Your home should be a safe place, somewhere you can relax and feel completely comfortable, unfortunately if you are blind or have limited vision your home may be the opposite of this. The hazards within a home can be easily rectified if you are aware of them, however it is often difficult for people with good eyesight to appreciate what the hazards may be for someone who is blind. We have created this guide so you can make the appropriate adaptations needed to create a safe home environment that promotes independent living for people who are visually impaired.
This guide will provide you with key adaptations, improvements and repairs that can be made around your home. These small but significant adaptations can help make your home more accessible for those with low or no vision. The adjustments you make will depend on the degree of visual impairment you are adapting for as people with low vision can often perceive colours, differentiate between light and dark and see forms while people who are totally blind have no light perception at all.
Use Contrasting Colours
Limited vision may also mean reduced colour perception so taking advantage of contrasting colours is a good way of making your home a more manageable environment. Using colours that contrast within your home, for example door frames or furniture of a colour that contrasts with the wall colour, can help make objects more visible in an effective and affordable way. Keep in mind that solid, bright colours are easier to see and can be used as a way of warning about a change in level (e.g. a ramp or stairs), a potential hazard (e.g. along the edge of open doors) and a way of coding and sorting files. Although you may think that patterns and stripes could be a good choice as they are eye-catching, these are best avoided for someone with reduced vision as they can create confusion.
General Colour Modifications that May be Helpful
- Use bright colours that contrast with the walls for doorknobs, doors and door frames
- Place a contrasting colour on the edge of the stairs as an indication of where each step begins
- Use a contrasting placemat underneath your dinner plates to help you see the edge of the plate when you are eating
- Emphasize the boundary between the floor and the wall using floor coverings – avoid patterned carpets
- Use illuminated light switches to provide good contrast in dark and lowlight rooms
- As a general rule, use light backgrounds and dark objects to help them standout – for example having dark furniture and a lighter wall will help you locate the furniture
- Avoid using clear glass dishes in the kitchen
- Install power outlets that contrast in colour to the wall so you can easily locate and use plug sockets
- Avoid using patterns and stripes – instead go for solid, bright colours
- Use brightly colours lamps and vases
Adapting the colours within your home to cause more contrast is an effective, affordable and easily achievable way of increasing your homes accessibility and making it easier for you, or your loved ones, to navigate. Red, yellow and orange tend to be more visible and remember to use bright colours as these are the easiest to see.
Adjust and Increase Lighting
Lighting can pose a problem for people with limited eyesight, particularly when lighting is too low or the lighting produces glare. Glare is bright light (it can be sunlight or artificial light) that is reflected into eyes, this glare can interfere with your sight and reduce visual comfort. Glare often occurs from light hitting surfaces such as high gloss tables and television screens. When you are making changes to the lighting within your home, consider if there is any glare being produced and take steps to reduce this in order to improve visual comfort within your home. Steps you could take to reduce glare in your home include installing window shades that allow you to adjust the amount of light coming into a room and using matt finish paint rather than glossy paint to reduce the amount of glare caused by flat surfaces.
Natural light is often preferred by people with low vision but artificial light is necessary to keep you safe and your home well lit. To make artificial light easier to deal with consider using 3-way light bulbs in rooms that you most frequently use, these bulbs can be adjusted to suit the amount of light you require. Another option is using bulbs that create lighting that more closely resembles natural daylight than regular bulbs. Having enough lighting is essential to helping you navigate your home safely.
General Lighting Modifications That May be Helpful
- Keep hallways, entrances and stairways well-lit – artificial lights could be used on the staircase as a visual aid that makes it easier for you to go up and down safely
- Ideally, all lights within the house should be at the same level to avoid confusing shadow formation
- Place lamps on desks or in areas you often work to make completing tasks easier
- Install lights within cupboards, cabinets and closets (ensure the light points at the contents of the cupboard rather than at the person who is opening the cupboard)
Whatever adjustments you decide to make to the lighting within your home, make sure that the lights are easy to switch on and off. The switches should be simple to locate with no trip hazards that could prevent you from reaching the switch safely. You may also choose to make use of tactile markers or railings that can help guide you to light switches too.
Reducing and Repairing Hazards
When you are blind or visually impaired even the most basic action such as closing a cupboard or drawer immediately after use or cleaning up a spillage when it happens can help prevent an accident later on in the day. The following preventative measures can be taken to reduce common household hazards:
- Reduce clutter, including shelf clutter e.g. in the kitchen and bathroom
- Fix any broken handrails and loose carpets
- Install grab bars where necessary e.g. the bathroom
- Keep chairs pushed in at tables and desks
- Use nonslip flooring
- Get rid of small rugs (trip hazard)
- Keep low tables and objects out of the way of walkways and keep cables close to baseboards
- Clearly mark all exits
- Place items on easy to reach shelves
- Repair broken paths or fences
- Install outdoor lighting
- Maintain plants and avoid overgrowth
- Install easy to use door handles
- Install a phone system so you can find out who is at the door before answering
There is no doubt that the kitchen can be a very intimidating place for someone who is visually impaired, fortunately there are a few affordable, easy to make changes that can reduce your frustrations and increase your independence.
Keep Items Labelled
There are labelling options to suit all requirements; so, whether you simply want to use visual cues such as large-print written labels or colour coding or you need to use tactile labels such as braille or bump dots there are plenty of available options. Labelling the items within your kitchen will make mix-ups and confusion much less likely to occur, particularly when it comes to tinned or bottled items.
General Kitchen Modifications That May Be Helpful
Labelling can help make preparing and cooking food easier but when it comes to actually using the kitchen there are a few adaptations that can make the world of difference, these include:
- Always keep the kitchen organized
- Give each type of food a designated place in the cupboard, fridge and freezer so it is easy to locate
- Keep knives separate from other utensils
- Have a chopping board with a light and a dark side so you can safely chop all colour food items against the contrasting colour
- Put items you most frequently use in a specific, easy to reach location
- Use tactile dots on stove dials to indicate settings
- Use colour contrast where possible e.g. worktop, cupboard handles
- Use markings or labels on food, medication and clothing to differentiate between items (braille tags, Velcro, craft paint, pins, rubber bands and markers can all be used)
- Use different container shapes to help you identify different objects
The bathroom can also be particularly hazardous due to the moisture and limited space. Reduce the risk of falls and accidents with the following, easy to implement modifications:
- Keep the bathroom organized so everything has its place and you can always find what you are looking for
- Install grab bars
- Label products
- Label the hot and cold taps
- Mark the ideal water level of the bath using bright tiles or rubber
- Use non-slip flooring on the bathroom floor and in the bath/ shower
- Ensure there is enough light in the bathroom
- Use contrasting colours for the toilet seat and the sink
Your bedroom can be transformed into a comfortable sanctuary by making very few changes, organisation is one of the most important factors when it comes to bedrooms. It is best to store your clothes, jewellery and accessories in a way that is easy to access but without causing a trip hazard. Consider using storage boxes and cupboards along with the labelling techniques we mentioned earlier. You may also:
- Organise furniture to reduce obstructions
- Utilise contrasting colours when choosing curtains, bedding etc.
- Keep electrical cables against the walls
- Install blinds to help control lighting
The hallway that links each room to the next is often overlooked when it comes to adapting your home, however, there are a few things to keep in mind. These include:
- Installing hand rails to help you get around safely
- Paint items that stick out or obstruct your path in bright colour to make it more visible e.g. radiators
- Keep hallways well-lit (motion sensor lights are often a good idea for hallways)
- Use contrasting colours or specific colour schemes to help you identify which room is which
- Ensure there are no trip hazards or obstacles in the hallways
Modify Your Home for a Service Dog
Someone who is fully blind may have a service dog, service dogs transform people’s lives but some prior preparation may be necessary. If you are welcoming a service dog into your home, be sure you:
- Add ‘tugs’ to doors, cabinets and fridge/ freezer so the dog can open and close the doors
- Ensure doorways and passages are wide enough to accommodate you and the dog
- Ensure your garden is securely fenced
- Store medicine and toxic items in a safe drawer
Increased Security & Communications
Keeping safe and being in communication with people outside of your home is vital in case of an emergency, these modifications will make this even easier to achieve:
- Contact your local fire service to fit and check your smoke alarms
- Install an entry phone system so you know who is at the door before answering
- Plan exit routes out of your home in the case of an emergency
- Use a big button phone to help you dial numbers
- Have a personal alarm in case you fall and need help
The cost of making changes to your home varies greatly depending on the modifications you plan on making. You could spend less than £25 if you simply want to install markers and labelling systems in key areas of your home but you can expect this cost to go up to a few thousand pounds if you want to remodel your home. Fortunately, there are a lot of affordable modifications that can make a huge difference to your day-to-day life. If you need to make modifications in order to make your home safer to live in and to allow you to continue to live independently but you do not have the funds to cover these costs yourself, don’t hesitate to apply for financial assistance.
The vast majority of the home modifications we have listed above are low-cost but these costs still build up as you apply them throughout your home. We know it can quickly become overwhelming to adapt your home, but don’t worry as there is support available in the form of funding and grants. If you are in the UK, you will first be required to apply for a needs assessment (this is carried out by social services), a needs assessment determines whether or not you are eligible for assistance with home adaptations. An assessment may also need to be carried out by an occupational therapist.
After the assessment, you may be eligible for a Disabled Facilities Grant which is provided to people who are disabled and need to make changes to their home. The grant is means-tested so the amount you receive will depend on your household income and savings but the grant can be up to £36,000. If your income is higher than your outgoings, you may need to pay towards the work that is being carried out. The disabled facilities grant can be applied for if you or someone living in your property is disabled and you or the person you are applying for either owns the property or intends to live there for the 5-year grant period.
The grant payment is either given in instalments while the work is being carried out or in one sum once the work has been completed. This financial assistance can be applied for through your local council and you can appeal the decision if you are unhappy with the outcome of your application.
If you are disabled, you will not be charged VAT on products or services that are designed or adapted for a disability. This means that if you qualify for VAT relief, you do not have to pay VAT on home adaptions.
Home Improvement Agencies
You may also benefit from the advice and support of Home Improvement Agencies (also known as Care and Repair or Staying Put), these are non-profit organisations that provide specialist help with the support of local authorities and government. Home improvement agencies aim to help disabled, elderly and other vulnerable people live as independently as possible and will be able to provide you with information, support and assistance throughout the process of adapting your home. Generally, advice and the first visit by home improvement agencies are free but they will charge a fee if you would like further assistance from them. You can get advice on available schemes, alternative housing options, the process of applying for funding from the local authority, legal entitlement and more.
Enhancing independence at home while remaining safe is critical for those with low vision or blindness. The modifications within this guide will help you to do just that, although many of the changes are small and simple, the positive impact they have on the life of someone with a visual impairment is substantial. Adapting your house to suit your needs will help to transform it into a home that you are comfortable living in.