The house is our shell. The place where we feel protected, isolated and in a sense free.The house is an outer layer of ourselves, the house is still part of us. For some, perhaps most of us, the house is a ‘we’ rather than an ‘I’ since many share the environment with other people, family, friends, roommates. However, everyone needs to find his own space within the house, be it a room, a corner, a studio, a cellar, a garage. Everyone creates his own space according to the possibilities offered by the house itself, its size, by the position and the financial resources and other factors.
I now live alone, for the first time since I left home at the age of 18 years. I shared several apartments, rooms and even a boat with people of all backgrounds. I shared with strangers, with my girlfriend. Living alone has allowed me to create certain conditions according to my image and likeness and extended to the whole house, not only to my bedroom, like when I lived in my parents’ house, where, however, I submit to their choices and decisions.
For the moment I have implemented some changes, but these are small measures. Since I live in a temporary situation, I do not have enough freedom on structural measures, but I still tried to make life in my house as simple as possible.
But if I had to build a house from the beginning, if I could make substantial changes, and if I had a sufficient budget, what are the considerations to be done for the purchase or renovation of an apartment?
I will outline only some general considerations as it is impossible to take into account all the possible cases, but I will try to examine what are the basic needs I would like to meet as an Usher.
Some problems and obstacles are eliminated over time, after I memorized the positions, heights, sizes, angles of opening, but seen some recent episodes, the risk of accidents in the house is still there.
It is important the brightness at night of the streets and access routes to public transport and the supermarket. It is important that it is located in an area where there are the main means of everyday urban transport.
In the case of anapartment (not a single house), it is preferable a building where common areas are bright and light up, and that the switches are correctly positioned. Although it is quite easy to navigate in a dark space that you know, in the common areas you can meet other residents who may not know your disease. If for them a faint light is sufficient to identify and avoid us, for an Usher a person that moves quietly in a corridor where we think there is no one becomes an obstacle.
Furthermore, for the combination of vision and hearing impairment, often the sound of footsteps is not enough to identify someone. If the tenant is throwing the trash or checking the mailbox and then does not move, it’s even easier not to notice if the lighting is not good.
The buildings with lights that turn on and off with the photocell are certainly the best.
The interior. Lighting.
Large windows with curtains of quick and easy adjustment. The Venetian blinds, although ugly, are perhaps the most functional, because they allow you to adjust the light depending on the inclination of the sun. The southern exposure of one of the rooms is an important factor, because it allows you to have at least one room with maximum natural light .
The artificial lighting of the rooms varies depending on the photosensitivity of each person affected by retinitis pigmentosa. However I think it is quite common the need to have good spot lamps. For example, I have
– a desk lamp to light the keyboard on which I am writing
– a floor lamp to light up as I read the book next to the charcoal burner
– a lamp with swing arm for the hob and one for the work plan for the preparation of food
– a lamp with swing arm next to the bathroom mirror, to illuminate the various areas of the face when I shave and to be able to steer it in various corners of the bathroom where I often drop something
– a floor lamp to illuminate the area of the bedhead and read before falling asleep.
– a lamp in the corridor, but that is mostly to create a softer and warmer atmosphere.
The interior. Furniture.
I hate the shelters with folding doors. Better ones with sliding doors, but they are uncomfortable. The best are those that open upward.
I hate water heaters, boilers and all what hangs on the wall and is accessible from below. If I’m cleaning the floors and I am a little bent, I do not see the water heater, I walk below and when I get up I inevitably hit it with the head.
I like Japanese style beds, with large wooden frames, but they are sticking out from the mattress and are often an obstacle that affects the shins.
Armchairs with legs sticking out from the seat are are virtually impossible to avoid, because the eye and the body perceive the seat cushions, but not the feet protruding.
The doorframes are almost never higher than the floor level on the floor, but since I live in an old house, the frames protrudes from the floor. I have now learned their positions so it is no longer a big problem.
Sliding doors are the best, but rare as expensive. However doors should be stable, or stay where they are left. They should not close at the first gust of wind. A door that does not stay where it is left becomes a moving body and an obstacle.
The doors with glass inserts are interesting because they allow to detect if there is someone on the other side, they allow light to filter but are dangerous in a crash.
The best handles are the ones to which you can not accidentally engage with the clothes.
The chairs. Light and equipped with felt pads. Often I forget to put them back under the table and when I enter the kitchen again I find them on the way, with the result that I droppe them, or crawl. If they were heavy the impact would be more painful
The carpets should not be too high to not become like a step. They can be useful to reduce the glare of certain types of flooring and if chosen carefully they can create visual and tactile maps allowing you to emphasize salient points of the paths.
The interior. Sound.
What I find most relevant are the tenants of the above floor and the traffic on the road.
In this sense I live now in heaven: I live in the inner courtyard of a building on a no through road. But I lived in a house with a bedroom with no double glass on the windows, overlooking a busy street. It is annoying even for a hearing impaired, mostly for the high level of vibrations.
The bumps and vibrations of the heavy footsteps of a reckless tenant are the problem of houses with thin floors. It is not the sound itself, but that sort of dull thud that for some unknown reason is more intolerable than a chainsaw.
The sound of the train at night and the airplanes that occasionally, but regularly, I hear in the distance, they are not disturbing me, indeed, remind me that I am in a city. If you do not hear anything it is not just because I am hearing impaired, but because I live in the incredible silence of a neighborhood of a metropolis.
And you? Do you have some other good suggestions?
• Independent Living at Home with Vision Loss
• Home Modifications for People Who are Blind or Have Low Vision
• Room by Room: Evaluate and Modify Your Home Environment