Lighting has a huge impact on our ability to see, and as we get older, we all need more light to see effectively. Did you know that a 60-year-old will need roughly three times more light to read than a 20-year old? And it’s not just more light that we need, but effective and good quality light too.
If you have a vision impairment, adapting and controlling the light can really help. Using good quality lighting can make a big difference to contrast and colour, helping you see what you’re looking at more clearly.
When exploring different lighting options, you might want to consider:
- How does light affect you?
Do you find natural light uncomfortable? Are you affected by glare or excessive bright light? Or do you find it more difficult to see when it is dim or dark?
- Where are you?
When you’re at home you’ll have more control over the light levels, so you could use brighter bulbs or a task lamp, for example. When you’re out and about, you might want to take some equipment with you, such as glasses with glare filters, or carry a torch.
- What are you doing?
You might want to try different lighting or equipment for different tasks, such as cooking, shaving, walking up steps or shopping.
Light bulbs and lights
Changing to brighter light bulbs is the most common and easiest way to improve lighting. People used to think of brightness of light was higher wattage bulbs, but since the introduction of energy saving light bulbs the wattage is much lower, and the brightness is actually measured in lumens.
You could also try installing extra light fittings to increase the amount of light where you need it, such as adding light to the corner of a room or in a stairwell.
Using wider lampshades can help to distribute the light around a room; however, take care with overhead lights as wider shades will expose the bulb, so you might need to avoid looking at it. Another option could be to use a circular paper shade that encases the bulb and will distribute the light evenly around the room. Uplighter light fittings give an even spread of light and also shield the bulb from your eyes.
Fitting dimmer switches is another way to control the amount of light in a room or area.
You may find that using daylight style lighting, which gives off light that is shaded with blue and simulates the natural colour of daylight, can be helpful.
Further information on bulbs and fittings
Our expert partners at the Thomas Pocklington Trust have created a comprehensive guide called ‘Lighting in and around the home: A guide to better lighting for people with visual impairment ’, which has useful information on research, bulbs, fittings, what should be used where and much more.
Task lamps are used to illuminate a particular area or object to make it easier for you to complete a task. Moving a lamp just one metre closer will quadruple the amount of light, which means it’s much more effective to bring a light closer to help with a detailed task, like reading or preparing food, than relying on overhead ceiling lights or a stand lamp. Using a task lamp when you’re reading can also help improve the contrast and clarity of the text.
Top tips for positioning your task lamp:
- Keep the bulb out of your line of sight, as it may be excessively bright.
- Try to put the lamp in a position that minimises any shadow.
- Make sure you’re comfortable and the lamp is positioned safely, for example, keep the lamp clear from the table edge and make sure that if there’s a cable, it isn’t a trip hazard.
- If doing a task where you’re using one hand more, for example using a magnifier, cutting or writing, have the light on your other side so it doesn’t cast a shadow over what you’re doing. So, if you’re right-handed, have the task lamp on your left and if you’re left-handed, the task lamp on your right.
- A task lamp with an adjustable arm can make it easier to move the lamp into the best position.
Portable task lamps
A portable task lamp can be really helpful as you can take your lighting wherever you need it. That might be around the home, such as for preparing food, reading, doing your make-up or shaving, or you can also take it out and use it when shopping, out for dinner or at a friend’s house.
The most effective type of portable lamp is a rechargeable one as it doesn’t have a cord and doesn’t need to be plugged in when you use it. Always be careful, as certain types of halogen lamps can get hot, so you may prefer using a fluorescent lamp that doesn’t.
Lighting around the home
You may want to choose different types of lighting around your home depending on the types of tasks and activities you might be doing.
Stairs and hallways
When going up and down stairs, you’ll want the light to be at the right level as quickly as possible. But there may also be times, such as during the night, when you may not want the light to be bright. Some options to consider are:
- Using dimmer switches in these areas.
- Having main, overhead lighting for daytime and pluggable night lights for evening.
- Using a torch at night.
- Installing smart lighting that can be set at different light levels or colours depending on the time of day.
- Keeping your stair lighting on all day, particularly if the staircase is in a dark area.
The kitchen is an area where many people will need effective lighting. To help with preparing food, making drinks or cooking, you could install under-cupboard lights to make your work surface brighter. If you’re unable to get someone to do this, you could also use a plug-in task lamp on the countertop or buy plug-in or battery powered lights that can be attached to the underside of your cupboards.
A bright light over or near the hob that directs good lighting can improve contrast and make cooking safer.
Putting lights in cupboards will help when you need to identify products and food items, such as tins or packets. These can be activated by motion or manually turned on. You could also use a hand torch or the light on a smart phone.
You may also want to consider using ceiling spotlights with wide angle bulbs. They cover a large area and can overlap, giving more consistent brightness with fewer dark areas.
Adding more wall or ceiling lights will light up parts of the room better. If you’re unable to get someone to install them, you could buy additional plug-in floor or table lamps.
A strip light or a task lamp over your mirror can help with tasks such as applying make-up or shaving. You could also buy a mirror with a light in it, and a magnifying mirror can be helpful too.
Similar to the kitchen, having lights in the bathroom cupboards that are either motion activated or can be switched on, can help when you need to identify items – and you might find these helpful in bedroom cupboards, too.
At home, you can try making your light switches easier to see by increasing the contrast between the switch and the wall. For example, using a dark colour against a light wall, or by putting a dark strip around the light switch with tape, card or paint.
You may find that it’s difficult to find a light switch, or you may want a room to be lit before you go in. One solution is to try smart lighting, which allows you to automate and control your lights remotely by using your smart phone or a smart home assistant, such as Alexa.
For many people natural light can be the most helpful, but it can be a hindrance if you’re affected by glare. The effects of bright sunlight and glare may also differ depending on the time of day, as well as on the weather conditions.
The best way to control the amount of natural light coming into your home is by using horizontal or vertical blinds. If you have net curtains, you may want to remove them as they can stop a lot of natural light coming in. Also, try to make sure that your windows are kept clean as a build-up of dust can impact on light.
In the bathroom, using a clear shower curtain or shower door can allow more light in, as will a bathroom door with misted glass.
You may also want to consider:
- The shadow cast on a set of stairs can make the edges more visible.
- Always position your back to the natural light, so you’re not looking directly towards it.
- Make sure you position your television screen or computer so that the light from the sun is not reflecting onto the screen and causing glare or discomfort.