What’s Your Experience: Simple Changes for Appliance Accessibility

Years ago when I worked at the Trace R&D center, I had the opportunity to be on a panel of judges at least once for an engineering class taught by Dr. Gregg Vanderheiden for a competition looking at accessibility of consumer appliances. My recollection was that students hat to come up with a design for a stove to maximize accessibility. TV Lenny, of American TV fame, was the main judge. One of the main criteria for the competition being that the appliances had to be aimed at the mass market while addressing accessibility.


I mention all of this because having just concluded a search for a new dish washer I’m once again reminded of the vast landscape of inaccessibility that still exists in the consumer appliance market. Simple changes could make a big difference.


As just one example, the dish washer I ended up selecting comes from General Electric. It has physical buttons, which in itself is a challenge to find these days. Better yet, when pressed, the buttons make a short beep sound. Great until you realize that the buttons cycle between multiple settings with no way to know where you are at any point in the cycle and no way to get back to defaults.


The simple change here as an example would be to have the buttons make two beeps when they’ve reached the default setting when cycling. For example one button is to select the washing mode and cycles between settings including Automatic, Rinse and a couple others I’ve already forgotten. The dish washer uses the same settings unless something is changed so you might say, great set things once and forget it and most of the time you’d be fine. But if anyone changes the defaults, it is a guessing game when you do not see to get back to known settings. And yet again, had GE just added a second simple beep when the Automatic setting was reached in the cycle, ease of use for people who do not see would be that much greater. By no means perfect but certainly better than what exists today.


I won’t claim to profess to be any kind of expert on who’s a leader in the consumer appliance accessibility space. These are not exactly everyday kinds of purchases for most of us. That said, it would be fun to see a panel at whatever industry tradeshow is the leader in this arena reviewing consumer appliances, much like that class competition I sat in years ago did. I suspect there would be a lot of ideas made available that when amortized over the scale of products sold by any manufacturer wouldn’t impact the bottom line.


I don’t recall all the details of that class competition but I do recall that one team included an optional handle of some sort for the stove for some individuals with disabilities. I also recall Lenny’s advice about that handle and is went something like, heck no, don’t make it optional. Include it in every box, most people won’t use it and will think of it as a throw away but the people who do need it will have it instantly and besides, people love throwaways like that because they think they are getting a better deal.


So readers, what are your experiences with appliance accessibility? Who’s the industry leader? What simple changes would you like to see made in consumer apliances?

One thought on “What’s Your Experience: Simple Changes for Appliance Accessibility”

  1. I can’t comment on who the industry leader is in accessible appliances, not having purchased any since 1995, but I *have* seen some pretty abysmal situations in people’s homes over the years, like dishwashers with touch-pad buttons without even tactile borders on them, so a blind person could never ever hope to locate the button they need, let alone use it correctly; menus/choice arrows that wrap, no audible indication of activity or setting of any kind, just horribleness all around. I also can’t believe there is exactly one blind-person-accessible microwave oven in the world these days. I guess all the other major manufacturers don’t think blind people cook, or even heat water. Ridiculous.

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