Growing up visually impaired presented some unique challenges. I often couldn’t play the sports I wanted to. I missed things that happened in TV shows and movies. Reading was even a challenge. Fortunately, there are many ways in which things can be adapted for those who are vision-impaired or completely blind.
If you are planning to adopt or already have adopted a child with a vision impairment, please read on to learn how you can make home life easier for them.
Mobility Around Your Home
When you have a vision-impaired child, you have to be mindful about his or her ability to safely navigate through your home.
Young children get into everything. Running into the sharp edge of a table or couch can cause serious injury to your child. Help protect him or her with furniture bumpers or corner bumpers. This is an inexpensive way to protect your child. Cover any sharp furniture edges or corners, such as those on coffee tables, end tables, couches, and chairs.
Furniture bumpers don’t need to be unsightly. You can purchase them in a variety of colors to match your furniture. Alternatively, you can purchase clear furniture bumpers that will blend right in with your furniture.
Stairs are a hazard for any young child but even more so for a child who is vision-impaired. I cannot tell you how many times I have fallen off curbs or hurt myself on a flight of stairs, even in environments very familiar to me.
Place baby gates at the top and bottom of all your stairways. Once your adoptive child learns how to safely walk up and down the stairs, you can place tactile strips at the top and bottom of your staircases. The tactile strip will tell your child where the stairs are starting so it’s less likely that he or she will have accidental falls. If you don’t already have them, install handrails as well.
If your adoptive child has usable vision, installing lights near the stairs may be helpful. You may also want to paint the edge of each individual step so that your child can more easily tell where each edge is.
Once your adoptive child knows his or her way around your home, it’s very unlikely that he or she will use his or her white cane in the home to find his or her way around. However, he or she might trail the wall to help orient himself or herself. Trailing involves placing the back of the hand against the wall a few inches ahead of the rest of the body. This way, a vision-impaired person can find obstacles with his or her hand before running into them with the rest of his or her body. If your adoptive child trails the walls in your home, you’ll want to remove any photos, artwork, or other decorative pieces at his or her level.
Lighting and Glare
Most kids with vision impairments prefer the natural light that comes through the windows. However, for some children with conditions that cause photophobia, too much light is problematic. It’s wise to invest in adjustable window coverings so that you can control how much light comes into the house. It’s also wise to purchase a few lamps with adjustable arms. Your child can use these for an extra light source when working on puzzles, playing games, and reading. Portable lamps are best so that you can easily move them from one place to another.
Glare can be particularly uncomfortable for those with vision problems. You may need to experiment with the lamps in your home to see where they can be placed to decrease glare on television screens and tables.
Contrast is a useful tool for children who have some usable vision. Try to provide contrast throughout your home to help your adoptive child find things easier. For instance, in the bathroom, if you have a dark countertop, use a light-colored toothbrush holder and soap dish. Place a dark-colored bar of soap into the light-colored soap dish to help your child find it.
If you have light-colored walls, install dark-colored light switch plates with white light switches
In the kitchen, you can use shelf liners or placemats to create contrast in cabinets. Place dark-colored shelf liners or placemats under light-colored dishes in cabinets.
Providing contrast can also help your visually impaired child see what he or she is eating. For instance, you can put cereal into a dark-colored bowl.
Adapting Your Home
Adapting the Kitchen
You can purchase tactile appliance stickers to make using kitchen appliances easier for a vision-impaired child. There are tactile stickers made specifically for microwaves, stoves, and washers and dryers, so your child can easily use these appliances when he or she gets old enough to do so.
If you have different types of cereal in your home, you can differentiate them with brightly colored labels, braille labels, or tactile stickers, depending on your adoptive child’s usable vision. You can use this method to help your child find other foods in the kitchen as well.
In the Bathroom
Place a rubber band around your adoptive child’s toothbrush so he or she can easily identify which one is his or hers. Put non-slip strips in the bathtub. You may want to consider installing safety rails in the bathtub and near the toilet as well.
You can help your child differentiate between bath products by purchasing them in differently-shaped bottles. Place a rubber band around the shampoo bottle to distinguish it from the conditioner.
In Your Adoptive Child’s Bedroom
Use contrast in your adoptive child’s bedroom to help him or her find things more easily. Instead of having pillowcases that match the sheets, for instance, you can choose a contrasting color for the pillowcases. The bedspread should contrast with the coloring of the floor. Purchase a hairbrush or comb that contrasts with the dresser.
You can put a talking clock in your adoptive child’s room so he or she can easily find out what time it is whenever he or she wants. They also make talking clocks with alarms your adoptive child can use when he or she begins to get himself or herself up for school.
As in other rooms, you’ll want to place furniture bumpers on your adoptive child’s bed, dresser, and nightstand. Use adhesive to keep any rugs in place on the floor in your child’s room so the rug doesn’t slide around or bunch up, causing a tripping hazard.
Set up an organizational system for your adoptive child’s books and toys in his or her room. If he or she has usable vision, it might be helpful to use brightly-colored bins placed on shelves to help organize toys.
Keep your adoptive child’s floor clutter-free. Help him or her put away his or her toys when he or she is done playing so he or she doesn’t accidentally trip over them later. If your adoptive child has usable vision, placing nightlights in his or her room, hallway, and bathroom can help him or her find his or her way to the bathroom at night.
Your child’s room should have plenty of light. Install adjustable window coverings, such as blinds to help control the amount of light that comes in during the day. Experiment with different types of light bulbs in lamps to determine what type of light your child prefers best–LED, incandescent, flood, or fluorescent. Install a light dimmer switch for overhead lights, and purchase lamps that allow for various brightness intensities. Provide several light sources throughout your child’s room. Putting lights in your child’s closet may also be helpful.
Matching clothes is challenging for those who have little or no vision as well as for those who are colorblind. There are a few things you can do to help your child match clothes as he or she grows up.
You can put Braille tags into each piece of clothing to help your adoptive child identify his or her clothes. You can Braille the color and any specific washing instructions onto something like APH Tactile Clothing Tape. You can attach the tape to clothing items with safety pins or by sewing it on. This tape is safe to put in the washer and dryer.
You can also use safety pins to help your child match his or her clothes on his or her own. For instance, shirts with one safety pin match pants, skirts, and shorts with one safety pin. Shirts with two safety pins match bottoms containing two safety pins.
You might be matching your child’s socks for him or her when he or she is young, but as he or she grows up and begins to do his or her own laundry, you can use safety pins to keep pairs of socks together when they aren’t being worn.
Keep shoes together in pairs in plastic shoeboxes with a large print or Braille label on the box to identify what color the shoes are.
An organizational system for clothing is key for those with vision problems. Some people prefer to hang outfits, such as matching slacks and a shirt on the same hanger while others prefer to organize the closet by clothing type, keeping all the shirts together, all the slacks together, and so on. Experiment to figure out what works best for your adoptive child.
Games and Toys
Being vision-impaired does make playing with some toys and games difficult. Growing up, my sister and I loved to play board games. I had more usable vision when I was young, but we still had to be mindful of the board games we purchased. Fortunately, there are quite a few games that have been adapted for vision-impaired and completely blind children.
Braille UNO, Braille Connect Four, tactile Tic-Tac-Toe boards, tactile Checkers boards, Braille Monopoly, Braille Phase 10, Braille Bananagrams, Braille Scrabble, tactile Dominos, and large print and Braille playing cards make it easy for a vision-impaired child to enjoy games with family and friends. Tactile dice make it possible for vision-impaired kids to play dice games like Yahtzee.
Single-player light-up games like Simon, Flashing Cube Electronic Memory & Brain Game, and Waverave by Winning Fingers may be good options if your child has some usable vision. The Bop It! Toys – Bop It, Bop It Extreme, Bop It Extreme 2, and Bop It XT are a great option for children with little or no vision as they are sound-based. The great thing about Bop It games is that they can be played alone or with others.
There are also numerous tactile toys that visually impaired children can enjoy. Fisher-Price Listen-Up Rounds and the Hasbro Playskool Lullaby Gloworm are good choices for babies. The Touch ‘n Match Board, Press & Stay Sensory Blocks, and the Battat Sound Puzzle Box may be enjoyable for toddlers with vision problems. Older children might enjoy raised-line coloring pages, Braille magnetic letters, Braille Go Fish, Braille Old Maid, and tactile puzzles.
Other Helpful Tips
Here are a few more tips to help you adapt your home for a vision-impaired or completely blind adoptive child.
Make sure everything has a place. Having a great organizational system for everything in your home is a must when you have a vision-impaired child. Always keep the toothbrush holder on the left side of the sink next to the faucet, the dishtowels and rags in the drawer closest to the kitchen sink, and the bath towels on the second shelf in your hall closet, for instance. When you get something out, put it away immediately after you are done using it. Don’t move things around if you don’t have to, and if you do, be sure to show your adoptive child where you have moved them.
Don’t leave clutter on the floor, counters, or table. You might be accustomed to coming home and kicking your shoes off, leaving them in the living room until you feel like putting them away later. But this creates a tripping hazard for someone with low or no vision. Keep your floors, counters, and tables free of clutter to avoid accidents. Push chairs back under the table when they’re not being used.
As with any child, you’ll want to keep anything potentially dangerous, such as medication, household cleaning products, and antifreeze out of reach. Store these items in high, locked cabinets.
Where to Purchase Toys, Games, Books, and Living Aids
Accessible living aids are relatively easy to find in today’s world. MaxiAids, LS&S, and Independent Living Aids are great places to find living aids as well as toys, games, and books. You can also find some products available on Amazon.
If you are considering adopting or already have adopted a child with a vision problem, know that there are a lot of resources, technology, and products that can help him or her have a happy childhood and grow up to be an independent adult with a fulfilling life. With a few adaptations, you can make your home a welcoming and safe environment for your adoptive child.Considering adoption? Let us help you on your journey to creating your forever family. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.