Living with Someone Who is Blind or Visually Impaired: How to Avoid Potential Dangers in Your Home

When most people think about what it might be like to be blind or visually impaired and consider what the greatest potential dangers must be, it is common for them to think BIG. If asked what the greatest danger in the home for a blind or visually impaired person would be, most people would guess that the number one answer would be staircases. After that, people will generally think of the stove and electric appliances, slippery bathtubs, and walking into furniture with hard or sharp surfaces.

These guesses would be incorrect. Once oriented to their environment, a blind or visually impaired person is not much more likely to fall down a flight of stairs or slip in a wet bathtub than you or I would be. They will be able to safely navigate the furniture in their home, and they will either know how to use the stove and appliances without incurring injury, or, believe me, they will stay far, far away from them.

So, what is the greatest inflicter of injury in the homes of the visually impaired? That would be the open cabinet door.

Actually, to be fair to the poor maligned cabinet, the greatest potential danger in the home of a person who is blind or visually impaired is not a “what,” it’s a “who.” Other people are largest sources of changes to the environment of a visually impaired person, and unexpected changes, no matter how small, can lead to avoidable injury.

If you are living with someone with low or no vision, or if you are contemplating doing so, what follows is a simple guide for keeping your home safe and injury free for your visually impaired co-habitant. With just a little bit of environmental recognition and understanding, you can live happily without the bumps and bruises.

The first thing you want to do is make sure your home is set up and organized in a manner that will provide a safe environment that fosters the comfort and independence of your blind or visually impaired friend or family member. For more on the initial organization of your home, please see my earlier articles “Living with Someone Who is Blind or Visually Impaired: How to Furnish Your Home” and “Living with Someone Who is Blind or Visually Impaired: How to Organize Your Cupboards and Closets” for tips if you need help.

Once you are all set up, your main focus should be directed toward two very important tenets, and, upon adherence to those, the smaller every day details will naturally fall into place. Those tenets are attention to consistency and attention to frame of reference. If you keep those things in mind every day, you won’t have to exhaust yourself always trying to stay ahead of trouble spots. With a simple philosophy of maintaining these ideals in your home, a safe environment will exist, simply and organically.

Let’s begin with consistency. Think about all the little things you do during the course of a day that change your environment. Little things like grabbing a glass out of a cabinet and not closing the door, moving a coffee table six inches because you think it’ll look nicer, throwing your coat over the banister, all of these things can become potential dangers in your home to the blind or visually impaired person you live with.

As noted earlier, the one of the greatest potential sources of injury for a blind or visually impaired people in his or her own home is an open cabinet door. There are areas of space around each of us that we expect to be free of obstacles, and the open space up around the upper parts of our bodies is, of course, one of them. It is not only painful and injurious to walk unsuspectingly into the sharp corner of a cabinet door, but also very jarring and upsetting as well, generally causing the person who has been unexpectedly smacked in the head to suffer a loss of their sense of comfort and confidence in the predictability of their home.

The same can be said for doors that are ajar or half open. A door in the home of someone who is blind or visually impaired should be in one of two states of being: opened or closed. A door that are partially opened can cause as great or greater injury than an open cabinet if the person walking into it is expecting it to be opened. For the most part, the doors in most people’s homes are generally left either opened or closed on a regular basis, and it is important that this remain as consistent a possible. Your house mate will know which doors in the home typically change from opened to closed throughout the day (for instance, the bathroom door), and will be already know to exercise caution before approaching, but he or she will probably expect a door like the one leading to the living room to be open at all times, and will expect to be able to cross the threshold without encountering an obstacle. A partially opened living room door will be an entirely unexpected and painful shock.

Items left on the floor of the home, on the stairs, over banisters, and in any other areas where they might hinder the free movement or the safety precautions of someone traveling in the vicinity are another potential threat to the wellbeing of your blind or visually impaired house mate. Wires and extension cords should never be stretched across the floor. Piles of miscellaneous items, clothing, shoes, bags, et cetera, should always be up and clear of any travel areas.

A helpful trick when contemplating consistency in your home is to take a mental snapshot of your living space when everything is as it should be and keep it filed in the front of your mind. It is unnecessary to continually inspect your home for potential dangers. Just make a habit of regularly surveying your environment. You can do this as you’re leaving for work, after putting away the groceries, after you’ve had guests in your home, or at different times during your day that seem pertinent and convenient to you. Just do a quick scan and see that nothing seems out of place with your mental picture. This quickly becomes second nature and can be done in an instant. In no time, potential dangers will start to jump out at you.

Now we can move on to frame of reference. Is anything in an unusual place, where your blind or visually impaired co-habitant would not expect it to be? Have you placed a boom box on the coffee table to listen to some music while you did a little housework? Did you set a glass down on a table in the hallway as you were walking past? These items can be easily knocked over by someone who is not expecting them to be there and can not see them, exposing him or her to potential injury and certainly to damage to the item.

Earlier I mentioned the potential danger of moving a coffee table six inches. Those six inches are six inches of formerly unobstructed travel space which now contain solid coffee table. A shin caught full force by the corner of such a table can sustain an impressively sized, painful gash.

Now does this mean you can never change anything in your home or alter where you set things? Absolutely not, you simply need to provide a new frame of reference to your blind or visually impaired house mate. Involve them in the alteration of the environment, let them examine the new set up and make input as to what is a convenient and safe placement for the item in question. They’ll probably take a couple of passes by that shifted coffee table using protective technique until they’re confident in the change in their travel space. Ultimately, communication is the best defense against injury in your home. If your house mate knows to look for a change in the environment, they’ll proceed with caution until they’re confident they have a full grasp of the modification.

The idea of living with someone who is blind or visually impaired, and the potential dangers involved with such an undertaking, may seem a bit daunting at first, but with attention to a few simple basic principles, it is relatively easy to maintain a safe and injury free home. My husband is legally blind, and we have been living a happy, comfortable, scar free life together for over six years. The necessary adjustments quickly became second nature, leaving us with the ability to focus most of our attention on the more interesting aspects of our home and our life together.

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