Be Present and Make a Difference When Giving a Gift

A gift wrapped in paper
The Gift. Harry WIlliamson/ Spring Studio

The receiving of presents is fun, right? Well, perhaps not for everyone.

With Christmas almost upon us and the sharing of many gifts being bestowed on our friends and families, it might surprise you to know that for people with vision loss, the unwrapping of a present can spoil their sense of happiness.


Not being able to see and fully participate in a visual ritual such as the giving of presents is like being part of a firework display without the ‘big bang’ experience.

The wow-factor fizzles the moment the gift is unwrapped for the person who can’t see because the package or box remains a mystery.

Think about it.

How would it be for you, with your eyes closed, opening a present with your gift-bearer hovering over you in eager anticipation for your initial reaction?

How would you play your part in this act of kindness when, in the unwrapping of the gift, you are none the wiser about what is before your eyes?

So the gift ceremony can quickly shift from joyful sharing  to a conundrum: how to react with genuine thanks.

Here is a secret your friend with low vision doesn’t want to tell you in fear of hurting your feelings – it is a difficult moment where they can be reminded of their vulnerability as a person without full sight.

As a mother with low vision, it surprised me during my children’s parties to suddenly feel excluded at present time. While the children were expressing ecstatic cries of joy, I felt crushed under a smile, bravely hiding my inadequacy to see.

Of course, my eye condition was not my fault but I wanted so much to participate visually that the deep frustration tripped internal buttons of exclusion. This sometimes happens when dealing with a disability such as blindness.

How Sighted Friends Can Make a Difference

I am not suggesting you stop giving presents to your friend who is blind or visually-impaired in fear of causing internal challenges.

Far from it. We love surprises too.

The key here is understanding how important your role is as a sighted friend to make this visual ritual an inclusive experience for your friend with low vision.

By knowing the best ways to share the special time of giving, you will ignite a magic spark for them too!

5 Ways to Bring Your Presence into Your Present

1: Try Not to Hover like a Hawk.

You may mean well but lingering close by while your friend attempts to open your gift feels like pressure. Watching their every hand movement conveys your silent expectations for a positive reaction. Sit tight and allow the process as it unfolds.

2: Don’t be Tempted to Unwrap the Present for your Friend

Some sighted people are so eager to help, they take over the unwrapping of the present. This is not necessary and can actually disempower your friend with low vision by treating them like a helpless child. Instead, relax and offer fun clues.

3:  Allow more Time

Be patient. Just remember it can take more time for your friend to  see the gift in their hands and once unwrapped, they will delight in exploring it through sensitive fingers and with other senses like touch and smell.

4: Share the Journey, Not the Destination

Gift giving to a blind or visually-impaired person is more about the journey in sharing the moment, rather than reaching the destination.

Enjoy, together, the slow unraveling, the exploring of your gift before the need to name it.

5: Savoring the Gift

Yay! You got there. How much nicer is it for both of you to share a present with your presence? This moment in time allows for genuine mutual appreciation.

Ideas for Sensory Gifts

While on the topic of giving a present to a friend with low vision, why not dazzle them completely with a sensory gift? Here are some suggestions to trigger your imagination:

·        Aromatherapy lotions and aromatic potions to bring fragrance to enhance the mind, body & spirit

·        Soft textured scarves & throw rugs to warm up winter

·        Tasty treats like artisan vinegar, herbal oils, teas, dressings & toppings

·        Large print or Braille cards for Canasta players

·       Jewelry with interesting stones beads & pretty finery

·        Textured purse or wallet with many compartments for easier filing of money

·        Talking devices (like pedometers for walkers, cooking scales for chefs, talking watches or alarm clocks for every day)

·        Music CD or audio book

The list is as long as a piece of string!

Find many more great gift ideas for people who are blind or visually-impaired at the American Foundation for the Blind.