For any of my readers who are not visually impaired, you may be wondering if giving a friend or loved one who has vision loss a gift of low vision equipment, (or "assistive technology" as it is called), is an appropriate gift. I can understand your concern. On the one hand, some of the best gifts are those that make someone’s life better or easier, on the other hand, you may be afraid that this type of gift might be received in much the same way as a book about dieting might be. In other words, you don’t want to insult someone, especially if the recipient is really struggling with the emotional aspects of their vision loss. You might be worried that giving this sort of gift would be acknowledging circumstances that the individual him or herself may not yet be ready or willing to acknowledge.
While you may be thinking that buying a friend this type of gift is about as exciting as giving a housewife a vacuum cleaner, consider your intention along with the particular needs of the recipient to make it a gift that keeps on giving. Here are a few tips that may help you to identify the right gift for your special recipient.
Educate yourself. When it comes to assistive products, there is no one size fits all solution. You may not realize, for example, that different types of vision loss manifests differently in different people. Someone who has retinopathy does not literally see the world in exactly the same way as does a person who has macular degeneration. Therefore, it might be a good idea to take the time to identify the specific needs of your gift recipient. Learning a bit about how their particular disability affects them in day-to-day, real-world ways can help you to choose the most practical solution that is most effective and beneficial for them, as opposed to the latest whiz-bang gadget or gizmo.
examine the packaging. If you are giving a gift to a senior or a person who has a physical disability which may make it difficult to manage the product packaging, the impact of your gift may be lost if the recipient can’t get to it. Look for "frustration free" packaging, or simply prepare the gift in advance if you will be unable to be present at the time it’s opened. remove plastic ties or shrink wrap, slice open the bubble plastic so that the container is easy to handle (you can secure it with easier to manage clear tape), and check out the included instructions. If the gift recipient has low or no vision, and the instructions are printed on paper, your recipient will not be able to enjoy the gift if they do not possess the technology to scan and read the directions. Take the time to record the instructions on tape, or provide them in some alternative format so that it is accessible to the recipient. This extra step is part of the gift, and will be most appreciated.
Add the value of you. If your friend or loved one is having a hard time coping with their changing circumstances, make the discovery of assistive technology a shared experience. Learn alongside your loved one. this will not only reduce the intimidation factor of what they perceive to be a complicated process, but the shared experience will benefit you both.
Ask someone who would know. Do you know someone else who has the same disability as your gift recipient? If so, ask their opinion. Is this the best version of this particular product? Is it compatible with their current technology or equipment? Is the product or gadget as effective as you believe it could be? Will it do what the manufacturer says it will do? Is there a more or less feature-rich version of this gift that would be more appropriate? If you do not know someone who shares your loved one’s disability, go online and seek accessibility consultants or experts who will be glad to help. there is far more information available than you may realize. If you’ve come this far, it’s easy to continue to seek help. Just type "assistive technology gifts" or "low vision aids" into your favorite search engine, and explore the results. You’ll be amazed at the choices. You might even discover that instead of buying an expensive gadget, there are innumerable ways to make existing items more accessible for people with disabilities. Sometimes, keeping things simple can be the best solution of all.
One word of caution. When it comes to the notion of improving a person’s quality of life, ask yourself if you are really the best judge of what that is. Sometimes, there can exist a very fine line between the desire to help and the desire to control. Consider, for example how you might feel if someone concluded that your life was inadequate, and imposed all sorts of solutions that you did not want or need? What if, say your real estate agent decided that you didn’t need such a big house, it is unnecessary, and therefore you will only be shown one bedroom houses? Keep in mind that there are still people out there who fail to see the necessity of a computer or a cell phone. As foreign an idea as that may be to you, they do not feel their life is any worse for the lack.
On the other hand, a person who has a disability might really appreciate your contribution to what would otherwise be a purchase that is financially prohibitive. The market for assistive tech gadgets is far smaller than that of the market for say, the latest hand-held device that has an "i" in front of the name. Consequently, assistive products specifically for people with disabilities can be far more expensive than the mass-market counterparts. If you are considering a gift certificate, check out the online retailers who specialize in these products. Most offer gift certificates, and will even accept phone orders, which may be preferable for someone who does not yet have an accessible PC.
Good communication and a little extra investigation will yield the best gifts that your friend or loved one will use and enjoy, and you may give the best gift of all…the gift of love of learning, new experiences and fresh insights as to the exciting possibilities that await.