Adapting Your Home for a Child Who Is Blind or Has Low Vision

Keep small objects away from infants who are blind or have low vision. Secure all cords. Stay close to them during daily chores. This makes them feel safe.

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 arranging 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. Here 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 and Glare Adaptations

Lighting: Most children with low vision prefer natural light 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.

Additional light from a lamp may be helpful for some of your child’s activities, such as reading. 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 blind or low vision. 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 and Contrast Adaptations

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. Putting your child’s food in a bowl or on a plate that contrasts sharply with the food will make it 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:

Stay Organized

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

Encourage your child to use touch at home. This helps, no matter how much useable vision they have. In the bathroom, put a rubber band on their toothbrush. This shows it’s theirs. Put tactile labels on cabinets, like where cereal is. This helps them find things independently. If they learn braille, use braille labels. Or, use raised shapes or textures. These can be linked to different objects.

Children who are blind or have low vision often know their homes well. They usually don’t need a cane at home. They might use trailing when they walk. This is after they’re toddlers. Trailing means touching the wall with their hand as they walk. It helps them avoid obstacles. If your child trails, keep floors and hallways clear. Don’t hang pictures where their hand might touch.

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 to protect from possible injury. This will also enable the development of good basic organization 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™.