014: When lights don’t work even when they’re on.

Good Fit Poor Fit
Good Fit Poor Fit
014: When lights don't work even when they're on.

Show Notes

In this episode, we mentioned a smart home technology post on our blog in relation to illuminated video/doorbell systems and keypads. Learn more about these products in addition to more great assistive technology!


[00:00:27] Hey everyone, it’s Sarah and welcome to episode number 14. I’m sharing about how the design of the lighting on the exterior of your home impacts the ability of people to see and navigate effectively at night. This will help you understand how individual needs and the design of the environment results in either a good fit or a poor fit.

[00:00:48] It’s the little things that make a big difference. 

[00:00:51] Just to preface this episode a bit, there are a lot of things that go into lighting the exterior of a home and I’m not claiming to know all about it. I think connecting with someone who is skilled in lighting design would be valuable to help figure out what products are out there and how they would fit the areas you are trying to light outside. But today I really wanted to address why it’s important to have good lighting around the outside of the home to navigate safely and for security reasons. By having an occupational therapist collaborate with a lighting designer, it would be a valuable partnership to make sure the outside of the home is well lit to reduce frustration or any unnecessary accidents.

[00:01:37] I wanted to share a little bit of our experience with lighting. At Scott’s mom’s home, we have a nice big area to park in her driveway. They actually added this parking area right after he had his spinal cord injury. This flat parking space is connected to the front door with a slightly sloping sidewalk.

[00:01:57] Prior to his injury, the only place to park was down a large driveway that went down to the garage. The garage entrance is basically in the basement area of the house, so there wasn’t an easy way to get in the home without any steps. Which is why they created this new flat area up near the front door.

[00:02:15] But when arriving at her home or leaving at night, there aren’t a lot of lights to help us see what we are doing. She has a few lights on either side of the front door, as well as a pole light down near the end of the sidewalk, which shines a little light on the parking area. There are a few motion lights on the corners of the home, but they’re not activated in this area.

[00:02:36] I mentioned in another post that Scott and I drive a Subaru Outback and he transfers into the driver’s seat while I put his chair into the back of the vehicle. We also have our daughter to put in her car seat. We often find ourselves searching for the flashlight on our phones or another flashlight in the car to try and see what we’re doing. 

[00:02:59] Another concern we have is the pathway up to the front door. It is not well lit and because Scott’s mom lives in the woods, there are often sticks or other debris on the sidewalk that Scott could easily get tripped up on. You see, he has small wheels on the front of his wheelchair called casters, and when they hit something while he’s moving, his chair stops and his body continues moving, creating a situation where he would fall out of his chair. His mom does a good job at sweeping the walk before we arrive, but we still have to watch out for branches that may have fallen after she’s done that. In the past, Scott has been known to wear a headlamp to light up pathways in front of him since he can’t hold onto a flashlight with his hands while he’s pushing and controlling his chair. 

[00:03:48] Having pathway lighting along her sidewalk would be helpful for us in being able to see cracks, bumps, or debris. However, it’s a nice feature in general for anyone who struggles to see at night or someone who may be older and needs additional lighting to make sure they don’t trip. It would also be nice to have more lighting in the driveway area to get in and out of the car at night. This space could fit two cars easily, so lighting around that entire space would be extremely helpful. Not just where we park.

[00:04:20] I mentioned earlier that connecting with a lighting designer would be helpful. There is a lighting designer local to us that we met at an aging in place round table through our local chamber of commerce. We took a tour of his lighting lab and I was so excited to see what he showed us. His focus on our tour of his educational lab was for us to see in person what examples were of poor lighting choices and what was a good lighting design by showing us different configurations throughout the home. He discussed that the placement of lights versus the number of lights made a difference in helping people see and use  the area of the home functionally. 

[00:04:58] I came from that meeting and tour super excited and I felt like he could help my parents out in their home. In a previous episode, I mentioned my mom had difficulty with her vision after the removal of her brain tumor. He redid the lighting in their kitchen and dining room, but he also provided my parents with a remote control that allows them to turn the lights on inside when they’re outside walking in from the car. This remote control has the option to dim the lights as well, so you’re not walking in from a totally dark outside area into a very brightly lit inside area. Being able to adjust the light settings allows your eyes to adjust to going from dark to light.

[00:05:41] You know that feeling when you suddenly turn on the lights after being in a dark room? Its a shock to your system and you feel like you’re being blinded. Even if you have great eyesight, it’s difficult to see, but it can be even more problematic for someone who has low vision due to cataracts, macular degeneration or glaucoma, and many of those people have balance issues as well.

[00:06:05] Another thing he talked to us about was the concept of glare bombs. You have probably experienced the harshness of looking at a light fixture when the light can shine directly into your eyes. It’s almost blinding, like when a car lights are coming right at you. This causes you to be unable to see anything around that light easily. Oftentimes these are placed on either side of the door when trying to get into the porch and you’re unable to see things in front of you, like the doorknob or a bench, or just any carpet that might be in front of you. 

[00:06:41] Lighting can be used for many different reasons, whether it’s ambient, task, accent, or decorative, and the designer is the best person to pick the right product for the space that you’re trying to light. Especially trying to focus the type of lighting that directs the light out of your eyes and helps illuminate the space evenly as not to blind you. 

[00:07:04] Lights around the front door are helpful for security as well as being able to see what you’re doing. Whether it’s getting your keys or trying to get inside. This is helpful for your guests as well, having an illuminated doorbell and keypad for other lock systems is helpful too. 

[00:07:21] Our student, Kati, published a blog post about smart technology for front door locks and security along with a bunch of other great smart technology ideas. So be sure to check that out in our blog as well. 

[00:07:36] So onto the security of a home. With that, motion sensors are also essential. I know growing up as a kid we lived out in the middle of nowhere in a big field. My dad was adamant about putting motion sensors around the corners of the house. He actually worked the night shift all of my childhood and my mom and I were home alone a lot. It was definitely helpful for my mom to have a sense of peace and security. 

[00:08:02] Scott’s mom, like I said, has a few of these motion sensors around her home to help light up the driveway near the garage and the sides of her house. They were also very helpful for when they had to let the dog out to use the bathroom. 

[00:08:16] Motion sensors are nice for everyone but especially for guests who are visiting and might not know the landscape of your home very well. Maybe the lights weren’t switched on on the inside of the home and when a guest pulls up to walk up to the home the lights come on through their movement. Although motion sensors definitely have their flaws, as I’ve been known to be seen jumping up and down waving my hands to activate the sensor so I can get the light to turn on. 

[00:08:44] Another important thing to mention is the ability for fire rescue and your guests to find the house number on your home. Especially if somebody is trying to locate your home in the dark, you need to have your house number well lit on either your home or on your mailbox or both would be helpful. GPS has definitely helped with the location of homes, but we could all use a little extra assistance in making sure we arrive at the correct home as we approach it. This is really helpful in remote areas all the way to tightly packed suburban neighborhoods. 

[00:09:20]A lot of times when people are talking about universal design or accessible design they focus on no-step entrances, lever door handles, a first-floor master bedroom and bath. And these are the only types of features that they talk about in regard to adding functionality throughout the home. If you are a designer or a builder advocating for more functional features in a home, don’t forget to think about lighting.

[00:09:47] Additional lighting on the exterior of the home may cost a bit more money than the standard placement of lights. Although choosing to add these lighting elements will provide much more safety and security for yourself and guests. So thank you for listening to this quick little episode on our podcast and I hope you learned a little bit more about why lighting is helpful especially on the outside of the home and why it should be taken into consideration to be a good fit for many. Have a great day!


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