13 Little Updates to Make Your Home Low-vision Friendly

by Jerilyn Covert Health Writer

When you have low vision resulting from a condition like wet macular degeneration, everyday household tasks can be a challenge. Luckily, a few simple upgrades can dramatically improve your ability to perform them, says Debra Young, M.Ed., O.T.R./L., vice president of the American Occupational Therapy Association and owner of the OT practice EmpowerAbility in Newark, DE. “It’s about functional observation,” says Young—paying attention to problems and potential safety risks to find a home modification that can help. Ideally, you’ll work with an occupational therapist or low vision specialist . But in the meantime, here are a few ideas to get you started.

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Light Up the Place

Macular degeneration affects both rods and cones, says Dawn DeCarlo, O.D., director of low-vision rehab at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Rods help you see in low light; cones help you see fine details and function best in bright light. So for many patients, simply adding task lighting can make a big difference. Place adequate lighting sources wherever you can: kitchen counters,under/inside cabinets, reading and crafting areas, bedroom nightstand dark hallways and stairs, the shower, and even the toilet.

Pro tip: DIY options like puck and LED strip lighting are easy and inexpensive. But if you’re not sure you’ll keep up on replacing the batteries, consider having a permanent fixture installed, says Young.

close up of man's hands changing lightbulbs to energy efficient ones
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Change Your Bulbs

The best type of light varies from person to person, says Young. So experiment. Try different bulbs (LED vs. halogen vs. fluorescent) and color temperatures (soft white, bright/cool white, daylight). Also, look at the bulb’s color rendering index (CRI)—the closer you are to 100, Young says, the more accurate color appears in that light. Dr. DeCarlo says that for many of her patients, bulbs that mimic natural daylight work best.

Fluorescent: Good for overall room lighting with less glare and shadowing Halogen: Good for concentrated source of light but can produce intense heat LED: Good for concentrated light source, energy efficient, and less heat intensity

High Angle View of Stairs with Yellow and Black Striped Tape
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Add Contrast With Tape

With macular degeneration: it’s hard to distinguish between similar colors. Overall contrast sensitivity is decreased. That can cause stairs to visually blend into one another, making them tricky to navigate. A simple solution would be to place brightly-colored tape along each step’s edge. Blue painter’s tape works great, says Kelsey Watters, O.T.R./L., an occupational therapist at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. And she doesn’t stop at the stairs: Try it on thresholds, on doorframes, around light switches, and along countertop edges. It goes on and comes off easy without damaging surfaces, Watters says. If you like it, you can switch to a more permanent solution such as duct tape, or depending on the surface, paint.

throw rug in bright bedroom
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Toss Your Throw Rugs (or at Least Secure Them)

Throw rugs are a trip hazard in general, but the risk is greater for those with low vision, says Young. Not willing to part with yours? Try placing a non-slip pad (such as Rug Pad USA, $39 for 3-by-5 feet) underneath to keep them from moving. Or secure them with two-sided carpet tape ($17 for 30 yards, by The Good Stuff). Another alternative is a memory foam non-slip mat ($12.99 for a standard size mat).

Go Minimal in Certain Rooms

Visual clutter impacts your search pattern, says Watters. “When we’re searching, our eyes jump between items. They don’t move smoothly,” she says. “Every time your eye jumps, you have to refocus and process what you’re looking at.” In addition, cluttered areas are a fall hazard. For those who struggle to focus as it is, that can really slow you down. Start with areas you use most—bathroom, closet, kitchen—and remove all but the bare essentials, Watters says. Put extra items in storage, where you can access them when needed.

Set Up Workstations

Along with decluttering, organization is key. “Think about ways to cut down on the steps required for a task,” Watters says. For example, if you’re a coffee drinker, station all the supplies you need to make your morning joe in one spot—the coffeepot, coffee, measuring spoon, sugar, and mugs. By reducing the number of steps in the process, you improve efficiency and cut down on fall risk, says Young. And if you switch to light-colored mugs, you can more easily see the coffee level when you’re pouring.

Upgrade Your Computer Monitor

Go on—treat yourself to a bigger screen. You can find a 27-inch version, like this one from HP, and that simple upgrade can keep you online, says ophthalmologist John D. Shepherd M.D., chairman of the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s vision rehab committee, and director of the University of Nebraska’s visual rehab center.

An even less expensive option: Modifying your accessibility features to increase brightness and enlarge fonts as well as app icons. You can even add “trails” to your mouse pointer so you can spot it more easily, says Jason Vice, O.T.R./L., of the UAB Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation.

Hang Up Curtains or Blinds in Really Bright Rooms

“This is one of those catch-22’s,” says Dr. Shepherd. “People with macular degeneration need light to see, but too much can create glare.” In very bright rooms with blinding glare, consider a curtain or shade, advises Young. A manual version will get the job done, but newer motorized shades—which can open or close with the push of a button, or be set to automatically open or close at a certain time of day—may be worth the splurge, Young says. A few ways to decrease glare include hanging curtains, using blue light filtering glasses, installing an anti-glare filter on computer monitors, and installing dimmers on light switches.

Move the TV Closer

Yes, you could get a bigger TV. Or could simply move the TV closer. Regardless of what Mom said, it won’t hurt your eyes, says Dr. DeCarlo. “Watching a 26-inch TV from five feet away is the same as watching a 52-inch TV from 10 feet away,” says Dr. DeCarlo. Then rearrange the seating so you can try viewing the screen from different angles, to see which works best, says Vice. People with macular degeneration often can’t use their central vision but may be able to see more clearly peripherally. Also consider a dimmer switch so you can adjust the ambient light to avoid glare.

Put a Solid Cover on Your Patterned Couch

For those who struggle to see fine details, items can get visually lost against a busy background, like a patterned carpet, countertop, or couch, says Watters. “For somebody who is already having a hard time processing visual information,” Watters says, “any additional visual stressors just make it more difficult.” Put a solid couch cover over the couch, and a solid slab on the counter. Same goes for carpets; opt for solids if you can.

Amazon Echo
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Install a Voice-activated Assistant

Digital assistants have tons applications for people with low vision, says Dr. Shepherd. By connecting with smart-home devices, they let you call someone, switch on the lights, adjust the thermostat, and more—all through simple voice commands. “Alexa has changed the game for many of my patients,” says Dr. Shepherd. Find the Amazon Echo, which connects to Alexa, for $100 on Amazon.

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Create a Lighted Runway to the Front Door

Don’t forget to light the outside of your house, too. Line the path to the front door with solar-powered or motion-sensor lights, suggests Young. Add a keyhole light to help you navigate your key. You may even want to attach a mini LED flashlight to your keychain for back up. Strip lighting along any outdoor stairs is also very useful.

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Add Tactile Markers to Dials, Buttons, and Controls

Give your eyes a hand with tactile markers, which can help you identify settings or numbers on buttons and dials, says Vice. Occupational therapists use something called “bump dots,” but there’s a simple DIY substitute you can find at the dollar store, says Vice: sticky-back Velcro. Simply cut off small pieces and adhere them wherever useful: on a specific temp on your oven dial, or certain settings on your washer and dryer. For your microwave, try putting a piece on the number five, Vice suggests. Tactile buttons could be placed in various locations such as on washing machine settings, oven buttons, and microwave settings. That can help orient you so you can find any number you want.

Jerilyn Covert
Meet Our Writer
Jerilyn Covert

Jerilyn Covert is a writer, editor, and copy editor with 15 years of publishing experience. She’s written hundreds of articles for Men’s Health (where she was an editor for more than 10 years), Women’s Health, Runner’s World, ONE37pm, Whiskey Advocate, Silver Sneakers, and many more. She’s insatiably curious and loves interviewing people who know a lot more than she does. She shares their insights and advice so others can use them to improve their lives.