Part 2: Around the home
Learning to navigate a home independently with vision impairment can pose a challenge, but new, smarter technology is making it easier. By utilizing technology well, those living with vision impairments can enjoy quite a bit of independence at home. Here is a closer look at the technology that is available to make your home smarter, safer, and more comfortable for those who live with vision loss.
Home security systems
- Install a home security system. Choose one that will alert you with an alarm or vibration when someone enters the property.
- Connect the security system to monitoring service. While everyone can benefit from monitoring service, those with low vision benefit the most because this eliminates one step in the process. Should an alarm be triggered, your monitoring service can alert the authorities on your behalf.
- Use a talking doorbell. You don’t just need to know when an intruder is on the property. You also need a way to know who is visiting when a welcome guest or delivery professional is at your home. Some home security systems include a video doorbell that uses facial recognition.
- Add a feature that will announce visitors. This will allow you to talk with a visitor before you open the door, helping you identify visitors and decide whether to let them in your home.
- Choose a system that can unlock doors or open gates. Many home security systems have “smart lock” or gate openers that allow you to easily grant someone access to your home. These can also be beneficial when you return to your home, limiting the need to fumble with a key and fit it into a small keyhole, which can be challenging with limited vision.
- Invest in a home assistant or smart speaker device. Devices like Amazon’s Echo (Alexa) or Google Assistant can now be connected to most smart home systems, allowing you to control everything from your thermostat to your home audio and entertainment system with your voice. This is the starting point for making your home smarter and more comfortable.
- Set up your climate control to voice activation. By simply being able to tell your home what temperature you want, you can control your home comfort and utility bills more easily. A voice-activated, WiFi-enabled smart thermostat is a simple way to do this, but you can also connect your home’s climate control systems to your smart speaker home assistant.
- Make lighting voice activated in addition to automatic dimming and motion sensing. The more control you have over your lighting, the better. Add voice activation controls to your lighting in addition to the automatic settings you have already installed.
- Put your entertainment on auto pilot. Not only should your entertainment system be connected to your home assistant, making it easier to find something to watch or listen to, but you should also install timers that will turn it off if you forget.
Decorating your home
- Use a color-sensing wand to detect colors. This can help you find ways to put together home décor that matches, even if you struggle to see colors well.
- Install a bidet in the toilet. This makes it easier to get clean after taking care of necessary business, without visual cues. As an added bonus, it’s far more sanitary. Today’s bidet technology even has smart sensors to help determine when the job is done.
- Add sensors underneath the tap. You can install the same motion-activated sensors under the water faucet in your bathroom that are often found in public restrooms. This will make it easier to turn on and off the water even when you cannot see well. Consider the same option for soap, and always know that you have the right amount. The soap dispenser can even alert you when it is running low.
- Invest in smart medication dispensers. Dispensing the right dose of medication is a challenge with limited vision, and if pills or liquid mediation spill, you may struggle to clean up the mess and find all of the medication. Automated medication dispensers ensure you get your medication daily without struggling with hard-to-open pill bottles and unnecessary mess.
- Use technology to give yourself the ability to read medicine bottles for proper dosage. QR code scanners or voice recorders can read medication labels to you, ensuring that you take the right dose and get the correct dosage instructions.
- Use a smart refrigerator to track grocery lists or items nearing the expiration date. A WiFi enabled refrigerator is for more than just watching the news while preparing breakfast or dinner. Using these well, and connecting them to your smartphone or smart speaker device, can help you manage the daily tasks of food prep and regular grocery shopping.
- Invest in a smart WiFi enabled coffee maker. Fill your coffee maker at the start of the week, then set it to brew your coffee at the same time every morning. You will wake up with a fresh pot or cup of coffee every day.
- Pick up a smart mug to easily measure liquids, even hot liquids, without danger. These mugs make a sound when the liquid level reaches a predetermined level, so you never have to risk pouring too much hot coffee or other liquid.
- Use a label reader to record and then re-read labels. These devices allow you label, scan, and then re-read items in your kitchen, so you do not accidentally grab a can of green beans when you’re actually reaching for cream of chicken soup.
- Invest in a liquid level alerting indicator. These simple battery-powered devices clip onto your cup and send an alert when the liquid reaches a certain level.
- Connect your smart home speaker to WiFi enabled appliances to help in a number of ways. With a smart oven and a home speaker device, you can simply ask Alexa how much time is left on the oven, or use your home speaker to set the oven timer.
- Choose a smart washer and dryer that sends an auditory alert when the unit is done washing. Smart washers can send this alert to your phone, so you will hear that the load is done even if you're in another room of the house.
- Consider a model that will automatically adjust the amount of water or the drying time based on the condition of the load. These laundry room appliances have sensors that will stop drying or stop filling the washing machine once the clothing is adequately dry or covered in water. This helps visually impaired individuals because they do not have to look to see how much laundry is in the load to estimate the water level.
- Choose a front-loading model for your washer. It is easier to feel inside a front-loading model to ensure you got all of the laundry out than it is to reach into a top-loading model.
- Buy a talking laundry module to adapt existing appliances to be vision-impaired friendly. These simple devices plug into many new model washers and dryers and give spoken feedback about the settings or cycle of the device. This is an option when the budget does not allow for all new appliances.
- Enjoy your favorite book at night with an e-reader device. These devices scan or take a photograph of text and then read it to you, so you can enjoy the words even if an audiobook is not available. Consider pairing this with Bluetooth headphones so you can read while your loved ones enjoy their own leisure activities.
- Invest in audio book subscriptions. Either through your library or through an online subscription service, you can enjoy audiobooks easily at home. These are often read by professionals who use the right intonation to make the experience truly enjoyable beyond what is available with an e-reader.
- Use lighting to help control circadian rhythm and improve sleep. Many people with low vision struggle with circadian rhythm because they do not see the daylight changes like a normally sighted person, and thus their body does not trigger the normal production of melatonin that signals the sleep cycle. People with some vision can benefit from lighting systems designed to replicate the natural day/night cycle and restore some of that circadian rhythm.
- Install a talking clock on the bedside table. This will ensure that the person with vision impairment can always know what time it is, even if the smartphone is not readily accessible.
Closets and storage
- Consider the Echo Look to help with choosing outfits. This Alexa-powered camera sits in your closet and scans your outfits to help you choose outfits that match.
- Use an app to organize your closet by outfits. This can make it easier to find a desired outfit in the morning, even with vision challenges.
- Install motorized closet rods. This extends the amount of storage in your closet, allowing you to double or triple-hang. Pair motorized closet rods with an organizing app to make it easier to find your desired outfit. By hanging like or matched items on the same rack of the closet, then accessing that rack using the motorized closet rod system, you can easily find what you need and be confident that it matches well.
Home office space
- Use a screen reader. These devices will read the screen on your computer or tablet so you can enjoy online banking or other computer related tasks.
- Use speech-to-text software. Software like Dragon Naturally Speaking will translate your spoken words into text on the screen, so you can continue to use email and word processing programming even without the ability to see the screen well.
- Add a Braille keyboard to the workstation. For tasks that cannot be done via voice, a Braille keyboard is the right solution.
- Use a text-to-Braille converter. For tasks that cannot be done via voice, a Braille keyboard is the right solution.
- Consider automatic pet cleaning products. If your home has a pet, consider automated doggy potty pads or self-cleaning litter boxes. These devices will automatically clean up pet waste, then alert you when the device needs to be emptied and reset.
- Use automatic pet feeders and water dispensers to ensure your pets always have enough. This will give a premeasured amount of food and a constant supply of water. Many are now equipped with alarms that will alert you when the dispenser is running low, so you can refill it.
- Install a smart pet door. Make it easy for your dog (or outdoor cat) to get outside, without the risk of letting critters back in, with a smart pet door. These doors stay locked until your pet, wearing a sensor-enabled collar, nears the door. The collar triggers the unlocking mechanism, so your pet can go in and out with ease while keeping your home secure at all times.
For more information about adaptive technology for use around the home, visit:
- VisionAware.org: Setting up a Home Office After Vision Loss
- MyTherapy: Making the World Accessible – The Latest Tech for the Blind and Visually Impaired
- Family Connect: Overview of Assistive Technology for Families with a Visually Impaired Child
- Fortune: For the Disabled, Smart Homes Are Home Sweet Home