Adaptations Around the Home
Make sure there are clear travel paths in hallways and through rooms. Rearrange furniture so there are no trip hazards. Coffee tables are fine for sighted people, but can be a trip hazard especially for elderly visually impaired people. The same is true of other household clutter such as throw rugs and children's toys. Keep things in specific places since a visually impaired person can't scan the room looking for something. Moving things around such as furniture can be confusing until they learn the new setup.
Paint doors and their trim a contrasting color from the walls. Door thresholds should be flush with the floor, or painted a contrasting color. Doors left halfway open can be dangerous. One way to solve this problem is with gentle self-closing devices. Put decals on glass sliding doors so the visually impaired person can tell if they are open or closed.
Mark all steps both inside and outside the house with contrasting colors. Paint the handrails a contrasting color from the wall. A good way to mark steps is to paint a yellow stripe on the edge of the step. Paint a strip at the beginning and end of ramps too.
Lighting should be bright and at consistent levels throughout the house, but try to eliminate as much glare and reflection as possible. Florescent lighting makes for a bright energy efficient house.(a) Switch plates, and electrical sockets, that are a contrasting color from the wall will be easier to see. Use light shades of paint on walls. Flat finishes help eliminate glare. Light filtering curtains, blinds, shades and awnings cut down on glare through windows, but allow plenty of indirect sunlight into the house.(c)
Grab bars for the tub and shower are a good idea especially for the elderly visually impaired. The sink, toilet and tub should contrast well from the floor and walls. For people with some usable vision a large well-lit mirror should be hung over the sink.
High quality florescent lighting is the best bet for the kitchen, laundry room, and shop.(a) Appliances with controls on the front make life easier and safer for the visually impaired. Every thing has its place in a visually impaired persons kitchen. Moving the baking powder from one shelf to another can ruin a whole recipe. Kitchen cabinet doors left open are very dangerous A rehabilitation teacher from an agency for the blind and visually impaired can help with adapting appliances like: stoves, microwave ovens, washers, dryers, thermostats, etc. They can also teach new cooking techniques.
Inexpensive four-foot florescent shop lights are a good choice for the utility room. There should be easy access to: electrical panel, furnace, hot water heater and main water shut off valves. Steam boilers, that have a glass water level indicator on them, can be adapted with an automatic refill valve. If the house has a fuse box replace it with a well-labeled circuit breaker box. If the house uses oil or propane for heating, set up an automatic refill plan with a supplier. When building new or replacing heating systems consider using electric heat or forced hot air heat; they require no homeowner maintenance.
Entranceways should be well lit with a way to identify callers without opening the door. Use dead bolts on all entrances, not only are they safer, but it's almost impossible to lock oneself out by mistake. Install hard wired fire alarms so there will be no need to climb to replace batteries. Locate telephones thought out the house so there is no need to run for the phone when it rings. A cordless phone can easily solve this problem.
Lawns should be well maintained and free of clutter. After dark pathways, stairs and entryways should be well lit. Halogen light(b) is a good choice for outdoor lighting. Get lawn furniture that is a contrasting color from the lawn. Use fencing to mark off steep hills or walls. Prune tree branches back to above head level. Raised bed or border gardens are easy to take care of. Garden tools with yellow or white handles are easy to find. Using mulch will keep weeds down and the garden will require less watering.
People that have lived with vision loss most their lives may not need many of these adaptations. People that are just starting to experience vision loss, especially the elderly, may need all these and more. A mobility instructor and rehabilitation teacher from your state agency for the blind will be able to give more pointers on adapting the house.
(a) When many people think of fluorescent light, they think of flickering bulbs. When a fluorescent bulb starts flickering, it's time to replace it. With fluorescent lighting you get what you pay for. There are different colors of fluorescent light. A Full spectrum or daylight bulb's light is very close to the light of the sun.
(b) Halogen light bulbs are more efficient than common incandescent light bulbs. A 100w halogen bulb will be brighter then a 100w incandescent bulb. They are a good choice for outdoor lighting, track lighting and anywhere else an incandescent bulb is used.
(c) The eyes are designed to see using natural sunlight. House's years ago, all had a wrap around porch. There was a reason for this, other then to sit out on after a hard days work. Candles and gaslight did not produce much light and were very expensive to use. Most of the house's windows were placed on the south, east and west sides. The overhang of the porch cut down on glair from the sun, but allowed plenty of indirect sunlight in to the house.