Adapting Your Home for a Child Who Is Blind or Has Low Vision
Many families of children with eye conditions are concerned about the ability of their child to get around their home safely. There are many relatively simple things that can be done to help your child move safely through your home using their vision, if present, and other senses.
Assessing Your Home for a Child with Low Vision
In addition to thinking about safety (See “Baby Proofing Your Home When Your Child Is Blind or Low Vision”), it is important to consider how to organize your home so your child will build skills by being able to learn and do things independently. Talking to your child’s early intervention team about how to arrange your home to maximize your child’s independence and learning will be helpful.
As you look around your house to see what changes would be helpful to your child, there are some basic elements to keep in mind:
- Lighting, color, and contrast
- Texture and touch
- Labels and marking
- Organization and safety
If your child has some usable vision, there are ways you can help your child use her vision as efficiently as possible by controlling lighting, glare, color, contrast, and clutter.
Lighting: Most children with low vision prefer natural light, the kind that comes in through windows. If you see your child squinting in the presence of light, consider getting adjustable window coverings—opaque or glare-reducing shades that can be lowered from the top or raised from the bottom or blinds or shutters—so you can control how much light comes into a room.
For some of your child’s activities, such as reading, additional light from a lamp may be helpful. It’s best to have a lamp with a flexible arm so the angle of the light can be adjusted; it should also be portable enough to be moved easily from one place to another.
Glare: Most people don’t like looking at a surface that has a lot of glare but reflected light from a shiny surface is particularly uncomfortable for some children who are visually impaired. Try to eliminate or minimize glare on the screen of your television set, table surfaces, and pages of books by experimenting with nearby lamps to figure out where they can be set to create the least amount of glare. Because light is the source of glare, adjustable window coverings can also be useful during the day. Using a dark placemat or tablecloth on high gloss finished tables can reduce the glare on the table’s surface.
Color: You may find that your child has a color preference, such as red or yellow. If your child does, try to use that color wherever you can to call their attention to their belongings. When your child is old enough, have a toothbrush and cup in the bathroom that are the preferred color. You can also use color to help your child keep their room organized with different colored boxes or baskets for storing different types of toys.
Contrast: High contrast between an object and the background against which it is seen is often helpful to children who are blind or low vision. Look for ways to increase the contrast in your home. A bright red pillowcase will be easier for your child to see against a white sheet on a bed than a pillowcase and sheet of the same color.
Think about contrast in cabinets and drawers too. Shelf liners and placemats can be used to increase contrast. If you put your child’s food in a bowl or on a plate that contrasts sharply with the food, it will be easier to see what they are eating. For example, beige-colored cereal in a dark bowl may be more visible than in a beige bowl. Here are some examples from VisionAware of how contrast can make your home safer and more accessible for your child:
- Sink Area with and Without Contrast
- Bathtub Area with and Without Contrast
- Low and High Contrast Kitchen
Clutter: When objects on a shelf or counter top are crowded close together, it’s hard for anyone to pick out one specific item. For a visually impaired child, it can be a difficult task. Avoid letting clutter accumulate on bathroom shelves, kitchen counters, the table next to your child’s bed, or the top of her dresser. Consider putting some space between items on shelves so they can more easily be seen.
Try looking at objects from your child’s perspective. What’s easy to see from your height may be impossible to see from hers. Put things your child needs to be able to see at eye level. While it’s not practical to reposition pictures, lamps, and objects throughout the house, in your child’s room, place pictures, shelves, and anything else needed to be reached at the appropriate height and depth.
Texture and Touch
Regardless of your child’s amount of usable vision, encourage them to use their sense of touch to gather information about where things are in your home. In the bathroom, for example, you might put a rubber band around the handle of a toothbrush so they can be sure it’s theirs and not someone else’s. A tactile label on the kitchen cabinet where cereal is kept will make it easier to find it by themselves. If your child learns braille as they get older, labels for items can be written in braille or a label could be a raised shape or texture that can be associated with the object.
Most children who are blind or low vision know the layout of their own homes well. They typically don’t use a cane to get around at home but may use trailing once they have learned to walk and are past toddlerhood. When your child trails, they place the back of their hand against the wall slightly in front of as they walk so that their hand warns of any obstacle that might be bumped into. If your child uses trailing, it will be important to keep hallways and floors clear. Avoid hanging pictures on the wall at the height of your child’s hand.
Your child may use clues, such as the difference in surface between the living room carpet and the tile floor in the kitchen, to help orient in your home. Look for tactile clues you can add around the house to increase orientation to your home and to assist with mobility.
Organization and Safety
When your child is blind or low vision, it’s especially important to organize your home in ways that will protect from possible injury as well as enable the development of good basic skills.
- Tape down the edges of small rugs so that they don’t suddenly slip or slide, possibly causing a fall.
- Keep room and closet doors closed, or put a heavy object against a door to prop it all the way open.
- Remind everyone in the family to put away toys, gadgets, tools, games, backpacks, briefcases, and anything else that could be tripped over.
- Child-proof your cabinets. Keep household cleaners and medications of any kind in cabinets that can’t be opened by your child. You can get keyless locks that are easy for you to open but difficult for children.
For more ideas about how to make your home safer for your child and easier to navigate, visit the “Organizing and Modifying Your Home” section on VisionAware™.