Christmas technology blog

Donna Corrigan

Donna CorriganHappy Christmas to all our readers.

This year the technology Christmas oldblog is dedicated to all those that like the unusual, new to market and irresistibly shiny gadgets and technologies!

Audio books

For those who enjoy their audio books, RNIB have just launched their digital download library service where you can download from over 23,000 talking books, magazines and podcasts straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer. It’s called RNIB Overdrive and offers unlimited titles throughout your year’s subscription however you can only have 6 at any one time. You can buy an annual subscription as a gift (or for yourself) for £50.

Audible environmental information

Do you worry about missing important audible environmental information? Do you carry a pager in addition to your smart phone? Braci Smart Ear could be a useful tool in your assistive tech armoury.

There are two options currently available to use with your smart phone; Hearing Assistant and Baby Monitor. The Hearing Assistant notifies you via your phone (vibration, light flashing and screen image) when a sounds such as the door bell, fire alarm, land line phone or intercom are ringing. It is free to download from the the iTunes App Store and Google Play where its current customer rating is 4.8/5.

It also works with the Android and iOS compatible Pebble smart watch so you can wear the technology rather than carry it, but while the Pebble smart watch is new innovation the screen does not provide much contrast and could be significantly improved.

For younger tablet users

Another low cost app new to the market that might be a good addition to tablet users of a younger age is the Keedogo and Keedogo Plus keyboard. The simplified and colourful layout helps those who are learning to read, write and type. At £1.49 and £1.99 they are great virtual stocking fillers!


While we are on the subject of children, I have to mention one of this year’s top ten toys (as listed by Hamleys). I was immediately drawn to the description of My Friend Cayla as it uses speech-to-text technology, something that many accessible products and services are based upon.

My Friend Cayla is a doll like no other, she can still be dressed and pampered in the same way as any other but she can answer questions, understand and chat, tell stories and play games both on and off line. It works via Speech-to-text technology, wi-fi and an app, however she does not need to be connected all the time. My Friend Cayla is available from high street store as well as online from retailers such as Argos, Toysrus, Smythstoys, Tesco and Amazon for around £50.

If polite high tech dolls are not quite right for your little one, a couple of other options that are most definitely in this season are the Xeno interactive baby monster who is brilliantly tactile (soft rubbery spikes), large bright colour changing LED eyes and has sensors to respond to touch such as giggling at tickling its feet. Xeno is available from available from high street store as well as online from retailers such as Argos, Toysrus, Smythstoys, Tesco and Amazon for around £80.

Or, if your little one liked Despicable Me or has fallen in love with a Minion a switch activated Dave or Stuart might be the toy of choice at £50 (excluding switch) from Excitim Special Needs Toys.


Lighting is an important consideration for everyone, especially those with visual impairment. It can help us to receive information more easily, change our mood and even encourage learning and concentration, yet is often overlooked.

The Philips hue was launched at the end of 2012 and combines all the latest smart technology with your homes Wi-Fi and a few LED bulbs to completely change our approach to lighting. The LED bulbs offer a variety of whites as well as being able to change colour, and that’s any colour of your choosing, you can create your own personal sunrise if you want to! They also dim, flash and pulse, they even fit into your existing light fittings without alteration.

You control the bulbs from an app running on your smart device via something they call the Bridge which is a circular unit plugged in to your router. While Philips hue have confirmed that the app does not work with text to speech functions such as Voice Over they have offered advice about alternatives such as controlling the whole system by voice command rather than the app, just get in touch if you want more details about this aspect. The Philips hue Facebook page is also a good source of information about this product.

If this is the gift for you it can be purchased from a number of high street and online stores including John Lewis, Apple Store, Curry’s and Amazon. Most retailers offer a starter kit that provides 3 LED bulbs, the Bridge and app for approximately £180.

Temperature control

Everyone is different when it comes to their preferred temperature; I frequently hear conversations between couples who prefer the exact opposite!

While the Nest Thermostat isn’t going to solve that problem for you, it does change your access and control of the temperature in your home. Launched in 2014 it has been well received in the UK so far.

Depending on your current set up and how confident you are with installations you may or may not need a professional to install Nest. Once set up Nest displays the information on a circular unit, with your temperature selections in the centre of the display in white, 1cm high numbers on a black or red background.

The room temperature is displayed at the edge in 2mm high numbers, however if you have wi-fi available then you can control it via your smart device app instead. The unit will learn your preferences and even detect when you have left your home lowering the temperature to save you money.

The Nest Thermostat can be purchased from a number of high street and online stores including John Lewis (who have the unit on display in larger stores), Apple Store, B&Q, and Amazon. The cost is approx. £180 but if you do not currently have a thermostat or have a wireless one you also need the Nest stand at approximately £30.


So what if you would rather replace your smartphone rather than add technologies to be controlled or downloaded to it? Well most people are aware that the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus were released this autumn. At 4.7″ or 5.5” the latest iPhone screens are the largest yet and coupled with the Retina HD display that offers great contrast and wider viewing angles those with some vision should find the screen an improvement to previous models.

Fingerprint recognition technology has been added to increase the phones security and allow you to purchase more easily through iTunes. Don’t forget that most Apple stores offer free one hour accessibility workshops to help you get to grips with the accessibility features an iPhone can offer such as changing font size, colours, using it with your hearing aids, Voice Over and Siri.

For more information written by people with low or no vision take a look at what they are saying on AppleViz. It is also worth noting that the majority of accessibility bugs that appeared with the release of IOS 8 were fixed in the update of IOS 8.1.

iPhones can be purchased from a variety of high street and online retailers. The iPhone 6 starts at £539 while the iPhone 6 plus starts at £619 from the Apple store.

Wireless microphone

Personal listeners have been around for a while and over the last 5 years or so we have seen most of the leading hearing aid manufacturers release their bluetooth streaming accessories. Late last year Phonak released the ultimate wireless microphone that combines many of the functions previously only achievable with multiple devices in the Roger Pen. Not only does this device link up with items in your home such as the TV, MP3 and HiFi, it provides hands free bluetooth connection to your mobile phone and intelligently picks up sound from your environment.

If it is positioned on a table within a meeting it will operate in an omnidirectional mode picking up sound from all around and up to 20 metres away, if the Pen is then directed towards a sound source it cleverly switches itself into a directional setting, reducing the background noise. An additional clip-on microphone can also be added to extend the system and could be useful with certain daily situations such as walking alongside a communicator guide.

The Roger Pen is compatible with the majority of hearing aids picking up the sound either by the Roger MyLink neck loop or by attaching Roger transmitter(s) directly to the aid or Cochlea Implant. Connevans have a useful summary of Roger technology on their website.

The Roger Pen can be purchased from a variety of online retailers including Action On Hearing Loss and Connevans. Depending on the type of set up you want and additional accessories such as the clip on microphone expect to pay from approx. £550 up to around £1000.

If you receive some new technology this Christmas and would like to oldblog about it for the rest of our readers please get in touch with

Donna Corrigan is Technology Co-ordinator at Sense

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