport and a quick rewind time.

It isn't much fun to have a DVD player or VCR unless you have a movie or two or three. More than 200 described movie titles are now available from DVS Home Video. No special equipment is required; only a standard TV and VCR are needed to enjoy home videos. All videos are sold at the suggested retail price--no additional charge for the description.

A limited number of described DVDs are available from DVS. Accessible titles include several programs from PBS's American Experience as well as the holiday classic, Dr. Seuss: How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Collectors' Edition (Universal Studios Home Video, available wherever DVDs are sold).

Steve Booth uses the Accenda Universal Talking Remote.
Steve Booth uses the Accenda Universal Talking Remote

The Accenda Universal Talking remote control is causing quite a stir among Santa's geekier elves. The fully accessible remote allows you to control a TV, VCR, cable box/satellite receiver, and more. All keys announce their function when pressed. Don't feel like pressing the keys? Just talk to the remote, and it will respond to your voice commands. Like all universal remotes and voice-operated electronics, setup time and some learning are required.

A less expensive alternative universal remote is the RCA 600RS 6-in-1 remote control. The keys are well laid out, and the overall feel of the unit makes for smooth channel surfing.

10. A gift of your time and talent. Time is money, or so it is said, and most of us have more time than money. Why not give someone you know a gift of your time.

Assist a senior citizen or newly blind person by introducing him or her to NFB-NEWSLINE®. Obtain a registration form and help fill it out and send it to the national office. If you know someone who is already a subscriber but who isn't familiar with the system, sit down and teach him or her what you know about NFB-NEWSLINE.

America's Jobline®, (800) 414-5748, is a free service that places thousands of jobs at our fingertips. Some people are not comfortable using the technology. Spend some time showing someone just how useful this tool can be. Maybe you will help someone land a job.

Our children are always in need of mentors and role models. Offer to spend time or attend an activity with one of our younger Federation brothers or sisters. Better yet, bring the entire family. The simple lessons of independence, when taught early, will last a lifetime.

11. A gift to the NFB. Hallmark tells us that its cards are the gift that keeps on giving. A donation to the NFB is the gift that keeps on growing. Whether it is in a local chapter conducting educational outreach during Meet-the-Blind Month, a state scholarship, or the countless programs operated at the national level, your dollars will continue to give all year long. Described movies are also available on loan from more than 1,000 public libraries. (All titles are subject to availability.) If you wish to purchase a DVS Home Video®, call (317) 579-0439. To request a large-print catalog, call (888) 818-1181. To request a Braille catalog, call (888) 818-1999.

Holiday Gift Sources

    1. Compact Flash and Compact Flash Reader

• Retail, Best Buy Stores, CompUSA, and Circuit City

• Online at <>

• Prices, flash memory from $20 for 32 meg to $200 for 512 meg. Readers from $20 to $40. Some readers can accommodate multiple memory card formats--handy if you have more than one device using removable memory.

     2. Microwave Oven with Tactile Controls

• Sears Kenmore Elite, model 63662 $529.

     3. MP3 Player

• RCA Lira Model RD 1071; J and R Music World, (800) 221-8180, $99.88 or <>. Commonly available at electronics stores and CompUSA

• Book Port, American Printing House for the Blind, (800) 223-1839, Model 1-07440-00, $395 plus shipping. Also available at <>.

    4. Digital Talking Book Player

• Available from RFB&D, <>. Prices, $249 to $995

    5. High-Quality Tabletop Radios

• Priced from $99 to $495, depending on manufacturer and model. Those with CD players included are typically priced at $100 more than their radio-only counterparts.

• Bose, <> (800) 999-2673

• Cambridge Soundworks, <> (800) 945-4434

• Crutchfield, respected reseller, Bose and Tivoli, <> (800) 955-3000

• Tivoli Audio, <> (877) 297-9479.

    6. Internet Service

• Earthlink, <> (800) 317-8454; approximately $21.95 monthly

• Internet Speech, <>; price depends on location and plan.

    7. PC-Based Reading

• Kurzweil 1000 reading package, Kurzweil Educational Systems, (800) 894-5374 <>

• Book Share, <>. Initial registration fees and yearly renewal fees apply.

• Panasonic Scanners, Best Buy stores, CompUSA, and other electronics retailers, $149 to $199.

    8. Books for Children

• National Braille Press, <> (800) 548-2373

Seedlings: Braille Books for Children, <> (800) 777-8552

• Free Braille Books, <[email protected]> or contact Mary Ellen Thompson to check on availability of past title selections, (410) 659-9314, ext. 361, or e-mail <[email protected]>.

    9. Movie and Video Equipment

• Sony SLVD 300P; Best Buy, Circuit City, and other popular electronics retailers, approximately $199

• Described Videos, DVS, <>

• Accenda Universal Talking remote control, $70, NFB Materials Center, <>, (410) 659-9314, when prompted, press 4 for the Materials Center.

• RCA 600RS 6-in-1 remote control; Radio Shack, other electronics stores, $19.95.

    10. A Gift of Your Time and Talent

• Costs you nothing or very little; is priceless to the recipient.

    11. A Gift to the NFB

• Any amount, 1800 Johnson Street, Suite 300, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998.