Simple Fixes to Help Visually and Hearing-Impaired Loved Ones Settle Into a New Home More Smoothly
Finding the perfect place to live can involve multiple factors, including location, proximity to friends and loved ones, affordability and the amenities available. However, one thing that’s not always immediately considered is the safety, accessibility and comfort needs of those with a hearing or vision loss.
For the purpose of this blog, we won’t deal with major renovations and extensive upgrades. Instead, let’s focus on things that can be done inexpensively and quickly but still make a home safer and more comfortable.
Tips for the Visually Impaired
For those with low vision (defined by the Mayo Clinic as “having impaired vision that cannot be corrected by glasses, surgery or medication”), an accidental trip or fall can spell disaster.
Some ways to reduce the risk of falling include getting rid of worn or frayed carpeting, moving electrical cords away from major floor traffic areas and cleaning wood floors with products that won’t make them overly shiny or slippery.
In addition to having flashlights in strategic locations, placing nightlights in dark areas and overhead lamps in hallways are extremely helpful. Many experts also recommend using bright lightbulbs (60 watts or above) throughout the home as well as testing several types of lighting (halogen, fluorescent, incandescent, etc…) to see what works best.
For many people with low vision —and particularly those with macular degeneration — adding contrast to surfaces and features makes a substantial difference in terms of safety. For walls and floors, stick with lighter, solid colors and avoid busy patterns, stripes and textures. Using a contrasting color for door frames will make it easier for visually impaired people to determine whether a door is open or closed.
If the home has multiple floors, putting a colorful tape strip along the edge of each step helps reduce the risk of an accidental spill. You can add even more contrast by placing a rubber mat at the bottom of the stairs.
In the kitchen, boost the contrast between counters and floors by adding brightly colored decorative elements to the edge of the counters. Under-cabinet light strips are another inexpensive modification that helps those with low vision to cook and prepare meals.
For bathrooms, brightly colored towels, a magnifying mirror and contrasting mats with a non-slip backing make navigating the space easier. Plus, it’s always a good idea to put a non-slip mat or stickers in the tub or shower.
Of course, this is only a top-level overview. For a more comprehensive, room-by-room list of simple upgrades, modifications and household tips specifically for low-vision individuals, we recommend visiting the VisionAware website.
Tips for the Hearing-Impaired
The hearing-impaired rely heavily on their sight for information and communication, which means that the floorplan and arrangement of furniture become vitally important.
If you’re still in the process of house hunting, it’s wise to consider homes that feature open floor plans. After all, it’s much easier to communicate with — and get the attention of — hearing-impaired individuals when there’s a longer sightline and you’re not dealing with multiple smaller rooms.
Ceiling height is another factor, especially for those wearing a hearing aid or cochlear implant. In general, high or vaulted ceilings create echoes, which make focusing on and understanding normal conversations difficult.
Another important consideration? The width of hallways and other tight spaces, which can make communication challenging for a hearing-impaired person walking ahead or behind someone else.
It may surprise you to learn that lighting and decor choices can also affect the safety and comfort of those who have trouble hearing. As with the vision-impaired, simple colors and bright (but not glaring) lighting optimize visual acuity, making engaging in conversations more comfortable.
When arranging seating in a living room or family room, go with a circular or “horseshoe” layout so that it’s easy to see sign language, read lips and interact with others.
To further cut down on confusing background noise and echoes, use large area rugs or even wall-to-wall carpet whenever possible. There are also special floor tiles available that absorb sounds and improve acoustics.
Many hearing-impaired individuals are especially sensitive to the humming and rattling noises made by appliances like washing machines, dishwashers and refrigerators. Make sure all large appliances are properly balanced and rest flat on the floor.
If you’re investing in new ones, choose appliances that are rated for their quietness of operation. Many newer appliances — including stoves and washing machines — can be connected to smartphones, which can vibrate or provide visual alerts to help hearing-impaired individuals manage routine household tasks.
Last but not least, invest in special smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors that use flashing lights and smartphone notifications instead of sound to alert individuals with low hearing of any imminent dangers. These devices are readily available and Amazon.com is a great resource.
Vision and hearing impairments vary widely from person to person and it’s always a smart move to involve members of the household who could benefit from the above tips. Asking for their help early on can pave the way for further upgrades, renovations and modifications in the future.
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