How to Make the Holiday Season Brighter for Visually Impaired Relatives

This time of year, many family members and caregivers are facing concerns about how to make sure the holidays are a problem-free and joyous time for their visually impaired and blind relatives. Here are some tips to keep in mind this season to ensure the holidays are brighter for your visually impaired relative or loved one:

When decorating for the holidays, do not reorganize major items. Visually impaired adults rely on their knowledge of a home’s layout in order to navigate rooms and avoid bumping into walls or furniture, or falling down stairs. While hanging up lights and other holiday decorations, avoid rearranging furniture, belongings and other common household items. Consistency is vital for someone with vision loss. Moving things, especially necessary items such as medications and canes, can confuse and distress a visually impaired individual.

Opt for safe alternatives to decorations that can become dangerous. Candles, for example, can cause fires if the table they are on is accidently bumped by someone who is unable to see it clearly. Choose battery-powered candles instead, or set candle holders in a dish of water, just in case.

Use contrasting colors on and around the dinner table when planning your big holiday meal. For those with limited vision, items tend to blur into one another. If the floor in the dining room is a light color, a dark tablecloth will help distinguish the table from the floor and the walls so that the low vision individual will not bump into the table. To make it easier to eat, use dark colored dishes when serving light colored food and vice versa.

Photo Courtesy of Stock Exchange.

Choose and wrap holiday gifts with vision impairment in mind. Consider gifts that can help him or her live life more easily, such as products with larger-than-normal features and audio capabilities. Examples of gifts include large print playing cards, jumbo remote controls, a large analog clock, iPads or Kindle Readers, and audio books. Use gift bags instead of wrapping paper and ribbon, which can be difficult for low-vision adults to maneuver.

A MABVI large-print calendar would make a great gift for the holidays!

Narrate your holiday gatherings and parties. Be sure to verbally introduce yourself when you walk into a room or join a group conversation, as it is often difficult for a visually impaired individuals to recognize people by their voices, especially in a large group setting. When speaking, make an effort to be verbally descriptive and avoid pointing to things in the room with phrases like “over there” or “this way.” Describe gifts that are being opened and suggest that they might be passed around to ensure the low-vision family member feels a part of the ceremony.

Empower everyone to participate. For low-vision relatives, it’s incredibly frustrating not to be able to be as active during holiday celebrations as their sighted loved ones. Too often the visually impaired person is guided to the living room while everyone else gathers in the kitchen to work. Instead, give him or her a job – like folding napkins or drying dishes – so he or she can feel part of the group.

People gathered around a table

During the holidays and always, be supportive. Patience is key. Offer advice and resources without being overbearing. Actively listen to what the individual needs. If necessary, consult resources, like the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, who can connect you and your family with medical professionals that help visually impaired and blind adults live with confidence and dignity in their own homes.

Happy holidays from the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired!

Exploring vision rehabilitation with Dr. Jamara

Dr. Jamara (left) receives an award for his dedication to patients with vision loss. Pictured with Dr. Jen Salvo and a MABVI low vision patient.

Dr. Jamara (left) receives an award for his dedication to patients with vision loss. Pictured with Dr. Jen Salvo and a MABVI low vision patient.

MABVI sat down with Richard Jamara, a doctor of optometry and professor at the New England College of Optometry. He is also the attending low vision specialist at the New England Eye in Boston. Here are some highlights of the interview. Read the full interview here. Continue reading

My Trekker Breeze and I


The fear of getting lost was one of the biggest challenges I had to overcome when I lost most of my eyesight 19 years ago. It took me months to feel comfortable just walking around my familiar neighborhood.

Once I had gained some confidence, I began to jog farther away from my home. My expeditions often led me to asking other pedestrians for directions in order to find my way back. It was frustrating to many times get ignored or get the wrong information.  This all changed a couple of years ago when I got the Trekker Breeze talking GPS device from my local Department of Rehabilitation.

The Breeze has made a huge difference in my everyday life. This amazing handheld device audibly lets me know my exact location, as well as upcoming intersections, and location of landmarks and shops nearby. Gone are the days of guessing my stop when riding the bus. The Trekker’s step-by-step directions make it incredibly easy to find any address or place.

Earlier this year, while training for my first American River 50 mile Endurance Run, I relied on my Breeze to guide me to my favorite fire road trail which is in the Santa Monica Mountains. Although my wife and a friend were more than happy to give me a ride there, it was incredibly rewarding to navigate the meandering route to the trail by myself. As a result, I have now gained back a great deal of the independence I had when I was fully sighted.

The Breeze was designed as an orientation aid. It detects your location through the Global Positioning System, GPS, and relates it to the digital maps of your area.  The GPS system uses electronic maps, saved in the SD card, to provide detailed and handy information about all street names and ranges of addresses, as well as points of interest such as banks, restaurants and pharmacies.


Using the Breeze, you can record new routes while walking them. The system then provides step-by-step instructions on how to navigate them. With Breeze you can explore your surroundings and let the system describe them as they’re found along the way. If you wish to return to your point of origin, Breeze can help you retrace your steps. The system also allows you to record landmarks and reference points along your route, and they’re announced as you go by them.

Taking all of these into consideration, I only have a couple of criticisms about the Breeze. This device already comes equipped with a digital map of your home state. If you travel out of state, however; you’ll need to purchase an additional DVD with the rest of the United States. Although the DVD is only $100, the SD card can only hold four state maps at a time. My second concern is how long it sometimes takes the Breeze to acquire the GPS signal. Depending on the sky conditions, it can sometimes take up to 10 minutes. This slight inconvenience, however, is no big deal when compared to the many benefits it offers. At a retail price of $499, this device is a worthwhile investment for any visually impaired individual seeking more independence.

This post was written by Adrian Broca.

Bringing accessibility to medication labels

CVSYour medications can make a major difference in your daily life — unless you can’t tell them apart.

When it comes to purchases, pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens and Rite-Aid have made accommodations for blind and visually impaired customers. Many of these stores now have tactile keypad at the front checkout counter and magnification technology or a screen reader for online shoppers.

But what about identification options for drug containers? Where do these pharmacies stand on providing their customers at the pharmacy counter with accessibility?

CVS offers Braille labels for blind and visually impaired customers through a request. Call CVS’ customer service line to file your request, and you will have your medications labeled.

However, Duane Reade and Rite-Aid do not have a corporate policy regarding medication labels for blind and visually impaired customers. Instead, they leave it to the individual stores to handle labeling, many of which do not have that option.

Walgreens offers large-print copies of prescription information about the medication name, directions, warnings and prescription numbers, according to its website. The magnified text is available in English or Spanish at local stores. However, their customer service representatives say they do not offer Braille labels.

The U.S. Access Board has pushed pharmacy representatives to develop guidance on making prescription drug labels accessible to customers with vision impairments, according to a press release. The Board is working to implement changes under a bill signed by President Barack Obama in 2012, the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act.

The Board includes representatives from AARP, Walgreens, Target, CVS and Rite-Aid, among others. Its members planned to look into Braille, large-print labels, “talking-bottle” technology and other alternative identification tags for drug containers.

In August, the Board issued a report and stated that “new guidance is now available from the Board on how to make prescription drug container access available for people with vision impairments or who are elderly.” These range from hard-copy Braille and large print labels to electronic equipment with speech recorders or digital voice capability.

It is imperative for people experiencing vision loss to have access to information about their medication, the dosage, additional instructions, side effects. Pharmacies by and large have yet to implement new accommodations for drug container identification, but at least the possibilities are being reviewed.