‘Smart’ home modifications for people
with vision impairment
If you or someone in your household is impacted by any degree of vision impairment, there are likely "smart" devices and modifications that can make your home safer, more comfortable and easier to navigate. From WiFi-enabled refrigerators to voice-activated control systems, new technologies can make your personal environment more convenient and accessible.
Vision impairment affects millions of people in America, and even more around the globe. The World Health Organization estimates that as many as 1.3 billion people worldwide live with a form of vision impairment, including 217 million people with moderate to severe vision loss and 36 million people who are legally blind.
Limited vision can make daily tasks challenging, but the introduction of smart home technology is making many activities a bit easier. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at the range of technology that may be helpful to those with vision impairment. We will also break down the best ways to use these devices and practical tips to address common challenges.
Making a home more comfortable and navigable for someone with vision impairment starts with understanding the technology available, as well as the level of vision impairment the individual has. Only 10 percent of the people deemed legally blind have absolutely no vision. The following tips include strategies for people with and without the ability to perceive light.
- Use voice-activated blinds to manage glare. For some people with very limited vision, glare – even glare that typically sighted people would not notice – can completely limit their ability to see. Voice-activated window blinds make it easy to quickly correct glare when lighting conditions outdoors change.
- Install automatic dimmers to manage lighting. Keeping the light at a consistent, comfortable level is important for those with minimal vision. Automatic dimmers measure the ambient light in the room and adjust the lighting to compensate as lighting changes throughout the day. Often used in factory settings, this can be adapted for your home to make your light more manageable.
- Match your smart lighting with the right type of lighting. Look for lighting with a Kelvin rating of under 5,000K, which seems to be the most comfortable for many people with low vision.
Labeling and marking
- Use large, contrasted labels for items in your home if you have low vision. White or fluorescent 3x5 index cards with large, dark lettering are often sufficient to allow you to know, at a glance, what is in a storage container. You can also use colored duct tape and write in a contrasting color on the tape.
- Consider tactile markings if you are blind or suffer from changing vision. If the labels are not sufficient, use tactile items like Velcro, safety pins, rubber bands, pipe cleaners, or foam alphabet letters to mark items in your home so you can easily feel the labels. Sometimes you can even glue an example of the item to the outside of the storage container to make it easy to identify what is inside.
- Use a Braille printer to create labels for items. This is particularly important for people with no vision, as it provides a tactile clue as to what is in containers. Labeling things like cleaning supplies and hair spray can help prevent serious accidents if an item is not placed in its normal location.
- Use wearable fall protection to reduce the risk of falls. Wearable sensors are a unique type of technology that can help those with vision and mobility issues stop a fall before it starts. These devices send a signal if a person is at risk for a fall, so the individual can make a correction and avoid the fall.
- Consider a sonar smart watch. This device uses sonar vibrations to help the wearer know how far away objects are when navigating a home. This can help prevent falls or other injuries that occur when someone with low vision or blindness bumps into an obstacle in the home.
- Use motion-sensing lighting to ensure every area where you are walking is properly illuminated. Rather than fumbling for a light switch or forgetting to turn it on, make your lights motion-activated. If you have low vision rather than total blindness, this will help you navigate more easily and avoid any items in your path.
- Invest in a robotic vacuum cleaner. These devices use smart sensors to stay within the confines of a room and can remove surface dirt from carpeting and hard flooring. Some can also be set up to connect to WiFi or voice-activated home assistance, like Alexa or Google Assistant, to make cleaning even easier.
- Use a mopping robot for cleaning hard flooring. Slippery floors and low vision are not a good combination, but robotic mopping tools can do the work for you without as much risk.
- Use a window cleaning robot. Dirty windows can make a home look dingy and dirty. Get getting a glare-free clean when you cannot see well is difficult. A robotic window cleaner can make this task easier and automatic.
Home maintenance and repairs
- Integrate requests for home service and repairs with a home assistant, like Alexa or Google Assistant. This will make it easier to contact a service professional when you need assistance with something in your home.
- Use audio reminders through a phone or computer calendar to remind you about important home maintenance tasks that you can do yourself. Changing the furnace filter, as an example, is something that a person with low vision can and should do regularly, and using a calendar will remind you to take care of this important task.
- Install a water leak detection alarm system. Water leaks that go unnoticed can cause thousands of dollars of damage around your home. Place a water leak detection system with an alarm in your home, especially in vulnerable areas like the basement or crawl space, so you will be notified of a problem before it can create too much costly damage.
- Use smart home technology, like smart stove knobs, to alert yourself if an appliance is left on. Leaving the stove or oven on is dangerous. With smart home technology, you can get an alert if you make this mistake so you can turn off the appliance and protect your home.
- Use a smoke and carbon monoxide detector that speaks as well as chime. This will protect you from danger if you are left wondering which detector is going off. It will also make sure that you clearly know what to do if the alarm sounds.
- Install a smoke and carbon monoxide detector on every floor and near bedrooms. This is critical for safety.
- Choose a model that will alert the first responders for you. This will prevent you from having to fumble with your phone as you get to safety.
For more information about smart home technology you can implement to make your home safer and more comfortable, visit:
- The Chicago Lighthouse: How Smart Homes Are Empowering People with Disabilities
- Optometry Times: Smart Home Technology Creates Independence for Patients with Disabilities
- Smartn: Top 10 Smart Home Tips for the Visually Impaired
- The Mighty: 7 Helpful Smart Home Devices for People with Disabilities
- CNN Business: These Gadgets Could Transform the Lives of Visually Impaired People