A happy home life should be something everyone enjoys, including people with vision issues. The National Eye Institute reports today, there are 4.2 million Americans ages 40 and older who are visually impaired. By 2030, the number is projected to reach 7.2 million, with 5 million people who are expected to have low vision.
Low vision is a visual impairment that cannot be fixed with typical eyeglasses, contacts, medication or surgery. Low vision can present some challenges for navigating home life, but a few simple modifications can make completing everyday tasks easier.
In honor of Low Vision Awareness Month in February, let’s take a look at six home adaptations for those with low vision.
Get rid of hazards that increase the risk of falling, bumping into objects or having an object fall on you. The American Foundation for the Blind has some suggestions for getting rid of dangerous hazards in the home:
- Keep desk and table chairs pushed in and train your family to do the same. All of the time. No exceptions.
- Use non-skid, non-glare products to clean and polish your floors. Avoid waxing floors, which can make them slippery!
- Remove low-lying objects that might be trip hazards such as coffee tables and end tables.
- Ensure there are no cords in any of the pathways so that you don’t trip.
- Make sure electrical cords are removed from pathways or taped down securely.
- Tape down any area rugs you have and replace any worn carpeting or floor coverings.
- Keep all floors dry and wipe up any spills immediately.
- Install grab bars or safety rails in high-slip areas like your bathroom or on the stairs.
- Mark step edges with yellow reflective tape so that you can easily identify them.
- Always keep your fire extinguisher and first aid kit in the same, easily accessible place.
- Make sure all exits are marked with a bright, contrasting color in case of emergency.
- Have smoke and fire alarms checked often, and ensure they are loud enough that you can hear them in all areas of the house.
You should aim to keep your home environment as clutter-free as possible. Avoid hanging things on walls, which can create confusion and become a hazard. Avoid leaving things on floors, and try to keep them clear. Make pathways simple to pass through. You might want to install grab bars on walls to make your home easy to walk through.
Use Color and Contrast
Keep the color principles top of mind as you prepare your home. Know that bright colors are often the easiest to see since they reflect light. Solid, brighter colors such as orange, red and yellow are more visible than their muted counterparts.
It’s important to keep in mind that dim light can wash out certain colors, while bright light can amplify them. Test what works best for you, and use contrasting colors to make the areas of your house easier to distinguish.
- Use brightly colored vases, lamps or sculptures to help identify where key pieces of furniture are.
- Avoid upholstery and rugs that are patterned. Stripes and checks can create confusion for some people who are visually impaired.
- Use color to indicate changes in surface level (such as on the stairs).
- Use contrasting colors to warn about places that may be hazardous or require extra attention (such as fluorescent tape on the inside of doors or cabinets that may be ajar).
- Color-code household items you use often or bills and documents you may need to work with. (Brightly colored post-it notes work great!)
- Drape a brightly colored blanket or towel in a contrasting color on the back of your favorite chair or your spot on the couch.
- Use dark, solid colors as borders around white or light objects (such as a light switch). This will help it to stand out.
- Place dark objects (like chairs) in front of lighter colored walls which will also help these items to stand out.
- Avoid using clear glass dishes and cups, as they are more difficult to see.
- Paint door knobs and door frames a bright color so that they are easier to see.
- Use a different color of paint on the ceiling than the walls.
- Use solid (non-patterned) rugs to help you identify different areas of the home.
It’s best to use solid bright colors like reds, orange and yellow, since they are typically more visible than pastels and reflect light. Darker colors like brown, black, blue and purple are more difficult for those with low vision to distinguish.
Plenty of lighting to illuminate the task at hand at home is essential. Windows that enable natural light to stream through are great to have at home. Here are some lighting tips for those with low vision:
- In recreation and reading areas, use plenty of floor and table lamps
- Aim light at the work you’re doing, not at the eyes
- Replace burned-out light bulbs
- Arrange mirrors so lighting doesn’t reflect off them and create glare
- Use adjustable window coverings to customize natural light that comes in
- Do tasks in natural light
- Use lightbulbs of at least 60 watts
- Add more light using clamp-on lamps where needed
- In hallways and stairways, install adequate lighting
Those with low vision may want to try out several different types of lightbulbs to see which style suits them, as well. Lights that have dimming capabilities can be used at lower levels during the day for extra illumination.
Reduce Required Reading
Reading can be difficult for those with low vision. You can develop a letter or symbol-based system that reduces the amount of necessary reading and makes objects easier to identify. Here are some tips.
- Use visual cues to replace words. For example, instead of having an on/off switch, label dials with tape in contrasting colors.
- Use large-numbered and large-print objects, like telephones, timers and books
- Label bottles with the first letter of the name of the item, and re-use the bottles
- Label hangers for clothing
Use a permanent black marker to assign an easier-to-read label on items. For clothes, you can label the inside tab with a letter indicating the type of clothing it is.
If you keep your home organized it will be easier to find things when you need them. It can also eliminate any tripping hazards and reduce frustration when doing everyday chores. Here are some tips to help you say organized:
- Label, label, label. Label everything in your home, from reusable bottles to hangers for clothing to on/off switches. You can even label cabinets!
- Use drawer dividers and closet organizers to separate clothing.
- Label clothing with the letter of the clothing color on the tag.
- Develop a system to keep food and toiletry items organized. Always keep these items in the same place and label them as necessary.
- Always keep chairs and other easily movable furniture in the same place.
- Use large numbered devices for telephones, timers, calculators or anything with numbers that need to be seen.
- Train family members to respect the organizational system you’ve developed. Explain to them why and how it helps you.
Install Safe Flooring
Installing safe, non-slip flooring throughout your home is one of the best things you can do for your safety. Nowadays, there are even tactile warning strips and tiles to help you navigate throughout your house with ease. Here are some things you can do to your floor to keep you safe:
- Install warning textiles in front of doorways or changes in level throughout the home.
- Install tactile strips along routes you often take in the house. This will make it more convenient to get around!
- Take away any area rugs or, if you prefer to have them, ensure they are taped down properly.
- Avoid slick surfaces in areas like the kitchen and bathroom. Have a bath-mat (or several) in the bathroom at all times.
Give Your Home a Tactile Effect
Adding tactile elements to your interior design can help you use your sense of touch to navigate your house with ease. There are several things you can keep in mind when designing your home or that you can easily modify after the fact. You should:
- Buy furniture that has textured upholstery. This will allow you to recognize furniture in different rooms by their texture.
- Use tactile markers in your kitchen and bathroom to let you know where things are located and when to use caution.
- Use embossed letter stickers to help you distinguish between different things. For example, an “F” could let you know you are turning on the living room fan.
- Mark toothbrushes or other important items with rubber bands or other tactile aids so that you can easily identify them.
- Use braille labels for anything that needs special identification.
Adaptations to Help With Daily Living and Chores
There are tons of things you can do to make you or your loved one’s day-to-day life more efficient. These home adaptations are simple and can give you a sense of independence and safety while performing everyday tasks.
If there is some usable vision you can use a magnifying glass to identify the foods in your kitchen; however, if you can’t see that well then there are a few modifications you can implement:
- Use braille labels to mark foods and medicines, especially if they can pose some kind of danger (like if you are allergic or need to take a specific dose).
- Use rubber bands to identify certain food or medicine items. Place a different number of rubber bands on each different container.
- Use brightly colored and labeled index cards to label items around the kitchen.
- Use pipe cleaners, velcro, velour pads or foam alphabet letters to label different things (like canned goods).
- Learn to identify kitchen items by their weight, location, sound, size, or shape.
Adapt Your Kitchen
Cooking with impaired vision can be not only frustrating but also dangerous if the right precautions aren’t taken. When cooking, there are a few safety tips, tricks and adaptations we’d like to suggest:
- Use scoop measuring cups that hold exact amounts such as ½ cup, ⅓ cup and 1 cup measurements. You can store these inside food canisters like flour, sugar or oatmeal for added convenience. Always have extra measuring cups nearby when cooking.
- Store spices in baby food jars with a wide mouth for easier measuring.
- Keep a cutting board that has a light and a dark side so that you will have a contrasting surface no matter what you are cutting.
- Store knives in old paper towel rolls so that you don’t accidentally touch the sharpened edge of the blade.
- Keep everything in its place at all times. It will be so much easier to navigate your kitchen if you know exactly where to look.
- Keep a cafeteria tray handy to use as a prep area. This will help you contain any spills and keep you organized.
- Label shelves and drawers, if needed.
Adjust for Housekeeping and Laundry
Even simple chores like laundry can take longer than necessary if you don’t have some modifications in place. There are a few things you can do to make life easier:
- Place tactile stickers on the dials and commonly used settings of your washing machine and dryer. If you share a household, you can use transparent stickers to make sure the rest of your family can see the dials as well.
- Pin your socks together with sock locks before putting them away, and teach your family to do the same.
- Load the dishwasher from back to front and remember to always load knives and forks point-side down.
- Place safety pins in clothing of the same color or label clothing with a letter of clothing color on the tag.
- Place dividers in drawers and closets to separate different kinds of clothing.
- Label all cleaning supplies with braille or felt letters so that you know what you are cleaning with at all times.
Improve Communication and Technology Usage
Part of feeling at home in your living space is being able to function and use technology normally. These tips can help you stay in touch with your loved ones and the world more easily:
- Make sure your telephones have large print keypads or dials.
- Use felt-tip markers on white paper or 20/20 high-contrast pens when writing.
- Purchase a large-screen, high-definition television to improve your viewing experience.
- Turn your computer’s settings to use speech synthesis to read on-screen text and relay screen contents.
- Make sure all emergency contact numbers are written largely and clearly or programmed into your phone.
Modify for a Service Dog
If you or your loved one is fully blind you might have a seeing-eye dog. This can be a life-changing opportunity, but it requires lots of preparation. While we could write an entire guide on this subject alone, here are some easy modifications you can make for your service dog:
- Make sure any paths or walkways are large enough to accommodate both you and your service dog.
- Ensure the backyard is fenced and doesn’t have any holes your pet can escape from.
- Give your service dog ways to open and close doors around your house so that they can always get to you. You can do this by adding “tugs” to each door and teaching them how to use them.
- Add tugs to the fridge, freezer or any cabinets you will want them to be able to access.
- Store toxic items securely in a drawer or cabinet your dog doesn’t have access to.
- Install a self-feeding system so that they are always fed and have access to water
- Create a sleeping area for your pup in your room. Make sure it is nearby in case you need assistance but also in a place that you won’t trip over it.