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Hi-tech holidays: these electronic gifts can make life a little easier for just about anyone.

The holiday shopping season is in full swing. November will quickly become December, and the number of shopping days remaining will get shorter and shorter, bringing on the inevitable last-minute rush. Electronics are always popular presents, and these ideas are great for people with paralysis or mobility impairments and may help take away a little of the gift-giving guesswork.

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For the Avid Reader

Books, magazines, and newspapers can be difficult for those who have limited use of their hands, so a great gift is an e-reader. Most are light, easy to manage, and able to be used in sunlight--and there's no need to tote around a bookmark or even browse the shelves of the local library. I use my iPad as an e-reader; however, when using it outdoors, it doesn't compare with devices like the Nook, Kindle, or many others sporting e-ink technology.

The current top-selling model is the Nook Color, available for $249 at Barnes & Noble. The Kindle 3 costs $139 and is available at amazon.com. The Nook uses touchscreen technology, whereas the Kindle uses keyboard and button navigation. At 8.5 ounces, the Kindle 3 is nearly half the weight of the Nook Color, and battery life is substantially shortened for the Nook Color. When comparing the Nook (basic version, $139) and Kindle 3 on size, weight, and battery life the numbers are much closer.

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A good source for reading material is bookshare.org for people with a qualifying disability. The service is nearly free and offers approximately 117,000 digital books and other reading material.

For the Active Writer

For anyone who, like me, is quadriplegic, speech-to-text software, also known as speech recognition software, can be a game changer. Recent software advances have dramatically increased accuracy and speed in this type of utility. Interestingly, the technology is available for computers, smartphones, and tablet devices; in fact, I personally use the same popular brand on my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Pro.

The hands-down best-selling titles are in the Dragon speech recognition family by Nuance. Dragon Naturally Speaking Home for the PC is $99, whereas the Premium version is $199.99. Likewise, Dragon Dictate 2.5 for Mac is $199.99. Other specialized versions exist for professional, medicine, and law use. Best of all, Dragon for the iPhone and iPad is free and available from the iTunes store.

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I highly recommend speech recognition software; it's a gift someone will use every day.

For the Music Lover

Do you know anyone with a disability who loves to listen to music on an MP3 player or a smartphone? The gift of custom earbuds could be just the ticket to a secure fit and a wonderful listening experience.

Earsound Customs (earsound.com) has several options and colors from which to select. My iPhone uses the standard iPod-type headset, so I purchased that mode] for $139. After choosing your color combination and completing your transaction, the company helps you schedule an appointment with a local audiologist to create ear-canal impressions. It takes only about 30 minutes. You receive the custom earbuds about two weeks later. Earsound does not offer a gift option online, but they will work with you.

For the Movie Lover

Cable and satellite services can be pretty pricey for people on a limited income, and getting out to the local movie rental shop (if any are still in operation) takes more energy and effort for wheelchair users.

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Netflix offers a yearly gift subscription for $95.88, which provides unlimited access to TV episodes and movies instantly. Shows and films are streamed right away over the Internet to a computer or to a TV via Wii, PS3, Xbox, and other devices.

For the Remote-filled Home

The modern American home is filled with remote controls for television, DVD player, satellite or cable box, stereo, and maybe even lights, fans, or a gas fireplace. Wheelchair users can find it a nightmare trying to locate the correct remote, as these often end up on a high shelf, stuck deep below the couch cushions, or even dropped and slid under furniture. The universal remote is a gift the whole house will love, but especially anyone with paralysis.

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There is a wide range for pricing on universal remotes. The Harmony line by Logitech is highly recommended. Though it is a little pricey, with the top-end models at $349.99, others for less than $100 can be a bargain if you figure in the ease of use for setup and just their overall quality. Harmony remotes connect to your Mac or PC and walk you through the process of setting up each device you want to control. There are models that control just a few devices in the range of $29.99, but there's generally no PC hook-up with these. You'll need to look up and enter the codes yourself.

For Someone with Friends and Family at a Distance

Webcams are highly affordable these days and can provide face-to-face conversations with someone across the Internet via another webcam. Even medical providers are beginning to see the value of webcams for connecting with people who live in rural settings far from available services.

Many laptops sold today come with a built-in webcam, but if this is not the case, add-on cameras, normally connected via the USB port on a computer, range from $18 to a couple hundred dollars. A webcam makes a great gift for staying connected to a friend or family member, for checking in on medical needs, and even for meeting someone new and falling in love. Again, Logitech is a good source, but many other manufacturers are out there.

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For Anyone Living with Paralysis

Modern technology has filled our homes with devices and wires running every which way. When a problem occurs, it can be difficult for a person with a disability to maneuver, set up, or correct what needs to be fixed. Almost anyone with paralysis could benefit from the gift of your time and talent, if you're technically talented.

If you're not a technology expert, consider providing a gift certificate for a local PC expert or computer repair business and give preference to veteran-owned or service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses. If you prefer the big box stores, the Geek Squad[R] is available at your local BestBuy. Geek Squad agents and installers have the know-how and skill to setup, install, or repair computers, networks, home theater solutions, and car audio, video, and navigation systems; and it does not matter where the technology was purchased. Geek Squad gift certificates are available for purchase online.

These products are not endorsed or recommended by PVA or PN, and the writer has not benefited by mentioning them specifically. These gift and wish list ideas represent what the author believes make smart choices and are based on his personal experience or purchases.

Contact: dr.larsen@buyvet.com.
COPYRIGHT 2011 Paralyzed Veterans of America
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:Larsen, Kurt
Publication:PN - Paraplegia News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2011
Words:1151
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