June 21, 2022

Home Modifications for the Visually Impaired – Bathroom Modifications

- Beth Daisy, Supervisor of Occupational Therapy

a modern looking bathroom

We’re back again talking about home modifications. This is the second post in a series about modifying your home to better suit your needs if you have low vision. If you want to see the first in the series about lighting, click here, but this month we’re going to take a closer look at bathroom modifications.

Many modifications that benefit people with low vision are also universal design principles that can benefit everyone. A good example of that is a zero-step shower entry.

accessible showerThis is a great option if you are renovating your bathroom, because it ensures that you, and a mobility device if needed, can get into the shower without stepping over a tub edge or even a 3-6” shower pan surround. Of course, you need to verify that the drainage is done properly and that water from the shower head isn’t getting the rest of the bathroom floor too wet, because then you’ve created a slip hazard! A zero-step entry shower is also beneficial to people with low vision because someone with a vision impairment might not see the lip or may misjudge the height when they step over the edge leading to a fall. This is particularly relevant for individuals with inferior (lower) visual field loss or those with a binocular vision impairment (i.e.- vision in only one eye) because of the loss of depth perception.

As we continue with our hypothetical bathroom remodel, let’s talk tile. There are almost an infinite number of possibilities to consider with budget and personal style being a large part of the equation. However, please consider incorporating some contrast elements. Using the same tile for the floor and shower surround or a similar color for the floor and walls can create issues with depth perception and distance. Consider one style for the main bathroom floor with a lighter shower pan and contrasting walls. Whatever color and style you choose, opt for slip-resistance and a matte finish to reduce the effects of glare that can sometimes happen with bright lights and shiny gloss surfaces. While you’re completely gutting your bathroom and swapping out the fixtures, be sure to choose fixtures in a matte finish as well.

contrasting showerIf you’re not thinking of doing a complete bathroom demo, you can still make some great modifications that won’t break the bank by including some safety features such as grab bars and a built in shower seat. I am obsessed with the grab bar collection from Ponte Giulio because they come in such a wide selection of colors and styles. Move over white and stainless steel… now you can increase contrast and add a punch of color and personality to your bathroom with grab bars to fit every shape and style. Personally, I can’t decide between light blue and vivid red (and if they ever get hot pink I will get that in a heartbeat!).  These will add safety and functionality to any bath but adding a contrasting color grab bar instead of a white bar against a white shower surround is particularly helpful for people with low vision.

Maybe you already have a safe bathroom and are just looking for better functionality for your personal care routine. If that’s the case, here are some great low or no-cost ideas.

  1. An automatic toothpaste dispenser can help avoid messes created when the toothpaste doesn’t make it onto the toothbrush! These devices are relatively inexpensive and have an adhesive so they can be adhere to your bathroom mirror. While they do help with dispensing the product, refiling and cleaning the unit from time to time can be a bit cumbersome and messy.wall-mounted mirror
  2. A wall-mounted make-up or shaving mirror with 3 levels of illumination and 1X magnification on one side and 10X magnification on the other side can help with those detailed tasks. The fact that this can swivel out allows it to be close to your eyes for better resolution.
  3. Organization is key! Especially in shared bathrooms, it is important that a person be able to find their daily items. Using a toiletry tray can help keep all of your items together so you don’t accidently use your partner’s athlete’s foot spray instead of your hair spray!
  4. Chances are, you most likely have a washcloth in your home. Choosing one that is a contrasting color to your sink can creates a free “mat” where you can organize several of your needed items. The cloth creates a visual and tactile ground for items such as your razor, toothbrush, hair comb, etc.

Hopefully this gave you some ideas for making your bathroom safer and more functional for someone with low vision. Next month we’ll take the home modifications discussion to the kitchen!

Future In Sight staff can help guide you to available resources and services that help individuals with vision loss increase independence, safety, and quality of life. To get started today, please contact one of our Social Workers at [email protected] or by phone toll-free at 1-800-464-3075. You can also visit Contact Us – Future In Sight!

About the author: Beth Daisy is a licensed and registered occupational therapist and a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) through the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).