Moving in Together: Accessibility Hacks for Blind Couples

Moving in Together: Accessibility Hacks for Blind Couples

Alicia and Juan

We are halfway through 2023. What a busy year it’s been! So busy that I’ve only had the time to write one post this year — the one about my plan to relocate from Chicago to Houston.

My mom told me then that the unpacking and organizing would be fun. I didn’t believe her at first, but she was right! Once my stress level started going down, it was fun coming up with cool and unique ways to organize. One example? We keep our Keurig K-cups in two bowls that sit right next to each other on the kitchen counter. The regular ones are in one bowl, and the French Vanilla K-cups are in the other. Each bowl has a different texture. One feels smoother than the other, so we can use our sense of touch to keep track of which is which.

I’ve been here a while now, and the transition to sharing an apartment with my boyfriend and the adjustments Juan and I have both made have all gone much smoother than I expected.Some background: by the time I moved from my parents’ to this apartment, Juan had already lived on his own for a while. He was used to having his own space, his own schedule, and quiet time whenever he wanted. But a big part about living with someone is taking the other person into consideration. He doesn’t stay out as late as he did before I moved in because, whenever possible, we like to set aside time for each other at the end of the day.

Another important part of adjusting to living together is finding and making space for the other person, literally. Juan had to move some things to a lower kitchen cabinet because I’m shorter than him and couldn’t reach the coffee mugs where he’d originally placed them. You just find ways to organize things together! In fact, the idea of this post came to me when my family flew down from Chicago to Houston to visit. They were curious how we, as two blind people, share a space together and how certain tasks are handled. The subject also comes up when I’m catching up with old friends over the phone. Not only do they ask about how we’re doing and adjusting, but sometimes they ask more thought-provoking questions like, “what would you say is the biggest adjustment you’ve had to make since moving?”

Juan has his arm around Alicia at a restaurantThe short answer: everything. Everything has been an adjustment, from communication to transportation to just learning about each other. If I tried to explain everything to you here, this would be more like a novel. So instead, I’ll make a list of what I’ve learned so far about living with another blind person!

1) It involves a lot of extra communication. I like to joke that there’s a lot of narration or play-by-play around the apartment. Important things like, “I’m passing on your right with coffee,” and minor things like, “I’ll be in the living room” when migrating from one room to another. That way, we can keep track of where the other person is. If someone enters the living room, we say “hello” or narrate precisely where we’re sitting. If we’ve moved anything like the TV remote or something, we have to say exactly where it is. The question “are you in here?” comes up a lot when we enter a room and don’t know if the other person is there!

2) Signing up for transportation is liberating! The para-transit service here in Houston is called MetroLift, and even though it took almost two months for me to be fully registered, the wait was worth it; I felt a sense of freedom once I had it all set up! I didn’t need to ride with Juan all the time, or wrack up expenses taking Uber to and from places.

3) I learned how handy tactile dots can be! Tactile dots are smooth on one side and sticky on the other, so the sticky side is placed on an item to identify it. The part we’re actually touching feels like a round dot, similar to the dots on the F and J keys on a keyboard but a more 3-D circular shape. My yearly pass for para-transit feels very similar to my MetroLift ID card, so when I got the pass I put it in my pocket to keep it separate from the MetrolLift ID in my wallet. Once home, I put a tactile dot on the ID card so I can tell which is which. We use tactile dots for things around the house, too: on the microwave, on the toaster oven, on the light switch to know which is the kitchen light and which one is outside.

4) We’ve developed a secret language all our own. I can’t translate our language for you (it’s very blindness specific), but I will tell you this much: one term we often use around here is “blind-proofing” the house. That is, making the place safe and accessible for us.

5) As for shopping, Juan primarily orders groceries using Instacart and has them delivered to us. I enjoy being out and about, so I’ll go to the grocery store in person if it’s a smaller order. I create a list using my Amazon Alexa, and I request a shopping assistant once I get to the store. As we purchase an item, I check it off the list.

6) I use the Be My Eyes app a lot more often than I did when I was living with my parents. This app connects blind people to a sighted volunteer via video call, where you can ask questions like the color of your outfit or expiration date on an item. When groceries are delivered and one or both of us can’t identify a certain item by touch, we go to the Be My Eyes app. Very useful!

7) On the days where I feel like we should be adjusted by now, I try to remember that living together could be more of an adjustment for one partner and not as much for the other. We’re both adjusting to sharing a space, but I try to keep in mind that I’m not only the first blind person Juan has ever dated, but the first he’s lived with.8) Collisions happen more than you think. Sometimes, we’re not always good at announcing where we’re at or if we’re passing with something. Other times, it’s just happenstance. Once, I was coming out of our room and walking down the hall towards the living room. Juan hadn’t heard the bedroom door open and was headed down the hall towards the bedroom. So, you guessed it: we literally collided. Collisions like that used to be met with frantic apologies. Now whenever this happens we just laugh, give each other a hug, and proceed with whatever we were previously doing.

9) Lastly, moving in with someone involves a *lot* of memorizing. Remembering where Juan keeps certain things vs. where it was placed at my parents’ house has been my biggest struggle, and I often get frustrated when I can’t remember where something is. I feel like I *should* know by now, but I don’t, and that’s okay. It’s still a new space.

It hasn’t been a very long time under the same roof, but I feel like I’ve already learned so much about moving, living with someone, and how to adjust. And I know I’ll continue to learn more each day. We’re still learning about each other and our daily habits, quirks, routines, and everything in-between. But we’ve worked so hard to get here and be together under the same roof, and I am so happy that this was the year we finally made it happen.


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