The Advantage of Contrast

By Jule Ann Lieberman, CLVT CATIS

This article is the first of a series on making the most of your remaining vision in combination with strategies that make the most of other senses. I offer these suggestions as a result of having lived with limited vision from an early age and professional work with persons with a spectrum of vision levels from decreased acuity and tunnel vision to those with light perception or less. I have learned many tips that I wish to share with our readers. My interest in this area led me to pursue a Master of Science in Low Vision Therapy from Salus University to better understand why some modifications or strategies work and how to meet the individual needs of clients in my work. These articles are not meant as a replacement for seeking rehabilitation training; rather, they are offered to give you a basic outline on simple changes that can improve your confidence and independence. I am starting first with considerations around the home. The topic of contrast is not just limited to color, but it can also be expressed in texture, sound, temperature and odor.
Let’s start with color. In your home consider adding a contrasting color or bold pattern on furniture, this helps you locate the chair/sofa easier if you are scanning the room. It also helps define where furniture is placed to safely move throughout the room. If you have the luxury of deciding the color of your walls or trim, think about adding contrast. You can more easily locate doorways or stairs if each are painted in a contrasting color. This does not mean you must limit to black and white, however, consider a lighter hue contrasted with a darker hue of the same color. If you are unable to paint your home, this can also be accomplished by adding a contrast element such as a framed print or poster hung using removable hooks.
At mealtime, the use of contrasting placemat with plates and choosing light color plates and mugs for darker foods like beef, salads, and coffee can make it more comfortable to locate and enjoy with less spills. This does not mean you need to throw out your favorite dinnerware. Just add one place setting in darker and one in light. You can still use your favorite as a “charger” plate for more formal dining occasions. You can purchase a single plate and mug at many retail stores such as Bed Bath and Beyond, Target, or Walmart.
Now, let’s talk about making those technology gadgets more visible. For your computer, you can start with checking out accessibility settings for high contrast. Both Windows and Apple computers have options for changing the display with multiple options for foreground and background. I have found that in some cases, choosing this alternative display allows some clients the ability to eliminate magnification or reduce the level of magnification needed. Mobile devices such as mobile phones and tablets frequently have this option under the settings menu. Many software screen enlargement programs such as ZoomText and Magic have multiple color themes to select from along with other magnification options.
So, what about texture? In the home, it is possible that you already have multiple textures. Most homes have a different surface on the bathroom floor such as tile or vinyl flooring. Even with your shoes on you can tell the difference as your foot hits the floor. This may be less true if you have neuropathy from diabetes however you can take advantage of how the sound of your footfall changes on this new surface. Adding texture to your kitchen appliances using Velcro squares, plastic bump dots, or the high marks tactile adhesive, can assist with setting the temperature and time for cooking. Choosing these markers in a bright contrasting color takes advantage of both color and texture. These also can be very helpful on your telephone keypad or computer keyboard to quickly locate keys for orientation and access.
Now that we have optimized use of color and texture, let us consider the sense of smell. I am not talking about the smell of the adolescent bedroom; that is a subject for another day! Rather, adding some subtle fragrances might give you another clue for orientation. Cinnamon and ginger fragrances are often associated with comfort food and can be added to your kitchen/dining area with a simple wall freshener. Lavender fragrance is thought to produce better sleep and reduce stress so adding this near your bed/bathroom might also assist. Place these fresheners out of reach of small children or pets to avoid accidental poisoning.

No, I did not forget temperature clues. No matter what heating or air conditioning choice, you will have certain spots in your home where heat/air is more obvious. Radiant heat sources are often found near windows and forced heat/air systems will have a vent system where changes in temperature are noticeable when the circulating fan forces air through the vent. Establishing these sources of temperature changes can often help with orientation. Even sitting near a window on a bright sunny day helps you feel the change in temperature in a room.
Lastly let’s think about sound. Making note of your home’s typical sounds such as the fridge cycling on and off, floor boards squeaking, and heat/air systems engaging all are part of the ambient sounds of home but they also can give you clues to orientation. Need a little more help? Try adding a ticking or chime clock near a transition location, perhaps on a table near stairs for example. You can add motion detectors that can signal when you pass with a beep or a recorded verbal announcement if additional orientation information is required such as in a particularly noisy environment.
It is my hope that you have found a useful tip or two. I would love to hear from you on more ideas. You can reach me by email at juleannl@comcast.net or by leaving a voice message at 610-688-6517. In the next issue of The PCB Advocate, I plan on presenting ideas that can be useful as you go out into the community.

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