Monday, June 28, 2010

The Right Assistive Technology Tool Makes a Very Helpful Gift

Dear LilacGal,

Could you please tell me which text magnification reading device would be best as a 75th Birthday gift for my mother? She needs font that is about an inch high, but we see so many different products available, it's hard to know what would be best for her. I've looked into handheld devices that show a few inch-high words at a time, text-to-speech readers, large book-viewing machines that sit on a desk, and I've seen some with a scanner that puts the reading page on a TV or monitor screen. When you ran nursing homes, you must've seen which of these were most useful to your residents. My mother would love to be able to read her morning paper and favorite books again, but she also needs to be able to see her prescription labels and read her bills and letters. Is there anything that will do all that?

PS - We've got the Cool Giving all wrapped up! Her granddaughter is coming to stay for two weeks! That will be bliss for my mother - we just need to decide on the right "Hot Gift"!
Agnes L in MA

Dear Agnes,

You are so right about all the new assistive technology devices out there! With the right device, people with low vision can read newspapers, medicine bottles, write checks and letters, read books and see photos clearly, thanks to the new video magnifiers that have come out in the last few years. But what's the right device? That depends on the person's needs: Is he a student? Does she need a portable device to carry with her? Does he need to use a computer for business or Internet viewing, or is he often at home, where he can use a TV screen for his reading? Is she a casual arm-chair reader, or does she need the finest equipment available for extended, detailed desk reading? Knowing the needs and interests of the person to whom you'll give the gift of renewed reading ability, you'll be able to pick from this selection of text magnifying aids, going by their features and price.

The Hot Gifts

If your person just needs to see text on his computer more clearly, here is a video showing the magnifying ability of the MS Wireless Laser 5000 Mouse. As you will see in this video, it works just like a regular mouse until the person points and clicks to magnify text clearly.

Moving up in features and price, the Carson DR-200 ezRead Digital Reader turns a TV into a low vision aid with 7.5x magnification on a 21 inch set. It shows the page or object in full color, is easy to hold, and with its LED illumination, clearly shows all parts of the page or item.  The DigitalReader connects to the video input of the TV with an extra long video cable and power cord. This is a practical and affordable reading solution for many seniors who enjoy armchair reading. I've given it to several low vision friends who would never be comfortable reading at a desk with a large desktop device. They find it lightweight and good for reading everything from nutritional labels on cans, to magnifying the latest photos of the grandkids.  You can see another picture of the Carson at the top of this article.

The Wireless Page to TV Magnifier, while similar to the Carson DR-200, scans written materials and sends them wirelessly to a TV set in real time, magnifying them up to 25X so the person can easily see fine print. At $149.95, it's twice the cost, but if the gift recipient needs the greater magnification or prefers the wireless feature, this page magnifier will make her very happy.

There are so many handheld video magnifiers, but the one I recommend for added useful features is the Pebble Portable Rechargable Hand Video Magnifier. The handle can fold, or extend out about an inch longer. With 3 Magnification settings and LED illumination that can light up the image if the person is in a dark restaurant, the Pebble comes with a case for travel and has a few different color modes: Regular full color, black/white, reverse (white on black), enhanced black/white, and a yellow on blue color mode which is helpful for those who need this color contrast to see clearly. The Pebble uses 2 AA High-Capasity Rechargable batteries, and has an adapter for recharging.

A person using the Bierley Monomouse CCTV Full Color Computer Magnifier with Reverse Mode can change from black print on white to white on black, which is easier for anyone with acute light sensitivity. The Monomouse connects to a PC or laptop/notebook computer.  I suggested this device to a friend who runs an independent living facility near my home: Her computer-using residents can't speak highly enough of the clarity of text and graphics they can see with this system. Several of the residents are happily learning to use a computer, now that they can see the screen clearly at last!

Now we climb to a more rarefied atmosphere for these last two topnotch but expensive machines: The Presto 15 Inch LCD Auto Focus Desktop Video Magnifierand the Freedom Machine Desktop Video Magnifier.

The Presto features a stylish,15" color LCD flat panel design. The auto focus zoom magnification is able to help most people with age related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts, RP, or other low vision conditions.The extended travel x -y moveable table (16" x 12" travel) allows independent vertical and horizontal sliding. Presto has simple controls: Press a button to increase or decrease magnification, change the enhancement level, or select Color, B / W or Reverse image.  The low vision person can read daily mail, browse magazine articles, read prescription bottles, view family photographs, sign checks and greeting cards, address envelopes, read recipes, food labels and cooking instructions. There's no assembly required, and it features 2.5x to 40x magnification.

 If you can afford it, this last reading device is the best desktop video magnifier I've seen in person: The Freedom Machine Desktop Video Magnifier, which runs from $2,400 for the 17 Inch screen to $2,995 for the 26 Inch screen. The Freedom Machine has the clearest contrast and most powerful magnification for those with low vision and macular degeneration. The full, no-glare high-definition screen gives the clearest, most comfortable ability to read the newspaper or a favorite novel, view the mail or family photos, write out bills or do this week's crossword puzzle.  No matter what size monitor, from 17 up to 28 inches, the picture quality is brilliant and clear from corner to corner, in bright living color. The precision glass optics are so crisp that the reading material on the reading tray shows a true image on the screen, with a wide zoom range. The Freedom Machine control panel features a color coded console that provides contrast and performance. It has high profile dials that provide a crisp responsive feel and buttons for accessing specialty features. The smooth gliding XY reading table has two braking levers that give complete control of various table positions, and ball bearing table movement. Of all the machines I've compared when recommending a top of the line product for people of any age with low vision, I believe the Freedom Machine Desktop Video Magnifiers, shown below, really do set the industry standard for desktop reading machines.

The Cool Giving

Agnes, I hope this comparison has helped you and other Readers of HotGiftsforCoolGiving choose the right hot gift, the best reading magnifier for your mother. I wish her the happiest of 75th birthdays, with renewed ability to read and continue to be independent, and highlighted by the greatest cool gift of all, now that she will have you and her granddaughter by her side for an extended visit!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Comparing Kindle and the E-Readers:Choosing One for Each Personality and Lifestyle


So far, more than a dozen people have written in to this new blog, HotGiftsforCoolGiving, asking what I think of the Kindle, the Sony E-Reader, or wanting to know if any of the E-Readers would help their vision-impaired loved one.  A few of these folks want the E-Reader delivered in time for Father's Day, others don't care as long as they get the best product to meet their needs. Here's an email from one adult daughter who, while sharing her father's love of real printed books, knows he needs one of these new electronic wonders to keep the door to his beloved world of books open to him:

Dear LilacGal,

I can see that you understand the needs of Seniors, with your background in elder care.  My father, who lives in an Independent Living complex, has always been an avid reader, but he's losing touch with this whole world of pleasure because he can't see well enough to read anymore, even with some of the large print books. He says he doesn't want anything but the "real books" he loves, but I've read about the new eReaders that have adjustable-size print and some that even read to you,  learned about the Carson ezRead Digital Reader from your first post, and I think my father will be glad to get back to his world of words, if only he can see them in VERY large print.  (He doesn't need the text read to him now, although he may if his vision gets worse.) My problem is, there are so many products out there!  Which would be best for my Dad?  Susan in NH

I understand where this father's coming from - there's something downright sensuous about a book. It's easy to love the elegant leather bound, gilt-edged classic; the little dog-eared volume that you carry around like a small touchstone, the luxurious spread of a lavish, color-splashed coffee table book, left invitingly open - and oh, the mysteriously attractive smell of the print!  BUT...a book can't read aloud to you, (at least in the literal sense); it can't help you order another book, or retrieve one from your home library while you're lounging on the beach or stuck in the airport; it can't surf the Web, or let you look up terms in a dictionary, or search and find bookmarked information if you're studying, and it most definitely can't magnify it's own print for you, for ease of viewing or if you have problems with your vision.  So the best way I can help this father, and the others who have written in, is to compare all these new hi-tech ways of reading, so people can decide what's the best of these Hot Gifts for their loved one, or for themselves, based on their personalities, lifestyles and needs. I'll compare eReaders in today's post, and post a comparison of hand-held devices that magnify a page onto a TV screen or monitor, (like the Carson ezRead Susan mentioned in her email, above) in my next post.

I've picked 7 E-Readers (the top ones currently on the market that I think are most helpful for people's individual needs) to compare. Here's my chart where you can see, side by side, the standout features of each of these E-Readers, decide if they meet various personal requirements, and get the facts about their size and weight, font size, battery life, connectivity and cost (click to enlarge):

All those facts may at first look like a jumble, but here's how to use this E-Reader Comparison Chart to be sure you've picked the right gift for your loved one, no matter what the person's age, gender or likes/needs:

The Hot Gifts:

Why you'd give (or buy) the Kindle Wireless Reading Device (latest generation after Kindle 2):

The person you're giving to wants to be able to download e-books from Amazon's huge 600,000+ titles library wirelessly from wherever he happens to be, and be able to store 2 GB (up to 1500 e-books). He likes hi tech gadgets, wants MP3 playback, appreciates the Kindle's light weight and slim profile, the "Next" button page turner, physical keyboard and joystick navigation, the Dictionary and built in PDF Reader. Whether he has vision problems or not, he really appreciates the clear 6 inch E-Ink screen text with 16 shades of gray, Zoom for small print, font sizes up to equivalent of 20 pt. font in MS Word, and he can think of good uses for the hands-free text-to-speech feature.  He likes to read outdoors, so he needs the Kindle's ability to be read in sunlight. You are happy with the relatively low price ($189) and free 2 day shipping at

Why you'd give the Kindle DX Wireless Reading Device:

 In addition to enjoying all the great features of the Kindle above, the recipient of this Kindle DX gift will love the bigger (9.7") screen of this Kindle version, appreciate being able to hold it vertically or horizontally, and because the DX has bigger font than the regular Kindle version plus the 40% larger screen and crisp E-Ink display, she or he will be happy to get back to more comfortable reading, if small print has become a problem. If a music lover, he/she will be pleased with the high quality sound of stereo speakers. With 4 GB of storage, the avid reader will be able to collect a personal library of 2400 to 3600 e-books.  If vision is the main issue, the higher cost of this Kindle version will be well justified: With the DX, your loved one will be able to read more clearly now due to the larger screen, fonts and Zoom feature, and then be able to continue to enjoy his or her reading even if vision worsens in the future, by making use of the text-to-speech feature.

Who's the right person for the gift of a Sony Reader Touch Edition PRS-600? 
If money's tight and you want to bestow a full-featured, name brand E-Reader on your best friend or family member, the Sony Touch Edition fills the bill with a bit of extra hi tech class (the touch screen and a stylus for handwritten notes and drawings) thrown in. It's stylish (comes in red and silver as well as black), has an MP3 music player, supports Adobe ePub so your friend doesn't have to buy books only from Sony's online bookstore, and it boasts the expected 6" screen with sharp E-ink display. It even  has 5 font sizes, from small to "extra-extra large" (which isn't as large as the largest font in the Kindles, however). But you'll see from the E-Reader Comparison Chart above that there's a price to be paid for saving 50 bucks over the Kindle: The Sony is a bit heavier, requires using a PC to add content and to recharge the internal battery, the screen has only 8 shades of gray, and the storage is only 512 MB.  Good deal at, though, at $198.47 with free shipping, as the price climbs to $249.99 or more at some of the other sites and stores.

Apple iPad MB292LL/A Tablet (16GB, Wifi)Do you have anyone on your List whose eyes glaze over when they see an ad for the latest blackberry or iPhone? Apple's iPad is the gift for him. Great for reading digital e-books in sharp, rich color, Apple's iPad now comes with 3D as well as Wi-Fi, and is easy to read in low light. Your Techno Geek will love having the thousands of apps (such as The Weather Channel, Wall St. Journal, Epicurious, Popular Science, all made for iPad) at his fingertips, plus access to his email, photos, movies! The 9.7" multi-touch screen is LED backlit, there is a pinch Zoom and choice of fonts and font sizes, and although the battery life is only 10 hours (over one month on standby), the iPad is available with a choice of 16 to 64 GB of flash storage. Prices begin at $499 for the 16 GB, and if money is no object, you can get the 64 GB for $699, with 3G Wireless added on for a mere $130. For the right person, that's some gift!

In this video comparison of the Kindle and the Apple iPad, from Consumer Reports, called "E-Reader Faceoff: Apple iPad vs Amazon Kindle", you'll see that despite the big difference in prices and functions, the Kindle holds its own, and even excels over the iPad in the visual e-book reading experience . 

Who would be the right person for the gift of a Barnes and Noble Nook E-book Reader?
Probably she or he would be someone who loves to hang out in B&N, who'd be delighted to take advantage of the Bookstore's offer to let Version 1.3 Nook users read selected books inside their store for an hour a day, as well as download free content through their "More in Store" program. The lure of Barnes & Noble's vast store, its million books including 500,000 free titles, newspapers, magazines, etc., would be enough to keep this bibliophile thoroughly loyal to her black and white Nook E-Reader with its 6" crisp E-ink display screen, 16 shades of gray and 3.5" color touch screen at the bottom. She'd appreciate that the Nook also has physical buttons and an onscreen keyboard, AT&T 3G, Wi-Fi and USB. You would be pleased that the price, $254.95 through Amazon and comparable to the Amazon Kindle, lets you give a B&N lover an E-Reader that fits right in with her enjoyment of her favorite Bookstore.

The Interead Cool-ER: An affordable E-Reader, (with  a price comparable to the Amazon Kindle), this is the gift for an on-the-go student who needs a cool looking but very lightweight (6.3 oz), easy to carry, durable E-Reader. Your student will be glad there is ePub support for commercial titles, appreciate the close to a dozen file formats like PDF, and enjoy the MP3 and the many font options. The 6" screen has the E-ink display, the device uses a 4-d pad and buttons, and the price runs around $249.  The student will enjoy collecting some of the many useful and attractive accessories for this E-Reader, such as case covers and stands.

My last pick for this E-Reader comparison is actually a Pro-Reader created for business professionals, the Plastic Logic Que. It would make a very special gift for a college grad going into business. Your graduate will view all his or her documents on a 10.7" E-Ink screen, the largest touch screen on an E-Reader to date. This is actually a Barnes & Noble device which accesses their million books through their Que Store. Dimensions are 8.5" x 11" x. 0.3", with good storage that lasts days, not hours. The device connects via AT&T 3G, USB, Wi-Fi and bluetooth. The business professional will appreciate that it is supported by PDF, Excel, Word, and has MP3 Audio playback.  Because of the very large screen and many font sizes, this Pro-Reader is also a good choice for someone with vision impairment. The price is a bit steep, however, starting at $649, or $799.99 for the 8 GB with 3G version.

The Cool Giving:

Getting back to Susan in NH and her search to find the best E-Reader that would help her father continue to enjoy his reading: Susan chose the Kindle DX, which offers not only the large E-Ink screen with very large font sizes, but also features text-to-speech capability in case her father needs that in the future. She felt that these features, which will help her father go on reading and enjoying his "world of words", were well worth the $489.

Susan was determined to do more for her father than simply show up with the gift, so she contacted the activities professional in her father's independent living complex.  We all came up with the idea of inviting an interesting lecturer from their local Library to present a talk on the History of Books to all the residents on her father's floor, followed by a "show & tell" about the new world of e-books and E-Readers such as her father's new Kindle DX.  When the Library put out a call for local citizens to loan any very old books they might have for the discussion,  they were amazed to hear from several townspeople who will bring truly valuable and historic books about events in the local area, as well as religious books, going back to the 1700's.  Susan's father is looking forward to this gathering, and has met some new friends who are organizing the temporary display of the loaned books. Susan emailed that she thinks all the sharing that has come about as a result of this project has "put the giving back in the gift". 


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Father's Day Gift Crisis in CT!

“Dear LilacGal, Help!” read the very first email to Hot Gifts for Cool Giving, that came in last night.  “I’ve been watching your new Gifts and Giving blog come together, I like that you’re trying to emphasize the Cool Giving part of celebrations, not just the Gifts - but I can’t wait any longer, we’ve got a Gift Crisis here, and we need your help!

Our Dad, a Navy Veteran, is getting out of Rehab the day before Father’s Day, and I and my two brothers want his Father’s Day to be perfect from beginning to end.  He’ll be weak, but fine, so we’re inviting his Navy buddy, who lives in an Assisted Living near here, and a few neighbors, plus us, our adult “kids” and all Dad’s great-grandchildren, so it’ll be a big Homecoming celebration, not just Father’s Day.  Can you help us plan the whole day, with gifts the great-grandkids can give, as well as a big family gift that he can enjoy all summer? We’re counting on you!"  CeeCee in CT

What a glorious challenge, to plan the Gifts AND the Giving for the whole day!  I tossed the notes I was going to use for my first blog post in a file drawer, and emailed for more details about this Dad.  (That’s Hot Tip #1: Don’t think “GIFT”; Think “What makes the person receiving this gift feel fulfilled? Hobbies? Passing on personal values? Making a difference? How?” Then get personal details, or include them if you want advice.) Turns out, this Dad loves to relive his service in the Navy; adores his 4 great-grandsons and wants to bring something special to each of their lives, used to be an avid reader but can’t see small or even standard large print anymore; loves the outdoors but shouldn’t be in the sun. Oh, and he’s still a big steak and potatoes man.

Long story short, we settled on a Navy Father's Day theme, as a way of involving the whole family including great-grandsons ages 4 to 12, in the fun. Fortunately one of CeeCee’s brothers is also retired from the Navy, so in addition to ordering the gifts, the family has mobilized to carry out what to them are familiar Navy-related details: Heroic hat for the Admiral of the Fleet, Navy jackets for the boys, opening Flag ceremony, military band music, a neighborhood Open House Barbecue, followed by showings of “Victory at Sea” in the afternoon for any and all who want to see both Allied and Japanese footage of the Great War in the Pacific Theatre while the kids enjoy the pool. (Great Grandpa will be helping the oldest boys build a Navy Destroyer to set sail on those high seas.)

Here are the Hot Gifts For Dad:

Big Family Gift Choices -

1.) Weber 3770001 Genesis S-310 LP Gas Grill, Stainless Steel
 This meets all the most important criteria on the Consumer Reports Gas Grill Buying Video, yet it is in the mid range, and there's quite a savings on it (up to $150 plus free SuperSaver shipping) at Amazon as compared with other sites and stores where this grill is sold.      

2.) Bone Leather Like Cushion Swivel Recliner
Dad will come home to supreme but practical comfort with this chair, offered by Amazon at a savings of $149.01, or 37%.  It's easy to turn this recliner to face any direction in the room, the ottoman folds away to save space when not in use, and the leather like material feels cool in summer, warm in winter. 

3.) Carson DR-200 ezRead Digital Reader, 7.5x Magnification Electronic -
Dad can see all the books, magazines, newspapers and color photos in his library at the magnification he needs on his TV screen, not just in standard large print. Helpful for those with macular degeneration and other vision problems.

 4.) Coolaroo 10 Foot Round Cantilever Freestanding Patio Umbrella, Mocha
To let Dad enjoy the outdoors safely with guests and family, this 10 foot umbrella with its smooth crank lift has unique Coolaroo knitted fabric, providing up to 90% UV block which allows the cover to 'breathe', reducing temperatures underneath by up to 32%. The fabric resists mold and mildew, is easy to clean, and has a five year warranty against UV degradation.

Naval Theme Gifts for Special Father's Day -

Hat for the Admiral of the Fleet

Proud Child of a Member of the US Navy Yout Zippered Hooded Jacket

United States Navy Flag

First US Navy Flag

Served With Pride Navy Flag


USS Arizona Battleship Kit
This proud ship, the USS Arizona (above), remains synonymous with America's entry into World War II. On December 7, 1941, 1,177 men went down with her. This kit has 133 pieces molded in color, 12 elevating 14" cannon in 4 rotating turrets, and full light armament, including 5" and 1.1" AA guns and a 10.5" turret cannon. The planking and plate detail is finely engraved. The ship has complete deck fittings, including searchlights, motor launches and whaleboats, rangefinders, ladders, cranes, and tripod masts with observation nests.
 The oldest great-grandsons will join their grandfather and great-grandfather in assembling this historic battleship.

Mega Bloks - Probuilder Navy Destroyer (Above, right)
For those who want to make a model of one of the Navy's latest ships, check out this Navy Destroyer, an updated 545-piece battleship designed with military naval styling, which has real working armaments that shoot firing missiles.

US Navy Monopoly
Lots of fun for the evening or in case of rain, this game board features the most essential U.S. Navy-related assets in history.

Music For Honors and Ceremonies
CeeCee's family is setting sail for one fabulous Father's Day Homecoming, full of ceremony, barbecue fun for all - and for the children, a time to learn about U.S. history and their great-grandfather's part in it. Hot Gifts, yes, but all with the Spirit and Style of Giving wrapped right in.