Sight loss is more common than you think

I am an interior designer. I am also an interior designer with a visual impairment. In November 2012 I permanently lost the sight in my left eye due to an attack of acute closed angle glaucoma. Determined to combine my personal understanding of sight loss with my profession I am now working with Thomas Pocklington Trust, a charity which is committed to increasing awareness and understanding of the needs of people with sight loss, to promote their best practice design guidelines to other interior designers.

More and more designers are being asked to work on care homes and communal living spaces. Well-designed spaces with carefully thought through lighting reduce the risk of accidents, promote safety, independence and so improve quality of life. This series of blogs refers to design in residential and nursing homes, extra care and mainstream housing developments, and many of the recommendations are relevant to adaptations to private residences and will be useful for people caring for a relative with a visual impairment.

I think most of us appreciate that vision deteriorates with age. Even without an eye condition, from the age of 40 most people will notice a decline in the ability to focus and the need for more light to carry out normal everyday tasks. A Medical Research Council study estimated that 1 in 8 people aged 75 and over will suffer from severe sight loss, increasing to 1 in 3 of the over 90s. Degrees of sight loss vary and relatively few people have no vision at all. How people cope with sight loss will depend on the nature of their condition, their age and also how quickly they lost their sight. Progressive conditions allow the brain to adjust gradually whilst trauma resulting in immediate sight loss will unsurprisingly mean that the person will take longer to adapt. The main challenge I have encountered has been the lack of depth perception. 2D vision makes it very hard to judge distances and the brain has to re-learn. Steps can be a problem where there is no contrast on the nosing and judging how deep the step is can prove challenging. Good design will assist people in the simple tasks of navigating steps and help maximise a person’s functional vision. Flexible design will ensure that they can adjust their surroundings to suit their particular eye condition.

This is the first 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