I lived in on-campus dorm housing for four years in college, and one of my favorite parts of preparing for the new school year was thinking about how I would decorate my dorm. While a lot of the items in my dorm room remained the same and I didn’t buy all new items each year, I still had fun making different design changes that incorporated aesthetics and accessibility in a thoughtful way. Here is how I would decorate my dorm room with low vision and created a fun and functional space.
Choose a colorful or patterned bedspread
The biggest piece of furniture in any dorm room is typically the twin XL bed, so finding a colorful or patterned bedspread is the easiest way to decorate and add personality to the space. Bright colors or patterns that are a different color from the wall/carpet can provide needed contrast and make it easy to locate the bed. I recommend choosing a comforter or duvet cover that can be easily washed, and making sure that it is a different color from common electronics like a phone cane or laptop- it’s no fun to have electronics or other items get lost in a sea of blankets!
Push furniture against the walls
Having a clear walkway is important, as running into sharp edges can be painful or frustrating. In one of my dorm rooms, I had an issue with repeatedly bumping into a specific part of my bed, so I attached several mini Pillow Pets to the edge of the frame so that it would be cushioned. Did it look a little silly? Probably, but I was relieved to no longer be running into everything and I had found them at a store near campus.
Hang items on walls or doors for easy access
Instead of having items get lost in drawers, many people with low vision find it easier to locate items that are hanging on a wall or door. This can be accomplished with an over-the-door organizer, Command hooks, or similar removable storage items. I would hang my dorm key, blindness canes, and jacket on hooks next to my door for easy access, and used an over-the-door rack to hold other items such as towels, scarves, and blankets.
Utilize under-the-bed storage for larger items
Instead of having larger items out in the middle of the floor, I would store my laundry bin underneath my bed and keep other items in clear plastic bins so I could access them as needed. One of the ways I kept items organized under my bed was to have a running list of which items were located in different bins saved to my Notes app, so I wouldn’t go through multiple bins wondering where something was located. Since I would have difficulty reading text labels on a box, keeping a digital list was a better option for me. This also was helpful when I had to quickly grab boxes to evacuate my dorm- a situation most students will likely not encounter, but I was glad that I had been prepared.
Organizing the desk space
Every college dorm I’ve lived in came with at least one desk, which is where almost all of my mainstream and assistive technology devices were stored. I have an entire post linked below about how I set up my college dorm desk, including how I added storage and created a dry-erase surface for writing quick notes directly on the tabletop.
- How I Set Up My College Desk
- All of the Technology in My Dorm Room: Post Round Up
- What If I Get Trapped In My Dorm?
Art as a landmark tool
I created a few digital art prints for fun and would display this art in my dorm as a way to locate items more easily. While I might not be able to see a small item hanging on the wall, I can definitely see a larger colorful art print and would know to look underneath the print to find different items. This also helped to break up the monotone color of the walls.
One semester, I decided to create washi tape art by putting several different colors of washi tape across my wall in small pieces similar to confetti. It didn’t damage the walls and it was fun to have such a colorful space!
- Blindness Canes and Dorm Buildings: Navigating College Campuses
- How I Learned To Navigate My Internship Building With Low Vision
Consider using party decorations as decor
While I’m sure plastic streamers would look fun in a dorm room as well, I ended up finding high-quality paper fans and a few other items marketed as party supplies at the craft store that provided a fun background for video calls and were lightweight enough that I could hang them on my own. Since a lot of party supplies have bright and saturated colors, this is a great way to get inexpensive high-contrast decorations in fun colors- I chose to get coral and turquoise colored party fans/rosettes to match my comforter. Instead of using the included adhesive, I opened the fan and held the pieces together with binder clips that could be reused from semester to semester, and kept them from folding as well.
Use surface lighting instead of overhead lights
Dorm lights can be uncomfortably bright for people with photophobia or light sensitivity, so I would use 1 or 2 different lamps in my dorm room as surface/environmental lighting instead of having to turn on the overhead lights. In my freshman dorm, I found it helpful to use a remote controlled outlet for my main lamp, and stored the remote in the pocket of my sheets so that I didn’t have to get up to turn the lights on/off.
Turn the closet door into a whiteboard
Just like I did with my desk, I added a large sheet of contact paper that featured a dry-erase surface so I could turn my closet door into a large whiteboard for working out equations, keeping track of my schedule, or even writing to-do lists for blog posts. This is a great option for people who like to handwrite notes in large print, and some of my friends would have fun drawing on it or leaving surprise notes for me as well. These can easily be removed at the end of the school year without damaging the wooden door surface, though I recommend doing a small test patch if there is concern about potential damage.
Get a smart speaker like the Amazon Echo
Having an Amazon Echo Dot in my dorm room was a game changer for setting alarms, checking the time, listening to music, and accessing nonvisual content. Students can even create their own custom Amazon Alexa skill that can help them learn to navigate their dorm, which I have a full post on linked below.
Other tips for decorating a dorm room with low vision
- Most colleges do not allow students to paint the walls of their dorm or drill holes, so temporary wallpaper and hooks are the best option
- Students who want to bring furniture from home (like a desk chair) may need to fill out a form to remove university-owned furniture from their space
- A fun way to save money and get excited about college for the next year is to shop for dorm items during fall clearance sales after the semester has already started. I got an extra comforter for 50% off during one of these sales, as well as some extra sheets