Kitchen safety for visually impaired

by Jackie Waters, article procured by Ng Choon Hwee

An organised kitchen is a source of bliss for anyone who loves to cook and bake, but its a must for people with vision impairment. If the kitchen is disorganised, its difficult for a person with vision impairment to locate needed utensils and cookware, not to mention identify the proper ingredients. Plus, an inaccessible kitchen can pose a danger to someone with vision impairment, increasing the risk of fires and injury. Here are a few ways to organise your kitchen to ensure a safe and functional environment for loved ones with vision impairment.

Use Custom Overlay Labels to Improve Appliance Usability

The touch panels typically used for modern appliances lack distinguishing elements that help users identify the function of controls, such as on and off functions, temperature controls, timers, and the like. One way to improve the usability of kitchen appliances is to use custom overlay labels. Sticking adhesive dots on important and commonly used buttons is a quick way to customise the touch panel and make it user-friendly for a person with low vision or blindness.

There are a few companies that provide custom silicon templates for various kitchen appliances. These overlays do not have raised dots but instead have distinct shapes over each button to signify its function. Thus, these can be used by people who do not know how to read Braille as well. Until speech recognisable kitchen appliances become commonplace, using these custom overlays is a smart and safe idea to improve the usability of kitchen appliances for family members with vision impairment.

Organise and Label Canned Foods

One feasible way to improve kitchen accessibility for someone with vision impairment is to organise and label canned foods and keep them in designated places in the kitchen. Have a specific shelf in the kitchen for storing cans and jars like sauces and soups, for example, and a drawer dedicated to fresh edibles like vegetables. You may want to dedicate a shelf to storing canned tuna, canned salmon, and similar items. To make the kitchen even more organised, you can also use strategies such as:

  • Keeping the cans in alphabetical order by food group.
  • Store frequently-used items in the most accessible locations, such as lower cabinets and shelves rather than hard-to-reach, over-the-stove cabinets.
  • Using rubber bands on canned goods to distinguish them by product type. For example, you may want to put two rubber bands on cans with dairy products (such as evaporated milk), three for cans of fruits, one band for vegetables, and so on. You can also use rubber bands of different thickness for this purpose.
  • Using magnetic letters or large-print labels to identify each can based on its contents. As soon as you unload your shopping bags after buying groceries, take some time to label the cans and other items before putting them away.
  • While identifying spices is sometimes easy because many spices have a distinctive smell, you can also use tactile labels to identify them and avoid accidental cooking snafus.
  • Utilising various tools to identify ingredients, drawers, and other cooking utensils. These options include but are not limited to bold markers, Braille labels, magnetic letters, bump dots, and more.

Practice Sound Fire Safety

When a person with vision impairment works in the kitchen, the threat of a fire is a serious concern. There are a few ways to improve kitchen safety for people with vision impairment, such as:

  • Installing photoelectric smoke alarms in and near the kitchen.
  • Having a dedicated area to keep flammable items like oven mitts or tea towels, preferably as far away from the stove and other heat sources as possible.
  • Installing a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, keeping it in an accessible location, and learning how to use it.
  • Using timers while cooking. By using these strategies and transforming your kitchen into an organised space, family members with vision impairment are no longer prevented from cooking, baking, or simply finding a snack or a drink. Thanks to organisational strategies and tools designed to improve accessibility for people with vision impairment, the kitchen is once again a functional space for all.
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