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How to Modify a Home for Low Vision

September 12, 2023
Source: Architectural Digest

Twelve million American adults over the age of 40 have a visual impairment. While one million are blind, the other 11 million have an uncorrectable visual impairment typically classified as low vision, which can be a natural part of aging. Wearing glasses or contacts or getting medical treatment is not an option for every low-vision individual.

People who are legally blind have less than 20/200 vision in at least one eye and may need assistance to complete daily tasks. Low-vision individuals have vision less than 20/70 in one or both eyes and retain functional sight but may have difficulty with common tasks, such as reading up close or seeing traffic lights from a distance. Home modifications can make daily life easier to navigate for those with vision impairment.

“It’s so important to realize that many people with low vision—or even labeled as legally blind—do not live in darkness,” says Jesse L. Berry, MD, director of ocular oncology at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and associate professor of ophthalmology and dermatology at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. “Their vision is absolutely limited, but it is not black, and small changes in [the] home can make a big difference.”

11 Ways to Make a Home Safer for People with Low Vision

Berry explains that low-vision individuals can live comfortably and independently with proper home modifications in place. Below are 11 ways to improve your home for a family member with low vision.

Eliminate Tripping Hazards

Eliminating tripping hazards improves safety and reduces the overall risk of accidents and injuries. The following are a few tips for removing tripping hazards around your home:

  • Keep computer and charger cords tidy by clipping them to a wall or desk to prevent tripping.
  • Regularly clean floors to remove dust, debris, and liquid spills.
  • Remove unnecessary furniture or objects that impede walkways.
  • Secure rugs and carpets to the floor by using non-slip rug pads.

Make Artificial Lighting Adjustments

You can create a well-lit and low-vision-friendly environment by making artificial lighting adjustments that cater to the specific needs of the individual. Here are a few ways to include these adjustments in your home:

  • Choose light fixtures with shades to eliminate glare.
  • Ensure that all light sources have a consistent and appropriate light temperature. Lights over 5,000 Kelvin are not recommended for people with low vision because they don’t provide good contrast.
  • Invest in automatic lights and motion sensors for hallways.
  • Use bright LED light bulbs so all areas are well-lit.

“Lighting is a major factor for persons with low vision,” says Berry. “Simply changing light bulbs to LED and higher wattage bulbs can often be a huge and inexpensive help. If a bigger renovation is underway, consider windows to allow natural light, especially in areas like kitchens and bathrooms which may require more navigation.”

Enhance Natural Light

As Berry mentioned, enhancing natural light is a great addition to a low-vision home. While anyone can benefit from more natural light, it can be important in improving contrast sensitivity for those with low vision. Having maximum sunlight in your home makes identifying objects and navigating surroundings easier.

Incorporate more natural light in your home by following these tips:

  • Consider installing skylights or larger windows.
  • Opt for light-colored window treatments to filter in diffused light.
  • Strategically place furniture to allow for maximum light penetration.
  • Trim any bushes or trees outside that may be blocking natural light.

Organize the Space

Trying to navigate a cluttered room with impaired vision can be frustrating and even dangerous. Berry says organization is “so important” in a low-vision home.

“It is especially critical for someone with low vision to know where to find things—invest in storage solutions,” says Berry.

Here’s how you can keep the space organized:

  • Keep frequently used items, such as wallets, in an easy-to-locate area.
  • Store low-vision assistive devices (such as magnifying lenses, audible announcement devices, and remote controls) in easy-to-access places.
  • Use tactile markers to help distinguish objects.
  • Use storage solutions, such as bins, to keep similar things grouped.

Keeping both small and large items in a consistent spot can help your loved one with low vision locate things more easily. Plus, Berry adds, it increases safety: “By providing a well organized place for these items you can also assist the family member with low vision so [they are] not constantly kicking items.”

Smooth Raised Flooring

Occasionally, raised flooring can be intentional and designed as a decorative element, such as sunken living rooms or elevated dining areas. But raised flooring can also occur unintentionally due to architectural or structural variations, such as uneven surfaces or raised thresholds between rooms.

Raised flooring can be a hazard for someone with low vision. The following tips can improve one’s ability to navigate changes in floor levels:

  • Consider installing gentle ramps on raised platforms or steps to create a gradual incline.
  • Make uneven surfaces or level transitions flush—a professional flooring service can help.
  • Use high-contrast tape or paint to highlight level changes if you can’t remove or modify the uneven surface.

Install Non-Slip Flooring

Preventing accidents should be a priority for those with low vision. By incorporating non-slip flooring, you can create a home environment that minimizes the risk of slips and falls.

Here are some tips on how to do so:

  • Avoid high-pile carpets.
  • Choose nonslip materials, such as textured tiles or nonslip vinyl.
  • Use rugs with nonslip backing to keep them firmly in place.

Make Eye-Level Modifications

People with low vision can especially benefit from increased accessibility. Making these eye-level modifications at home can help those with vision needs easily navigate their home:

  • Arrange frequently used items, such as a cell phone or keys, on eye-level shelves.
  • Avoid obstacles at eye level, such as hanging decor or open cabinets.
  • Install light switches at eye level or at a convenient height that’s not too low.

Use Color Contrast

Using color contrast can help people with low vision better distinguish between objects. “Sometimes light colors assist in their vision, so potentially painting walls a lighter color could be a benefit,” says Berry.

If possible, Berry recommends that the individual with low vision provides input on color combinations that work best for them. Some ways to incorporate color contrast are these:

  • Change the colors of light switches to be different from the walls.
  • Make wall outlets a different color than the surrounding wall.
  • Use contrasting or vibrant colors for walls and furniture to help distinguish objects.
  • Use a color-coded system for organizing items in bins or shelves.

Reorganize the Outdoor Area

The outside of your home is just as important as the inside when creating an inclusive and accessible environment. You can create a welcoming outdoor space by reorganizing and decorating the outside of the home to make it more easily navigable by your family member with low vision.

Here is how you can do so:

  • Eliminate outdoor clutter to reduce tripping hazards.
  • Ensure the house number print is large and easy to locate.
  • Keep trees and bushes consistently trimmed.
  • Make sure the locks are easy to operate and secure.

Avoid Busy Designs or Decor

A visually impaired person doesn’t need to forgo an aesthetically pleasing home, but extremely busy patterns may make daily living more challenging than it needs to be. Clean and simple decor with clear visual cues allows them to navigate their living space more easily and confidently.

To avoid busy designs, consider these tips:

  • Choose low-pattern fabrics for pillows, bedding, and curtains.
  • Limit the number of wall decorations.
  • Minimize decorative items to create a more visually calm environment.
  • Opt for natural color patterns rather than intricate designs.
  • Pick matte finishes rather than glossy ones.

Simplify Daily Tasks

Most of us strive for simplicity in our daily tasks, but people with low vision could benefit even more. Seeing and doing the same things repeatedly creates an ease of performing everyday tasks.

To make daily tasks easier, follow these reminders:

  • Clean frequently, and put things back in their designated space.
  • Incorporate handrails on stairs.
  • Keep kitchen ingredients and foods in the same places as usual.
  • Mark personal items if you live with multiple family members.

Resources for Low-Vision Individuals

Several organizations offer a variety of resources, support, and information for individuals with low vision and their family members. Whether providing educational materials or advocacy services, the following organizations are committed to improving living standards for low-vision individuals.

American Council of the Blind

Despite the name, the American Council of the Blind also serves those who are visually impaired. Its mission is to help people realize they’re not alone in their visual impairment journey. The program encourages community while also providing information to better equip those with low vision to live independently.

American Foundation for the Blind

One of the most well-known vision research organizations, the American Foundation for the Blind provides information on vision rehabilitation, assistive technology, and educational resources for individuals with low vision.

Lighthouse Guild

The Lighthouse Guild offers services for people with vision loss, including low vision. It provides vision rehabilitation, assistive technology training, and support for caregivers and family members.

National Eye Institute

The National Eye Institute is a part of the National Institutes of Health and focuses on vision research and eye health. The institute offers information on low vision, eye conditions, and resources for caregivers.

Our Recommendation

Living with low vision doesn’t mean compromising quality of life. Instead, it’s an opportunity to revisit how to interact with daily surroundings and make them work for the low-vision individual and other members of the home.

“It is important to take into consideration the individual needs of your family member with low vision, and make decisions that will benefit that individual,” says Berry. “If you are remodeling or painting [the] home, consult with the person who has low vision.”

Berry says it may be helpful to work with an orientation and mobility specialist. Often, these specialists can come to the home and offer personalized suggestions. No matter how you conduct these low-vision home modifications, you can make your home easier to navigate for all members of your family.

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