Christmas present ideas

Steven Morris, Digital Champions Coordinator, Online Today project

It’s that time again, a time for presents, singing carols and, of course, the Sense technology Christmas oldblog!

This year we have asked our Online Today Digital Champions and other deafblind people we support in our services to recommend technology they have used and enjoyed over the last year or so. So, if you are looking for some useful Christmas present ideas, or for some great apps to put on that shiny new tablet you receive on Christmas day, this oldblog may be for you! We have a whole range of things to talk about this year, from Apps to Smartphones and even a pair of Bluetooth Walkie Talkies.


To kick things off, rather appropriately, is a piece of technology called the iBell from Sarabec which comes recommended by Lynda from Leicester and which she uses in conjunction with her iPhone to create an accessible alarm clock.

Lynda uses Siri to set the alarm clock  on her iPhone (with the ’Do Not Disturb’ feature active too so that texts and calls do not disturb her) and then places it on the iBells cradle unit on her bedside table. When the phone alarm goes off in the morning, the vibrating pad that is connected to the cradle vibrates under her pillow to let her know it’s time to get up, she presses the home button on her iPhone and tells Siri to switch the alarm off. The cost of the iBell is £44.99 (with VAT relief available). Adding a vibrating pad takes the total to approximately £65.


One of the questions the Sense technology team often get asked is about accessible tablets.

One tablet we have had some great success with is the Tesco Hudl2. Ian, one of our Digital Champions currently uses one enabling him to use Facebook and Skype to keep in touch with family and friends. The tablet runs Android and is accessible using Talkback screen reader (among other accessibility options). One particularly impressive feature is the quality of the screen for such an inexpensive device (it costs around £100) and it can take an SD card for more storage.

Unfortunately, Tesco have recently announced that they will no longer be making the Hudl tablet which is a real shame. Anyone who wants to consider a similarly priced tablet running Android could take a look at the LG G Pad from John Lewis.


iPads are also very popular and have a number of excellent accessibility features. One of our young service users in Birmingham uses an iPad to play various games such as NFL America and Football Fifa which he loves because he is a big football fan and the goals get easier. He also recommends an amazing app called Spread Signs- World’s Largest Sign Language Dictionary because it translates what he signs in to other sign languages for example, Spanish and French.  He met a French young lady wo signed  in the Walsall deaf peoples centre last year and, using his communicator guides phone, he looked up the signs for “hello, how are you?” in French and then they sat and chatted for an hour using the app to help communicate.

Spread Signs is available free for Apple and Android devices.


We’re now going to look at a couple of Android Smartphones that two of our Digital Champions are enjoying using.

Firstly, Janet uses the Huawei Ascend Y550 which can be brought from, amongst other places, the online BT shop. She uses it for browsing the internet, dealing with emails, sending and receiving texts, checking the weather forecast, maps, games, a camera, playing music, a clock, her calendar, and any number of other apps. It’s black and very elegant. Janet also tells me that you can even use it as a phone!

Turning to another Android phone, Atif loves the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Atif has low vision and uses this particular phone because he finds it easy to use as he can magnify text and invert colours to suit him. He uses a stylus (a type of pen) to help him write texts and emails on the touch screen. He finds Samsung products are better for him as it is easier because of the magnification of text and choice of background colours which makes reading the text more manageable.

One of the most interesting developments in technology this year was the release of the Apple Watch and one of our digital champions, Tony, has certainly been enjoying his Apple Watch which he’s had for a couple of months now and which he uses in conjunction with his iPhone. Tony has had fantastic support and training from the Apple store near to where he lives which is still ongoing. He feels that knowing how to use an iPhone with Voiceover is important for a blind user as the commands are the same. Tony is able to receive calls and messages using the watch – when the phone rings, the watch will vibrate and he is able to tap on the watch twice to accept the call. His next challenge is to learn about the various map functions on the watch.


If you are blind or visually impaired, one of the biggest frustrations can be accessing printed materials such as letters, receipts or bills. There are various apps available that can act as scanners, and one of the most popular ones is the KNFB Reader which has been recommended by Shane, a Sense service user.

The KNFB Reader converts printed text into speech to provide accurate, fast, and efficient access to both single and multiple page documents with the tap of a button. Picture accuracy is facilitated by a Field of View Report, Automatic Page Detection, and Tilt Control. As this app has been designed for people who are blind or visually impaired, the app is fully accessible. The app is quite expensive, costing £79.99 but I have known of it dropping in price sometimes so if you want it, it is worth checking the price from time to time.

You can purchase KNFB reader for Apple and Android devices.


Finally, another of our digital champions, Shaun, has two pieces of technology that he’d like to share with everyone this year.

Firstly, a handy kitchen gadget is the Breville VKJ318 Hot Cup with Variable Dispenser which can be purchased at Amazon for £50. It’s an automatic kettle that fully boils a certain amount of water, dispenses it into a mug without splashing water anywhere or the need for a liquid level indicator. It only takes about 50 seconds to make the water boil and pour it into the mug.

To end the oldblog this year, we come to Shaun’s final recommendation: the Bluetooth connected walkie talkie system I mentioned at the beginning. Specifically, Shaun and his brother use the Interphone Cellularline F4MC Twin Pack. It is sold as a motorbike kit to allow two riders to stay in touch even if they are apart by several hundred metres or more. Shaun adapted the system to safety helmets for the building site he and his brother are working on.

The speakers for Shaun’s brother were mounted inside the ear muffs so he can still hear Shaun even with heavy machinery drumming away. The speakers for Shaun were removed and an induction neck loop wired around the rim of his safety helmet to let him hear his brother via the telecoil circuit on his hearing aids. The microphones remove much of the background noise and they are very clear! The battery life is about 12hours so will work for a good solid day.


That brings us to the end of this oldblog. Hopefully, you have found something that inspires a gift idea and, as ever, we love to hear from you with any recommendations of technology you use and enjoy.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from the technology team.

Steven Morris

Author: Steven Morris

Digital Champions Coordinator, Online Today project

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