Braille and Holiday Gifts

It's never too early to start shopping for the holidays! This week, we discussed the usability and accessibility of braille in holiday gifts. We also shared ideas of where to buy these holiday gifts, from a variety of organizations and crafters.

September 19, 2019

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Audio Transcript


Embracing Braille – Braille and Holiday Gifts

Presented by Vileen Shah

September 19, 2019

Vileen S: Ladies and gentlemen. Today I'm going to talk about the braille gift world, all about the gifts available in braille.

Similarly, there are also other things, which I'm not going to say, because Lisa wants to tell you what those gifts are available where you have braille markers.

All right, so what is this gift world that we find in braille and what are the range of cards that are available in braille, where they're available, where we can buy and how we can get them at home even by Amazon or something else? All right over to Lisa.

Lisa: Thank you all for being here, I apologize for the quality of my connection it is not quite as good as I would like.

Before we start talking about sources for braille gifts, we need to talk about why braille gifts in general and why so early? I do feel a little bit like the stores that are putting out Christmas decorations before Halloween has come. But in this case, there really is a reason and that is that you can buy gifts with pre-made sayings on them. But you can also buy things with custom-made braille on them. And if you're going to do that then you need to get your thoughts in order and get your order in order early.

So now who might be a good recipient of braille gifts? Well for one, you might be. So you can say to family or friends I would really like this. You can give braille gifts to other blind friends. You can give them to vision professionals. Maybe you have a blind child and that child has a teacher of visually impaired. You can give them a braille gift, or you could just give them to sighted family and friends. I'll give you an example, I have a little charm that I have hanging from a fastener on my purse and it says "Sing" in braille and one of my nieces admired it and she sings and so I thought that would be a cute, unique thing I could get her for Christmas. It would be uniquely our thing.

It is important to know and to think about whether you are getting a gift for a blind person or a sighted person. I'll give you two examples. There are braille bumper stickers. They don't actually have tactile braille on them that someone who can't see could read but they have the dots printed. So it's kind of a novelty thing. The other thing that you have to think about is, if you're getting a braille gift for a blind person and I know this is going to sound like a no-brainer, but they're actually going to touch it. So I want to tell you a story about the worst braille gift I ever received, and I got not one of them but two of them in two different years from two different people.

It is one of those large, glass balls that you would traditionally hang from a Christmas tree. And I think if I remember correctly, one of them said "Merry Christmas" and the other said "Happy Holidays" or something. But they were in glitter. Well what's glitter? Glitter is tiny little shards of glass. I really didn't want to explore this a lot, I didn't, I mean it didn't really hurt but I just wasn't thrilled about the idea of exposing my fingers to tiny, little shards of glass.

Also, they weren't braille so much as they were little round circles put in the shape of braille. Glitter being what it does, it bleeds and moves and it had bled and moved and so it was very hard to read and it was an all-around awful gift because I was embarrassed because I couldn't read it well and it took me a long time and it just felt uncomfortable. So think about whether your braille is tactile. If it's just being seen, then you're good to go and apparently these balls were quite beautiful. I don't know whatever happened to them but I can't say that wherever they are I am particularly mourning their loss which makes me sound like an ungrateful recipient but that was not the case.

So let's talk about places where we can get gifts.

The first one is the American Printing House for the Blind. They have a lot of braille teaching materials. You can get braille teaching materials; you can get alphabet cards. You can also get a braille and large print calendar. They come out with one every year that has various artwork on it from contests that they run and then the top recipients are included in this calendar. It's a nice large, spiral-bound braille large print calendar.

Another thing that they have, and I have not personally seen but it sounds really neat to me, is a braille jewelry-making kit. So you get, I guess it's like elastic to make bracelets and you get these beads that have print and braille letters on them and because I had not seen it and because I couldn't see a picture, I called and I spoke to someone at APH. I wanted more information and basically what they said about the kit was that a grandparent might get this and do it with the child or make a bracelet for the child. Primarily the people who wear them would be kids or teenagers or maybe adults with very casual clothes. I think they're bright colors, they're primarily made for younger students and children.

Thinking about it also, I think APH has another braille calendar. This one is more like a binder and it allows you to keep track of various appointments. I should also mention to you that for each of these resources, I will send the show notes to Vileen so that they can be posted. I have the name of the company, the website and all cases but one the phone number and a brief summary of what they have.

Braille Designs is the next one that I have, and I became- well I had seen them before- but I became acquainted with them and dropped some of my money at their table at this year's American Council of the Blind Convention. They have t-shirts, they only list one on their website right now. You could certainly contact them if they to see if they have others. They had one at convention that said something about "I'll get you my pretty and your fake service dog too." That was in raised braille and print. The other one said, "Nevertheless she persisted."

They have all kinds of jewelry. Jewelry, dog tags, charms, things like that, key chains. I have a couple things from them and I'm just mentioning these as examples. I have a necklace that's a little round disc and it says "Spirit" on it in braille and there's a little dove and then the charm that I got that's on my purse is a square set on point and it has the word "Sing" in braille. They have a lot of really nice stuff and a variety. I believe they do custom work.

Now they do not list a phone number, but they have a website and they have an email where you can contact them. I find that she sometimes takes a little while to get back in contact so especially if you're looking for a custom item, you would want to contact her on the early side. Again, the things that she has are uniquely her own, but they are relatively common braille items. So for example you can get a fair number of t-shirts in braille. So if you don't like her selections, and there are many. I have seen one, from I forget where, said "If you can read this you're too close." You can look up braille t-shirts online and you'll find all kinds of options. Same thing with braille jewelry. Most of the resources I've listed here sell some kind of braille jewelry.

Let's see. The next company also sells jewelry, they sell predominately jewelry. This is Elegant Insights. She has braille jewelry, zipper pulls, charms, medical or, sorry metal bookmarks. Now she does things a little differently. She incorporates beads and crystals and things with braille jewelry. So there may be a word and then there maybe like little charms, little crystals, little beads there's kind of that added bling. Again just giving you my personal experiences. I had received one of these as a gift, and this really does make me sound like an ingrate which the two gifts I've mentioned I'm knocking. It had a lot more beads, a lot more bling than I like, and I actually removed those beads and added them to something else and the braille piece by itself to me was much prettier and just stood alone.

Again to give personal examples because we can all just rattle off research but if it gives you ideas, I think that's helpful. I have a friend who had a stroke and she's in a nursing home and her name is Joy and butterflies are very meaningful to her. They've been reminders to her of her mother. So I got her a necklace that is a butterfly and it has Joy on it in braille. Now it doesn't have any of the beads, any of the extra bling. Unfortunately, she couldn't wear it because it would get caught around the back of her neck and it would have scalloped edges and it would cut into her neck and because of the paralysis on one side it didn't work.

But my intent was always that when she came to the end of her life, I would then wear it as a remembrance. So I just have it a little early and I wear it I have a chain with a medical ID and such that I wear around my neck. I wear that every day and that I think is a really important thing to think about it. I had given somebody a braille dog tag style tag, which is if you're not familiar, is a rectangle with rounded corners and it says "Courage" because she was going through a lot of difficult stuff and she wears that on a necklace on a chain that she wears every day. So lots of options with both these jewelry companies and again they're both happy to do custom. I'm pretty sure that Braille Designs does, and I know that Elegant Insights does.

So let's move on and the next one is Braille Superstore and they have tons. I'm just going to read from my summary. Books, games, clothes, greeting cards, where did it go, okay hang on, we can get there, wristbands, key chains, pocket tokens, like coins with sayings, chocolate molds, bookmarks, magnets, books, calendars, etc.

Now I want to mention one thing, because this is slightly unfamiliar and I think I put in there they also have games, they have card games and other things. One thing that I saw that they have is chocolate molds and you can buy braille chocolate bars that say "Thanks" or "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Birthday" things like that. I haven't had a lot of success with these in all honesty.

Now this is a company that I have not personally dealt with myself, but others have and they're, they have a good reputation. I don't think they really make any of this stuff. For example like Braille Designs and Elegant Insights and American Printing House and others that we'll talk about, they have their own products that they've made in-house but I think these are their best of the best collected from all over.

Another place that offers some really nice and unique gifts is National Braille Press. They have a combination. So they have some things that they get from other places. They have some braille jewelry, they have, what else is from other places? Well the magnets sort of are because what they do is, they take those print kind of flat, square refrigerator magnets and they put braille on them. They have some funny ones and some inspirational ones. I have some of them and really like them. These to me make especially nice gifts because if you have friends that live a distance away from you, it's very simple to just slip one of these into a card because it's almost flat. That's a nice thing to consider.

They have a magazine, two magazines so you could subscribe to one of those. And then what National Braille Press is most known for are their books. They have them in hard copy braille and in electronic formats. So National Braille Press is most known for their books, they have them in braille and electronic formats. I love the variety that they have. They have books on how to use various technologies. I actually was privileged enough to help write one of these for National Braille Press on the Google Suite of products. They have them on various kinds of social issues that are related to blind people like there's one on Dating in the Digital Age. There are books of poetry, there are books that you can give as graduation gifts or inspirational gifts. I've given people before “Oh! The Places You’ll Go!”

There are crafts and recipes and tips books. Lots and lots of children's books so if you have little people in your life and you want to read with them then these can be really fun gifts. They also have cards, and, in this case, I mention it because they really distinguish themselves. They make something I haven't seen anywhere else and they have Valentine's Day cards. They're not "big serious greeting cards" like you would buy at a greeting card shop for, I don't know what the price is up to now it scares me to think, they're more like the small cards that you buy in individual packs that children give out. You can buy these for a blind child or if you just have friends and you want to give them out for fun. Like I've heard it said for kicks and giggles. It's a fun and different gift.

And the last place that I'll mention does something really unique and I have spent a fair amount of money with these people over the last few years. It gets a little confusing but the name of the business itself is called Touched by Fantasy but the name of the braille line of products she has is The Loving Touch Connection. She puts braille and print and graphics on ceramic. There are tumblers and wine glasses and mugs and treat jars and canisters and salt and pepper shakers.

Let me just give you a few examples. I have in my house a set of salt and pepper shakers and they have the S and a P in braille and in print and yes you can shake them. But I have no sense of smell so knowing which one is the pepper is helpful. They have little embossed smiley faces on them, and I think they're really darn cute. I got for myself a mug, and she has mugs that already have sayings on them but long story. I chose three words for my mug that were meaningful to me so my mug has butterflies on it and it says, and not like a Grade 2 braille you can do Grade 1, it says Sing Dance Shine.

Really, I think the braille gifts that you give are limited really only by your imagination. They're doing more and more things. I recently received a mug and the outside of it was plastic and there's braille embossed right into the mug and I would love to know how they did it and who did it. I think we'll see braille on more things. I remember when you couldn't find braille jewelry and now several places have it. The other thing is if you have an idea for a braille gift and it doesn't appear that it’s been thought of yet, think about creating it yourself or passing it along to someone who can. That is pretty much all I have but I'm happy to answer any questions that I can.

Vileen S: Thank you so much, Lisa. The quality of audio was not great, but the quality of information was great. I appreciate thank you so much.

Lisa: Thank you.

Vileen S: You did a good job I found your presentation to be enlightening and informative.

All right let's held the session open for questions and we have Lisa here to answer and anybody else can also answer the question. So let's see who goes first. Elyse?

Elyse H: Okay this is Elyse and the first person's hand up starts with the number 850, what's your name please?

Vileen S: Annely.

Annely: Guess who, it's your Florida girl.

Elyse H: Hi.

Vileen S: Hi Annely.

Annely: Hey, another resource that is available, it's called [crosstalk].

Vileen S: Wow.

Annely: And I met this young lady, I met her at an NFB Convention here in Florida, two years, well a year and a half ago, it was last year and she's visually impaired herself and her mother helps her with the business and I'm not sure how they got everything coordinated but she sells hats, shirts. I bought a tote bag from her table and I also bought one for a Christmas present last Christmas. It's like an oversize purse, they're really nice. She was selling them for $15. It has a zippered closure and on the outside there's one big pocket and two smaller, netted pockets and on the outside it says in embroidered letters in print "Say it in" and then it has the word "Braille" in raised dots and then over-sized dots and spread out. So it's really nice and the website is

Vileen S: Terrific, I'm pretty sure Lisa will add this to her list so that we can have a comprehensive list of totes and vendors available online. Okay thank you, Annely.

Annely: You're welcome.

Vileen S: Next one

Elyse H: Wonderful. Tammy, you're next in line.

Tammy: Hi. I have bought braille paper from the Superstore and I didn't think their prices were too bad and I also bought some thermoform paper from them too. I have looked up them on their website, so I don't really think their prices are too bad.

Vileen S: Okay good. Good to know. Thank you, Tammy.

Tammy: Thank you.

Vileen S: Next one.

Annely: Yes I just thought of another resource that I have seen on Facebook and it's called Two Blind Brothers and I don't know if anyone else has heard of them but I have seen them on Facebook and they make apparel. I don't know much about their apparel just that they are out there. Over.

Elyse H: And to piggyback, this is Elyse. So Two Blind Brothers came out with a new pair of sunglasses, very high quality although they look kind of cheap and plastic, but they are polarized both front and back for the sun. If it's coming behind your head, it will stop that glare as well and they are offering a lifetime warranty on the glasses. It's a steep price tag for sunglasses, if you ask me, but if you ever lose them or break them or they get crunched inadvertently you can let them know and they'll send you a new pair, if you purchase the lifetime warranty.

Going on the list this person's number starts 516. What's your name please?

Jonathan: Hello. My name is Jonathan. Thank you for having this discussion. This is a great subject. I wanted to ask Lisa, you've mentioned the one store called Touched by Design and then there was a second name for the line of braille products, and I didn't quite catch that, I was brailing at the time. I think it was Loving Touch something.

Lisa: Sure.

Jonathan: What was that?

Lisa: The name of the company is Touched by Fantasy and her line of braille is Loving Touch Connection. But the website I have takes you right specifically to the Loving Touch Connection products.

Jonathan: Excellent, great thank you very much.

Jodi: Hi there, it's Jodi from New Hampshire and I just wanted to comment that I haven't looked recently but if you went to the Hallmark store or even CVS and Walgreens a lot of times when you go to their greeting cards section, they actually have braille cards there. They're limited on the number that they have of course and they’re usually in the drawers underneath, you have to ask for help. They're even available in the Hallmark store and CVS.

Vileen S: Great information, yes so sometimes if we go to buy some medication or something else to Walgreens, CVS or buy when we go to buy some cards at Hallmark braille cards are available, that's right. Good.

Jodi: Yeah thank you.

Vileen S: Thank you. Next one.

Elyse H: Debra you're next in line. Go ahead.

Debra: Yes, hello I have probably the oddest gift offering that you will hear of today. If you have friends that are gardeners, and I actually tried this out at a gardening group. They're always looking for ways to protect their soil from plastics. And braille paper, so you can take just one of your magazines and tear it up or whatever. Braille paper makes a perfect lining for gardening plastic pots and they were so grateful because they're always looking for something that they can protect the soil. A lot of time the plastics will give off fumes and stuff that they don't want in the soil for their plants. I know that's really odd, but it was such a hit.

Vileen S: So Debra you can probably give somebody a braille magazine as a gift, and they can use it for gardening.

Debra: Yes or just they wouldn't even need, these people did not read braille, they just needed the product, they just needed the kind of paper that would not exude fumes and stuff on their soil and none of them read braille but they were very interested in which page they got, what does my page say? It was hilarious, I heard about it and they were so grateful. It was a group of about 15 gardeners jut had a potluck and it was like a door prize, like a little gift at the end. I know that's strange, but look for the strange, people like it.

Vileen S: I would say it's unique, not strange.

Debra: Oh okay.

Lisa: I want that on a t-shirt with an arrow pointing to myself, look for the strange. I love offbeat and creative stuff like that.

Elyse H: It's a very good way to recycle.

Debra: Yeah, no kidding.

Elyse H: Very earth friendly.

Vileen S: So definitely a way of recycling. All right thank you so much, Debra, for sharing.

Elyse H: We don't have anybody else with their hand raised but if people would like to chime in, please do so. Go ahead Tammy.

Tammy: Also for children and stuff, there's Seedlings books which are print and braille books for children, pre-school and stuff and you got other books that are just strictly braille.

Vileen S: Seedling books for children. Good. Okay.

Tammy: I just started them.

Vileen S: Any questions for Lisa about gift ideas?

Lisa: I actually meant to include Seedlings on my list and it escaped my mind so I'm glad you brought that up.

Vileen S: Good, good.

Elyse H: Tammy, yes Tammy you're next in line.

Tammy: The transition books, American Fund-

Vileen S: What was that American?

Tammy: Action Fund

Vileen S: Action Fund. Yeah they give you a calendar for free.

Tammy: For the [crosstalk] yeah for children, that's a possibility for American Action Fund for the Blind, for Blind Children and Adults. That's another possibility of books and also braille and print books together.

Vileen S: Very good, yes another source of buying and giving gifts. Okay very good, next one. Anybody else?

Elyse H: I think this is Rhonda. Go ahead Rhonda. Is this Rhonda?

Rhonda: Yes. Thank you.

Vileen S: Hi, Rhonda.

Rhonda: Hi, I'm not sure if this is a topic for a later date, but Lisa, I think it was also when you were speaking about the Touch by Fantasy you said you had chosen Grade 2 braille rather than Grade 1 and I had never heard of either of those. Is this another topic? Or I'm just new to this and have no idea.

Lisa: Probably a little of both. Grade 1 is uncontracted braille; Grade 2 is a system. Because braille is so large, they find ways to compact it so that there are contractions for things like PH or SH or ER. Most adults who grew up learning to read braille read Grade 2 or contracted braille. And most books for adults that are written in braille are written in Grade 2 but you can... I like to give gifts in Grade 1 braille if I can, if I'm giving them to a sighted person, because they really seem to like the letter by letter correlation and especially if it's a long message and it's not also in print. I'll give them a braille alphabet card so that they can find each letter.

Vileen S: That's interesting.

Elyse H: You let them decode their own card in braille.

Lisa: Yes, pretty much. I mean a lot of things are in large print but as well, but for example I talked about I'll probably get the charm that's says Sing for my niece and she knows what it says but it was a conversation we had in September that will be in December. So I'll probably give her a braille card with it so she can figure it out. A braille print alphabet card.

Rhonda: I like that you brought up the braille alphabet cards as well. My fitness class is for preventing falls and the instructor was trying to figure out how to describe to about 20 older people how to put their feet to do a bolero dance and she thought it was the braille letter J so I brought in my card so I could show her that it was actually the braille letter T where you put your feet for doing the bolero, dancing the bolero.

Elyse H: That's a very creative way to describe dance steps. I like that.

Vileen S: Yeah me too.

Rhonda: Then they wanted braille cards. So over. Thanks.

Elyse H: I found that too kids in elementary school age are fascinated with the braille alphabet in Grade 1 and doing little decoding workshops with them. So using that on a card would be a great application as well. Thanks, Rhonda.

We have another hand up. Your number starts 617, what's your name please?

Don: Don Watson, I have a couple of comments. First is that I was glad to hear that they were using braille paper for gardening because with all the recycling and other types of climate change stuff that I'm hearing, it's great to hear that braille paper is being re-used for something good besides reading and whatever. And also I wanted to comment on the Grades 1 and 2 braille. Now when I was a teenager, they were calling it Grade 1 is uncontracted braille and Grade 2 is contracted braille but then they started calling it all English braille and I'm saying "What's that?" Then when I got to be proofreader, a braille proofreader, I realized they were calling it EBAE, English Braille American Edition. The names for braille for contracted braille have cycled around but that's maybe why she hadn't heard of Grade 1 and Grade 2. We certainly heard about it when we were going to school.

Vileen S: Interesting, Don. I am Vileen Shah, by the way, the moderator of this session. Actually the origin of the terms for uncontracted braille and contracted braille, respectively, were Grade 1 and Grade 2 braille but then here in the United States we have grades in school. There are two or three kinds of grades but anyway you know you could be Grade 1 Grade 2 Grade 3 so what grade are you in? That's one of the questions people ask children. That that word grade was getting confused with Grade 1 braille. Does it mean Grade 1 braille is made for the children that are in Grade 1 at school and Grade 2 for the Grade 2 children? That kind of confusion was being created so at some point the people who make decisions for braille format decided to use the words contracted and uncontracted braille or rather Grade 1 is uncontracted and Grade 2 is contracted.

But in the United States in all of the confusion, I'm not sure what Canada, we have one a few participants from Canada what they say in all of the countries uncontracted braille is Grade 1 and contracted braille is Grade 2. Now we are talking about EBAE, EBAE is the English Braille American Edition and that is there because in certain respects, braille in America, the United States, slightly differed from other English-speaking countries. But now it no longer exists because now we have UEB, United English Braille.

Ultimately braille is English that's what we learn, and therefore we have UEB and that has eliminated any differences between the British braille and American braille as far as the use is concerned. There are some variations but not as many as before. These are some of the interesting issues we can also discuss later. That is what it is Grade 1 uncontracted Grade 2 contracted braille. So the late learners of braille hear only what uncontracted and contracted braille but earlier the terms used were Grade 1 and Grade 2. I hope this information helps.

Don: Yeah that is very interesting. I didn't know that about America but thanks for the info.

Vileen S: That's how it is. Thank you.

Elyse H: Great. Thanks Don. Tammy, you're next in line.

Tammy: I have a couple more. Horizons for the Blind don't just have housewares, but they have books, some craft books and these are also in large print besides braille. Also Lutheran Library for the Blind. They have a calendar that is in thermoform and with that the picture that they have with the theme of the year is raised in braille say what the picture is. And that's Lutheran Blind Workers or Lutheran Library for the Blind, one of those two. Also which this is more straight print, I mean braille, in Talking Book Topics and also Braille Book Review it's usually I think the January/February issue. They have a bunch of calendars that you can buy or free. So that's another option and some have from July to January they overlap somewhat. And that's all I have.

Lisa: That comes back to what I said my aim was not to really list every single resource but to give you an idea of what's out there so if you're looking for a specific thing like braille calendars with pictures or whatever that you can go searching. That is some great information.

Tammy: Yeah, thanks, Lisa.

Vileen S: We can have a more comprehensive list of stores and vendors right, Lisa?

Lisa: Yes, I'm adding them to the list, and I'll go out and find websites and contact numbers for them.

Vileen S: Yes that would be nice of you. Thank you so much. Okay friends thank you so much we're over, I think. We had a good attendance and good presentation. Thank you, Lisa, for taking time and preparing with all hard work. The list of stores and vendors for gifts and this is so appropriate when the holiday season is coming close to us. Before the Black Friday comes, we can now start buying gifts for our friends and dear ones. You all have a good week ahead and good weekend. Bye now.