Veronica With Four Eyes

Adapting Keys For Vision Loss

When I was cleaning out my dorm room a few years ago, I found four identical-looking bronze keys and had no idea what they unlocked. While I was able to figure out the purpose of one key, the purpose of the other three keys remains a mystery to this day. One of the ways I have kept situations like this from happening again is by adapting keys for vision loss so that I would be able to tell apart the various keys in my purse, and today I will be sharing my tips for adapting keys for low vision and blind users.

Use bright colors or tactile dots to tell keys apart

When it came time to get a new house key made, my roommates suggested that I get a brightly patterned key so that I would be able to easily locate it in my purse or spot it if it was left on a table. I chose to get a key that was a different color than anything else I owned so that way it wouldn’t blend in on a surface, and I could easily spot it on a key ring. Another option is to add tactile dots such as Bump Dots or Braille stickers to the top of a key so that it can be identified through touch and easily spotted.

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Use a key turning aid

I received a 3D printed key turning aid at an assistive technology conference a few years back and it makes it easier to open doors and locate keys with low vision. While this makes it difficult for me to fit a key in a small pants pocket, it’s a lot easier than trying to rotate a small key in a lock, especially for someone with unsteady hands.

Hang keys on an easy-to-identify keychain

One of the other tricks I recommend for organizing keys with vision loss is to hang keys on an easy-to-identify keychain. This can include keychains with a unique color, texture, or other helpful information that can help the user to find it in a bag or on a table. I recommend choosing a color or texture that will pop against a lot of surfaces- there are few things more frustrating than having a set of keys or a keychain that seems to blend into a table or other container. I’m linking a personalized Braille keychain that I purchased on Etsy for less than $10 that I purchased for a friend in their favorite color.

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Store keys in an easy-to-find location with a visual landmark

In my dorm room, I would store my key underneath a picture or other easy to see item so that way I could easily hang them back up and know where to find them. It is much easier for me to look for a larger picture or color that stands out compared to the rest of the wall, instead of trying to find a small key hook, so this solution worked very well for me. Using brightly colored storage containers is another great option as well.

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Keep access cards on a lanyard or similar item

I store my dorm room access card on a lanyard, though I don’t necessarily wear my lanyard all of the time- sometimes I put it in my backpack or purse instead. However, storing my dorm room access card in my lanyard allows me to quickly grab my key on the way out, which is especially helpful when the fire alarm is going off.

For access cards related to my job, I would store them in the back pockets of my lanyard, or use other tools such as retractable ID badge holders to keep my cards organized. I do not do anything to make my cards easier to distinguish, as it is against policy to modify access cards in any way, including adding labels or poking holes.

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If possible, add tactile dots to locks

One of my friends who has no usable vision was having trouble with unlocking doors because they had trouble figuring out where the lock was located, since it was placed in a strange way on the door. After receiving permission, we decided to add a tactile dot so that they would be able to feel for the dot and know where the lock was. Since then, I have used the same system to help make it easier for people to know where to swipe a card or type in a number if there were no other tactile labels available. Tactile dots can also be a helpful tool for helping users find light switches and other everyday items.

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Other ideas for adapting keys for vision loss

  • Paint the tops of keys with brightly colored nail polish- note that this may take several coats
  • Purchase silicon key covers that can be labeled or that have different colors/textures
  • Cover the tops of keys with washi tape
  • Use a Bluetooth key chain to keep track of keys with a cell phone
  • Add a magnetic key organizer to make it easier to store keys

How to adapt physical keys and access cards for people who are blind or that have low vision, and how to make keys and locks easier to locate