Helping Your Contractor: Ideas for Visually Impaired Homeowners

Dear Jane, We are currently building a home in a Minneapolis suburb. I have MS that is affecting the use […]

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Dear Jane,

We are currently building a home in a Minneapolis suburb. I have MS that is affecting the use of my legs and arms, as well as my vision. Our builder has some ideas as to what could be done for future wheelchair access, but we are at a loss as to what features we can incorporate for my diminishing eyesight. Safety is a big concern. Although I am using a walker, my balance, strength, and muscle control are just not what they used to be, and I am misjudging visual depth and am falling a lot. Any ideas?

Vicky, Eden Prairie, MN


Dear Vicky,

Yes, there are a lot of design features that can be incorporated into a home to help you maintain your independence in a safe and beautiful way to meet your needs now and later. I congratulate your builder for taking the time to listen and go the extra distance to incorporate access solutions and features in your new home. This process takes a lot more time and effort; and the access solutions should be customized to your needs. This requires expert input to achieve a truly customized accessible home.

There are many features that can be incorporated into your home to improve safety, maintain your independence and still offer beauty and function in the overall design.

• High contrast makes it easier for persons with limited vision to identify objects. Objects stand out if they contrast with their backgrounds such as sinks, outlets, doorways, grab bars, etc.

• Identify circulation routes with a different floor material than those used in adjacent rooms. Straight lines and right angles are easiest for the visually impaired to negotiate.

• Shadows and reflections can be deceiving and often confusing to someone with visual impairments. Carefully place items such as hanging plants and mirrors as they may be misperceived as people or door openings.

• Flooring transitions can be tripping hazards. All floor surfaces and transitions should be level, with no abrupt rises—or if necessary, rises should be detectable by a cane.

• Areas/rooms that are large or have a lot of hard surfaces can cause “sound” confusion. Such areas should be treated with fabrics and sound-absorbing treatments to help control sound, making the direction of its source more obvious. Hard floor surfaces, needed for wheelchair access, add challenge to this issue.

• Avoid any protrusion into circulation areas. Sliding and accordian doors are preferred over swinging doors, as they do not obstruct circulation routes. This applies to doorways and also cabinet doors —especially wall-mounted units, which can’t be detected with a cane.

• Stairs should have handrails on each side that extend beyond the stairwell; as well as texturizing on the floor area in front of the stairwell to warn people of the nearby step up/down.

This list is just a sample of the many features that can be incorporated into a home design or remodeling project to address reduced or no vision.

Do you have a question? We’ll cover all of your questions in future issues of Home Access Answers. Please contact Access Press at 651-644-2133 or [email protected]

Accessibility Design was founded in 1992 to enhance lives through design and project management. They provide design, consultation, project management, and product recommendation services specializing in home access for individuals with disabilities at all stages of life.

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