I am a visually impaired person living with no vision in my right eye and 20 over 1000 acuity in my left eye (20/20 is normal vision and 20/200 defines a person as legally blind). For the past twelve years, I have purchased a variety of items using different methods. I have ordered products from catalogs through the mail, ordered online and bought products in a physical location (store).
Purchasing an item for a visually impaired person sounds like a simple task but a host of unforeseen obstacles soon become evident., unfortunately, the obstacles appear after the initial purchase and the gift usually gets returned or worse put in a closet and never used. So, what is the best way to buy a gift for a visually impaired/blind person?
Considerations about the gift:
1. Visually impaired people like much of the same gifts as the sighted therefore, consider buying such gifts as the person’s favorite food, clothes, shoes, books)taped), or music. In addition, find out if the person has a favorite hobby or craft, attends certain events, listens or follows a sports team or enjoys a physical activity(some dance, play music instrument or cook) then, purchase a gift assisting the person to participate in whatever they enjoy doing. **Hint: Transportation is a major barrier preventing a visually impaired person from participating. A great gift is to offer transportation to one of the person’s favorite events.
2. If you have decided to purchase a gift especially designed for a visually impaired person it’s helpful to consider the following:
a. Length of time person has dealt with vision loss – a person born blind or with low vision will have different needs than a person who loses vision later in life.
b. Training or education received – A visually impaired person requesting help receives a full assessment. The assessment involves testing to identify the needs of the person including specific types of assistive technology and equipment. The amount of training a person received teaching the person how to deal with vision loss means the person would understand how to use assistive technology/equipment properly. Therefore, if you buy a video game designed for a visually impaired person trained then, the person will have the skills to play and enjoy the game.
c. The person – Of course, you need to consider elements such as the person’s age, physical abilities and if other factors influence the person. Some visually impaired people experience vision loss due to a medical condition. You would not want to purchase a Braille book for a person experiencing the loss of feeling in the fingers. A person with vision loss from diabetes may have neuropathy in the extremities and unable to read Braille.
How to make a safe purchase:
1. Spend time with the person and pay attention to the different types of products used on a daily basis and replace, update or upgrade a worn out or old product the person already uses.
2. Simply ask questions such as:
a. What are your favorite assistive products? Ask the person to be specific – product name, color, style, catalog or item numbers – it is much better to buy a product you know will help the person than to buy a product unusable. Example, my sister and brother in law purchased a large button TV remote control as a Christmas gift believing it would be easy for me to use. After opening the gift and a closer inspection of the set up directions, we discovered the remote was not compatible with the television I owned. Unseen compatibility issues, level of difficulty using and amount of education or training needed to use a visually impaired product could easily make what seems like the perfect gift unusable.
Personally, I would rather know I am receiving a gift I understand how to use, one that does not require additional training or the purchase of expensive accessories such as a specific type of batteries instead of a gift, which I have to return.
Therefore, the best method for buying a gift for a visually impaired/blind person is simply ask the person, “what do you need” or if you don’t want the person to know what the gift is, then “ask the person to name three or four different products the person has on a wish list and purchase one of the items.