Letting the (brick) dust settle – Part 4: That perfect souffle

Surely the most straightforward part of designing a kitchen is choosing the appliances, right?

For some it’s simply a case of going for a preferred manufacturer, for others it will be what works the best and for some it will be driven by budget. Still others may spend hours on end trawling the review websites to find the oven that has the most even heat to make the perfect souffle.

For us, we wanted something that gave us all the functionality of a modern kitchen and had controls that were suitable for low-vision. We spent many an evening looking through catalogues, the RNIB website and Which? To see if it was possible to find that perfect accessible Best-Buy. So many appliances now have soft-touch controls which make for a clean finish but are the arch-nemesis for many visually impaired people! As with all other aspects of this build, so much planning went into this whole area before finally selecting the right one. In this area, more than any other, a lot of compromise had to be made to get the balance between functionality, design and accessibility.

Very early on, we had to accept that some bespoke adaptations would be required such as tactile markers to help me heat the oven to the correct temperature turn on the correct ring to boil William’s pasta and to make sure I got water instead of ice from the fridge. With this in mind, we set about researching the best items to meet our quite complex requirements.

As mentioned earlier, so many controls are soft-touch. Although this makes for a smooth and stylish finish, it can be challenging to find the right place to press when you have very little sight. As a result we had to come up with a different way to annotate the controls for the hob. Also, although the oven would have a physical knob to turn, all the temperature markers would be printed flush on the surface.

Before we could come up with a solution, we first needed to think about exactly what we were trying to achieve. In simplistic terms, I need to:

  • Turn on the oven or grill and set the temperature
  • Turn on the hob and adjust the power setting
  • Turn on the extract
  • Get water or ice from the fridge
  • Turn on the lights

Roast Pork and Crackling

For the oven, hob and extract the need essentially boiled down to two things – turn it on and set the power or temperature. Even though there was a plethora of temperature settings available, I really only needed a handful. I needed to be able to bake a gingerbread cake at 160 degrees, roast a chicken at 180 degrees or crisp up some crackling at 230 degrees. Likewise on the hob, all I really need to know is where to set the power for boil or simmer. As a result, the markings on the dial or control only have to be orientated at no more than 4 or 5 points.

So there you go, the concept is really simple and time will tell how effective it will be. What we do know is that we will have to get used to the new equipment before permanently marking them up with Taci-Mark – a tactile glue-like substance that, once applied, will never come off.

I was working in a cocktail bar

One of my jobs whilst at university was working in a cocktail bar and a key lesson is knowing whether to use crushed or cubed ice in a cocktail. Believe it or not, but in some circles if you add cubed ice to a Mojito or added crushed to a Long Island Iced Tea then you would immediately be banished from ever touching a bottle of Galliano again, living out the rest of your days pulling pints!

Although I will never be the next Brian Flanagan, it’s still important that I’m putting the right thing in my glass and, while the cooking needed a degree of adjustment, getting a glass of water was simply a case of finding the right button. For this, a more simplistic approach to marking up could be used with Braille. By simply annotating Water, Ice or Crushed ice, I’ll get what I need. Likewise, to find the correct light switch in the bank so I can turn on the Island, Downlights or Pendants all I need to do is feel for the lettering on each switch.

The tricky part with all of this is getting something that meets my accessibility needs whilst also not “looking accessible”. It is such a shame that manufacturers do not consider how they can incorporate accessibility into their designs in such a way that it doesn’t detract from the overall finish. To have a discrete raised bump at specific points around a dial or on an induction panel would make such an enormous difference to one of the 1 in 30 people in the UK with some form of sight loss.

But it’s not just for the benefit of the sight-impaired. Many accessible additions would be beneficial for all and make these sometimes super-complex appliances so much easier to use.

As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and we still have a few weeks to wait until the new kitchen starts to be fitted. In the meantime, I’ve got to give the electrician a crash-course in Braille so he doesn’t mix up the Outside lights with the Downlights.

Until then, I wish you well.


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