Earlier today, my mom and brother discovered that our pre-lit Christmas tree had an interesting glitch. One half of the tree displayed multicolored lights, while the other half displayed white lights. This would change as the lights would change colors, though each half of the tree would remain different.
They were talking about how fixing it when I said that I found the two different colored lights to be incredibly helpful. It kept me from running into the tree with my vision impairment.
They were very surprised to learn this and then jokingly said it was their plan all along.
Today, I will be sharing how to decorate a vision impairment friendly Christmas tree so that people can appreciate the decorations. This post also works if you have to re-decorate a Christmas tree because you’re having someone visit with vision impairment or something has already knocked over.
Put different colored lights on the bottom part of the tree
One of the reasons I encouraged my mom and brother not to fix the tree is because using different Christmas lights on segments of the tree has many benefits. It can help people better see how big the tree is, and also where the bottom is, which helps with understanding surroundings. If all of the lights are one color, your eyes won’t take the time to look at each segment of the tree, as your brain might think they all look the same. By using different colored lights, there is increased visual interest and the brain can process information about each segment of the tree.
Avoid twinkling or rapidly flashing lights
While it’s great to use lights on the Christmas tree, I recommend staying away from twinkling, blinking, or rapidly flashing lights. These can contribute to eye strain and may be painful for people to look at. For more sensitive populations, people can develop headaches or other negative symptoms brought on by photosensitivity due to the flashing lights. Not all vision impaired people may experience this symptom, but if someone is complaining their eyes hurt every time they look at the tree, this might be why.
Allow people to feel the tree and ornaments
Our artificial Christmas tree has an interesting firm texture that allows me to feel the details of each individual branch. My family also enjoys incorporating in textured ornaments made from a variety of unique materials. Examples include soda cans, crocheted yarn, and rounded orbs with raised details. By allowing people with vision impairments to feel the different textures on the tree and ornaments, it can help them get a better mental image of what the tree looks like. This also helps with people who are frustrated that they can’t see what’s on the tree.
Hang high-contrast ornaments
For people with low vision, hanging high-contrast ornaments can help them focus on the tree and identify different ornaments. I’m not saying that every ornament has to be neon orange for there to be good contrast. Instead, use ornaments with bright colors that pop against the dark green or white of the tree. Also, make sure they are a different color than the lights.
Make sure ornaments can’t fall off the tree and hit someone
One of my friends with low vision was telling me the story of when they decorated their first Christmas tree. Due to a lack of depth perception, they had trouble determining where to place the ornaments and how to hang them. As a result, every ornament they helped hang that year fell off the tree. Some ornaments fell on the floor and created a fall hazard, some ornaments fell and broke on their own, and some ornaments fell on unsuspecting family members on Christmas morning. This story is not meant to discourage people with vision impairments from hanging Christmas ornaments, but instead to make sure that they hang them somewhere that doesn’t have the potential to pose a risk of injury.
Make sure the tree can’t tip
As a follow-up from the previous section, ensure that the tree won’t fall over if someone runs into it. I bump into things constantly with my low vision. I’m surprised I haven’t come close to knocking over the tree…well, not this year at least. This is a no-brainer for anyone, but it’s especially important for people with vision impairments. They might bump into it while walking or sitting down.
Use different colored or textured wrapping paper for gifts
Another one of my friends accidentally opened their sibling’s presents for many years on Christmas morning. This was because they were unable to see the labels on the package. Nobody realized that they had trouble seeing the labels, so this happened every year. After that discovery was made, my friend’s presents were then wrapped in different colored or textured wrapping paper. This was to distinguish their gifts from their sibling’s gifts. Also, this can help with ensuring no one walks on top of the presents. To many people, all of the similar colors might blend together.
How to describe a Christmas tree for someone who is blind or vision impaired
It’s your tree- decorate how you want
Many families that have people with blindness or vision impairment don’t decorate their trees any differently than others. This doesn’t make the holiday any less fun to celebrate, as the tree is only one aspect of the celebration. For families looking to make their tree easier to see for their vision impaired family member, I hope that knowing how to decorate a vision impairment friendly Christmas tree helps make the holiday celebrations more fun and accessible for everyone.