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Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Accessible Design for Homes

The following information, from Vision Australia, is recommended when considering the accommodation requirements of people who are blind or have low vision.

On this page:

General Design Recommendations

Physical layout

  • It is important to reduce the complexity of visual information being presented. This can be managed by providing adequate storage and cupboard space to minimise clutter and reduce the number of choices or items to view and discriminate between. Keeping furniture in consistent and logical locations with clear passageways will reduce the risk of trip hazards and increase safe mobility around the home.
  • It is recommended that all steps have handrails installed. Apply slip resistant contrasting strips to the tread and riser at the nosing of each step. The width of each strip should be no less than 50mm or greater than 75mm. Slip resistant paving paint or adhesive strips are available from hardware shops. For carpeted stairs, metallic stair edgings can be installed. These are called stair nosings and are aluminium caps with a PVC insert for grip and safety that are installed on the edges of steps. For supplier information, look under "Staircases and Handrails" in the Yellow Pages. Alternatively, placing a contrasting low pile slip resistant mat at the top and bottom of the stairs can help to highlight either end of the stairway. Contrasting coloured skirting boards can also help highlight the end of a stairway.
  • Due to the number of electrical appliances people who are vision impaired often need to use, (such as lamps, magnifiers, closed circuit televisions), it is important to install a greater number of power points in various rooms in the home. These power points need to be located where they are easy to see and to access.


People who are vision impaired generally require two to three times the amount of light required by a sighted person. Two types of lighting need to be taken into consideration: general and task lighting.

General lighting means the overall light in the room or area and can be provided by daylight and artificial light.

Daylight is an important source of light that most people with vision impairment find useful. In using daylight, the following needs to be considered:

  • Windows should be kept as clean as possible to allow the greatest amount of light to pass through them.
  • Skylights could be installed in a hallway, bathroom or kitchen area to facilitate more natural light - keep in mind that at night time artificial lighting may be needed to supplement this area.
  • Glare should be minimized at all times. A sunny room may benefit from a venetian blind, vertical drape, curtains or tinted windows to reduce discomfort and glare. Vertical blinds give greater versatility in adjusting the level of light than horizontal blinds.
  • Glare will be reduced if the person is not facing the window. This is an important consideration for people who are vision impaired when setting up their own home and locating furniture.

The use of artificial lighting needs to be considered because of the variable nature of daylight depending on time of day, weather conditions and season.

  • Fluorescent tube lighting is highly recommended for general lighting. Fluorescent tubes offer the most diffuse light minimising the potential for shadows and glare. They also provide a brighter light than incandescent light sources and are more economical to run. All fluorescent tubes should be triphosphorous or full-spectrum tubes with a prismatic or opal diffuser. Triphosphorous tubes make colours appear more natural. They are also available in warm or cool colours depending on the area you are lighting and the atmosphere you wish to create. For example, in a lounge room, a relaxed atmosphere is normally preferred so one is more likely to select warm triphosphorous fluorescent tubes.
  • Where incandescent or halogen lighting is preferred, keep in mind that they have a narrower band of light and a greater number of light fittings will be required to reduce the production of shadows which can create optical illusions.
  • It is important to have a high level of lighting where the room is evenly illuminated as well as being glare free. It is also important to ensure the lighting across rooms is evenly distributed to prevent problems with dark/light adaptation.
  • It may be useful to turn the 'lights on' inside the home during the day in dull weather to make the transition from brighter outdoor conditions easier.
  • For stairways, light switches should be installed at the top and bottom of the stairs to ensure lighting can be switched on and off as required in these potentially hazardous areas. Light switches should also be installed at either end of long corridor areas.
  • External lighting around the home should also be considered to promote increased safety when accessing the home. For example: sensor spot lights and flood lights.

Task Lighting

To see detail better and to allow for more effective use of contrast, local or direct illumination is required. It is important to maintain an appropriate level of illumination in the rest of the room.

  • Task and good general lighting reduces visual fatigue and is recommended for safety. The recommended task lighting for each room in the home is set out below in conjunction with the physical layout and contrast recommendations.
  • The increased need for task lighting means that more power points are required in each room to cater for the positioning of different task lamps in different parts of a room.

Use of colour and contrast

  • The colour of the room is an important consideration. Decor and colour schemes have an enormous contribution to make to the amount of light available in a room. This is based on the principle that light coloured walls and surfaces reflect light, whereas dark coloured surfaces absorb light. It is recommended for a person with a vision impairment that the colour of the walls and ceilings be light to make the overall room brighter and so that any dark furniture or objects will stand out.
  • Glossy paint should be avoided especially on the ceilings and upper walls, because they increase the amount of glare in a room. A matt finish is regarded as a suitable surface for walls, ceilings and floors.

Tidy Housekeeping

  • As a general rule and as a safety precaution for all, corridors and thoroughfares should be kept as free as possible from obstacles. This includes all interior and exterior routes within the home.
  • Movable obstacles should be fixed or kept in a constant position, for example chairs under tables, bags out of the way. Doors should be left fully opened or fully closed. A half open door can be a significant hazard.
  • People with vision impairment may be unaware of head high obstacles such as overhanging branches.
  • Garden maintenance should include removal of all branches overhanging pathways; replacement of mulch in garden beds and sweeping away fallen leaves on pathways that can become very slippery after rain.

Design Recommendations for Specific Rooms

Outlined below are recommendations about design layout, lighting and contrast for specific rooms of a home. These can promote independence in everyday activities for people with vision impairment.

Kitchen Environment

  • Use an electric stovetop with controls located to the front, to reduce the risk of leaning over hotplates and scalding. The hotplates should a contrasting colour to the stovetop surface (eg black hotplates on white stove). Some people prefer solid hotplates to the coil type because they are easier to clean. However, they take longer to cool down. Whilst ceramic and induction cooktops are easy to clean, it is very difficult to accurately locate where to position the pot because there are no tactile borders. It is important a range hood for adequate ventilation is provided within the kitchen, as the level of steam present is difficult to assess by a person with vision impairment.
  • Use an electric wall oven that is a contrasting colour to the kitchen cupboards for ease of detection.
  • Bench space should be provided next to the stovetop and oven to enable hot items to be transferred to a flat surface safely. This limits the need for transferring hot pots between surfaces.
  • The bench top should be a plain colour in order to provide a contrast surface for objects placed on it during meal preparation. Avoid surfaces with busy patterns.
  • Door handles need to be a contrasting colour to the kitchen cupboard doors, to facilitate ease of location.
  • A large pantry area and cupboard space is required for items to be placed in an uncluttered, structured manner.
  • Storage space is easier to access through deep pull out drawers and lazy susans rather than standard hinged door cupboards.
  • Paint the insides of cupboards white to maximise the brightness and contrast so that items are easier to find.
  • Task lighting should be installed over each work area to complement general lighting. This includes the installation of track lighting over the sink and meal preparation bench top area. People who are vision impaired also benefit from fluorescent light strips being placed in the pantry to illuminate each shelf.
  • It is also helpful to paint the edging of each shelf a contrasting colour so that each one is easy to distinguish. For example, black edging for white shelves.
  • Contrasting strips should be placed along edges of cupboard doors so they are more obvious if accidentally left open.
  • It is recommended the microwave be located at bench top level to promote safety when transferring items in and out of the microwave.
  • Avoid stainless steel surfaces because they are very reflective and can cause glare.


  • Task lighting (preferably triphosphorous fluorescent light strips) should be installed over the basin and mirror. Ensure this lighting does not become a direct glare source by providing a shade over the tube or bulb. The mirror should ideally be located over the basin.
  • Ensure adequate cupboard space so that grooming and personal hygiene items can be stored in an uncluttered manner.
  • Keep taps consistent: Hot on the left and cold on the right with a single mixing nozzle/tap. Lever or capstan style tap handles are easier to grip and adjust. Avoid sensor taps because they can be difficult to locate.
  • Consider the installation of a thermostat control to avoid accidental burns.
  • Fluorescent general lighting and a ventilation fan should be installed to provide bright artificial lighting and prevent misting of the mirror. Particular attention should be given to lighting over the bathing area, given its wet and slippery surfaces.
  • Heat lamps (eg. IXL Tastic) are also very good at providing bright and even lighting.
  • Consider using a rubber bath mat or installing slip-resistant tiles.
  • Grabrails can facilitate stability and balance when moving in and out of bath or shower.


  • Adequate storage space for cleaning products and equipment should be considered in this area.
  • Adequate lighting for reading dials, sorting clothes etc is also recommended.
  • Bedroom
  • Built in or walk in wardrobes with task lighting facilitate the identification and location of clothing. The area should allow clothing to be stored in an uncluttered manner. Provide plenty of drawer space to store other items of clothing in an uncluttered manner.
  • Ensure easy access to a bedside light or install a night-light to provide safe mobility at night.
  • Limit unnecessary furnishings.
  • Outdoor areas
  • Ensure easy access to clothesline, garbage/recycling bins, letterbox.
  • Consider applying slip-resistant surfacing to outdoor areas that can become slippery when wet.

Contact us

Call: 1300 84 74 66
02 9334 3260
Fax: 02 9747 5993

Street Address
NSW and ACT: 4 Mitchell Street, Enfield NSW 2136
Queensland: 37 Kent Street, Woolloongabba Qld 4102
Victoria: 454 Glenferrie Road, Kooyong Vic. 3144

Vision Australia is a living partnership between people who are blind, sighted or have low vision. We are united by our passion that in the future people who are blind or have low vision will have access to and fully participate in every part of life they choose.

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