Braille Monitor                                                                                                           November 2004

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Gift Guide 2004

by Brad Hodges

Brad Hodges
Brad Hodges

From the Editor: Last fall the staff in the International Braille and Technology Center (IBTC) compiled a list of gift ideas for the holidays. Brad Hodges, IBTC technology accessibility manager, has taken the opportunity to add to it for the coming season. This is what he says:

Can it really be that the holiday season is in full swing? What would be the perfect gift for that hard-to-buy-for person on my gift list? What technology is new and interesting this year? These are not the usual questions fielded by the staff of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. Nevertheless, they are on the minds of many Monitor readers this time of year.

As good technologists the IBTC staff would most likely recommend that you consult a database like <>. Unfortunately, not all questions can be answered by Google. But the capable IBTC team can make some suggestions that may help. So here are some timely questions and answers that we hope will be useful.

Q: What would make a nice gift for the person who needs a new telephone or who would perhaps like to read NFB-NEWSLINE?

A: Several telephones come immediately to mind--the GE model 29322GE1 is a traditional corded telephone. Available from Best Buy stores or from <>, it is priced at only $17.95. It features a clear and easy-to-hear speaker phone. It also has a mute control, which makes NEWSLINE listening easier.

If a more high-tech phone is of interest or someone has a room where a phone is needed but there is no jack for plugging in a traditional phone, a cordless phone system may be a welcome gift. The IBTC uses a system from Motorola, and we have been pleased with its quality and flexibility. The MD400 2.4GHz expandable phone system begins with a base unit, available in several colors and both answering-machine and nonanswering-machine configurations. Up to four Motorola 2.4GHz Cordless Expansion Handsets can be added to the system. Only the base unit must be connected to a phone line. All remaining handsets require just one standard household electric outlet for power.

The phones sound good and are solid and pleasant to use. They offer the usual features found on advanced phones, including a clear-sounding speaker phone. Prices for the base unit range from $79 to $99, with handsets priced from $49 to about $79. Motorola phones are widely available from sources such as Office Depot and Best Buy and online at <>.

Phone accessories are always welcome additions for those who use the phone a lot. A headset for a cordless phone or a cordless phone-headset combo allows you to walk and talk at the same time with hands free to carry on with household tasks. Prices for these accessories range from about $19 to $59 for headsets designed to connect to an existing cordless phone and from $39 to $99 for cordless phone-headset combos. Again Radio Shack, Office Depot, Best Buy, and online electronics sources are your best shopping bet.

Q: I have friends who own their own home. What would be a nice gift to give?

A: How about a mailbox large enough to accommodate several Talking Book boxes. Restoration Hardware Stores and <> offer two elegant, sturdy, high-quality models available in a range of finishes from polished brass to matte black. One unit is horizontally oriented and should hold approximately four Talking Book containers. The larger box is vertically mounted and should accommodate six containers.

If your home-owning friends don't already have large, easy-to-read house numbers, these are also available from Restoration Hardware. Large, easy-to-read numbers make it easy for friends and cab drivers to find a house, especially in an unfamiliar area.

Q: I want to pick up a gift for someone who has just purchased a Braille notetaker; any ideas?

A: A travel tote or equipment bag may be the perfect accessory to help keep notetaker and related paraphernalia all together in one package. Wilson's Leather offers a men's travel bag for about $60. In addition to a large center compartment, the black leather bag includes pockets for a cell phone and other accessories.

If Wilson's is not convenient, or to have other options, most better luggage stores offer similar-sized bags. Tumy and Land both specialize in men's European-style totes.

Hint: learn the brand and model notetaker you are finding a bag for; then call the manufacturer to get the dimensions of the unit. Remember that most people want to carry a power cord and other accessories when traveling with a notetaker.

Q: What is the latest technology, something really new and practical?

A: An accessible thermostat is now available and might make the perfect gift. Available from Independent Living Aids, (800) 537-2118 or <>, the Thermotalk is priced at $129. This full-featured electronic thermostat announces the current temperature as well as all settings. It has the same features--including day-night setback--you find on other modern electronic thermostats. Models are available for heating only and heating/cooling combination systems.

Q: What can you suggest for someone who really likes to read? And is a portable music player available that can also read text?

A: Two products from the American Printing House for the Blind are favorite gift-giving suggestions here at the IBTC. The Handi-Cassette II, $170, has been on the market for a number of years and continues to receive high grades. It is portable and has a rechargeable battery and voice compression, which allows the listener to increase the speed of a Talking Book without the Donald Duck voice-distortion effect.

The Book Port, $395, was on last year's list of IBTC favorite gifts. Not content to stand still, APH has added more features this year, including support of books from <> and the ability to enter search requests in Braille.

The Book Port connects to your computer and allows you to read text files and play mp3 files from compact flash cards. Disconnect it when you have transferred your books or music and listen on the go. We continue to be impressed by the number of features, the high quality of the sound, and high level of customer support.

Both the Handi-Cassette II and the Book Port are available from APH, toll-free, weekdays from 8:00 to 4:30 Eastern Time, (800) 223-1839.

Q: I know someone who really likes radio. What can you recommend?

A: C. Crain Company (<> (800) 522-8863) offers the CC Radio. The unit, which is manufactured for C. Crain, features AM, FM, TV (channels 2 to 13), and Weather Service bands. The radio is said to be optimized for AM reception. The unique features of the radio include easy-to-learn control menus that beep as they are navigated and let you know when you have reached the top of a menu. In addition, cassette instructions designed specifically for nonvisual use of the radio can be requested at no additional cost. The CC Radio costs $164.

Many of the table-top radios reviewed in last year's gift guide are still available. Several of them have been updated. Tivoli has added a CD player to its line of mono and stereo radios, <>.

Q: Can I give a gift that will help all blind people today as well as future generations of the blind?

A: Make a donation to the NFB Jernigan Institute Imagination Fund. The Jernigan Institute is the most important new resource for research, training, and opportunity for the blind. The Imagination Fund helps in several important ways: funding the work of the Institute, supporting state affiliates, and providing funds for special projects in state affiliates. For information about the fund, call the National Federation of the Blind at (410) 659-9314, and ask for information about the Imagination Fund.


In last year's holiday suggestions article we recommended Bose radios. These are still excellent gift ideas, but here is more information you may find useful.

The new Bose Wave Music System costs $499 and has no controls on the unit. Instead it uses a credit-card-sized remote with a membrane touchpad. In the past many blind people have found these Bose touchpads quite usable, but Bose now also offers a remote with Braille in two sizes. The larger Braille is reportedly less crowded. The remotes can also be ordered for older units for $19.95. The IBTC has not reviewed this product. If you have occasion to use it, drop us a note to report your impressions: <>.


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