December 18, 2018 | 5.9 min read

Gifts That Keep On Giving

Post written by: Kyle Romano

One of the best aspects about the holidays, is that they bring us together. A perpetual season of giving, we take this time to show appreciation for our families, our friends, and our loved ones. Exchanging gifts is a unique experience, which has a certain magic to it. The presents, themselves, can serve multiple purposes. They can be functional, can be decorative, and can even be silly; however, picking out the perfect gift can be difficult. This concept applies to both able-bodied people, and people with disabilities. The needs of wheelchair users and people with disabilities may be different than your own. So, if you're fumbling around with a million ideas, and still haven't found that thoughtful gift, I'm here to help!

Personally, I've been a power wheelchair user for 28 years. What I can tell you, is that buying a gift for a person with a disability could be a bit different than what you're familiar with. Spoiler alert: you might have to get creative. A quality that I've adopted over the years, is my ability to adapt able-bodied products to meet my disabled needs. When thinking about giving gifts to people with disabilities, it is important to think outside-of-the-box. What's that? You aren't great at being creative? Well, that's where I come in! A number of products are marketed towards an able-bodied population, yet have particular uses for people with disabilities. To accomplish this daring feat, I'll offer you a rare glimpse into the daily needs of wheelchair users and people disabilities. Also, this is the part when you should start taking notes. Just saying.

Two boys playing in a yard, with a basket ball. One is in a wheelchair, handing the ball to the other, who running to grab it

When thinking about gifts, try to imagine yourself from the perspective of your friend, parent, sibling, etc. In particular, if you are buying a present for a person with a disability, imagine that you are in their position. If you were that person, what would you need or like to have? For instance, let's think about something that we all use, on a daily basis: mobile devices. Whether it's a phone or tablet, most people have grown to rely on this technology. Now, think. How do you use your mobile device? Let's go one step further: how do you carry it? Probably in your pocket, right? Well, what if you were a wheelchair user, who couldn't reach her pockets? What if you didn't have use of your hands? You'd need something to hold the mobile device for you. There are a number of these mounts, usually designed for cars, that can be repurposed for wheelchair users. I use a magnetic phone cradle to hold my mobile device. Without it, I wouldn't be able to access my phone, on my own.

A man in a power wheelchair looks down at his phone, which is mounted to a bracket on the right side, close to the wheelchair's joystick

The beauty of modern technology is that it can grant an increased ease of access for both disabled and able-bodied people. Whether you are elderly, young, disabled, or able-bodied, we've all fumbled with, run into, or tripped over objects, at night. Something as simple as motion-sensing lights can prevent falls, at night. If you're a wheelchair user, it could prevent you from accidentally putting a hole in your wall. I'm not too proud to admit that I'm guilty of committing this transgression. Sorry, dad. Aside from the benefit of preventing tripping or defacing your walls, this gift idea won't break the bank. Motion-sensing light switches only cost about $15-$40, and can be purchased at hardware stores or online retailers.

A desk and two chairs, pushed against a baren, white wall. On the table is an opened laptop, a pair of seafoam colored headphones, a white canister, and a plant. Above the desk are two, lit lightbulbs, powered by a motion sensor switch, above and to the right of the table

In the long-run, smart home products are more expensive; however, they are far more versatile and can accomplish much more. As technology has gotten better, these devices have gotten cheaper. Whether you have a disability or are able-bodied, smart home technology can make it easier to control lights, thermostats, fans, TV's, and even home alarm systems. Additionally, all of these devices can be monitored and controlled with either a phone or a tablet. Every feature is great, but what can smart home technology do for people with disabilities? For one, it can grant access to household items or functions, which were previously inaccessible. Turning on a light may seem trivial to an able-bodied person. For a person with a disability, it may be exceedingly difficult, or even impossible to accomplish this task. Devices that control lights, thermostats, fans, etc., can even be synced to a Google Home or an Amazon Echo. This functionality allows users to control their household devices via voice commands. This particular option is incredibly powerful for people with disabilities, who may experience difficulty reaching for switches or remotes. Additionally, it's possible to turn on/off multiple devices with a single command. Smart home technology has the potential to encourage independence amongst people with disabilities, and there's no better gift than that. I speak from experience because I have these devices, and can attest to the profound impact that they've had on my life.

A black, Google Home Mini lies nest to a smart phone. The phone's screen reads:

More than ever, Microsoft has incorporated accessibility into their product line. For many people with disabilities, Microsoft's Adaptive Controller makes video games accessible. While standard controllers might be inaccessible to some gamers with disabilities, this product accomplishes the impossible. Acting as a hub, a large variety of buttons and joysticks can be plugged into the controller. This functionality allows the user to create her/his own experience. What's that mean? If a person is incapable of using a traditional, video game controller, you can essentially make your own. For those who have low-to-no-use of their hands, buttons can be placed in a head-array. Can't press buttons? The controller is compatible with Sip-and-Puff devices. In a way, the Adaptive Controller isn't even a controller; instead, it's a platform that can be used to create an entirely new controller, which can meet anybody's specific needs. Playing video games for the first time would be an incredible gift.

Image of Microsoft's Xbox Adaptive Controller. The device is white, features two, large, black buttons that are side-by-side on the right, and a black, directional pad on the left

Let's shift gears from technological devices, to something a bit different: health. Since our bodies are about 60% water. If we want to maintain a healthy lifestyle, we need to drink water. Because the temperature in Florida is usually pretty high, this observation is especially true. For people with disabilities, it may be difficult or impossible to fill a glass with water. For those of us who are very active wheelchair users, an alternative way of storing water may be helpful. There are a number of cups or thermoses that can accomplish this task. Insulated cups can keep water cold for hours, including products made by Yeti. Hydration packs are another interesting alternative. CamelBak products can be stored on the back of a wheelchair, and can even be used to hold additional items. What's better, is that the long straw can be manipulated and placed in a spot that is easily accessible.

An insulated cup, made by Yeti, resting in the side pocket of a backpack

In reading this blog post, I hope that you have learned a bit more about people with disabilities. Though we share a number of similarities to our able-bodied brothers and sisters, it is common for us to have different needs. These gift ideas are but a few examples, which could particularly benefit people with disabilities, though most of them weren't originally intended to. What are some ideas that you've come up with and what purpose(s) would they serve? We'd love to hear.