Working with Low Vision Clients

March 12th, 2010

As the general population ages, many people may experience a permanent decline in their vision, or low vision, which can’t be corrected with surgery, glasses or in other ways. Low vision experts help people obtain assistive devices and develop strategies to function with the vision they have, but a professional organizer can be an asset as well.  General organizing practices that we commonly encourage in all our clients can help a person with low vision maintain their independence and ability to function.

A typical general needs assessment is appropriate for a person with low vision, but special attention must be paid to the physical setting of the client’s home:  Can they walk around freely without clutter or unnecessary furniture in the way?  Are there any loose area rugs or other tripping hazards?  Is there adequate lighting in their space and are light switches easily found and accessible in all rooms?  When you combine the fact that many people who are experiencing low vision are often elderly and struggling with other health issues, good organizing practices can make a huge difference in their day to day safety and quality of life.

Once the physical space is set, then a thorough sort and purge of all their belongings will help them manage and find things they need.  Clothing items can illustrate the challenges a low vision person may face.  As we all know, it is harder to find a certain item if you have to sort through clothes you never wear or don’t fit you. Add a vision problem to this and you have the potential for much frustration where much time and effort is wasted trying to identify things you don’t want at that moment, or possibly won’t ever really need. 

After a purge, help designate a spot in each room for magnifiers and other essential assistive devices. There are many different “talking” products on the market like wristwatches and clocks, kitchen timers, and voice or sound activated lights.  Helping clients establish a home for all these helpful items will ease their daily activities.

The color contrast between items and the places they are stored helps people with low vision in finding and replacing things.  A black wallet or purse can be seen more easily on a light colored table or counter top.  Place a contrasting colored cloth, cutting board or tray in designated areas to help with this if table or countertops are not suitable colors.  Food containers that are hard to see (black mugs are not good for black coffee) should be removed to avoid frustration and accidents. 

Other essentials like pill and toiletry containers can be marked with colored tape.   Solid black lettering on pure white backgrounds is often best but some people do better with bright yellow or other backgrounds.  Labeling various items with bold paint, markers or puffy paint can also help. 

Suggest they forgo storage in bottom drawers or cabinets if possible. The light is usually worse closer to the floor.  Small bins or boxes in drawers help keep items separate from each other and easy to find. Larger, seasonal items may be appropriate for bottom drawer storage. If shoes of similar style and color can be easily confused, donate them or clip together with a clothes pin so they are always a matching pair.

These are just a few suggestions.  As with all clients, helping establish a system that is logical to them and easy for them to maintain is key for success.