My husband’s sister has had a visual impairment since childhood, and though I’ve known her for years I had no idea the level of impact it has on her daily life. She recently moved in with my family, and while I tried to prepare our home ahead of her arrival, it ended up being a learning process. Here are a few of the things my husband and I learned from the experience.
1. The basics matter
My husband took care of the general modifications like getting rid of our area rugs and fixing broken floor tiles in the kitchen. I realized that my muscle memory had always helped me remember to avoid that spot in the kitchen, and how it would have been a constant hazard to my sister-in-law. Even tucking away our normally messy cable cords made a world of difference, not only to the appearance of our home but to the ease of access for us all. Don’t underestimate the seemingly small modifications, because they’re the ones that can matter most.
2. Lighting is crucial
Because my sister-in-law does not have total blindness, she is perceptive to some light, and the more, the better. I had assumed that because our house gets so much natural light, we’d only need to add a few extra lamps. But the hall lighting was a problem from day one, and the small nightlights I’d put at each end were not nearly sufficient. We ended up installing LED track lighting along the edges, and it makes the hall easier to navigate for us all.
3. Don’t underestimate organization
My sister-in-law is certainly the chef of her family, but when she arrived at our house she seemed to enjoy it less. I realized that although I was used to grabbing the sugar from the cabinet over the fridge and the mixing bowl from the bottom drawer, it was practically chaos for someone else. I had her help me figure out an organization that made sense to both of us, like putting all the baking supplies in one section. She’s back to indulging in her passion, and my own cooking time has improved too!
4. Bright pops of color are a good thing
When I first prepared my home for my sister-in-law’s arrival, I wanted to eliminate as much clutter as possible. I put away a few of my brightly-colored decorative touches, like a purple blanket on the couch and the green pillow on the recliner. She not only noticed the changes almost immediately, but she asked if I’d put them back. In her past visits, she’d gotten used to focusing on the green pillow to get into her favorite chair, and even the absence of the purple blanket from the back of the sofa threw off her perception of the room. Eliminating clutter is good, but bright markers throughout the room can be quite useful.
5. Creating pathways just makes sense
When my husband and I first moved in, I’d arranged the furniture in what I deemed to be the most aesthetically-pleasing. Over the years, we just left it that way. But when it was time for his sister to move in, my husband and I got to work rearranging our couches, tables, and other furniture to make clear, open pathways. We had to walk her through the new pathways and help her adjust to the changes, but quicker than we expected she was breezing through the house as though she’d been here for years. And so did we! I realized I was much more at ease without constantly having to weave through my own stuff.
One of the best parts about my sister-in-law coming to live with us is that she was able to improve on systems from her old house. She even figured out a better way to arrange her bedroom. It was a learning experience for us all, and one that has made our family more complete.