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Designing homes for the visually impaired

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It’s estimated that more than two million people in the UK are living with sight loss that is severe enough to have significant impact on their daily lives. And according to the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), that figure is likely to increase dramatically – with more than 2.7m people by 2030, and nearly four million by 2050.

As occupational therapists specialising in housing design, we’re very aware of the challenges that those with visual impairment can face in the home.

It’s not uncommon for an individual’s visual impairment to be as a result of injury or illness, such as a stroke or brain injury. This can mean that the client has a range of needs that need to be taken into consideration, not just their visual impairment.

Our starting point is always to visit the client and assess whether their current home is suitable for the short and long term, and if not, then whether it can be adapted. During the initial assessment it’s vital to evaluate all aspects of the client’s life, from their mobility around the property and the range of day to day tasks they carry out, to how they access the garden, the wider community, shops and services. We also take into account any information provided by medical experts and therapists working with the client, to ensure that we have a full understanding of their situation and needs.

In many cases we can identify a range of highly effective short-term solutions, such as rehanging internal doors so that they don’t obstruct entry to a room, installing grabrails on both sides of staircases and replacing lightbulbs with white daylight bulbs. Longer term solutions can include redesign of layouts, replacing staircases, creating level access, and the installation of specialist equipment to support independence with tasks such as preparing food, doing the laundry and washing dishes.

The kitchen is one of the main areas where the design of the layout and the use of the correct white goods can either empower or disable the user. While architects may be able to offer advice around improving access, they do not have medical training to understand and interpret the extent of the visual impairment on the client’s ability to function.

Regardless of the extent of adaptations and equipment needed, the client should still be able to feel proud of their home - something that we strive to do at Design for Independence. 

Sight may be something that many of us take for granted, yet research by the RNIB has shown that it is the nation’s most precious sense by far.

While we can’t stop the increase in the incidence of visual impairment, there are a host of measures that housing occupational therapists can implement to support people to live independently.

Anava Baruch

Design for Independence

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