When designing interiors, the aim of the designer is to create space that is pleasing to the eye, but what about that person who is visually impaired? How do you design for this person?
A visually impaired person is not totally blind, and as a result, is sensitive to light. Getting the colours right is, therefore, crucial in making the living space habitable for them. Yellow works best for this group, says Paul Mugambi, head of the National Council
for Persons with Disability, Nairobi region.
“Though most people use yellow sparingly in their interior décor, it is the preferred colour to use on the stairs, the walkway, as well as at the entrance to the home,” he says, adding that the brilliant colour helps visually impaired people to navigate their way
around the house independently. But what choices are there for people who do not like yellow, yet live with a visually impaired person?
George Karani of Invision Concepts Ltd, an interior design firm based in Nairobi, says: “It would be monotonous to have yellow along every walkway. Instead of relying on just this one colour for the interior, I would advise the use of different textures for
different surfaces, which is even more efficient.”
He adds that yellow works well with a variety of colours, such as blue, green and orange, which will lend contrast in the décor. Besides, a home owner can also include potted plants and flowers, which work well with yellow, to bring a natural feel to the
house, and also filter the air.
WHAT ABOUT THE TOTALLY BLIND?
Unlike the visually impaired, the blind do not have much perception of light, although they do not necessarily live in darkness.
Says Mr Mugambi: Blind people make good use of other senses, so a well-thought interior design should include smart use of textures, sounds and smells to help them gain consciousness of the changing environment when moving from one section of the
house to the other – I was happy when I heard that there are scented paints on the market.”
When it comes to fittings such as light switches and doorknobs, Mr Karani says that the position of the light is very critical.
“Since visually impaired people have a sense of light, colour and contrast, and often rely on the position of light to identify items in the room, the use of contrast can make it easier for them to find their way around the room or find items.
Placing a dark-coloured item against a light background makes it easier for a person with limited vision to see it,” explains Mr Karani.
He adds: “Using furniture pieces with colours that contrast with the walls and the flooring can be useful in the case of varying degrees of blindness.”
Consequently, varying the amount of natural light that enters the house is very important – it should be sufficient. However, windows should have adjustable blinds so that the amount of natural light coming into a room can be varied. Also, place mirrors
carefully on the wall, cover shiny objects and glass tables to reduce glare, which can be disorienting to someone with a visual impairment.
Mr Mugambi adds that if the walls are made of glass, one should ensure they do not reflect light as this creates confusion in the mind of a visually impaired person who might end up visualising things that are not there.
For safety reasons, walkways should be cleared of tripping hazards such as cords. Carpets and area rugs should also be taped down to reduce the chance of tripping on the edge.
The layout of each room should be done in such a way that natural traffic areas are clear of furniture. In case one wants to rearrange the house, he or she should inform the visually impaired person in advance.
The designer should also consider tactile marks, rubber materials stuck on the floor or on walls to make mobility easy for the blind once they step on them.
You also need to consider texture and layout in each room, since this group of people depend on touch to move around.
As for the layout, it should be simple and uncluttered, to aid free movement.