Hello there – It’s Pamela dropping in from The Blind Thistle! I’ve been invited as a guest blogger here on Navigating Blindness. I will be sharing my tips and suggestions on how to make the home a better space to navigate for the Visually-Impaired (VI).
I ‘met’ Kim (the lovely woman behind the Navigating Blindness blog) through Instagram and we hit it off from the start. Her son and I share the same eye disease, Retinitis pigmentosa (RP). While her son’s diagnosis was made a few years back, I have been dealing with my RP for well into 40 years now.
Over the years as my eyesight changes, I’ve learned many ways to adapt and make things a little easier, especially where it matters most – in my home. (Notice I say change rather than deteriorate because it is a fickle disease — one day I have a “good sight” day and the next I swear I have lost half my remaining vision.)
I will admit it certainly helps that I am a neat freak by nature and having everything in its place is a habit for me, but the tips included here are good for anyone really. It is especially helpful for the Other-Half as, like most men, has zero/nada/zilch idea where anything is and I can’t help but wonder if he is the blind one!
Ok- full-disclosure: These suggestions will not apply to every facet of blindness but maybe they can be modified to suit. What I CAN guarantee is that your house will be a better organized, clutter-free and safe space if you implement them.
- Contrast- This is the most important thing to consider when planning a space for a VI person. Think dark floors against light walls (or even using rugs to the same effect). Contrasting colours or patterns to define changes in level or plane (i.e.: stairs, doorways) Painting doors and frames different from the adjacent wall colour. Or in my case, I wanted a cohesive look in my house so while all my floors are the same colour, I changed the floor materials. When I feel tile under my feet, I know I am in the washroom, stepping on carpet tells me I’m in one of the bedrooms, the living spaces have hardwood. (see image above for example from my home) Another helpful tip in contrast- when setting the table for dinner use light plates on a dark surface or vice versa (table or placemat).
- Clear paths- “Everything in its place” should be your new motto. Keeping walkways clear of toys, clothing, shoes, books and other hazards will help everyone in the family. Tell me, have you’ve ever stepped on a Lego? If you have kids, I’m gonna say yes you have. Painful right? Not to mention dangerous. This is what it feels like for a VI person when they step or trip on anything in their path. I’ve given up counting the times I’ve tripped and then plunged head-on into the nearest wall, chair, laundry machine *insert random object here* over a pair of shoes or boots strewn haphazardly in the foyer. It is an ongoing process training others to put their stuff away. Personally, I think there is a plot for my demise and the dogs are in on it as well.
- Organization – Important when it comes to kitchen/bath drawers and closet contents. Opt for small organizers, bins or baskets in drawers to separate items so they are easier found. For example, a bin just for pens/pencils, a bin for knives and always put things back in the same place. That way you will rarely lose an item. Fold or hang clothing by sleeve or leg lengths and even colour if you want. If you took a peek on my side of the closet (please do not look on the OH side, it is a mess) the clothes are arranged by both colour and length- from left to right- light to dark. I had two rails installed so all my shirts are hung on the upper rail and all pants on the bottom. All habits I picked up when I worked as a Visual Merchandiser.
- Doors – Open or closed – there is no in between! A half-open door can ruin a blind person’s day. It is so easy to get hurt by walking into a half-open door. Whether I’m getting impaled by the corner of a cupboard door slightly ajar or getting a full-on body slam from the bathroom door that’s half closed it is most certain you are going to hear some very colourful language from me.
- Lighting – Last but certainly not least is lighting. This is an intensive topic and what works for one person may not work for another so I will keep it simple. It is imperative that there are different kinds of lighting (including bulbs) for different tasks in a home with a VI person. Try to think about the lighting you are using and the purpose it will serve. A soft, mood-setting lamp is not going to be efficient at a workspace as it will cause eyestrain. A funky lamp shade that casts many shadows, while dramatic, is not going to work in a walkway/hall as the shadows will only create confusion for a VI person. Experiment with different lighting sources (LED vs. Halogen, Bright white bulb vs. Cool white) Often times light fixtures will have adjustable arms or other components which are very handy as the distance of the light from the task at hand can be adjusted quite easily. At my kitchen island I had two lights with adjustable cords installed so that when need be, I can reach up and pull the light closer to the counter and then push it up out of the way when not needed.
There is so much more I could talk about, but I feel these are the most important. I hope that you find them helpful and that they work in your home too.
Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about making a home beautiful and safe for the whole family.
Finally, I would like to give a big Thank you to Kim of Navigating Blindness for having me here today. It is truly appreciated.
Writing and Photos by Pamela of The Blind Thistle