Gifts for Functionality AND Fun

With the holidays around the corner, are you having trouble coming up with a gift list? Not sure where to start shopping for a loved one with a disability? With this year’s annual holiday podcast special, INDATA offers a comprehensive guide to accessible gifts for all ages. Director of Assistive Technology Brian Norton joins host and Manager of Clinical Assistive Technology Josh Anderson for the discussion.

When it comes to accessible gifts, a common misconception is that they’re exclusively practical presents — more along the lines of tools than toys. The video game industry continues to prove people wrong there with its products.

The Gift of Gaming

In regard to accessible gaming, Microsoft’s motto is, “When everybody plays, we all win.” That’s especially evident in the story of Spencer Allen, a gamer with limited mobility who took inspiration from the Xbox Adaptive Controller to create his own gaming board and show what’s possible for players with disabilities.

This Xbox accessory allows users to connect switches, buttons, joysticks and mounts to the controller to customize their gaming experience. For Spencer, the process of building his gaming rig turned out to be a perfect metaphor for persevering through life.

“I knew I was on the right track, and I could see the final product,” he said. “I knew I could make it. It was just a matter of trying until I got there. I kept tweaking it a little bit, and I was getting really close. I knew I was almost there, so one more try and one more try. The joy of playing games again really kept me going.” 

What started as a Christmas present from Spencer’s parents became a beacon of hope that he can still do the things he loves and the world is adapting to meet his needs.

To be inclusive of all gamers and ensure the utmost accessibility, Microsoft partnered with The AbleGamers Charity, The Cerebral Palsy Foundation, SpecialEffect, Warfighter Engaged and other community organizations to shape the design, functionality and packaging of the Xbox Adaptive Controller.

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This holiday season, December 6 to be exact, Sony is releasing its own adaptive controller kit for the PlayStation console. Developed in collaboration with the accessibility community, the Access™ controller kit allows users to customize the button layout to suit their range of mobility and include stick caps of varying shapes and textures. Players can also easily place the controller on a wheelchair tray or attach it to an AMPS pattern mount. With this product, Sony proves its slogan that “play has no limits.”

Gifts for Comfort and Creativity

There are plenty of great gifts out there for the little ones as well. Peaceful Pals are wonderful stuffed animals to keep kids, especially those with autism, warm and comforted this winter. With various options weighted between three and five pounds, this line of cuddly creatures includes dogs, dolphins, monkeys, penguins, sharks, turtles and even unicorns.

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“Again, they provide that weighted sense of ‘Hey, you know what? I’m secure. I’m safe,’” Norton said. “A Peaceful Pal really is a soothing device for children to feel more comfortable if they’re feeling a little uneasy.”

Another stuffed animal option is My Guide Dog from the company Two Blind Brothers. The soft, snuggly puppies’ names are stitched onto the inside of their ears in Braille. (This season’s dogs are fittingly named Ginger and Snowy.) Best of all, 100% of the profits from each puppy purchase go directly to retinal eye disease research and supporting the visually impaired in purchasing their own real guide dog.

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Another product that’s particularly beneficial for kids with autism is Kinetic Sand. Not your typical sand, this lets you squish, mold and shape it into anything you want. It promotes creativity and fine motor skill refinement along the way.

“We run a camp during the summer, and we use this with our campers every year,” Norton said. “Kids with autism and other sensory needs love this because you can explore, you can be creative, and you can create all sorts of things with Kinetic Sand.”

Presents for the Older Population

As people grow older, medication usually becomes more of a routine part of their lives. The Med-e-alert pill dispenser is a practical device that can help older adults with their medication regimen. It dispenses pills at scheduled times and provides alarms for reminders, ensuring medication adherence. This device simplifies medication management and reduces the risk of missed doses or errors, enhancing people’s independence, peace of mind and overall well-being.

The Blind Kitchen is a great example of a resource for older people returning to the tasks of daily living after acquiring a disability. Founder Debra Erickson created this resource after finding herself legally blind due to gradual deterioration of retinal cells. As she says in her website’s welcome video: “The very idea of returning to the kitchen after vision loss — with all of its hot foods, hot surfaces and sharp tools — can be daunting. I know, I’ve been there.”

“Whether you have a disability, whether you’re blind, or whether you just like to cook, The Blind Kitchen has really helpful tools to make working in the kitchen more productive, more efficient and just easier for folks,” Norton said. “You can buy things individually from the website, but the Blind Kitchen team has actually put together different collections for different types of cooking. And so there’s a stove top collection, which includes things like heat gloves, liquid alerts, a Longwood spoon and Longwood tongs. You’ve also got other options for working with the oven and different things in and around your kitchen. We’ve had Debra come to our team and talk to us about the different things they offer. She has a remarkable story and lots of great tools for folks to be able to learn a little bit more about working in the kitchen and doing it safely when you have a disability.”

For more information about products and resources like these, listen here as you shop online this holiday season.

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