Top Tips For Christmas Shopping When You Have a Visual Impairment


My name is Holly, I’m the author of the blog

I am registered blind due to a condition called Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) as I was born at 24 weeks. I have no useful vision as I only have light perception.

I love shopping so I have ways that I implement when I go out shopping.

Shopping can be a challenge for blind and visually impaired people at the best of times, even more so at Christmas, however, it certainly isn’t impossible. Towns and cities are bustling with shoppers and tourists all wanting to grab some bargains for the festive period.

Despite all of this, there are many ways in which you can make shopping for Christmas presents that little bit easier when you have a visual impairment.

Shop online

You could buy many of your Christmas presents from the comfort of your own home and get them delivered to you in a few days. Websites such as Amazon, Etsy and Not On The High Street are some great examples, depending on what you are intending to buy. You could also use Amazon Smile and donate to a charity that’s close to your heart.

Go shopping with a friend or family member

If you don’t want to go shopping on your own then why not go with a friend or family member? You could make a day of it, plus you can’t beat some retail therapy and good company. It can also be a great way of having a catch up with a friend or family member that you haven’t seen in a while.

If you’re looking for something specific then make sure you go with someone that you trust and knows what you’re after.

Support small/local businesses

It’s great to buy from well-known brands and chains but why not support local businesses at Christmas time? They often have some great presents that you can pick up.

Ask for assistance when shopping independently

Many shops are happy to offer assistance if you ask, you could even call them beforehand.

Make a list of what you want to buy

Leading on from the previous point, if you have a list of things that you want to buy from a specific shop, then it is much easier for the assistant to help you find what you’re looking for.

Do your Christmas shopping early!

I know that this is easier said than done but doing the majority of your Christmas shopping early means that you miss the mad rush and you are organised which has got to be a good thing right? 

Those are a few tips for Christmas shopping when you have a visual impairment. Do you have any others to share?

Merry Christmas and happy New Year!


‘The Duckiness of Ducks’ and other play essentials: Why play is important to children with vision impairment and their families

By Sarah Holton – Assistant UK Lead CYPF (Children, Young People and Families) at RNIB

Play is important for all children, essential in fact. But do we know why? What might it mean if a child doesn’t find it easy to play? Or we don’t know how to play with our child? Sarah Holton, Children and Young People’s Officer shares her thoughts.

Why play?

There is extensive research into child development and the importance and impact of play on all aspects of a child’s progress, including their ability to understand their world, the people in it and themselves. Through play we can create circumstances and experiences that might never be had in “real-life”, but nevertheless contribute to an overall world view. I think of my own children’s attempts to parachute Sylvanian Family hedgehogs from our landing and then the elaborate remote-control ambulance rescue that followed to pick up all of the “broked legs”. Some things are best learnt in play without the need for the real-life experience (I hope).

As well as learning through play, Professor Tina Bruce would ask us to consider an alternative perspective: play enables a child to practice what they have already learnt. Play gives children a chance to understand their relationships, thoughts and feelings, and to use newly acquired physical and cognitive skills under their own volition and control. 

Playing together, and enjoying objects and activities in relation with other people, is also a key aspect of social development.

“It is a happy talent to know how to play” Ralph Waldo Emerson 

So what does this mean for a child with vision impairment (VI)?

A child with VI will need support to access the life experiences and learning that a sighted child gains through their vision, often incidentally. We don’t necessarily have to teach sighted children what the sky is like, because we point to it and talk about what we see.

In play, a sighted child will be stimulated by vision and motivated to encounter objects and people around them, to explore these things and build experiences, real or imaginary, as a result. Despite a possible difficulty in motivation or self-initiated play, this process is just as important for a child with VI. We just might need to think differently about how to get it going and get it really right.

Why did we write a play guide?

Image of Dad and daughter playing with a talking book together
photo shows a man reading an interactive book with a little girl

A three-year old is likely to be more of an expert on play than we are, and we should take their lead. However, parents ask us all the time about toys for their children, about how to help them play, and we want to provide this support. Until 2010, we produced an annual Toy Catalogue, listing toys that had been picked by parents and specialist teachers as interesting, stimulating and fun for children with VI.

When Karen Newell was given this catalogue, shortly after her son’s diagnosis with a severe vision impairment, it was the first thing that was about having fun, about making him smile. Amongst information leaflets, referrals, appointments and eye drops, tests and operations, perhaps something about toys and play brought it back to being a Mum. About how they were going to grow and learn together, and rebuild a bit of the confidence that can be snatched at diagnosis.

When Karen approached us last year asking if she, and her friend and colleague Rebecca (herself partially-sighted), could work with us to reincarnate the Toy Catalogue, we were delighted. The result is ‘Let’s Play!’, a play guide which not only contains listings of suitable toys and how to choose them, but also extensive guidance about play spaces, experiences, styles and choices.

So what’s with the ducks?

 ‘The Duckiness of Ducks’ a term coined by Professor Mike McLinden, refers to the way the world is represented through toys, and how phenomenally unhelpful some of these representations might be for a child with vision impairment. There is very little about a rubber duck that resembles a real duck. Play of course doesn’t always need to be real-life – quite the opposite – fantasy, imagination and abstract are part of the fun. But if you are trying to make representations of real-life objects, the plastic, bright yellow, rigid and rubbery nature of a rubber duck is perhaps a bit of a stretch from its feathery, flappy and squishy pond-dwelling equivalent. For more ideas about getting multi-sensory representations right, you can read the full guide by following the link below.

Do you know a parent, teacher or carer of a child with vision impairment? Find and share the guide at

Find the Play Guide

Further information and resources

Karen and Rebecca have founded the #toylikeme campaign which calls for toy manufacturers to make better representations of disability in their products:

Learn more about how to encourage socializing and play with Insight Online, our online magazine for education professionals who support children and young people with vision impairment.

Based on what parents tell us they would like to know, our Parents Guide includes practical advice, ideas and contacts for parents and families of children with vision impairment. Find and share the guide using

Find more research about children and young people and education in our Research Reports section.

The bright side of blindness

The Bright Side of Blindness

by Manming Wu, RNIB Yorks and Humber volunteer

“Great,” I say,” of course I’ll write a Christmas blog about sight loss”. Then I wonder how I can possibly conjure that fuzzy festive feeling talking about… well, sight loss.

I like Christmas. It brings out the best in people. Thoughts turn to the happiness of others and strangers find kind words for each other where, ordinarily, no words would be exchanged at all. Realising the good in people must be a contributor to that festive feeling, right? So, let’s talk about how blindness can bring out the best in people too, and how that can make us feel good all year round.

I’ve always been visually impaired and now, in my (early) thirties, I believe, ironically, blindness helps us see something that otherwise, we might have missed – a unique form of strength and kindness.

The four categories of people I have noticed this in, are me (and perhaps other visually impaired people, although everyone experiences sight loss differently), people I know, people I don’t know and my kids. (I know, technically my kids fall under category 2 but I’m giving them a category all to themselves).

Me: Finding strength through sight loss

When you can’t see, life takes more effort. I’m nothing special. In fact, I think I’m the epitome of average, but being visually impaired, you work a lot harder than your fully sighted peers to achieve ‘average’. It’s not fair, but it’s a fact that anyone with a disability must face. With this in mind, my parents taught me that I can do anything I want, it just won’t be easy. Hard work and self-belief can bring me wonderful experiences and exciting opportunities. I have been fortunate and had plenty of both so far. My visual impairment has almost been a motivator for me to do more and do it better, even if that means I have to do it differently. Occasionally, the goal is something big such as backpacking around the world or learning the art of ballet. Mostly though, the goal necessary, like going to the shop with the baby and the toddler; then returning home with four pints of milk, a loaf of bread and still one baby and one toddler (ideally the same ones). Whether I’m navigating barely-lit corridors of the Tran-Siberian Express, an unfamiliar stage or the minefield that is my local supermarket, all necessitate more effort from me than it would from a fully sighted traveller, dancer or shopper. Not allowing sight loss to stop me doing things I want or need to, takes a kind of strength I’m not sure I would have realised, if I could see. As I said earlier, I’m not special. I’m just like many people in the world with sight loss, or any disability for that matter. Just as there’s no bravery without fear, there’s no strength without difficulty. Whilst we can’t always be as strong as we would like, the strength we do summon should be recognised for what it is – something rather special.

People I know: Those who help us, will help others

My husband, family and friends are the best people ever. They are supportive, loving and lots of fun. They are also the people who stop and read labels to the lady clutching a magnifying glass, squinting at use-by dates in the fruit and veg aisle. I think they would have done that anyway, because they are so awesome, but I also think being familiar with sight loss makes them more likely to notice when someone needs a helping hand (or eye). When you are used to differences in people, whether that’s a disability, race or a set of beliefs, you automatically become more accepting of differences in new people you meet. Maybe if everyone had a friend who was different in some way, the world would be a nicer place!

People I don’t know: Kindness and blindness

Before I had a cane, when I walked into something, fell off something or knocked something over (which was frequently!), my embarrassment was often multiplied by sounds of onlookers tutting, or even laughing. This made me feel, quite frankly, a bit rubbish. When the object you walk into or knock over is another human, that rubbish feeling is infinitely more pronounced; even when the other party is clearly looking down at their smart phone instead of the path in front of them. Comparatively, when I use my cane and these incidents occur (yep, still frequently!) people invariably show kindness. On a recent solo trip to London, no fewer than fourteen people offered me help. Granted, two of them worked for the London Underground and were doing their job, but that still leaves twelve people who took time out of their day to be kind to someone they didn’t know. That’s kindness I might not have seen (excuse the pun!) if I could see.

My kids: Kids don’t care if you can’t see

Kids are naturally inclusive. If they have a parent who is visually impaired, they not only accept it, but they have a head start in learning to embrace differences in people. My two year old daughter already understands that our family are a team and we all help and care for each other, because that’s what families do. I don’t mean we help Mummy because she has “poorly eyes” but we help Daddy, Baby and grandparents too. Like any toddler, she enjoys helping (or un-helping) around the house (although I must give credit where it’s due, she is in fact, a tiny sock-pairing ninja). She also remembers to check-in and say “Mummy, I’m here” at regular intervals when we are out. I keep her close and I know she is safe regardless, but this is her way of helping me and I’m proud that she does it. There are many things she does and says that are probably unique to kids of visually impaired parents. It’s great when these things make me proud, better still, when they also make me laugh. Recently she told Daddy that “Mummy’s special stick is not for playing”. She clarified that it is not in fact a fishing rod, nor a Lightsaber, but “… is for helping Mummy when she can’t see.” After a pause she added “… you should put a light on it for Mummy.” Why had I never thought of that!?

Finding the bright side

So, you see, it’s not all bad. I’m not trivialising the difficulties associated with sight loss. These difficulties are different for everyone and I’m living with my own version of them every day. Depending on where you are on your sight loss journey, it might be impossible to find any positives at this moment. But I promise, they are there. Some people will be lucky enough to see the lights twinkle this Christmas, and others will not. But if we all learn to view sight loss from a new perspective, we might just find the bright side of blindness. That will give us a good feeling, no matter what time of year it is.