Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Giving The Perfect Gift

A person in black overalls and a white shirt holds a present. It's wrapped in brown wrapping paper, decorated with red and white candy canes. A red and white string is tied around the present.
What's the greatest thing about the holidays? More than any other time, this season brings us together to show appreciation for our families, friends, and loved ones. One of the reasons that I love the holidays so much, is that they give me an excuse to buy heartfelt gifts for those I care about most. Exchanging presents has a certain magic to it, especially if they are thoughtful, functional, decorative, or even silly. It's the perfect way to show people that you care, and that you're thankful for everything they do. Whether you're picking something out for either a relative or friend, choosing the perfect gift can be difficult. Fret not, festive readers! I'm here to help.

Sometimes, finding that perfect gift might require you to think outside the box. This idea is true for everybody, but can be especially true for friends and family members who have a disability. Personally, I've been a power wheelchair user for about 30 years. Some of the most memorable gifts that I've ever received were particularly useful, because I'm a wheelchair user. To get some ideas, lets take a glimpse into the daily needs of wheelchair users and people with disabilities. This is the part where you should start taking notes.
Two boys playing in a yard, with a  red and white basketball. One is in a wheelchair, handing the ball to the other, who is running to grab it
To come up with a great idea for a gift, you should try thinking from a different perspective. Particularly, if you are buying a present for a person with a disability, imagine that you are in their position. If you were them, what would you like? What would make your life easier?

Whether you have a disability or not, most people rely on their mobile phones to do a variety of things, such as paying bills and keeping in touch with relatives. If you are able-bodied, I have a thought experiment for you. Even though you probably use your phone all the time, have you ever thought about how you use it? Do you carry it in your pocket? Do you pick it up and hold it with your hand? Let's throw a monkey wrench into this synopsis. What if you were missing a hand? What if you had difficulty holding things? If either of these scenarios were true, you'd need something to carry your phone for you. There are a number of phone mounts, usually designed for cars, which can be brilliantly repurposed for wheelchair users. In the past, I've fastened my phone to my wheelchair with everything from Velcro to a magnetic phone cradle. Even though these fixes are pretty cheap and easy, they've allowed me to be extremely independent. While it may have slipped under your radar at first, you might know somebody who could use a new phone holder or an improvement to their current solution.

A power wheelchair wearing sunglasses looks down at his phone, which is mounted to a bracket on the right side, close to the wheelchair's joystick.
Technology is wonderful because it can make our lives so much easier. Whether you are elderly, young, disabled, or able-bodied, we've all fumbled with, run into, tripped over, or run over things at night. One of those things might've been your brother's foot. Sorry, Kent. Something as simple as a motion-sensing light can prevent night time accidents, while saving a some toes in the process. For wheelchair users like myself, it can be scary to drive our wheelchairs around the house at night. With just one slip up, we could easily put a hole in the wall. While saving you the hassle of remodeling your home at 3:00 a.m., this gift idea has an added bonus: it won't break the bank! Motion-sensing light switches cost anywhere between $15-$40 and can be purchased at hardware stores, or from online retailers such as Amazon.

A desk and two chairs, pushed against a 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, located above and to the right of the table
While smart home products may appear more expensive than a motion detector, they are far more versatile and can accomplish much more. As technology has gotten better, these devices have become much more affordable. 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. Each device can even be monitored and controlled with a phone or a tablet. For people with disabilities, smart home products can help us with some things that give us trouble on a daily basis. While turning on a light may seem trivial to an able-bodied person, it might be extremely difficult for somebody with a disability. Simply having the ability to turn on a light can be a huge deal, and give you some much appreciated, self-confidence. At least, it did for me. That's merely scratching the surface. Every smart home device can be synced to a Google Home or an Amazon Echo, which will let you control everything with your voice. If you are a wheelchair user with a strong voice, or have a big mouth like myself, this particular option could make a huge difference in your life! I can't even begin to describe how happy I was to get rid of the switches and remotes that I used before purchasing this technology. To top it all off, you can even turn on/off multiple things with a single command. These are called "scenes," and I have a few of them set up in my room. For example, one of my scenes is called: "I'm going to sleep." By saying that to my Google Home, my lights and TV will shut off, my fan and the hallway light will turn on, and the Google Home will set an alarm to wake me up in the morning. Smart home technology has helped me be independent in ways that I thought were impossibleA black, Google Home Mini lies next to a smart phone. The phone's screen reads: "Welcome Home"
If you're anything like me, the holidays will give you some time to catch up on your backlog of video games. Even better, you might have gotten some as presents! Many gamers with disabilities, myself included, may find it difficult to play video games. Fear not, fellow gamers! Microsoft Adaptive Controller is an incredible solution. The controller acts as a hub, meaning that you can plug a bunch of buttons and joysticks into it. It's great, because you can mount these anywhere, including: head arrays, foot plates, and trays. For those of us that can't use buttons or joysticks, Microsoft's Adaptive Controller is even compatible with Sip-and-Puff devices.

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 technology to something a bit more personal: health. Since our bodies are about 60% water, maintaining a healthy lifestyle means that we need to drink a lot of clear fluids. Our home state of Florida tends be a bit hotter than other states in the US. Like anybody who lives in a warm or tropical climate, it's important for wheelchair users to stay hydrated. Since I'm a quad-amputee and a power wheelchair user, filling a glass with water isn't the easiest thing I've ever done. If you're an active wheelchair users like myself, it might be a good idea to have large cups that don't need to be refilled as often. But how can we users carry water? Installing a cup holder on your wheelchair is brilliant, can save a lot of time, and allow you to be more independent. Insulated cups are a perfect fit for these, and tend to carry a lot of water while keeping it cold for hours.
An black insulated cup, made by Yeti, resting in the side pocket of a backpack.
Sometimes, cup holders aren't the best solution because they can stick out and get caught on door frames. With mine, I've certainly dinged up a few door casings. Hydration packs can be a great alternative to traditional cups, and can free up a bit of room on your wheelchair. CamelBak products can be stored on the backrest of your seat, and can even function as another backpack. What's better, is that it has a long straw which can be manipulated and placed in any spot. That's perfect for those of us who have a difficult time moving our neck and head.

I hope that this article has been helpful to you, and has helped to get your creative juices flowing. Have a fun and accessible holiday!

Kyle Romano

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