When you first begin to experience vision loss, eating is often viewed as an uncomfortable activity since the dinner table is a crowded place. With a few tips and practice, you can enjoy eating again. 

Five Hints for Setting the Table

  • Be sure there is good light above the table to help you see as much detail as possible.
  • Make sure you have controlled for glare with appropriate window coverings.
  • Try not to use stemware since it tips over easily.
  • Use contrast in your table setting—for example, set white plates on a dark tablecloth.
    white place setting on white placemat

    An all white place setting is difficult to see.

    Here, a red napkin, blue plate, and blue mug contrast with a white placemat, making the place setting easier to see.



    place setting with white placemat, blue dinnerware and red napkin
  • Each time you eat, place your napkin, flatware, glass and cup and saucer in the same location. When you first sit down at a table, carefully locate these items by inconspicuously touching them. Keep your hand next to the table and slide it toward the glass, cup, bread plate, etc.
  • Decide how you’re going to set the rest of the table—main dish, side dishes, seasonings, condiments. Try arranging them in a semicircle or straight line a little beyond your place setting.
  • Whatever table setting you choose, be sure to do it the same way for every meal. Soon it will become second nature.

The Locating Technique

The Locating Technique is helpful when you’re exploring your place setting at the dinner table. With practice, the locating technique allows you to explore the table setting safely, discreetly, and minimize spills.

For additional information, along with tips for easier eating and pouring, see Hints for Easier Eating and Pouring.

You’ll know you’re using this technique successfully when you can:

  • Move your hands slowly and in a systematic pattern;O
  • Locate items at your place setting without moving or spilling any items that are on the table;
  • Locate each desired item and return it to its place.
Place hand in front of plate to the left and right

Here’s a technique:

While seated comfortably at a table, rest both of your hands on the front edge (the edge closest to you) of the table surface, with one hand to the left and one hand to the right of the place setting:

  • With your palms facing down and your fingers (including your thumb) slightly curled, begin an exploration of the table surface with your hands in this position.
  • Your fingers should be slightly curled/relaxed but not clenched so tightly that your fingertips touch your palms.
slightly curled fingers

Correct position: Your fingers should be slightly curled and relaxed.

Finger curled into palm. Incorrect position

Incorrect position: Do not curl your fingers tightly into your palm.

Location technique step 5
  • Beginning at the front edge of the table, move both of your hands forward (or away from your body) slowly in small circular motions, keeping your fingertips slightly curled and in contact with the table surface at all times:
  • Follow a systematic pattern (i.e., move from the front edge of the table away from your body), keeping one hand to the left and one hand to the right of the table setting.
  • When you hold your hands in this position, maintain contact with the table surface, and follow a systematic pattern, your fingers will act as exploratory “bumpers” and provide information about the position of your flatware, your drinking glass, and your entire place setting.
  • For example, when you use this technique to locate your drinking glass, it will help you contact it at the base (instead of at the top) and you’ll be less likely to knock it over. When locating a beverage on the table, slide your hand across the tabletop to find the glass and pick the glass up from the bottom. If the table is crowded, you may need to locate the spot for returning the glass with your other hand, then move the beverage to that hand.
Location technique --sliding hand toward bottom of glass
Sliding hand toward bottom of glass

Moving hand from bottom to top of glass
Moving hand from bottom to top of glass

Reaching hand across at the top toward glass makes glass prone to tipping over
Reaching hand across at the top toward glass makes glass prone to tipping over

  • Hints: As you explore the table setting, do not extend your entire arm across the table surface unless you’re aware of the location of all surrounding items. This precaution will prevent your body from leaning too far forward and knocking over glassware or other table items.
Moving butter dish with hand on bottom touching the tabletop and top of butterdish
Moving butter dish with one hand on top and bottom and the other palm down on the table under the dish
  • To return an item to the table surface, such as a salt shaker or butter dish, use one hand to locate a free space on the table top and the other hand to hold the item that you’re returning to that space. Keep your hand in place on the table top until the item is returned to a secure spot.

The locating technique is not limited to the dinner table, however. It can be helpful when you’re trying to find an object (such as a small piece of jewelry) on a bureau, or locate the always-elusive remote control on your coffee table. It’s a useful technique you can use creatively in a variety of household, dining, and daily living situations.