Selecting paint type and colors isn’t usually something that brings “accessibility” to mind.  However, there are a few key things to consider when painting your home that can make living at home easier and safer.

Durability is a key factor for homes where the walls may encounter higher than average use and abuse.  Anyone who has had children can relate to how easily walls get dirty or damaged, but this continues to be an issue for many people with a variety of functional limitations and disabilities.  For example, mobility equipment, such as walkers and wheelchairs, can easily scuff walls, and people with cognitive impairments may have messier eating habits.

Let’s examine the problem:

  • Walkers, canes, and wheelchairs often bump into walls causing scuffs, scrapes, and dents.
  • People with cognitive impairments, such as children/adult with developmental disabilities or adults with dementia, often need walls that can withstand increased use and mess.
  • The color and finish of walls will impact how well a person with low vision or other visual impairments can see.

The Details:

  • Walkers, canes, and wheelchairs often bump into walls causing scuffs, scrapes, and dents.
    • Lighter colored walls will show scrapes and chips less obviously because the drywall behind the paint is white. However, light colors will show dirt and scuffs more.
    • Paint with a texture or pattern of several colors will show imperfections less.
    • Pick a paint that has a thicker coverage, such as a “paint and primer in one,” or plan to do several coats of paint for a more durable finish.
    • For high durability, consider using alternative materials to traditional drywall. Options include things such as wallpaper and wainscoting.
    • Corners are especially prone to damage. Try rounding the corner and adding plastic barriers to protect further as needed.
  • People with cognitive impairments, such as children/adult with developmental disabilities or adults with dementia, often need walls that can withstand increased use and mess.
    • Higher gloss paints will wipe clean more easily and can withstand more moisture.  In kitchens, eating spaces, and bathrooms a semi-gloss or satin finish is desirable.  Be cautious with high gloss finishes (even though they clean the easiest) because they cause glare which can be problematic for many people.
    • Adding texture to paint finishes (such as with a brush or sponge) can help to hide wear and dirt, but may make it harder to clean.
    • Pick a paint that has a thicker coverage, such as a paint and primer in one, or plan to do several coats of paint for a more durable finish.
  • The color and finish of walls will impact how well a person with low vision or other visual impairments can see.
    • Avoid high gloss finishes as they cause glare in most lighting conditions, which will make it hard to everyone to see.
    • Dark colors absorb light and make places feel darker and smaller, which may be challenging for people with visual impairments.
    • Light colors will often make a space brighter and easier to see.
    • Color can be used to create useful contrasts to help people with cognitive or visual impairments use spaces. Contrast should be used for safety- places such as changes in flooring or steps.  Bright colors can be used to highlight specific areas, like entrances or exits.
      • Note: Contrast is not the same as just using different colors. Contrast is how different the colors will appear if it was viewed in “grey scale”.  Two colors that might look very different in full light, such as a the red and yellow wood in the example below, may look the exact same shade of gray in low lighting or for someone with low vision. Learn more about Color and Contrast here.
 
 
Step stool with normal vision
Step stool with low contrast under low vision
Step stool with high contrast under normal vision
Step stool with high contrast under low vision

Other considerations:

  • Contrast and color with paint can be used to denote spaces in a home. For example, a person with a cognitive impairment may be better able to find their bedroom if the door is painted red or a person will a visual impairment may use a change in wall color to note the barrier between a living room and hallway.
  • Color can affect mood and activity level- pick calming colors for bedrooms and alerting colors for mealtime and activity areas. People with sensory processing difficulties may be  very sensitive to colors, so extra care should be taken.
  • Creative painting can be used to hide things “in plain sight” for people with cognitive impairments. For example, a door might be painted to look like a bookshelf for help prevent a person with dementia from opening and wandering or using darker paint on a hallway to discourage its use.

Creative idea:

  • Wall decals have become increasing popular and available. There are many creative uses on the walls of a home to make it easier and safer to use.
    • Decals can be used to highlight certain areas on a wall for easy locating, such as a light switch or toilet paper in the bathroom.
    • Use decals of stop signs to denoted places that are off-limits.
    • Personalize bedroom spaces for people to help create calming and comfortable environments. In homes with people in several bedrooms (such as a group home for adults with cognitive impairments), decorating bedroom doors can be useful.
    • Decals can be used to denoted corners and edges by creating contrast with the surrounding paint.

Next step: