Designing with sight loss in mind – entrances, corridors and stairs

Getting in and out of your home safely and easily is something that most of us take for granted. I did until losing the sight in my left eye a couple of years ago. Whilst the sight in my working eye is good, I can still appreciate how challenging a doorstep can be and consequently how it might make someone with a visual impairment more reluctant to leave their home. Whether in a private home or a flat in an extra care housing development, there are a number of ways in which good design can makes these areas safer and easier to navigate.

Colour contrast plays an important role when specifying finishes for doors, corridors and stairwells. There needs to be a minimum of 30 LRV point difference between adjacent surfaces for somebody with a visual impairment to recognise an object or change in surface.
Doors should be painted in a colour that contrasts with the door surround and wall and similarly flooring should contrast with the walls and skirting. Painting the leading edge of a door in a contrast colour is an additional way of making it stand out more clearly and making it less likely that someone will walk into it.
Numbers and key holes on front doors and handles should also contrast with the door finish.
It is helpful to people with visual impairments if door handles are positioned consistently throughout the property.
Steps should be clearly defined by contrast stair nosings with an LRV differentiation of 60 points between tread and nosing. Another way of improving the definition of stairs is to paint the adjacent walls a contrast colour or simply the bottom edge of the wall close to the step.
Handrails on stairs and in corridors must contrast with the wall and be fitted in continuous runs. They should be tactile and comfortable to touch and ideally feature tactile markers to help identify where they start and finish.
Tactile flooring surfaces can work well in communal spaces indicating the top or the bottom of the stairs.
Lighting at doorways and in halls, corridors and stairwells should provide a good coverage of general light and be positioned and diffused to avoid glare.
Allow for switches at each end of a corridor and at the top and bottom of stairs; the switches themselves should be specified in a satin or matt finish, contrasting with the wall.
Additional features that will help someone with a visual impairment include tactile markers on lift buttons and ensuring that the button panel in a lift is well lit and easily identifiable.

This is the fifth in a series of blogs focusing on design for people with sight loss. The blogs are written by Jacqui Smith in conjunction with the publication of a new design guide for interior designers. Jacqui lost the sight in her left eye in 2012. ‘Homes and living spaces for people with sight loss – a guide for interior designers’, written by Jacqui Smith and Thomas Pocklington Trust was published in October 2014. The guide will be available in hard copy and online at