“How do blind people use the bathroom?”
“Hey, how do people with low vision take a shower?”
“Wait, do blind people use the bathroom?”
It’s not just little kids who ask these questions. I have had teachers, friends, random adults, and even college suitemates that I share a bathroom with asking if I am capable of using the bathroom on my own, or if I even use the bathroom. While people with vision loss don’t frequently have to deal with inaccessible bathrooms compared to other disability areas, there is still assistive technology for the bathroom that can help people who live with low vision and blindness with completing tasks related to using the bathroom and taking a shower. Here is a list of my favorite low vision assistive technology tools for the bathroom, as well as some of my least favorite assistive technology tools for the bathroom.
What is assistive technology?
The Technology-Related Assistance to Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (Tech Act) defines an assistive technology device as “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.” The Tech Act also defines an assistive technology service as “any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition or use of an assistive technology device.”
Some examples of bathroom assistive technology include:
- Shower stools/benches
- Grab rails
- Adjustable or handheld showerheads
- Transfer benches
- No-rinse shampoo or body wash
Assistive technology can be used by people of all ages and backgrounds, and can also be beneficial to people without disabilities. In my bathroom, I have a mix of tools that are designed primarily for people with vision loss and for people with physical disabilities, though these tools can definitely be used for different disability areas.
Is assistive technology needed for everything?
I’ve seen several products over the years that are targeted towards people with vision loss and claim to be assistive technology for the bathroom, but in reality, these tools are not very helpful or completely unnecessary. Some examples of useless assistive technology for the bathroom include:
- Talking toilet paper holder
- Using visual interpreting apps for navigating a bathroom, which is illegal in the United States
- Alerts about the color of toilet paper/pads
Tactile labels, sometimes called tactile stickers or bump dots, are raised plastic stickers that can be attached to almost any surface. These are awesome for making accessible bathrooms for visual impairment, because they are inexpensive and are typically waterproof, so they can be attached to a variety of different sources. Some tactile labels come with Braille, though others are simply raised shapes. Some example of ways to use tactile labels in the bathroom include:
- On shower products or bottles, i.e to distinguish between shampoo and conditioner
- To indicate a comfortable/preferred temperature on the shower
- Labeling medication in the cabinet
- Indicating information on a lightswitch
- How To Make Medication Bottles Accessible For Vision Impairment
- Seven Tips For Adapting To Newly Acquired Vision Loss
While these are not specifically for people with vision loss, shower railings are a common choice for people who have trouble balancing in the shower or that are prone to vertigo. When I lived in a college dorm, I purchased a removable shower railing that helped me to balance in the bathroom since I didn’t have anything else to lean on, and it was a helpful tool to have when I lived in dorms without shower railings.
Instead of having to squeeze toothpaste out of a tube, toothpaste dispensers allow users to push their toothbrush against a lever and have the correct amount of toothpaste dispensed on their brush, no extra squeezing required. While this isn’t indicative of how all blind or low vision people put toothpaste on a toothbrush, I personally have difficulty getting the right amount of toothpaste on a toothbrush and have accidentally spilled large amounts of toothpaste, so having a toothpaste dispenser has been very helpful for me.
Hand wipes near toilet
While I don’t bring my blindness cane into the bathroom at home, I do bring it with me when I go to public bathrooms. A small but very helpful detail that I’ve seen in handicap/accessible bathrooms is to have hand wipes in the stall so that I can quickly clean my hands before I touch my blindness cane and find the sink. This is also really helpful for people who use wheelchairs, walking canes, service animals, crutches, and similar tools.
Instead of having to hold a hairdryer, hairdryer stands allow users to set the dryer on an adjustable stand so that they don’t have to constantly hold it, or try to figure out if their hair is as dry as they need it to be. While I don’t frequently dry my hair with a hairdryer, it is a helpful tool to have when I need it.
This is important for every room in the house, but having appropriate lighting in the bathroom for people with low vision is important to consider. The best or most appropriate lighting solution will vary depending on the person and what eye condition they have, though I am linking my article on lighting and low vision, which goes into more detail about this topic.
Designated places for items
This isn’t technically assistive technology, but it is a very important part of creating an accessible bathroom for vision loss. Make sure that each item in the bathroom has a designated place, and that it is put back in its place after being used. This allows people to be able to locate products independently and prevents items from being unexpectedly knocked over- as an example, I temporarily relocated a trashcan without telling my friend who has no usable vision, and they ended up knocking over the trashcan since they weren’t expecting it to be on the other side of the bathroom.
Summary of low vision assistive technology for the bathroom
- Assistive technology is defined as being any tool or product that is used to help people with disabilities
- Tactile labels can be attached to almost any surfaces, including walls, bottles, or faucets
- Shower railings can assist with balance for people with vertigo or poor balance in the shower
- Toothpaste dispensers allow people to put toothpaste on their toothbrush with only one hand
- Hand wipes near the toilet allow people to disinfect their hands before touching mobility equipment
- A hairdryer stand provides users with a hands-free option for drying hair
- Appropriate lighting can help people with completing tasks in the bathroom safely
- Having a designated place for items can help tremendously with ensuring that people with vision loss can find products independently.