All children require a safe environment at home. However, if you have a child with visual impairment, or you are a blind or partially sighted parent, it may be helpful to take some extra precautions to make sure your house is free from hazards for your children. Children are naturally inquisitive, and it is important to put safety precautions in place before they reach the next stage in their development and might put themselves in danger.
Your first and most basic consideration in adapting your home to meet your blind baby’s special needs is safety. Look at your infant’s immediate surroundings—such as the crib, changing table, and playpen—and check for the following concerns:
- Do not leave a baby on a high surface – today might be the day your child learns to roll for the first time.
- Because infants and toddlers tend to chew or suck on any toys or household objects that they get their hands on, be sure anything within your baby’s reach is too big to be swallowed.
- Also see that larger toys or objects don’t have smaller, removable parts that could be chewed or pulled off and swallowed.
- Keep pillows, large stuffed animals, and other objects that could cover your baby’s face and interfere with their breathing, out of the crib.
- Be sure that cords from window shades and blinds are out of reach. Babies and toddlers are apt to play with them and get entangled.
- Because visually impaired babies have limited, or no ability to observe parents as they go about their daily activities, they may want to keep their babies near them while they do chores. For example, parents can sit the infants in their baby seats and put them on the kitchen counter near the sink while they do dishes or on a nearby table while they put clothes in or take them out of the washing machine. Some infant seats have straps to fasten them to a chair or other horizontal surface, some have suction cups that hold them in place, or you could buy a non-slip rubberized mat to put under the seat to keep it from sliding on a smooth surface.
- Just having babies close enough to hear activities—running water, the various noises a washing machine makes, the parents’ voices humming as they fold the clean clothes—can give them a reassuring sense of their immediate surroundings.
When Your Visually Impaired Child Is on the Move
When children can’t see the surrounding environment clearly, or at all, it’s essential to pay special attention to maintaining a safe environment. Although several measures can help keep babies safe while they are still infants, their first attempts at crawling or creeping mark a new stage in their lives and in that of the parents. Once children are no longer confined to the relative safety of the crib, playpen, infant seat, or blanket, they’ll need you to help them learn about the world around them but in a way that protects them from potential harm. This is true for all children, but children who can’t see hazards and obstacles need to explore within an environment that’s been pre-screened for safety.
- To really see your home from your child’s vantage point, try exploring each room on your hands and knees. It’s a clever way to find and eliminate danger spots that may not be evident from your adult—and taller—viewpoint.
- Most homes have various furnishings that are at a toddler’s head level. To help your child avoid injuries from running into the sharp edge of a table or shelf, you can buy commercially made corner protectors or devise your own “bumpers” using foam rubber or some similar material.
- Place a baby gate at the top and bottom of each flight of steps.
- Tape down the edges of small rugs—or better yet, remove the rugs—so they don’t suddenly slip out from under your toddler.
- Keep room, cupboard, and cabinet doors closed so your child won’t bump into them. They may not be able to see these as they move about a room, and if they have learnt to expect them to be closed, they might get hurt if they suddenly encounter an open or partially open door or drawer.
- Avoid tablecloths that hang over the edge of a table. Toddlers can try to pull themselves up on the hanging edge and bring silverware, a plate, or hot food down on themselves.
- Remind everyone in the family to put away toys, clothes, and other belongings and not leave them on the floor where they could be tripped over. Putting things away will develop organisational skills that are also helpful for blind or partially sighted children in locating items they want to play with next time.
- Children with low vision or blindness may not see items on the floor, even when there is good contrast. Keeping walkways clear will be important for children’s safety throughout their life.
- Keep glass and other fragile items such as lamps in a protected place—for example, in a corner blocked off by chairs on either side that toddlers can’t yet climb.
- Child-proof your cabinets. Keep household cleaners and medications of any kind in cabinets that cannot be opened by children. Safety locks are available for cabinets, drawers, toilets, and even doorknobs, which are easy for you to open but difficult for children.
- Add electrical outlet covers and electric cord shorteners to your shopping list. They’ll keep children’s curious fingers safe from shock and keep them from tripping over or getting entangled in cords that they can’t see.
- Don’t leave children, or any babies or toddlers, alone in an area that can’t be made completely safe, such as in a bathtub full of water or in the kitchen when the stove, kettle, or iron is on.
- Don’t leave pet food and water bowls on the floor where small children might be tempted to play in them; likewise, if you have a litter box for your pet, put it in an area that’s inaccessible to children.
- If children have low vision, remember that contrast will help them see important demarcations, such as a change from light flooring to dark flooring between rooms and, especially, at the top and bottom of stairs. For instance, if you have light tile, you could put a dark rubberized mat at the top and bottom of steps or use a brightly coloured textured tape to alert children.
- Children who have no vision will benefit from tactile cues in their home. Parents might even consider changing the flooring to help them differentiate between areas. For example, you could use tile in the kitchen and bathrooms, carpeting on stairs or a carpet runner in the hall, and area rugs in “safe” zones where they are allowed to play. If you use area rugs, larger rugs are safer than small rugs because they’re heavier and less likely to move about, but it would still be advisable to have a non-skid mat underneath any area rug.
- Whether children have some vision or no vision, remember that they can’t easily see changes that parents or family make in the home—moving or adding furniture or decorative touches, such as holiday decorations. Parents should try to keep major changes in their home to a minimum while the children are young and just learning their way around the house. If parents do make changes, be sure that children are aware of these and help them explore.