Designing with Visual Impairment in Mind cover image
Blindness & Visual Impairment,  Everyday Life

Designing with Visual Impairment in Mind: The Basics

As I mentioned in my previous post on this topic, it is a misconceptions that people who are blind or visually impaired don’t care how their space looks. We absolutely do. How our space looks and feels is just as important to us as it is to people without a visual impairment. For some of us, it’s even more important.

Check out my YouTube video on Designing with a Visual Impairment in mind!

Organization

Organization is important to most people, but for a blind or visually impaired person, it is a quality of life issue. Where a normally sighted person could glance around the room to find that one item that someone has moved, a blind or visually impaired person might spend ten or twenty minutes scouring the entire room with hands, eyes, and feet.

Imagine the last time you lost something and spent twenty minutes looking for it. How frustrated were you? Be honest.

That feeling is something that many of us deal with on a daily basis when we live with other people who move our stuff or “reorganize.” Find a home for everything, and put items back in that home when not in use.

Texture

Oh texture, how I love thee. If you want to know just how much I love texture, check out a video I did all about textured products! It is the first in a series of future videos. Every single texture has an impact on a room and on the experience a blind or visually impaired person has in that room. I touch everything, and how those things feel has an impact on me. I know this is even more true for those with less usable vision.

So choosing sheets, blankets, pillows, and even hard surface materials can be so important! My preference is toward natural hard surface materials like wood, metal, and stone. For softer materials, I’m picky as well. I love things that have interesting textures like embroidered patterns, fur, certain fleece and velvety materials, buttons, zippers, and other adornments. Those super soft microfiber covered, foam-filled stuffed animals are a favorite of mine. My living room is filled with some of my favorite textures, and I can’t wait to ass more in the future! My couches are velvety, my area rug is super fluffy and dense, and I have a variety of textured pillows that make me smile when I touch them. I have wood and metal, a brick fireplace, and will be adding more organization in a similar style soon. Please excuse the unfinished state of my living room.

A living room featuring two dusty turquoise couches, various pillows, and a wood and metal coffee table

Many people with a visual impairment also prefer things like sequins, metallic surfaces, and glitters because these things are textured and catch the light. That reflected light can make these materials visible for those with some usable vision or light awareness. As someone with light sensitivity, I do not prefer these materials, because the reflections can be distracting and sometimes painful.

Texture choice is a preference, so it is very important to explore various textures with the person you’re designing a space for.

Adjustable Lighting

Adjustable lighting is important to those of us with a visual impairment who have usable vision. Quite a few eye conditions come paired with photophobia or light sensitivity (for more on that, check out my post on photophobia). Because levels of light sensitivity can vary depending on the day, level of stress, and type and hue of the light source, adjustable lighting is a must.

The ability to adjust light brightness is just the beginning of adjustable lighting in today’s world. Light type and color are also important. If you’re a person with vision, and you’ve noticed how a color looks different under warm and cool lights, then you can begin to understand the importance of light color.

From my experience and in my opinion, natural light sources like daylight give the most flattering light for photos and colors, but sunlight is hard to control. Cooler lights are the most intense, the best for directly lighting work surface, and are the most painful. Warm lights are the easiest on the eyes, but may make working or reading harder.

Adjustable lighting can be done in so many different ways from budget curtains, blinds, small lamps, and more to the more expensive options such as smart lights, smart blinds, etc. There is an option to fit everyone’s budget and style. I have more on this specific topic planned for the future!

I’ve also covered the topic of smart lighting in a video on my YouTube channel.

This topic is also so preferential, so be sure to consult with the person you’re designing a space for on their level of light sensitivity and their needs for workspace lighting.

In the Kitchen

Designing a kitchen for visual impairment requires a combination of all of the previously mentioned topics. Organization and the ability to quickly find what you need while cooking or cleaning is so valuable.

Surfaces with pleasing textures, textured products, and even textured labeling such as braille or bump dots can also help make the kitchen both accessible and beautiful. Easy to clean and stain resistant surfaces and dishes are also important here, because we don’t always find the messes right away. Non-slip surfaces for the floor, cutting, prepping, and cooking areas are also essential in creating a safe kitchen for someone who is blind or visually impaired. No one wants to trip while holding a dish or knife. I’ve recently placed non-slip stickers on the bottom of some of my countertop items including my cutting board. It has made a world of difference!

a thick wooden cutting board is upside down showing off the circular non-slip stickers on all four corners

Adjustable lighting in the kitchen is essential for those who utilize remaining vision as well. For detailed work, we need a well lit space where light will not be blocked by our heads or bodies as we get close to our work surfaces. Those of us with light sensitivity also need protection from the intense sunlight coming in through a window as we wash dishes. It can certainly be a balancing act, but that is why the focus is on adjustable lighting options.

For more detailed information on all of these topics, keep an eye and an ear out for future posts.

Stay curious.

I have Albinism and am legally blind. I have a Master's degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. I'm currently pursuing my passion of writing through this blog and for the Albinism InSight magazine.

Leave a Comment

Font Resize
High Contrast