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Blog: Organizing For Special Needs
Living Well with Vision Loss

A hot topic among American's today is the impact on our lives due to our rapidly aging population. In the U.S. over 135 out of 1000 people over the age of 65 now experience blindness. Someone is considered legally blind if his or her vision is 20/200.

There are many causes of vision loss. In the U.S. the most prevalent causes are accidents, Diabetes, Glaucoma and Macular Degeneration. I will provide some general information about one we may most likely encounter.

Macular Degeneration is the loss of central vision, most commonly seen in the elderly. The way we simulated this in our college lab, was to wear a pair of glasses with a thick smear of petroleum jelly in the center. We would then go about daily activities (cooking, dressing, grooming, etc) to see how this affected our experience.

As a health care worker, I would strongly recommend using this approach to give you an idea of what others are experiencing. One benefit of simulating for yourself the affects of a disability is that it opens up your mind to other possibilities and problems you may not have considered. It also helps to create dialog with your family member about their experience, and opening up communication about your shared experience can help your situation.

I believe one of the reasons we human beings are so resilient is that when we see a problem to solve, we put our energies towards that purpose. It gives us something positive to do. Know that as a loved one of someone with a disability, you know his or her situation more than anyone. Be an advocate for your loved one. Don't expect everyone to know everything.... you are immersed in your experience and have a lot to teach those around you- even the Experts! Show appreciation for those supporting you, and you will develop a good support system.

Organizing for low vision

Everyone has different things that bring them joy; you may need to research to find ways to accomplish what was once taken for granted. I have heard Internet research referred to as "The University of Google". Another great resource for information is Wikipedia.com (a worldwide online encyclopedia).

Consistency, Structure and Routine in our home allows us freedom and independence.

Lighting can make a big difference for low vision. Install bright lights for working areas, and put the switch in the most easily accessible place for the person using it.

Cooking- Simplify your area, and be aware of all potential hazards. Now would be a good time to consider a fire extinguisher and teach everyone how to use it. Remember to check the smoke detector batteries once a year. Remove all objects not used frequently. Place items used daily in an easy to access spot (a basket on the countertop, a crock with utensils next to the stove). Some people may choose to leave their frequently used pot directly on the burner. Buy some puffy paint in bright blue or another easy to see color. Go around with your loved one, and ask what would be the best place to mark. For the stovetop the on/off switch, for the microwave they might like the minute buttons marked. Remember that if you are using dots (i.e. 1-one minute, 2-2 minutes) that they can be difficult to feel, especially if you have any nerve damage in your hands. Practice what you will do on a piece of paper if you are not sure of success. A favorite mug might be easy to find if it had its own cup hook.

A great website is www.livingblind.com, there is an amazing section on how to cook with numerous techniques, including frying food! (I'm even afraid to do this myself, but if you love it you will find a way).

Marking food- you might use rubber bands for canned food. One rubber band for garbanzo beans, two rubber bands for corn, etc. Try to keep the food in rows to simplify. Some people like to put the name of boxed food in LARGE print rubber banded around the box. When they use the boxes, they can set aside the labels to take to the store with them. This way when they ask for assistance to get their groceries it will be easier to remember what is needed.

Banking- You will want to develop a personal relationship with your banker. There is definitely a level of trust here. Some folks who like to shop sort their money with paper clips. Large clips for ones (more of these), medium clips for 10's, small clips for 20's. You may wish to fold 100's in half and keep them in a separate part of the wallet. This will prevent others from seeing exactly how much money you may be carrying. Not to get too worried, but to be aware of safety.

Clothing- There are many ways to manage clothing, but once again begin by Simplifying. Toss or donate what no longer fits, or isn't wanted. Some people mark their clothes by cutting the corner of the tag. The left corner cut off could signify pastel colors, the right corner primary colors. (Or greens/blacks, etc.whatever you like). A lot of people just remember the cut and texture of their favorite items. If there is laundry support, the person washing could put coordinated outfits together on two attached hangars (rubber bands again), or in a drawer with a ribbon wrapped around them if they admire the Martha Stewart approach. Shoes- it will be important to keep them in pairs if there are more than a couple. If you make a habit of always taking them off in the same place (consistency, structure, and routine again), and placing them side-by-side you shouldn't have a problem. Some people like to keep some of their shoes in the box, with large print labels on the visible end.

Bathing and grooming- for those not sharing a bath, things will be much easier. The tricky part is when others are moving things. It is easier if you eliminate old, unnecessary or unused toiletries. Why save for a rainy day when you are complicating things? The person with vision loss might benefit from their own plastic basket with their items in it. A cup could be nestled in there to hold their toothpaste, toothbrush, etc. This way they won't get these personal items confused. For obvious reasons you won't want to have tubes of items that seem similar to toothpaste but are not (i.e. Preparation H is not known to taste good). A place for everything and everything in its place is a good adage here. You might want a hook on the bathroom door for robes, each labeled for each family member, so your loved one can find theirs quickly.

It takes a bit of time to adapt your home for special needs, but it is worth the effort for everyone. Even though we could do everything for our loved one, the ability to care for themselves, and even contribute to a community are important for their emotional well being. Share this process with your loved one, listen, learn, and thus grow together in your relationship. We all need support in our lives, so enjoy the process together.

If you need help you can always seek out a professional organizer who has experience with special needs.

Lisa Alishio, COTA/L

Clarity Home Consulting


Live Well in Your Home™

posted on: 10/10/2007 12:30:00 PM by Lisa Alishio
category: Special Populations

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Organizing For Special Needs

by Lisa Alishio

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About Lisa:

Lisa Alishio, COTA/L, is a professional organizer with a background in pediatric and adult occupational therapy. Her intention is to help people of all ages and abilities to "Live Well in their Home".

Lisa's Website:


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