October 15 is White Cane Safety Day in the United States, an occasion to celebrate the equality of blind Americans and to affirm our commitment to their right to independence.
Caregivers often encounter families with one or more members experiencing a profound loss of vision. With older loved ones, we sometimes see changes in visual acuity – usually gradual, but sometimes more rapid.
As caregivers, our role is to support that independence by creating an environment where they can live as self-sufficiently as possible. Beyond obvious solutions like large-number telephones and keeping floors cleared of obstacles, there are some simple housekeeping modifications that can help them function on their own with greater confidence.
Keeping the same furniture arrangements is a popular accommodation. But placing smaller and especially frequently used items in the same location can be very helpful, too. Plates and flatware, for instance, can be kept in a dish strainer on the counter rather than hidden in a dark drawer among other similarly shaped and colored items. Even things like coasters or pens should have a home. While it is necessary to move things while dusting, it is more important to reset them in the same position to avoid frustration and promote security.
Another approach that works for many of our client families is the strategic use of contrasting colors. By painting door moldings a different color than the walls, some vision-impaired people report they can more easily follow the most direct route between rooms of the house, which makes it easier to locate the exit quickly in an emergency. Contrasting colors also can be effective with light switches. Adding brightly colored tape to frequently used items, such as remotes help your loved one distinguish them from the surfaces on which they are placed.
Environmental lighting also can be very effective. While task lighting near cooking or food prep areas is a common feature in many homes already, consistent white light throughout the living space can cut down on confusing shadows and make it easier to navigate around the house.
White Cane Safety Day is a great opportunity to appreciate how far our culture has come in protecting the safety and dignity of our visually impaired or blind loved ones and neighbors. It’s also a chance for us to recommit ourselves to the independence of everybody who experiences lost or impaired vision.
If you have any ideas on how to make life easier for the visually impaired, share them with the community on Facebook.