Sensory disabilities such as visual or hearing impairments can prove frustrating. With adaptations and technology, people with sensory disabilities are able to live comfortably, safely and independently.

Adaptations do not aim to cure impairments or disabilities but instead help to enhance abilities or at least work with available capability.

If you or somebody you take care of is beginning to experience a visual or hearing impairment it’s worth taking time to assess the home environment to ascertain how it could be better. Part of this will be about having an honest conversation about how symptoms are presenting. This can be difficult so it’s well worth emphasising that this is a positive process that is aimed at making things easier – rather than pointing out the things to worry about.

Visual impairments


Utilising colour and contrast can be very helpful for visually impaired people. Using the difference between colours or contrast can make objects or materials much easier to define. For instance, dark handles on pale doors are easy to locate – and represent an easy to apply and cost-effective fix that doesn’t impact the way other people (without sensory disabilities) operate in the same space. In this sense, it’s an example of universal design – or designed for everyone.

Using contrast and colour does take a bit of thought but can be applied throughout the home. For instance, in the kitchen, utensils and work surfaces can be contrasted. In the bathroom, sinks and tiling can be contrasted or sport lines around edges so that they can be more easily defi ned and around the rest of the home small things such as plugs and sockets can be contrasted with walls, etc.


Better lighting can help people to make the most of their visual capabilities. Of course, this should start with a good bright bulb but also ancillary lighting where needed, such as in places like underneath kitchen cupboards or places that fall into shadow. It is also worth thinking about replacing shades so that they don’t shield light or that direct it properly towards where it is needed.

To get the best out of lighting, it needs to be controlled and that means thinking about how it causes shadows and reflections. For instance, it may be useful to replace shiny work surfaces with matte surfaces that do not produce glare and think carefully about the position of lighting so that it doesn’t cause shadows. Again this needn’t be an expensive process since small rechargeable or battery powered lamps are available that can be stuck in different places, such as inside deep cupboards or wardrobes for instance, rather than having lots of electric lights switched on at once.


There is an increasing number of gadgets that can use audible or spoken prompts. In most cases, these are alike to those aimed at people that have functioning hearing and vision – although most people wouldn’t require things like a talking scale and jug, or a talking microwave or oven.

Adaptive labelling with a PenFriend device works on a similar principle. It’s a voice recorder and scanner that uses stickers with a code that the device can identify. As a sticker is placed on, say, a can of fruit, a letter or even a jar of pills, it is scanned and an audible note is tagged to it. When scanned again later, the PenFriend will play the audible note that explains exactly what it is.

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Hearing impairments

It’s arguable that sight is our dominant sense. Much of the information we process is text or otherwise visually based. However, audible information is often used in acute circumstances to warn of danger and so Deaf people require support to live safely on an independent basis. (It’s also an essential component of remaining socially capable, such as hearing the doorbell or taking part in conversation.)

Multi-alerting systems

Where a hearing impairment is such that a person cannot discern particular sounds (such as alarms) technology is available to take advantage of other senses, namely sight and touch. Multi-alert alarms use fl ashing lights, vibrating pagers or pads to draw the user’s attention to anything from an alarm clock, baby monitor, doorbell or smoke alarms, etc.


Aside from specifically prescribed hearing aids there are a range of more general adaptations that enable hearing-impaired people to communicate. A domestic hearing loop for instance, utilises a cable which is placed around an area, such as a room. The loop transmits the sound and is picked up by hearing aids with a loop (T) setting, enabling the user to hear sounds with better clarity and without interference from other distracting noise – best of all it’s wireless. (Alternative infrared devices are also available that use a transmitter placed near the sound source, such as a TV.)


If you are struggling to keep up with conversations because of background noise you might find a Roger Pen device useful. The wireless transmitting microphone, provides better clarity during conversation and uses Bluetooth for your mobile phone conversations, and an audio input to connect to your TV, PC, laptop, MP3 and transmit the sound to you. Visit:

Along similar lines to telephones are devices such as textphones (sometimes known by the brand name, Minicom). Textphones use a small display screen and a keyboard. The user types their message and reads the reply. Some textphones have a voice telephone handset while others are designed to be used with a separate voice telephone. If you have a voice telephone and want to talk with someone who has a textphone, or vice versa, you can use RNID Typetalk, the national telephone relay service. You type what you want to say and an operator will relay it to the person on the telephone. Visit:

The ubiquity of messaging platforms and devices mean that sending text messages of different sorts or emails, has never been easier, not to mention video conferencing through Skype, etc which enables people to use BSL or lip-reading.

For more help and advice on living with visual or hearing impairments, visit:


Royal Blind

Royal Society for Blind Children

Action on Hearing Loss

National Deaf Children’s Society

British Deaf Association

Royal Association for Deaf People