Designing with sight loss in mind – living areas

Designing living spaces starts with understanding how people use them. Designers will consider how their client lives, the optimum layout and storage provision to meet their needs and how lighting and the right colour scheme can be used to best advantage. For people with a visual impairment, the principle is the same but with additional focus on making the most of the person’s functional sight. Since losing the sight in my left eye a couple of years ago I find myself approaching schemes from a slightly different perspective now that I appreciate how, in making a space more easy to navigate for someone with a visual impairment, I am creating an environment that everyone finds easy to use.

  • Layout should be simple with furniture kept clear of the windows, radiators and electrical controls so that they are easily accessible. Any assistive equipment such as a screen magnifier or dedicated task lighting should be easy to use but not clutter the space.
  • Storage is an important consideration to ensure that possessions can be put away and not create a trip hazard.
  • For private living areas it’s important to include a permanent dining area in the design as well as a dedicated workspace with room for a desk top computer and a screen reader. An additional consideration would be space for a guide dog’s bed and equipment though this does not have to be in the sitting room.
  • General lighting should be even throughout the room and positioned to minimise dark corners and shadows created by objects and people within the room.
  • The electrical plan should allow for a mix of fixed and portable lighting arranged on several circuits and where possible dimmable.
  • By considering the tasks carried out in the space, appropriate task lighting and sockets can be worked into the design at suitable points and avoid the trip hazard of trailing wires.
  • The general lighting scheme excluding task and portable lighting should produce a minimum luminance of 150 lux on the floor surface. Task lights should be individually switched to maximise flexibility for the user and on to task surfaces achieve 400 lux for reading and writing and 300 lux for eating.
  • The switches themselves should be satin or matt in finish and contrast with their background.
  • To maximise daylight, fit curtain poles and tracks so that when the curtains are pulled back they let in the maximum amount of daylight. Fitting vertical blinds at the window will allow control of strong sunlight and glare and also increase security.
  • The rules of colour contrast apply here and are especially important for the large communal lounges found in care homes where the room layout will involve furniture being positioned in the middle of the room. Furniture which contrasts with the floor will be easier to see and contrast piping on sofas and chairs will further highlight the shape and position of a piece.
  • Based on an LRV differential of 30 points, the walls should contrast with the skirting which should contrast with the floor.
  • Handles and electrical switches and sockets should also contrast with their background to make them easier to see.

This is the sixth 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