5 Ways to Make a Space Accessible for Someone Who is Blind or Visually Impaired

5 Ways to Make a Space Accessible for Someone Who is Blind or Visually Impaired

By Beth Walker • May 03, 2023
A close up showing bump dots being used on a washer and dryer.

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Accessibility builds a culture of inclusivity for people of all abilities. It is important everywhere, and we want you to be knowledgeable about how you can be proactive in constructing an environment where every person, regardless of their disability, has equal access to opportunities and resources. The simplest of changes in the workplace or at home can be life-changing and can make everyday living and working attainable, leading to independence and confidence for people who are blind or visually impaired.  

Steps to take to ensure your workplace or home is accessible: 

Tactile labels (or Bump Dots)  

“One of the top three things that people who are blind or visually impaired ask me to help them with in their home would be utilizing appliances, and this is adapted very easily by marking the appliances with tactile dots” says Karen Kendrick, Occupational Therapist for Envision. 

Bump Dots are great for both the workplace and at home to make tasks more accessible. Bump dots come in many different shapes, sizes, textures and colors for a wide variety of choices. They can help: 

1. Label different buttons on a washer/dryer, microwave, stove, etc. so that they can be felt to determine which button is for certain functions. For example, by placing a bigger dot on the microwave for the popcorn button, it is easier to find than having to type in minutes into the microwave. 

2. Label washer settings. If you generally do smaller loads of laundry, placing a big dot on the text that says “small load” can help you know where to turn the dial to.  

3. Label light switches, calculators, computer keyboards, telephone keys and more in the workspace. 

If you are blind or visually impaired and need help labeleling things in your home, our Occupational Therapist at Envision can help. If you do not have access to proper tools, our Envision Every Day Store can help.  

Color Contrast  

Color contrast is another tool that can make a huge difference in the workplace and home. For people who are visually impaired, it can be hard to decipher differences in color. Choosing proper color contrasts can make navigation much easier. Here are some examples: 

1. Green beans are hard to see on a green or black plate, but when placed on a white plate they can be seen better.  

2. Strawberries are hard to see on a bright colored plate but stand out more against a white one.

3. If you have a light-colored floor, you should have contrasted furniture of a darker color. This makes it easier to find where the bed or the dresser is located. 

4. Choose a color that is contrasting to the floor when putting walk pathways there. If there is a white floor, using black tape to mark a path is a good color contrast.

5. Avoid the use of patterns as much as possible as this can be confusing to decipher visually.

6. Black and white are the simplest colors to implement when using color contrasting, but in general you should place lighter objects against a darker background.

7. Bump dots come in a variety of colors for utilization in color contrasting. 

Our Vision Rehabilitation Services can help you learn about color contrasting and other tools.  

Proper Lighting  

Proper lighting is another adjustment that can be a beneficial tool in aiding accessibility.  

“Brighter isn’t necessarily better when it comes to lighting, and color temperature is more important for accessibility. Bulbs can come in blue, warm and bright hues and can be LED or fluorescent, but it is ultimately up to the person to choose what works for them,” says Envision Occupational Therapist Karen Kendrick. 

 You can experiment with different light bulbs to see what kind of light works best for you, but a rule of thumb is to have lighting brightest at areas of the home or work where the most activities take place. Here are some examples:  

1. In the workplace you may not be able to change hallway lighting, but you can add extra lighting at your office space. 

2. A magnifying glass with a built-in flashlight for reading purposes or general vision at your desk. Envision Everyday Store can help with this.  

3. Plug-in nightlights (or LEDS) to all bedrooms in the home. 

4. Adjustable blinds, so it is easier to let natural lighting in. 

 While you may have some influence over lighting choices at home or work, it is harder when going to public areas, and restaurants are notorious for having bad lighting. The magnifying glass with the built-in flashlight is a great option for circumstances like this.  

Path Markers & Removing Obstacles  

“Many times, businesses will “follow the rules” for accessibility but are not truly accessible. I went to a place for dinner and had to visit the lady’s room. Was there a bathroom sign? Yes! Where was it located? Above the door! Could I find it to read the Braille and confirm my location? Nope! A business really must think about how it is implementing accessibility modifications.”- Terese Goren, Envision Senior Accessibility Analyst. 

Here are some ways to create a safe living or workspace: 

1. Clear pathways. Placing objects in the middle of rooms is not a smart idea. 

2. Spaces should be clear, especially for those with guide dogs to walk through, and there should be nothing blocking the ability to hear from other rooms if possible.  

3. Choose furniture with different textures for navigation purposes. 

4. Have open walkways and permanent workspace areas. 

5. Place extra lighting or a large bump dot on uncommon structures. 

6. If you are sight-guiding someone, tell them where unusual built-in structures (like pillars in the middle of a room) are so they can be aware of them. 

7. Do not move items at a work desk area or in the home without warning, as this can cause confusion and can be dangerous.  

8. Use colored tape to mark walkways on the floor leading to the bedroom, kitchen, living room, copy room, lunchroom or bathrooms.  

9. Use paint to mark when stairs are starting, or other changes in flooring levels. 

10. Use tactile labeling for flooring and other differences in structures for people who are fully blind. 

Digital Tools  

Technology has advanced far, and luckily there are now many digital tools that help in assisting people who are blind or visually impaired. 

Mika Pyyhkala, Director of Digital Accessibility at Envision’s Workforce Innovation Center, recommends Seeing AI produced by Microsoft. This smartphone app can read short text, identify currency, tell if lights are on and off, and even has a feature for indoor navigation that is being studied.  

“If someone is low vision and has a smartphone, I would highly recommend something like Visor or Supervision Plus. These are two video magnifiers that I use every day for both distance and document viewing,” says Terese Goren, Senior Accessibility Analyst for Envision.  

Here are some other examples of digital tools: 

1. Color talking detectors, which help you pick out clothes by telling you what color the shirt you are pointing at is.  

2. Voice labeling systems, which allow you to record your voice and print what you say onto cards that can be attached to medications, appliances, clothes and more.  

3. Talking calculators. 

4. Talking thermometers for cooking or boiling water. 

5. Alexa, a talking speaker that will register at the sound of your voice, is a tool that can be utilized to text someone, change the tv channel, set timers for appliances, set audible reminders and more. 

 While digital tools are a huge advancement in accessibility, they are not everyone’s preference, and that is completely okay. What is important is that you find the tools that help in the ways that are needed for you.  

Mika Pyyhkala reminds us that the best thing you can do to truly be accessible is to be inclusive and allow employees and customers with visual impairments to take part in your organizations and implementations of procedures and policies.  

If you are a business wanting to learn how to be more accessible, please reach out to our Workforce Innovation Center, which can help you achieve this. If you are blind or visually impaired or want to support someone who is, reach out to our Vision Rehabilitation Center or our Envision Every Day Store to get the guidance and supplies that you need to be independent, successful, happy, and ultimately, to thrive.