Christmas Shopping
Wednesday, December 22, 2010 at 9:56PM
Richard Windsor

"Excuse me, Ma'am. I was wondering why you were sniffing the CDs?"

Straightening up, I gave the salesman my best glower (it's hard to glower effectively when you've just been caught with your head in a CD rack) and attempted to explain my eye condition. He shrugged and left me to carry on my search, but I knew he was smirking at me from behind the counter.

Admittedly, I must have looked a funny sight, stooped over the CD racks like the hunchback of Notre Dame, nose brushing the merchandise as I squinted at the titles. But he deserved that glower.

I was annoyed. Before I'd entered the music store, I'd been hunting through the racks of my sister's favorite clothing shop and, upon finding a shirt I thought she might like, asked the saleslady what color it was. "It's black, obviously," she snapped, returning to her nail file and giving me an epic glower (much more impressive than my own) for daring to interrupt her most sacred of tasks.

And all this was after the bus ride. As the electronic numbers on many of the buses are in red lights, I can't read them, even with binoculars. I have to hail every bus that looks like its going past and ask them which number they are. "Read the goddamn sign," this morning's driver snapped, forcing me to get off the bus, face burning, and ask a waiting passenger for the number.

Taken separately, these incidents roll off my back. But together, in the same day? It’s too much for an achromat to bear.

Christmas shopping is a nightmare experience for practically everybody, but an achromat has bigger problems than tinny Christmas carols playing at top volume from crowded shops. Have you ever tried to buy a new shirt for someone while having no idea what colors hang on the rack in front of you? Sales assistants are often too busy, insensitive or grumpy to help.

I've solved this problem in recent years with extreme forward planning. In July, I decide on the presents I'll be buying or making for each person. And over the next few months I'll purchase them all, mostly online, and store them in my secret cupboard (so my husband can’t claim them as his own). Come December I pull them out, wrap them, and place them smugly under the tree while everyone else frets about the impending shopping season.

Online shopping is the achromat's Christmas best friend. You don't have to brave the horrors of public transport. Most sites list exact sizes and colors of items, and will deliver direct to your recipient, eliminating another trip to the post office.

You can shop at your leisure, read customer reviews of potential gifts, and even send virtual gift vouchers. You can adjust your screen settings to your own comfort level, and there are no virtual salespeople popping up to comment on your strange shopping behaviour.

Some of my favorite online stores:

But online shopping has problems, too. Many retailers don't have decent accessible websites – shopping sites built in Flash can be particularly problematic. With items like clothing, it can sometimes be difficult to get a perfect fit. Always buy from stores with returns policies.

Luxurious bath products: If you're not so great at choosing the best colors for your best friend, you can always choose the best scent. Everyone loves taking time to relax in the bath, so a box of exquisite soaps, bath bombs and shower gels would never go amiss.

Garish Socks, Scarves and Ties: Give the gift of true achromatopsia – a necktie so loud and garish, you'll make your dad wish he were color-blind. I like to tell the salesman in the menswear shop "I need the ugliest tie you have in stock. Surprise me."

Home-baked Christmas goodies: The holiday season is the perfect time of year to indulge in a little baking. Not only do you avoid the crowded shops but you'll also be giving something special, made just by you, and all the little bits of eggshell you accidentally missed and the slightly blackish tinge on the top of the cake only add to the charm.

Ebooks and E-Readers: If you're anything like me, you're already enjoying the wonderful world of electronic books. I carry my Kobo ereader everywhere and can finally enjoy all my favorite books in large print. Introduce your sister to the joys of carrying 1000 books in her purse.

Concert tickets:
Many people with vision-impairments embrace music as their primary form of entertainment. Unlike movies and video games, music can be fully appreciated by even the most severe of achromats. And every music fan knows nothing beats live sound. Share your love of music by buying concert tickets or an orchestra season pass for your Mom.

If you're an achromat stuck for ideas for your friends and family (or you've got someone special with achromatopsia to shop for and no idea what to buy) here are some of my favorite gift ideas:

Remember, at its heart, Christmas isn't about which gifts you buy or receive, but that you take the time to slow down, take a breath, and think about how lucky you are to have a family who love you, food to enjoy, a roof over your head, and two eyes that kinda, sorta work.

Merry Christmas!

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