Creating a Comfortable Environment for People with Low Vision
Making a private or public environment comfortable and functional for individuals who are blind or visually impaired should be part of universal design that will benefit all users of a facility, whether it is a workplace, a museum, a senior center, or a home.
Making facilities and programs and activities safe and accessible for older participants who are blind or visually impaired does not necessarily require a great deal of time, energy, or money. It is a matter of knowing the basics and planning for easy access during the initial design of the facility and its programs.
The use of lighting, color contrast, and the reduction of glare are important factors architects and interior designers must be aware of for effective environmental design.
The suggestions below can be used to conduct an initial assessment of the environment. A vision rehabilitation professional can provide further assistance in assessing the environment and making recommendations for changes to enhance safe and independent functioning, and active participation. Here are the primary environmental elements needed for persons who are visually impaired to be able to function independently in any environment.
Environmental Adaptations or Modifications
that Enhance Functioning
- In recreation and reading areas, provide plenty of floor lamps and table lamps.
- Advise people who are visually impaired that light should always be aimed at the work they are doing, not at the eyes.
- Replace burned out light bulbs regularly.
- Place mirrors so that lighting doesn't reflect off them and create glare.
- For window coverings, use adjustable blinds, sheer curtains, or draperies, because they allow for the adjustment of natural light.
- Keep a few chairs near windows for reading or doing hand crafts in natural light.
- Arrange furniture in small groupings so that people can converse easily.
- Make sure there is adequate lighting near furniture.
- When purchasing new furniture, select upholstery with texture when possible. Texture provides tactile clues for identification.
- Use brightly colored accessories, such as vases and lamps, to make furniture easier to locate.
- Avoid upholstery and floor covering with patterns. Stripes and checks can create confusion for people who are visually impaired.
Elimination of Hazards
- Replace worn carpeting and floor covering.
- Tape down or remove area rug.
- Remove electrical cords from pathways, or tape down for safety.
- Do not wax floors; use nonskid, non-glare products to clean and polish floors.
- Keep desk chairs and table chairs pushed in.
- Move large pieces of furniture out of the main traffic areas.
- If telephone booths protrude into main traffic areas, have them moved.
Use of Color Contrast
- Place light objects against a dark background, a dark table near a white wall, for example, or a black switchplate on a white wall.
- Install doorknobs that contrast in color with doors for easy location.
- Paint the woodwork of the door frame a contrasting color to make it easier to locate.
- Mark the edges of all steps and ramps with paint or tape of a highly contrasting color.
Hallways and Stairways
- In hallways, make sure that lighting is uniform throughout.
- Place drinking fountains and fire extinguishers along one wall only throughout hallways to allow individuals who are visually impaired to trail the other wall without encountering obstacles.
- Install grab bars where they may be needed.
- Light stairwells clearly.
- Make certain that stairway railings extend beyond the top and bottom steps.
- Mark landings in a highly contrasting color.
- Place all signs at eye level, with large lettering according to specifications outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Provide braille signage according to ADA specifications.
- Mark emergency exits clearly.
- When making signs by hand, use a heavy black felt-tip pen on a white, off-white, or light yellow, non-glossy background.
- Provide some telephones with large print key pads or dials.
- Provide telephone amplifiers which increase the level of sound.
These basic environmental design and safety tips can go a long way toward making a facility a comfortable and accessible environment for persons who are visually impaired, and for everyone else who uses the facility and services. Increasingly, these elements must be incorporated into universal design.
The environmental elements described above are also important for people with impaired vision to function independently and safely at home. Within the vision rehabilitation field, rehabilitation teachers, professionals who teach adaptive techniques for independent living, work with people who are visually impaired to make these environmental modifications within the home and in the workplace.
A rehabilitation teacher who provides independent living skills training in the home of the person with low vision can also assess the environment for safety and ease of functioning. Suggestions for modifications are usually easy to carry out because they typically involve no- or low-cost changes which make it possible for older people with a range of personal incomes.
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