Housing for the Blind

Regardless of our level of ability, it is very human to desire freedom and independent living. Life in the dark can often be a struggle. Many of the things sighted people take for granted can become time-consuming and onerous tasks for someone without sight. Today there are numerous products and renovations that can be done to improve home life. Sometimes even small adjustments can add to the level of comfort, functionality and safety.

Blindness affects thousands of Canadians. Every year more people experience complete or partial loss of vision. Cataracts, diabetes, accidents, exposure to certain chemicals or gases, and diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa can create vision loss in otherwise healthy people. Blindness is truly a concern we should all share.

There are many upgrades that can be made to a home to improve its usability for someone who has vision loss.

The outside of the home can be a maze of hazards: slippery steps, overgrown vegetation, uneven pavement to name a few. There are a number of ways to improve the safety of areas immediately outside the home. Lighting is important regardless of whether the resident can see the light. Light can be a deterrent for criminals. The common paths from the street to the entryway of the home should be well lit and free of obstacles. Paths should be level; in the winter, they should be kept clear of ice and snow.

While not every person who is blind has a guide dog, many do. These dogs are special pets who put in a full day's work for their owners. The job can be stressful for many dogs and they need time to play. The main signal to guide dogs that it's playtime is to be released from their halter. One of the best solutions for those with a backyard is to build a fenced-in area where the dog can run without harm.

Inside the home, it is quite common for someone who has been without sight for years to know their way around almost as though they could see. In their mind's eye they can imagine the layout of the room. It is imperative that visitors not move things. Repositioning chairs, coffee tables, telephone etc. may result in accidents or frustrated minutes spent searching. Rugs should be secured to the floor to avoid tripping. Stairs should have secure handrails and a non-slip covering which is glued or nailed down. Adequate closets and dressers can help reduce clutter, which might otherwise interfere with mobility. A speaker installed at the entryway can allow an occupant to identify a visitor before opening the door. A phone in each room is ideal.

In the kitchen, there are a number of hazards whether a person is sighted or not. Hot stove elements, knives, appliances should all be used with caution. For a person who is blind it's important to be extra vigilant in the kitchen layout. Do not store items such as dishes or spices over the stove. Install a fire extinguisher between 1 and 3 metres away from the stove - keep it in the same place at all times. It is also a good idea to have a smoke detector and a telephone in the kitchen.

For both kitchen and bath, water heaters should be adjusted to a level which cannot scald the skin. Taps that can be operated with one hand are best. A non-slip strip and handrails in the bathtub can be good precautions.

Today technology is helping to make life easier. From software that allows webpages to speak (those "alt tags" placed on webpage photos actually "speak" letting the user know about the picture) to devices that tell a person when a cup of tea is filled, technology has been put to creative uses.

The following are some of the products on the market:

Talking Pedometer Price: approximately $100 Walking in unfamiliar neighbours is made easier with a talking pedometer. Newer models clip on a belt or fit in a pocket. They can announce the number of steps taken and the total distance traveled.

Voice Announcer Caller ID Price: approximately $60-100 Caller ID can be both a convenience and a safety feature by announcing the name and or phone number of the caller.

Talking calculators Price: approximately $25-40 Handling money, doing banking and other similar tasks is easier with a calculator.

Digital talking compass Price: approximately $120 This is another talking product that can help a person who is blind navigate and feel comfortable in their surroundings.

Liquid Level Indicator Price: approximately $16.50 This electronic liquid measuring device has two electric probes, which extend into a cup or pot. When the level of liquid reaches the probes, it emits a warning signal.

Various tape recording/playing devices Price: approximately $110 to $470 Most tape machines for use by the blind can play both 4-track and 2-track cassettes. Everything from the Revenue Canada tax guide to the works of William Shakespeare can be found on tape. Some newer models of cassette player include features to label cassettes in Braille and motion sensors.

Talking scale Price: approximately $160 Electronic, digital, talking scales can tell people their weight in kilos or pounds. Talking thermometers Price: approximately $16 These thermometers are used to measure body temperature.

To find out more about the products and services available to assist a person who is visually impaired please visit: http://www.cnib.ca/

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