Blind World Magazine

Project improves kitchens for the blind.

Huntington Herald Dispatch - Huntington,WV,USA.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006.

HUNTINGTON -- Betty Bruce has been legally blind for more than 20 years, but she doesn't let that stop her from cooking up some delicious meals in the kitchen.

Bruce, who is a member of the Cabell-Wayne Association of the Blind, is one of approximately 10 million people in the United States who suffer some form of vision loss, according to the American Foundation for the Blind.

She also is one of the many who find it difficult to operate some modern-day kitchen appliances and recently participated in a testing exercise conducted by the AFB's technology center in Huntington.

In the trial, several blind people tested newer appliances on ease of use. Bruce said she has a difficult time trying to work most of the machines.

"People that are visually impaired, they can't see any of the directions on the machine," Bruce said. "When there are digital touch pads, all we can feel it is smooth surface."

The trials were headed by Brad Hodges, national technology associate for the foundation. Hodges, who is blind himself, said the mission of AFB is to effect change in industry.

"We found that we have a two-fold task," Hodges said. "We need to find the physical boundaries for the blind, and then get manufacturers to remain inside those boundaries."

Hodges said during the trial, he discovered most appliance controls fall into three categories: Accessible (older appliances), inaccessible (newer appliances) and ambiguous (appliances that might have some accessibility).

"In the past, the blind could tell by touch to determine what control to set and how to set it," Hodges said. "Now, many of the controls are digital. The digital surfaces are smooth or flat, and sometimes you can't feel the control anymore."

Despite the difficulties on some appliances for the blind, Hodges said the Whirlpool company has made significant changes in their appliances to assist the blind.

Audrey Reed-Granger, director of PR for Whirlpool Brand, said Whirlpool strives to keep its machines simple to use.

"With the blind, we knew 15 years ago that the blind wanted to use our products," Reed-Granger said. "We have an optional Braille overlay with each of our appliances."

Reed-Granger said the push is toward digital, but the key is to not forget about those who may have lost their sight.

"We use large knobs, which provide clear clicking sounds, on most of our products," Reed-Granger said. "We also offer larger type on the interface of some products."

Reed-Granger said she has been very impressed with the research and expectations of the blind community.

Bruce tries to accommodate her home to make life easier for her when it comes to dealing with daily activities.

On her washer, Bruce has built-in ridges that allow her to feel with her hands and know what temperature the washer is on.

"I use a special pen to mark bumps on the washer and dryers and other appliances," Bruce said. "With them, I can do everything myself."

Bruce said when she first became legally blind in 1977, she worked to adjust and continue her daily routine.

"I started by putting a Braille setting on my mixer," Bruce said. "It is very important to have independence because if you give up, you will just sit there."

End of article.

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