More than two million people in the UK live with some form of sight loss that impacts their everyday life, with around 360,000 of these registered with their local authority as sight-impaired. The number of people in the UK with sight loss is predicted to rise significantly as people age and diseases like diabetes become more prevalent. More than 2,250,000 people in the UK are expected to experience some form of sight loss by 2020, a number that could rocket to nearly 4,000,000 by 2050.
As a result, it is vital to increase awareness of the personal impact of impaired vision, and how independent living and occupational performance can be supported throughout the home. In particular, the domestic environment – especially the bathroom – must be adapted to promote safety and support freedom.
Visual impairment is any limitation of one or more functions of the eye or visual system that impedes vision. It is possible to be registered as either sight impaired (formerly called ‘partially sighted’), or severely sight impaired (previously defined as ‘blind’).
The definition of visual impairment is extremely broad and different kinds of visual field deficits can be experienced from one person to the next. A solution that works for one person will not necessarily help another so each individual case must be analysed to identify the specific needs of every end user.
People with sight loss can experience several challenges including difficulties with orientation; issues with locating items within a room; and a lack of general confidence, due to fear, to engage independently in activities or areas of occupational performance in the home. The following key points can form the basis of a design strategy that protects individuals with sight loss:
Education – People with sight loss often know that they need to improve their living environment, but do not always know how to do it. That’s why it is important to provide accurate information and advice that allows them to make informed decisions on adaptations that solve problems while supporting their usual routine. A company like AKW has the resources to help housing associations achieve this.
Light the task – Good lighting will ensure safety and security, but instead of focusing on illuminating a whole room it is imperative instead to implement task-specific lighting. For example, bright lights above the basin that illuminate the area where someone will wash their hands or brush their teeth will be most effective. Indeed, halving the distance between the light and the task being performed can increase visual acuity fourfold. It is also important that non-reflective materials are used to reduce glare.
Contrast and colour – Correct contrast is absolutely crucial in enhancing a room anywhere in the home for the visually impaired. In particular, using two colours where the light reflective value (LRV) difference between both colours is greater than 30 will create the most noticeable contrast between and object and its surroundings. AKW’s grab rail range for example is available in white or blue to aid users with impaired vision. LRV measures the amount of visible and usable light that reflects from (or absorbs into) a painted surface. Furthermore, colour contrast is best achieved with contrasting shades of the same colour rather than different colours.
De-clutter – Clutter and redundant objects or pieces of furniture should be removed to make the environment less challenging. There should be plenty of space to create safe and logical routes around the bathroom that support the person’s usual routine and habits. Additionally, storage must be easy to access to prevent the user from having to search or stretch.
Accessibility – Equipment and furniture should be simple to locate and only where the individual user would habitually expect to find them. Radically altering the layout of the bathroom will only serve to make it inaccessible, and increase risks and frustration. The use of tactile devices with raised controls and auditory feedback, such as AKW’s RNIB certified iCare electric shower, also enhance accessibility and ease of use.