The ultimate guide to adapting your home if you are blind or partially-sighted
If you live with any kind of vision impairment — from low vision to partial vision to blindness — home modifications can help you live comfortably and independently. With the right adaptations, you can do many of the things in your home that a sighted person can.
So how do you know which modifications will help you best and how to implement them in your home? You can start by talking with a medical professional, like an occupational therapist, for guidance on your specific vision impairment. You can also reach out to an architect or an interior designer with experience designing homes for people with different levels of abilities. Here are a few topics you can bring up with a professional or that can inform any DIY projects you plan on tackling with friends and family.
Painting for Safety
Painting walls, ceilings and floors different colors can make it easier for you to distinguish between them if your vision is impaired. Painting door frames and the edges of steps different colors clues you in on room and level changes.
Painting contrasting colors doesn’t just help on walls. You can also paint the switches on electrical appliances or use colored tape to mark safety features. Apply contrasting colors to toilet seats and sinks so that you can see and use them safely and effectively. For example, a red toilet seat on a white toilet can be a bright marker for you, especially in low light, and a darkly-painted kitchen sink nestled in a well-lit countertop can make both cooking and cleaning easier.
If you have low vision, painting with contrasting colors can also help you identify and move around protruding objects, like radiators, thermostats, doorways and doorknobs. If you have blindness, adding extra padding on the object can help prevent bumps. You can also use texture to warn yourself about these objects by laying down strategically-placed rugs or putting textured paint before and around an object that sticks out.
The type of paint you choose can make a difference as well. Paints that have a matte finish will reduce glare, and avoiding patterns will cause less confusion in lower lighting if you have partial vision. Using contrasting colors to help navigate and identify rooms can not only make your home more comfortable, but safer as well.
Lighting Your Way
If you have low vision, making modifications and improvements to the lights in your home can help you enjoy activities you love, such as cooking meals or listening to music. Certain kinds of lighting can also assist you in managing self-care tasks like bathing, grooming and changing clothes. Some lighting modifications you can put into effect include:
- Making sure precarious places, such as stairs and bathrooms, are well-lit with bright lights.
- Adding additional fixtures into walls and ceilings to illuminate rooms. Install floor lighting in places with aisles, like hallways and stairs, to maneuver safely at night.
- Putting lights in cupboards, over counters, in closets and any place where extra light could make a task safer, like showering or cooking.
Organizing Your Surroundings
If you have vision impairment, it’s important that essential and everyday items are easy to find and store. From kitchen essentials to everyday toiletries, your home simply won’t feel like a home if you don’t have comfortable, easy access to the things you need. Not only will organizing your belongings help you stay safe in your home, but it will also make living on your own more enjoyable and less frustrating. Some modifications you can use to stay organized include:
- When you take your socks off, pin them together before putting them in the laundry hamper so you can easily match them after they’ve been washed and dried.
- Use hangers of different textures to separate types, styles or colors of clothing. You can also tie rope or ribbon of different textures on hangers to help categorize clothing.
- Create a system to keep pantry items organized. If you have partial vision, consider brightly-colored labels. If you have low vision or blindness, consider textured labels to help you identify spices, ingredients like sugar and salt, and canned goods.
- Never store items together that do not belong or could be harmful. For instance, keeping cleaning products near food or drinks could lead to a devastating mix-up.
Safe from Slips and Falls
There are a number of ways you can modify the bathroom to reduce your risk of slips and falls. Start by making sure the flooring in your bathroom — and any room where water is used frequently, like your kitchen or laundry room — has non-slip flooring. It’s also a good idea to place additional non-slip mats in showers and bathtubs, as well as in front of sinks, washing machines, dishwashers and refrigerators.
In addition to safety-proofing the floors, installing mat wall tiles that contrast in color to the floors and the rest of the walls will be a helpful modification. Another simple safety fix includes installing handrails. You’ll want to add these to areas where you know you need extra help, like in the shower or next to the toilet. If you have low or partial vision, you can purchase handrails implanted with LED lights, which will give you that extra bit of assistance when traversing your home in darker lighting.
Hallways and bedrooms can also benefit from handrails. You can use grab rails as guides to find your bed and to support yourself while getting in and out of it. Handrails in hallways can both prevent falls and help you recover from minor ones.
Safety Inside and Out
Modifications for vision impairment don’t just occur inside the home, but outside as well. There will be certain tasks you’ll want to keep up with weekly, monthly or year-round so that you can safely come and go. Installing large, easy-to-find door handles on exterior doors will make getting inside simpler. Using bright paint or textures can help you identify your mailbox and garage door opener panel as well as any curbs you have to navigate regularly. Additionally, your regular outdoor maintenance chore list should include repairing and clearing pathways in order to eliminate tripping hazards.
In addition to maintenance, you may want to add safety modifications so you can feel safe and secure both inside and out. Keep your grass short and trees, shrubs and hedges trimmed so there are fewer hazards. You’ll want to make sure your locks are easy to find and operate, but not easy to break into. Other safety adaptations to improve your home’s security include:
- Having your home assessed by a security professional.
- Installing smoke alarms that you can find easily, and that are designed to be easier to check and test for people with vision impairment.
- Working with your neighbors or friends to plan an emergency route out of your home and even neighborhood should a disaster happen.
- Installing a security system specifically developed for people with vision impairments. This might include bigger, brighter alarm keypads, voice-activated options or smartphone entry.
While it may take time and some costs up front, adding modifications to your home will pay out big time in the long run. You can live your day-to-day life more at ease knowing your home is safe, secure and, most importantly, yours.