Creating a Visitable Home for the Holidays: Visual Impairment

Visitability is traditionally a concept that means creating a home that can be visited by people with mobility impairments.  This series of posts looks to expand this idea to include making homes visitable by people with a wide variety of common disabilities, functional limitations, or health conditions.  The key idea is that a home isn’t just built for one person or even one family, but should be welcoming to all people in the community who may want to visit.

The holidays are a time when the visitability of homes get tested. Grandma struggles to get up the steps to the front door, Uncle Jon trips over the bathroom rug, and Cousin Mary isn’t able to come because she is worried about how her child with autism will handle the crowd.  People often aren’t aware of the multitude of barriers that can make visiting others’ homes challenging, and often these barriers can stop some people from coming to visit altogether.

However, some simple improvements can be made to homes to increase visitability for a variety of people, making your home more welcoming to everyone.  While not all these ideas are true home modifications, they accommodations that are fairly quick and easy things you can do today.

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Look for more examples in this series, creating a visitable home:

Top 5 Quick Ideas for Visitors who have Visual Impairments

Visual impairments are very common in visitors of all ages, but especially for older adults or people with health conditions or disabilities that may be visiting you for the holidays.  

The National Institute on Health reports that about 6% of the population has visual impairments that can’t be correct with glasses, with the rate increasing dramatically with age.  Additionally, the normal aging process decreases a person’s ability to see, with decreased ability to see clearly (acuity) and to take in light (needing more light to see well).

Common conditions that are associated with visual impairments are being elderly (over 80 years old), diabetes with retinopathy, macular degeneration, cataracts, retinopathy of prematurity, visual impairments related to developmental disabilities, and general low vision and blindness.

First, more light is almost always better.  Turn on your lights and leave them on.  Increase the wattage in lights when safe (especially the lights outside your main entrance).  Adding more lighting if needed (try battery operated lights for a quick fix).

Think about 3 Types of Lighting: 

1. Ambient lighting.  This is the generally lighting in the room from the overhead fixture(s) or recessed lights or from windows.  It is generally low to moderate level lighting.  The goals is a consistent moderate level throughout a space, which is best achieved with many small lights spread out (like a series of recessed lights).  Two quick fixes are to make sure the current overhead lights are as bright as they can safely be with a shade or cover that diffuses the light around the room and to add lamps around the room that project light diffusely.  Putting ambient lighting on a dimmer switch can add control over the amount of lighting which can be highly beneficial for people with visual impairments.  Be careful of having too much bright light coming from one location, such as a window, as it can cause glare or make it hard for a person’s eyes to adjust to the rest of the room.   Translucent curtain or blinds can help to diffuse or spread out the light to be easier on the eyes.

2. Tasking lighting. This is moderate to bright lighting in a specific areas for a specific task.  Guests in your home will need increased lighting in specific areas where tasks may require more vision.  Areas in the home to consider: Does your dining area have enough task lighting to see food on the plates?  Does the bathroom have enough lighting at the sink for self-care tasks?  If you guest want to help in the kitchen, do you have enough light on the counter tops and sink areas?  Try adding lamps where needed or installing additional lighting in areas such as under kitchen cabinets and over bathroom sinks.

3. Pathway lighting.  This is low level (dim) lighting that leads a person to another place.  Areas of the home to consider:  Is the pathway from a car’s parking spot to the front door lite- can you add Christmas lights or small lights along the walkway to lead people safely to the front door?  Can a person find a critical place in a dark area, such as a toilet to light switch in a dark bathroom- consider adding a nightlight or LED outlet plates to aide in these areas.  Do you have dark hallways or stairs in your home- considering adding additional lights to make these areas safer using small LED lights (or motion sensory lights).

And a few other things…

4. Think safety.  Anywhere a person might fall, make sure there is adequate lighting.  Our eyes help to guide our balance, as well as avoiding tripping hazards, but only if we have enough light to see.  Key areas are parking spots, entrances to the house, steps and stairs, and bathrooms.  Remove anything that can’t be easily seen that could pose a trip hazard (make an out of the way place to store shoes or other items that might clutter up an entryway).  For many people with low vision, they can’t see well enough, so they use their hands for additional support when uncertain.  Having handrails and grab bars can help people feel more secure when they are unable to see.

5. Think Plain Sight. Keep necessary items in clear and plain sight, such as extra toilet paper and hand drying towels on the bathroom counter.  Using contrast in colors can help people find items more easily, such as white plates on a dark red table cloth or a navy blue soap dispenser on a cream bathroom counter.


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