by Jackie Waters
My husband and I love our old farmhouse. It’s the perfect home for us and our boys. But recently, my husband’s sister, Emily, came to live with us. We were thrilled to have her join our crazy bunch, but I was a bit worried. She has been visually impaired since childhood, and I knew the rustic nature of our farmhouse and land could pose some problems for her. So, before she arrived, I knew we had some work to do.
As I began researching what home modifications we should make along with the associated costs, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. Many of the accessibility improvements we needed to make could be done relatively inexpensively.
Based on my research and the changes we made to our farmhouse, here are a few inexpensive adjustments you can make to your own home so that those with visual impairments can move about confidently and independently:
My first piece of advice is don’t go it alone. You will want to enlist someone to assist you in making these changes. I had my husband (and occasionally our sons) helping me, which helped things go smoothly and efficiently. If you are someone with low vision note that it will take time and patience for you to learn how to navigate around your home and make sure someone is available to help you make the necessary changes so that you can get everything just right. We didn’t make any change to our home without consulting with Emily first.
Focus on decluttering. I think you’ll be surprised what a difference simply reorganizing certain areas of your home to remove clutter will do for those spaces. Clutter makes it nearly impossible to see other problem areas, so get rid of all unnecessary paper, clothing, equipment, and so on.
Keep an eye out for fall risks. We have wood floors in our house so we have a lot throw rugs. Emily requested that we either add slip resistant tape to these or remove them all together because they can easily trip her up. Bulky furniture can also make it difficult for someone with a visual impairment to maneuver in smaller rooms. Cords are another potential tripping risk so use cord clips to keep cords close to baseboards and out of walk ways.
Once you’ve eliminated clutter, assign your belongings to their new storage spaces and label them brightly, largely, and clearly. If you’re opening your home to someone with a visual impairment, one of the most important habits you can form is learning to put everything back in it’s proper place immediately after use. Repetition is the best way to make this habit, so we started grilling our sons on the importance of this new task weeks before Emily arrived.
Next, you will want to mark and label everything the person with visual impairments will use frequently. Using bright, bold colors will help them locate and use your appliances and electronics correctly. Use a pen to mark settings on appliances such as your coffee maker, stove, oven, and microwave.
The shelves in your refrigerator should be labeled as well, and each shelf should be stocked in the appropriate manner. Beverages, fruits and vegetables, and meats should all have their own shelf or compartment. Again you will want to practice putting all your food away properly and make your guests aware of where everything belongs as well.
Lighting is also a very important component of preparing your home for safety. If you currently use curtains, be sure to add mini-blinds to your window treatments. This will allow you to control the stream of natural light in your home. Lamps that allow swiveling or easy movement and detachment are also good to have as it allows those with visual impairments to direct light where they need it. You will also need to replace all of your lights with high wattage bulbs and be sure to replace blown out light bulbs as quickly as possible.
Adapting a home for someone with low vision doesn’t need to be expensive or overly time consuming. Though assistive technologies such as screen readers can be costly, relatively small and inexpensive changes like decluttering, organizing frequently used spaces, removing tripping hazards, and so on will be a big help and will benefit everyone in the household. Once these changes are in place, you’ll have the beginnings of a safe space for someone with low vision. After they’ve arrived, keep the lines of communication open so that you can be sure to accommodate their needs and ensure your home continues to be a safe place for them.