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.
1. Eliminate Hazards
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:
- Arrange furniture in close areas
- Put adequate lighting near furniture
- Get furniture with texture, which provides tactile clues. Avoid patterns, which can create confusion.
- Make furniture easier to locate by placing brightly-colored vases and lamps nearby
- Replace worn carpeting and floor coverings
- Tape down or remove area rugs to prevent slips
- Remove electrical cords from pathways, or tape them down for safety
- Don’t wax floors. Use non-skid and non-glare products to clean and polish floors.
- Push in desk and table chairs
- Keep large furniture out of main foot traffic areas
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.
2. Use Color and Contrast
Being aware of color and contrast can make objects easier to identify and find. The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab research hospital recommends adding contrasting colors on handles or knobs of appliances and even on lines on measuring cups.
Some other color and contrast tips are:
- Place light objects against dark backgrounds
- Install door knobs with color contrast
- Make doors easier to locate by painting the door frame a contrasting color
- Mark edges of all steps and ramps with paint or tape
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.
3. Update Lighting
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.
4. 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.
5. Get Organized
Organization is the key to knowing where things are without having to search every time. Create systems that enable you to remember where things are, like how many steps it takes to get to something, or where an object is based on its position among others. Here are some techniques to organize your home for low vision:
- For clothes, use closet organizers or dividers to separate types of clothing
- Use safety pins to group socks together when doing laundry, and use mesh laundry bags to group types of clothing together
- Group similar items in similar places, like toiletries and food items, and assign labels with the letter of the item in black marker
Make sure your everyday items each have a designated “home” within your home. Put them back in the same place every time, so they’re easier to locate.
6. Make Technology Work For You
Use smart home technology to do everything from checking who is at the front door using a smart doorbell with an intercom system, to shutting off your ventilation system if your smart smoke detector detects gas in the air.
“Using voice commands for things like thermostats and other household devices can be very helpful for those who suffer from low vision,” says Dr. Debbie Duong of Barnet Dulaney Perkins Eye Center in Phoenix.
Dr. Duong recommends surveying your home to see what devices can be replaced with voice-controlled options and integrating audio assistance in your home.
Once you’ve decided what smart devices you want to upgrade to, choose a personal voice assistant and then find devices that are compatible with your assistant.
You can start small with smart plugs and light bulbs, and then move on to larger appliances like refrigerators. You determine cost and the level of complexity of your smart home environment.
7. Keep It Simple
The more complicated tasks are to complete, the more challenges they present for those with low vision. Especially when tasks involve hazardous items like knives or razors, those tasks should be amended or avoided. Here are some ways to make everyday functioning simpler:
- Purchase foods that don’t require much cooking, or come pre-sliced. Use the microwave instead of the stove.
- Use an electric razor
- Use low vision tools at home, like hand-held magnifiers or eyeglasses with high-powered lenses
There are lots of low vision devices that can help with everyday living. Some include desktop or standalone magnifiers, distance vision correction, electronic glasses, and low vision apps and device accessibility features.
Use These Tips for a Happier Home
Your home should be a place where you feel safe and comfortable. Review these low vision modifications for your home so that you’re protected and your everyday life is easier:
- Eliminate hazards
- Use color and contrast
- Update lighting
- Reduce required reading
- Organize your home
- Take advantage of smart technology
- Use low vision tools
If you’d like more tips personalized for your unique home and lifestyle, please visit a Barnet Dulaney Perkins office near you. Or, call 602-603-4247 to schedule an appointment.