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How to tell if you’re buying accessible home appliances

A man loads dishes into a dishwasher. He is using a wheelchair.

By Grant Hardy

There’s nothing worse than realizing that your tried and true dishwasher or washing machine is on its last legs. It might mean shopping around and shelling out for an expensive replacement. It certainly means the hassle of putting some household chores on hold for a while.

But of course, if you’re blind or partially sighted, you also need to determine whether the device you’re getting meets your accessibility needs.

In this post, I’ll give a few strategies for doing just that that have worked for me, both in my own place and when trying to help my family pick out appliances that would work for me.

Decide what you want to do with the device

Most appliances are packed with features, some of which you may not need or want. Though it would be amazing if every appliance was 100% accessible, often you have to pick your battles.

For example, on a microwave you probably want to be able to control the power and duration settings for cooking food. But if the clock and kitchen timer features aren’t accessible, and you know you won’t need them, it’s OK to let those go.

Determine what would happen if you put markers like Braille or stickers on the appliance

Sometimes, you can make an appliance accessible by putting tactile markers on it—but not always. Here are some guidelines to look out for.

Firstly, don’t be intimidated by touch screens since often they’re very easy to mark with stickers or dots. Every touch screen has a different amount of pressure that’s needed to activate a control so be sure you take that into account based on your personal comfort level. If merely brushing the screen with your finger is enough to press a button, you might conclude that’s too tricky since you won’t be able to feel around to locate the sticker you want without pressing buttons. On the other hand, there are people who have great muscle memory. At my family home, we used to have an oven that would activate with the slightest touch, but my brother was confident enough to memorize the exact spot he needed to press on the screen so that this wasn’t an issue.

On the other hand, just because a device has physical buttons and dials doesn’t mean it’s fully accessible. Let’s say you have a washing machine with a dial that’s easy to turn, and makes a nice tactile click every time it’s turned. You might think that this is totally accessible, since you can easily find the cycle you want by lining up a couple of stickers. But what happens if it’s a digital dial and the appliance is turned off or loses power? Sometimes, it stops registering anything when you bump the dial. So when you next turn the device on, your stickers aren’t marking the spots they used to be.

Consistency is key. Make sure you can test the appliance and that it always behaves the same way. If there’s something that has to be done to get the device to turn off and on, and perhaps an audible beep, make sure you an reproduce that every time. If you’re using stickers or tactile dots to mark up a touch screen or dial, make sure you can always count on them to do the same, consistent thing.

You’ll find the right device. It may just take a bit of time and testing.

For more blogs from Grant, search his name!

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