Finally, my low vision kitchen is complete and I am lovin’ it! It’s a pleasure to spend time in the room now that the aesthetics are palatable. The square pub table in the middle truly makes it the center of the house. The under-the-counter lighting, recessed ceiling lights, and new organized shelf of ingredients makes cooking less overwhelming. But how did I do with my appliance selections?
The appliances I chose not only look great, but also were carefully chosen to be visually impaired friendly. I’m going to comment on their usability from a low vision perspective, not as a full performance review.
I have an Electrolux French door refrigerator with controls on the edge of one of the doors. This works much better than the old fridge, where I had to reach inside all the way to the back to change the temperature. Though I can’t read the labels of the touchpad controls, because they aren’t buried inside the refrigerator, I can get close enough and use a magnifier when needed. The touchpad buttons give an audible indication whenever you have successfully toggled an option (i.e. “fast ice”). However, they don’t differentiate the sound – it’s a beep no matter if fast ice is on or off so you don’t know which is selected without seeing the red indicator light. This is disappointing because it makes it inaccessible to a blind consumer. I’m not noticing a difference in ice production with fast ice anyways, but that’s a different story. The temperature is indicated on a red LED display that I can read but again, this would not accessible to a blind user. I suppose you could place a talking thermometer inside the fridge and use the touchpad to increase or decrease the temperature on faith.
My new freestanding Bosch electric glass top stove is pretty as well. I selected it because I liked the simplicity of the layout; the cooktop knobs are in the front, just like a slide-in range. The only other freestanding ranges I know of with this design are the more expensive GE Café and one KitchenAid model. The oven controls are located at the usual spot – on the stove’s backsplash. This separation will ensure that I do not turn on a cooktop element when I really want to turn on the oven.
To turn the oven on, you first select “Cooking Mode” on the flat touch screen, which unfortunately has no tactile or audio aids. Though I can’t read the words on the touchpad, I can see their position. You then turn a dial until the display shows the desired mode. I can barely read it but have memorized the fact that if I turn the knob two notches, “bake” is selected. This is a multifunctional control knob, so it is not labeled; you just have to feel the “notches” as you turn it. The default temperature is 350 degrees, so to change that, you touch then next line down (“Temperature”) and turn the knob to change the temp in 5-degree increments. After everything is set as desired, I press Start, which again, is a memorized position. For preheating, there is an audio indication when the set temperature has been reached, so I have to pay attention!
The cooktop element controls are not your grandmother’s Hotpoint any more, where all four burner knobs work exactly the same. With multiple cooktop configurations come multiple knob control functionality. One of the elements is standard – the dial from 1 to 9 (yes, low to high). The dual burner system is controlled by one knob where the left 180 degrees is used when you want to use the smaller inner burner and the right 180 degrees to use the entire burner. Lucky me, I also have a bridge element, allowing me to use two burners at once with a bridge in between. I’m not feeling a need for this, so haven’t tackled those control knobs yet. On second thought looking at the manual, it has some consistency with the dual element. You turn both knobs clockwise up to 180 degrees to use the bridge element. I have to say that Bosch does a good job of keeping the controls as simple as possible while still incorporating all of the options of modern-day convenience.
Overall, I am disappointed in the accessibility of basic appliances found in most homes. Better audio cues may mean the difference between independence and not. Before going appliance shopping (or for any electronic device for that matter), I recommend reading the NFB Jernigan Institute Consumer Electronics Shopping Guide. And one of our readers suggests checking the website of the manufacturer to see if they offer an adaptor kit for blind or low vision operation. In my research, I also came across NFB’s proposed Home Appliance Accessibility Act which could be instrumental in the future in maintaining the independence for those of us with physical challenges.