Perhaps vision loss is a very new thing for you and you are still trying to figure out how to cope. There are also people who don’t have access to proper training or more experienced blind people to talk with. Things some people take for granted like brushing your teeth, doing your hair, shaving, etc, other blind people may have difficulty doing. Many of these are things you are taught in a training center’s independent living program. We will outline a few of them for you here, to get you started and give you some ideas.
Organizing All Those Bottles
As for shampoos and conditioners or body washes that come in bottles that feel the same. I have done several things over the years to sort this out. One thing I have found is that with some brands of shampoo and conditioner, although the bottles are the same shape, the shampoo container is smoother, and the conditioner bottle has a slightly rougher feel to it. For those bottles that aren't as helpful in how they feel you can. Put a rubber band, rubber bands are rather handy aren't they? Around one. I've even seen someone take scotch tape and Braille right on the tape with a slate and stylus what each thing is. And, these stand up fairly good, a lot better than I'd of thought.
When I go someplace out of town I don't like to lug along large bottles of stuff so I went out and bought some empty plastic bottles of different sizes and shapes and then transfer whatever I need into them. You could also mark these with a stick on Braille label and it would do quite nicely for you.
Brushing Your Teeth
I have been asked by more sighted people than blind about the great dilemma of how to get the toothpaste on the brush. I’m not sure that this is a real big problem for most folks, but if you were wondering, here goes!
There are several ways. I turn my toothbrush sideways and squeeze some paste directly into the bristles. I know of other people who just squeeze a bit of toothpaste directly into their mouth. If you use your own tube of tooth paste, these two methods work just fine. I know one gentleman who puts a dab of toothpaste onto his finger and then transfers it onto his toothbrush. It doesn’t make too much difference how you do it.
Once you have the way you’re going to handle the paste mastered, you are ready to go. Even if you choose to put the paste in your mouth, it will spread through your mouth fine once the brush begins moving. Remember it’s not about how the paste looks on your brush - no one’s filming a toothpaste commercial in your bathroom!
After I get my hair in the style I want, I will typically spray it with hair spray to keep it in place. First I make sure there is no hair sticking out by touching it gently with my fingers. I have found that by lightly patting or touching from the roots and sliding my fingers back works best. When you go against the growing direction of the hair it will tend to cause it to stick up in unintended directions. I check with my thumb to find the place on the hair spray where it will spray from. I close my eyes and aim toward where I want the spray. I tend to use short bursts rather than one long continuous spray. This gives me an opportunity to adjust where exactly the hair spray is landing. How much I use depends on the particular hair style and how windy it is that day.
Then I get my hands a little wet and check my hair again. I have found that getting my hands damp keeps them from sticking to the hair and messing it up. I make adjustments with the comb and hair spray as needed.
I use the very basic hinged nail clippers and an inexpensive nail file. I begin with the clippers. I take off a small amount and gradually work up to the amount I want to remove. I have found that if I take off a larger amount all at once my nails tend to split, crack or break in places I hadn’t planned. I first clip in the center of the nail, taking off just a bit at a time. Then I move the clippers a little diagonally and clip a bit off of the corners.
I then use a file to round out the shape, smoothing out any rough spots. I rub another finger over the tip of the nail I am filing to check for smoothness. Sometimes I will also run the tip of a nail over my bottom lip because that skin is more sensitive and I can feel more easily if the nail is smooth.
I found when trimming my son’s nails when he was really, really little that it is much easier to do when he was asleep. I had to be diligent with keeping his nails trimmed because he would inadvertently scratch his face. I almost always used just a file to trim his baby nails. I found that the nails were very thin and soft. It only took just a few swipes of the file on each nail to get the desired length. Using the file also made me not worry about cutting them too short.
We all know when it’s that time to shave. When your hair starts getting long under your arms or on your legs again. It feels prickly and perhaps itchy when it rubs against clothing. How often you shave is somewhat a personal preference and somewhat a social necessity. Some women shave every day, others maybe once or twice per week. Some women don’t shave at all during the winter because they wear slacks.
I use an inexpensive razor with replaceable blade cartridges. The procedure for using a disposable razor or one with replaceable blades is exactly the same. There are also a wide variety of hair removal lotions, creams, waxes and hair removal electronic systems. Which method you choose is a personal preference. By far most people use razors. That’s what I’ll explain here.
First, take the soap, shaving cream, shaving gel or other preferred lubricant and make sure your underarms or legs are wet enough and lathered enough to begin shaving. You want the entire area you are going to shave to be covered with lather. Longer hair will need more soap or shaving cream to cut than shorter hair. I usually use just soap. Sometimes, though, if my skin is dry or irritated I will use a small amount of my hair conditioner. I learned this trick at summer camp! It really does work.
Take the lid carefully and slowly off the raiser, so you do not cut yourself. When shaving the armpit area, start from the top and do long strokes down, getting all the hair in the process. The razor blade should rest gently against your skin. As you become accustomed to shaving you will be better able to adjust the amount of pressure that you need to apply in order to cut your particular hair type. Once you start from the top and work your way down, pick up the raiser, and carefully move to the next area. If the hair is particularly long or course, you may have to go over it several times. Avoid sliding the razor from side to side.
Shaving your legs is only a tiny bit different than shaving the armpit area. You will start near your ankle and pull the razor up toward your knee. Use small light strokes around the ankle and knee. The bones and curves in these areas require a little more care when shaving.
After you have gotten a good majority of hair cut, wash the soap off your under arms and legs. This will allow you to better feel whether you have gotten all the hair or if you need to do it again. Run your fingertips lightly over the shaved area. If there are spots you missed, repeat the procedure on those areas. If your razor is getting dull, you may feel a small amount of hair over the entire area that you have just shaved.
Once you have completed shaving, make sure you wash again with water. If you are doing you’re under arms, make sure none of the hair has fallen elsewhere on your body.
Shaving for men is essentially the same. If you have part of your facial hair grown out into a mustache or beard, you can use one hand to cover the edge of that area as you shave.
Caring for Wounds
Blind people are no more prone to having accidents than sighted people. With that said, accidents can and will happen, either to yourself or to a family member. I think it’s a good idea to think through how you might handle the situation before one actually occurs.
The first thing you will need to do is assess the situation. I am no medical expert. Use your own judgment, knowledge and common sense. Does the situation require professional medical attention? If so, get it immediately.
If it is a minor cut, burn, sprain or other minor ailment that would typically be taken care of at home blindness need not be a reason to stop you from handling the situation. When my son gets hurt, I first ask what happened. This will give me a lot of information, where the injury occurred, what caused the injury, if there might be dirt or other debris in the wound, and a general idea of the severity of the situation. Then if he will let me touch the area, I will wash my hands so I can very, very gently touch the area. This lets me know how large the wound is and the severity of the bleeding. I can also tell if there is any swelling by feeling the other knee or elbow to use for comparison.
If he won’t let me touch the area, I ask more questions. Is there dirt in it? Is it bleeding, if so does the blood drip? Kids often overreact. What is a minor scrape becomes a concern of mortal peril. Dripping blood lets me know the severity of the situation. So far we have only had minor scrapes to deal with.
With the situation assessed I then can decide how to proceed. Cuts and scrapes need to be cleaned. Bumps and bruises just need a little ice. And sometimes just a little attention and TLC from Mom is all that is needed.
For cuts and scrapes start with first cleaning it with peroxide or another antibacterial solution you may have handy. If it is still bleeding, apply pressure to get it to stop. With kids who are squirmy or won’t tolerate the discomfort of hydrogen peroxide or soap, I will flush the area with water and then spray it with an aerosol antibacterial treatment.
Once you are done cleaning it, find the right size bandage for the cut. I put antibacterial ointment on the adhesive bandage, instead of on the cut. I do this for two reasons. First the kiddo doesn’t like me to touch his ouchies more than I absolutely have to. Second I will know that I got the ointment on the right spot. I then pull one side of the backing off, so the sticky part is exposed. I then have the child place the bandage on the right spot. I then gently press the bandage so it sticks. I then pull the other backing off and gently press the remaining adhesive down on the other side of the scrape.
A couple of kisses from Mom to make it all better and you are set! Warning kisses only work until age three or four.
Some medications are different shapes, so if you take two different ones and one is a round tablet and one is a long skinny capsule this is fairly straight forward. But if you have some medications that are the same shape, you can mark one bottle with a rubber band, and leave one unbanded, or if it is a medication you take twice a day put two rubber bands on that and one on the one that is the same shape but that you only take once a day.
You can also make a Braille label that you can transfer from bottle to bottle as you need and hold this on with a rubber band. When it comes time to refill the medication, just take your label with you and have the pharmacy folks help you out.
Over the past nine years I have administered a wide variety of medications, liquid, drops and skin creams to my son mostly, but other family members as well. Here is what I found works to get the amount correct.
For liquid medications I use an oral syringe. At most pharmacies they will give you one of these for free when you are picking up a liquid medication. They look much like a regular syringe but without the needle.
Here’s how it works: with the syringe empty have a sighted person, the pharmacist or whomever, slide the plunger of the syringe out so that the syringe is lined up with the correct measurement. With it in this position use a knife or scissors to score the plastic plunger at the point where it is level with the opening of the barrel portion of the syringe. Now when you fill the syringe you will be able to feel the notch in the plastic with your finger as you pull the plunger out, reaching the correct measurement.
To fill the syringe with the liquid, start with the plunger totally inside the barrel portion of the syringe. Dip the end of the syringe into the medication. Slowly pull the plunger back until you feel the mark you made. If you get air instead of liquid, you will usually be able to tell by the sound and how easy the plunger pulls back.
Some bottles have a large enough opening that you can dip the syringe directly into the bottle. Other bottles have a very narrow opening. I will usually pour the contents of the narrow mouthed bottles into a separate container first. My preference is to pour the entire bottle into another container because I don’t want to waste any medication by pouring it back and forth into different containers. I keep the original bottle just in case.
Then to give the liquid medication you just press the plunger forward and squirt the liquid directly into the child’s mouth. If you have a child who doesn’t like the taste, you may also be able to put the medication into a flavored drink to disguise the taste. Check with the pharmacist to make sure this is okay. Rinse the syringe thoroughly with soap and water after each use!
When I am using drop medication, like ear drops or eye drops myself, I can feel how many I have gotten out of the bottle. If it is possible for you to keep these medications in a cool place it is much easier to feel how many you are squeezing out. For ear drops try lying on your side. You can use a cotton ball to keep the medication from running out and making a mess. For eye drops tilt your head back or lie on your back. I find it helpful if I slightly pull the bottom lid down. For either ear or eye drops I hold the bottle or dropper in my thumb and forefingers similar to a pencil. I then rest my pinky finger against my skin to keep my hand steady. This also gives me a reference point so that I can get the drops in the right place.
When I am giving drop medication to my son, I first determine how fast the drops come out. Sometimes I was able to have a sighted person initially help me. When I had it figured out I could do it myself as needed. If no one was available I would squeeze the bottle or dropper onto my hand so I could feel how many drops came out. Be careful if you use this method. You don’t want to use up very much of the medication figuring out how fast it comes out. If the dropper is separate you may also be able to practice with water.
I get a feel for the particular dropper or bottle I am using, learning how fast the drops come out. I will then know how hard to squeeze to get the appropriate amount out. I have found that it takes practice. After a couple of times I am pretty accurate at getting the correct amount.
There are many other personal care issues that come up in a person’s life. Here I have included the ones that I am asked about most frequently. If you have more questions or concerns you may find help in a training program, through home services with a rehabilitation counselor or by asking other blind people who have learned how to handle the situation through experience.