“Baby Proofing” Your Home When Your Child Is Blind or Visually Impaired
Your first and most basic consideration in adapting your home to meet your blind baby’s special needs is safety. Take a look at your infant’s immediate surroundings—such as the crib, changing table, and playpen—and check for the following concerns:
- Because infants and toddlers tend to chew or suck on any toys or household objects that they get their hands on, be sure anything within your baby’s reach is too big to be swallowed.
- Also see that larger toys or objects don’t have smaller, removable parts that could be chewed or pulled off and swallowed.
- Keep pillows, large stuffed animals, and other objects that could cover your baby’s face and interfere with her breathing, out of your infant’s crib.
- Be sure that cords from window shades and blinds are out of reach. Babies and toddlers are apt to play with them and get entangled.
Because your baby has limited, or perhaps no ability to observe you as you go about your daily activities, you may want to keep her near you while you do chores. For example, you could sit her in her baby seat and put it on the kitchen counter near the sink while you do dishes or on a nearby table while you put clothes in or take them out of the washing machine. Some infant seats have straps to fasten them to a chair or other horizontal surface, some have suction cups that hold them in place, or you could buy a non-slip rubberized mat to put under the seat to keep it from sliding on a smooth surface.
Just having your baby close enough to hear the sounds of your activities—running water, the various noises a washing machine makes, your voice humming as you fold the clean clothes—can give her a reassuring sense of her immediate surroundings.
When Your Visually Impaired Child Is on the Move
Parents, in general, worry about their children’s safety, but the parents of children with visual impairments often feel additional concern. When a child can’t see the surrounding environment clearly, or at all, it’s essential to pay special attention to maintaining a safe environment. Although a number of measures can help keep your baby safe while she’s still an infant, her first attempts at crawling or creeping mark a new stage in her life and in yours as a parent. Once your child is no longer confined to the relative safety of the crib, playpen, infant seat, or blanket, she’ll need you to help her learn about the world around her but in a way that protects her from potential harm. This is true for all children, but a child who can’t see possible hazards and obstacles needs to explore within an environment that’s been prescreened for safety.
To really see your home from your child’s vantage point, try exploring each room on your hands and knees. It’s a good way to find and eliminate possible danger spots that may not be evident from your adult—and taller—viewpoint.
- Most homes have various furnishings that are at a toddler’s head level. To help your child avoid injuries from running into the sharp edge of a table or shelf, you can buy commercially made corner protectors or devise your own “bumpers” using foam rubber or some similar material.
- Place a baby gate at the top and bottom of each flight of steps.
- Tape down the edges of small rugs—or better yet, remove the rugs—so they don’t suddenly slip out from under your toddler.
- Remember to keep room, closet, and cabinet doors closed so your child won’t bump into them. She may not be able to see these as she moves about a room, and if she’s come to expect them to be closed, she might get hurt if she suddenly encountered an open or partially open door or drawer.
- Avoid tablecloths that hang over the edge of a table. A toddler can try to pull herself up on the hanging edge and bring silverware, a plate, or hot food down on her head.
- Remind everyone in the family to put away toys, clothes, and other belongings and not leave them on the floor where they could be tripped over. A child with low vision or blindness may not see items on the floor, even when there is good contrast. Keeping walkways clear will be important for your child’s safety throughout her life.
- Keep glass and other fragile items such as lamps in a protected place—for example, in a corner blocked off by chairs on either side that your toddler can’t yet climb.
- Child-proof your cabinets. Keep household cleaners and medications of any kind in cabinets that can’t be opened by your child. Safety locks are available for cabinets, drawers, toilets, and even doorknobs, that are easy for you to open but difficult for children.
- Add electrical outlet covers and electric cord shorteners to your shopping list. They’ll keep your child’s curious fingers safe from shock and keep her from tripping over or getting entangled in cords that she can’t see.
Don’t leave your child, or any baby or toddler, alone in an area that can’t be made completely safe, such as in a bathtub full of water or in the kitchen when the stove is on.
Other Safety Measures to Consider
- Don’t leave pet food and water bowls on the floor where a small child might be tempted to play in them; likewise, if you have a litter box for your pet, put it in an area that’s inaccessible to your child.
- If your child has low vision, remember that contrast will help her see important demarcations, such as a change from light flooring to dark flooring between rooms and, especially, at the top and bottom of stairs. For instance, if you have light tile, you could put a dark rubberized mat at the top and bottom of steps or use a brightly colored tape to alert your child.
- If your child doesn’t have vision, she’ll benefit from tactile cues in your home. You might even consider changing the flooring to help her differentiate between areas. For example, you could use tile in the kitchen and bathrooms, carpeting on stairs or a carpet runner in the hall, and area rugs in “safe” zones where she’s allowed to play. If you use area rugs, larger rugs are generally safer than small rugs because they’re heavier and less likely to move about, but it would still be advisable to have a nonskid mat underneath any area rug.
- Whether your child has some vision or no vision, remember that she can’t easily see changes that you make in your home—moving or adding furniture or decorative touches, such as holiday decorations. Try to keep major changes in your home to a minimum while she’s young and just learning her way around the house. If you do make changes, be sure that she’s aware of them and help her explore them.